The Never-Ending Food Crisis in New York

It’s an issue I have been dealing with ever since I moved here and started buying my own groceries. The first three months were among the most frustrating as I started to realize that this issue would most likely not resolve itself in the way I had intended it to. Because, unfortunately, the human body relies on good nutrition and tasty food. We cannot just live off of crappy 1-Dollar burgers and 2-Dollar-milkshakes and expect our bodies not to collapse after such a mistreatment. High cholesterol, weight gain, heart problems, yes, even obesity – all outcomes of malnutrition. Easy enough, isn’t it? Should be common knowledge by now, anyhow. So why is it that the US of A still has not figured out how to lower their prices when it comes to edible and healthy food? Why is it that whenever I enter a Whole Foods I almost get a heart attack not from the food itself but from the horrifying prices that glare at me as soon as I want to purchase a goodie?

At first I was inclined to just brush it off and see the entire situation as a challenge. I had to either

a) get a job that pays enough to not make grocery shopping my main expense anymore,
b) find a store with less expensive prices or
c) eat unhealthy for a while.

Since a) did not come along until one and a half years later, and c) did not sound appealing to 22-year-old me (after all, we aren’t teenagers anymore, we can take responsibility for our actions), it was up to b) to make out the challenge of the day. And boy, did I grow frustrated in those first three months here. I still am sometimes, but not nearly as much as I was back then. One thing you will never get used to in your life is when the quality of food goes down (rather than up). And this is pretty much what I have been going through for the past 2 years and more.

This tasty selection of cheese costs you three times as much here than it does in Europe

My former roommate suggested Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as a way out. So while my German friend had solved the food issue with simply going to New Jersey’s Pathmark week after week (and not telling anyone about it anymore, since people considered it the “low” end of the food chain), I dove into the challenge of finding out where good produce can be bought. For the sake of body and mind.

Whole Foods is a great store when it comes to discovering the unthinkable (imported steaks from Australia, hello?) and finding overpriced organic food. I once saw Babybels in the organic section and thought it funny if people bought it simply for this reason. Then I actually saw rich, uneducated Americans buy the brand because they thought it was organic and I wanted to boycott the store. Not enough that people only pretend they care what good food is about but they also seem to lack the knowledge of what to look out for when it comes to splurging your income spending your money on something as valuable as nutrition. After all, we are what we eat, isn’t that so?

Trader Joe’s is slightly better. They don’t solely offer organic food and their breakfast selection does not seem as overpriced as Whole Food’s. But you know why that is so? Because it was taken over by a German in 1979 (the owner of Aldi, indeed) and this influence must have carried over to this time. Trader Joe’s can be roughly translated into Händler Johann but it still does not come anywhere close to the prices a typical Aldi or Lidle or even Rewe would offer in Deutschland.

On the same token, I was deeply de-motivated to pursue any shopping activities with Union Market, an overcharged food market here in the Slope. My friend even joked about their prices when he said he had once gone to the store, bought four items, and paid 100 Dollars total. While he was slightly exaggerating, their costs are nowhere close to a bargain and have made me turn red of anger and disappointment many, many times. I now only use them if I want a piece of overpriced cheese (at least their selection is good) and salad bowl basics such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers.

Then, finally, after moving in with the Belarusians, a small break came along in the year-long frustration I had endured. They proposed to check out Brighton Beach Market in order to find nutritional basics that are not completely overpriced and still ok. The first winter I was here I went there a couple of times. Since I was on the F, I had to switch trains at some point in time and scurry over the platform to catch the Q going in the other direction. You can imagine that this is less than ideal when you carry two full bags of groceries with you and just want get home immediately. Their food selection was pretty good, though. It made me come back a couple of times just to try out some Russian imports and to get yelled at the cashier’s for not speaking their language. The produce was at a reasonable price (even lower than the Pioneer in Flatbush, where I had been living), so I thought the trip worthwhile. That was before I discovered Greenpoint and the convenience of living on the G train.

You will need all of your pennies to go shopping for food here!

