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As COVID Recedes, NYC's Black, Brown, and Immigrant Residents Struggle to Access Healthy Food – Amsterdam News

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New York Amsterdam News
The New Black View
The Plaza square is sandwiched between a renovated milk bottling plant, an Applebees, and the Billie Holiday Theatre in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Layered deck-like stairs lead up from the street to the tables and stages that lookout at famed Marcy Avenue and Fulton Street. On a sunny Wednesday in September, there was a long line of people, some Brooklynites, some just hungry New Yorkers. All waiting for hours, looking depressingly out of place in the Bedstuy Restoration Plaza square.
Many were elderly men and women, some with soft or strong accents, a reminder that they have called another country home. June Feddoes, 55, a nursing home worker who lives in the neighborhood was one of them. She was wearing a scarf on her head, orange scrubs, a face mask and a large Patagonia backpack.
“Places like this is very important for people like me, you know, single woman, single mother. It does always make a difference. I’ve been going to food pantry ever since I came to this country and didn’t have a green card,” said Feddoes, who moved to New York from Saint Vincent in the Caribbean when she was 15 years old.
Everybody got corn stalks, sweet potatoes, and other food items placed in their bags or shopping carts, before rounding the corner to other service tables at the food pantry organized by New York City Councilmember Robert Cornegy to feed the city’s hungry, especially the elderly who were isolated at home, seeking safety from the deadly virus.
The dual public health and economic crises, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, only  exacerbated the suffering of the 1.4 million or so New York City residents in neighborhoods without easy access to healthy food. The most viscerally impacted were those like Feddoes — Black, brown, or immigrant, living in poorer neighborhoods — struggling to feed their families even with a full-time job in 2020.
Neighborhoods like these are found throughout the five boroughs. Activists, community organizers and civil society organizations that Amsterdam News spoke to painted a picture of desperate need for access to fresh foods in Northshore, Staten Island, as well as Bed-Stuy, Flatbush, and East New York neighborhoods in Brooklyn — all areas that were dealing with food insecurity before the pandemic. 
Food shopping in general during the pandemic was hard. The mandated lockdown in March last year effectively shut down the little access to fresh food some people had to begin with.
Brooklyn native Sister Ellen Nelson, 60, grew up in Fort Greene’s public housing. Once a teenage mom, Nelson graduated and eventually became a transit worker. Now retired, and living in East New York, Nelson completely changed her diet and lifestyle after a COVID scare last year.
Nelson lost two of her friends in 2020 and was diagnosed with COVID from March into May. During the lockdown she prayed a lot, spent time with her pets for company, and connected virtually with her kids. She said she couldn’t breathe, had no sense of smell, and was losing weight. The COVID symptoms were severe enough to convince Nelson to become a vegetarian and start working out. 
“Lord Jesus help me, I began to say,” said Nelson. “After a while things just calmed down in May. I was afraid to go out my door but began to go back outside a bit. Of course I washed my hands and stuff and I got vaccinated as soon as my turn.”
A rush to respond
NY FOOD 20/20, a collaborative food study of the COVID-19 crisis, noted that “disparities in nutrition” can be paired with racial and ethnic disparities because a “disproportionate” amount of Black and Brown communities experience poverty and food insecurity. There is also a serious issue with advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages that target Black and Latinx youth, as well as “the glut of highly-processed products in stores and lack of neighborhood access to healthy options.” This all can lead to a prevalence of diet- and health-related diseases in these communities, said the study.
The city rushed to start programs that delivered groceries to seniors through 311 and put grab-and-go meals in schools to reach New Yorkers and students in need. 
Even as the pandemic forced officials to “quickly and aggressively” address the increase in food insecurity, “many City agencies struggled to adapt” according to the testimony of Charles Platkin, executive director at Hunter College’s NYC Food Policy Center, during a June 2021 public hearing of the city council general welfare committee. 
Between April and July 2020, New York State and New York City Council passed over 30 pieces of legislation focused on emergency food programs or helping the restaurant industry, the food study reported.
Government-led food initiatives struggled to get an appropriate amount and variety of food out. There were complaints that food was “spoiled, unhealthy, or not culturally appropriate,” said Platkin.
Nelson said she called 311 for city food deliveries during that time but didn’t want the meat in the kosher boxes and said the vegetarian options didn’t look so “healthy.” Eventually, she began cooking for herself and going out to farmer’s markets.
“Yesterday, I did the 5K run for the first time in Brownsville. I’m 60 years old, I’m diabetic, I have two knee replacements, and I did the walk, and it was nice,” said Nelson, beaming with pride about the progress she’s making. 
Generally speaking, a sizable number of city residents were battling adult obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, which put them at “high risk for hospitalization, and death, from COVID-19,” said the study.
The city also expanded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits program that used health bucks and healthy bodegas to increase the availability of fresh foods. Health bucks are coupons that were part of SNAP that allowed residents to redeem $2 worth of either fresh fruits or vegetables at farmer’s markets for every $5 they spend on a food benefit card. Many farmers’ markets will accept SNAP/EBT, WIC, and senior coupons as well.
Bodegas, not known for having an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, were encouraged to stock up on more. However, price gouging drove the prices up not just for hand sanitizer, face masks and disinfectant sprays but basic food staples, like eggs, bread, and milk. Major food suppliers and independent grocers were caught jacking up prices city and statewide. 
The Office of the Attorney General Letitia James (OAG) said they received more than 7,000 complaints of excessive prices and issued more than 1,565 cease-and-desist orders to businesses. 
“This is definitely a crisis we’re in, in the way all these prices are raised up in supermarkets as well as local bodegas. People are just hurting,” said Staten Island food advocate and community district leader Robert Perkins. “You name it there’s not one thing that didn’t go up.”
Overall in 2020, nearly a million households in New York City were SNAP recipients, according to a city data tracker. And many relied on pandemic food benefit cards (P-EBT) to get by.
A lot left to be done
Major and minor food distribution organizations, food pantries, and soup kitchens were slammed by the increase in demand for food, which led to many closing at the beginning of the crisis. The food pantries and soup kitchens left open saw a significant increase in visitors, often resulting in long lines, said Platkin, the head of NYC Food Policy Center.
Churches, organizers, and local officials pulled together to help but many did not have the resources required to reach every resident amid the chaos and confusion of the pandemic, said Platkin.
“We’ve been able to do a meaningful job considering, but there is more that needs to be done. By no stretch of the imagination have we been able to do it all,” said Reverend Dr. Demetrius Carolina, who runs the First Central Baptist Church and the Central Family Life Center on Staten Island.
The city continued to grapple with the reality of lockdowns, civil unrest, protests, and a racial and criminal justice reckoning after the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
The need was simply overwhelming according to East New York native Jerome Nathaniel, the director of policy and government relations at City Harvest, a food rescue organization. 
In February 2020, Nathaniel said City Harvest planned to deliver 70 million pounds of food over the course of the year, but they ended up giving out over 200 million pounds of food from March to August alone. 
“I don’t think one organization, or one type of organization can do it. It would have to be food banks continuing to make sure people can eat tonight but also different organizations that touch on housing, medical, and child care,” said Nathaniel, “and then public policy can’t do it alone either.” 
Nathaniel said the same neighborhoods that have limited access to food are the same ones that got hit the hardest by COVID, have high rents, inadequate wages, and less transportation, which is by “design” and structurally racist in some cases. 
Cornegy said people couldn’t access good, healthy food because of quarantine and unemployment in Bedstuy. He said “cracking the code” on how to reach seniors in particular in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments in his district was difficult. 
“We started here on the plaza and then realized that there were people who were two blocks in proximity — that to them this was a whole different world,” said Cornegy about going mobile with the operation.
The nursing home Feddoes works at is located on Long Island, but she declined to say which one. She has to commute from Bedstuy, and sometimes gets to Long Island two hours early and comes home late at night. She has a daughter in California, a sister and niece in Brooklyn, and a mother back home in Saint Vincent that she sends money to. She said that she usually relies on overtime to help her pay all her bills, but that was not available last year. 
Feddoes said she was grateful for the pantry when her money was cut in half.  
Feddoes said she was a live-in caretaker prior to getting her green card, and then switched to nursing afterwards. She has never not had two jobs, she said, and if there was one job, it came with overtime. She worries a little about not being able to retire if she gets sick and is unable to work. 