And then the lack of fresh, green markets. The only ones I have been able to stumble upon are the one at Union Square (every other day starting Monday) and the one around Grand Army Plaza (every Saturday). Two green markets a few times a week in this big, big city? You have to be kidding me! In Europe it is a proud tradition to have one twice a week in even the smallest town buried in the deepest woods of rural areas. So what is up with only offering ten tiny stands here in Manhattan and even less in Brooklyn?

Yes, New York offers great restaurants and it’s supposed to have one of the healthiest food choices in the entire USA. I saw this when I visited other cities and was shocked at California’s even higher prices, Chicago’s so-so healthy food options, and Boston’s fattening fast-food markets.

Still, I wanted to cry every time I walked into a grocery store that had a good name and looked at the price tag. 5 dollars and for a small piece of mediocre cheese imported from Europe? No wonder they can charge 40 bucks a pound for the really good stuff! Do people here really do not know how low the production costs are overseas? It seems that not only nutrition is being discussed enough but also other parts of the food circus.

And then what is the deal with not being able to scrape together a single piece of decent bread? Which does not cost more than 5 dollars for a meager loaf? I was finally able to find a good place in Greenpoint. A conservative Polish bakery happens to make breads and bakery goods fresh every single day, hurray! With 2 dollars for a huge piece of loaf, my appetite had been stilled thanks to Syrena.

But my disappointment into the American food market has equally jotted up a notch. I might be lucky to live in such a multicultural city as New York where the options to discover something healthy at a normal price are higher than anywhere else. But what about the rest of America? Will they ever understand how important it is to feed ourselves well?

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4 thoughts on “The Never-Ending Food Crisis in New York

  1. It’s hard to find good food in the States. That is one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to when we eventually go back. I have gotten spoiled by fresh, even organic food being the norm rather than a specialty item, and I think that is how it should be. Americans have gotten lulled into thinking that processed and prepackaged foods are acceptable as the basis of a diet. I think if more people demanded organic food, the prices would have to go down, but as it is people are willing to avoid it and eat the crappy food that’s affordable.

    • Your last sentence is why I want to smack that Fast Food bag out of my coworkers’ hands whenever I see them eat lunch. It’s really just too bad that no one ever taught them how to eat right or how to develop an understanding of a daily diet that won’t lead to diabetes or obesity.

      You are right, the people are lulled into the comfortable price, which is why every time I walk into an organic food store, I am appalled at how little New Yorkers question where the food really comes from…

      Sad!

  2. Hallo Laura.
    Ja, das mit den “gespaltenen” Lebensmittelpreise ist bei uns in Europa ebenso. Vielleicht nicht so ausgeprägt wie bei dir, aber wenn man Lebensmittel kauft die weder künstlich aufgeputscht, im Massenhaltung, fast maschinell erzeugt wurden, oder nicht mit Groß-Landwirtschaftlichen Fördergeldern gestützt wurden, gibt es den “ehrlichen” Gestehungspreis. Und da sieht man erst, wie der Großteil der Menschen (nicht nur bei den Lebensmittel)zuviel kaufen und verbrauchen. Oder wegschmeissen. Bei Lebensmittel und Waren mit ehrlichem Verdienst hergestellt sieht man erst wie teuer das ist. Da relativiert sich der eingene Lohn, oder Verdienst. Ich wünsche, dass du gute Lebensmittel findest die du dir leisten kannst. Liebe Grüße über den Atlantic.

    • Danke für den lieben Kommentar! Klar, Bio-Essen ist auch bei uns in Deutschland teuer, da sieht es bei dir in Österreich bestimmt ähnlich aus. Wobei, wenn ich mich recht entsinne, fand ich die Lebensmittelpreise bei euch im Vergleich zum Nachbarland schon sehr stark angezogen.

      Jedenfalls bekommt man nirgendwo so viel Hormone reingespritzt wie im Amiland, so viel steht fest. Milch mit oder ohne Hormone – damit muss ich mich tagtäglich rumschlagen. Echt abartig, wenn man dran denkt wie denkfrei diese Leute sich mit Fast Food und anderem Schrott zumüllen….

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