“This is not a place for people who are lazy or just sitting around, it’s for people that work and it makes a difference,” said Feddoes about the food pantry. On the food pantry line, she was delighted to get sweet potatoes and tuna that week. Laughing Feddoes, said that her favorite meal is seasoned tuna fish and sweet potato from the microwave.
In south Brooklyn, Waqiel Ahmed of the Pakistani American Youth Society partnered with Black Lives Matter Brooklyn Branch President Anthony Beckford to open a mobile food kitchen that served free, hot halal meals to residents.
Ahmed said that they were sending people that came to them in need to other places before they just decided to do something on their own. He said they started in one location with about 100 people and then expanded to five locations, serving about 1,100 families after a few months last year.
Together, Ahmed and Beckford fed parts of Crown Heights, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Flatbush, Kensington, and Gravesend in Brooklyn. These neighborhoods are mostly Black and Caribbean and/or Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, and immigrant communities. 
“There’s a lot of immigrant people, they lose jobs and they working like week to week paychecks. And, a lot of people by word of mouth called us and recommended us where to go,” said Ahmed.
Worker shortages at urban farms
In east Brooklyn, some urban farms that wanted to be part of the solution realized they could only do so much because of worker shortages. 
Iyeshima Harris is the project director for East New York Farms!, located on a small block of Schenck Avenue tucked between Livonia and New Lots Avenues. They also have a community garden onsite at NYCHA’s Pink Houses public housing.
Harris said that the farm staff had to do most of the labor last season because most of the volunteers are seniors. Their usual growing season starts in April, and last year that was when the virus outbreak had hit its peak in the city. The farm usually grows crops requested by the surrounding Black, Asian, and Latino community. Depending on the season, they grow carrots, long beans, okra, bitter melon, herbs, tomatillos, malabar spinach, pimiento peppers, ghost peppers, and okazi leaves. 
Last year, they had to end the growing season early, said Harris. “Most of the gardens were abandoned since seniors were impacted the most by COVID,” said Harris.
East New York organizer Keron Alleyne, who’s looking to run for New York State Assembly District 60, said that there are many community gardens in East New York but during the pandemic they tried to come together. He said that it was extremely difficult, but the community found a few people to deliver food and build out a “haphazard” network of farmers and gardeners. 
Alleyne went on to work with the city’s community gardens in the parks department, or Greenthumb, to create a community garden advocacy group. The gardeners in the group, who are mostly elderly Black women, gathered together for a celebratory bbq in Highland Park this October. 
Community gardener and chef Kelebohile Nkhereanye said that she soldiered on growing herbs and foods in her garden and gave them away to her neighbors last year. 
She said other neighborhoods get to capitalize on their access and affordability, which makes it seem like people in East New York or elsewhere don’t want healthy, fresh food. She said that’s not true. Nkhereanye spoke about a “gap” in how the community perceives their own access to fresh foods. 
“Some people don’t go to the farmer’s markets because they think it’s expensive or it’s for white people, and so there’s a gap in knowledge,” said Nkhereanye. “The structure in place is not designed to give us credit and let us know our food system.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1
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5 New Vendors to Know About at This Summer's 626 Night Market – Eater LA

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After missing all of 2020, SGV’s popular food event comes back with new street food picks
626 Night Market is finally making its return for a ninth season at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia after the pandemic put events on hold for the past year. The popular food event typically takes place 10 times from May to September and attracts up to 100,000 people each weekend. Although 626 Night Market has made a name for itself as an must-stop in SGV with more than 250 food, merchandise, and craft vendors, it’s also solidified itself as an incubator for highlighting upcoming culinary talent.
Many food operations that had humble beginnings at 626 Night Market have gone on to open their own permanent restaurants. “Those with less capital can test the waters here before trying to open a brick and mortar. Those that do well here can grow their fan base and go on to be very successful,” says Annika Yip, 626 Night Market Marketing Coordinator.
Some of the most successful 626 Night Market alumni include siblings Philip and Carol Kwan, who made their stand Mama Musubi a household name throughout LA farmers markets and at Smorgasburg. The Kwans also opened at Kitchen United in Pasadena, a cloud kitchen that allows customers to order meals from many of LA’s most popular restaurants. Philip Kwan went on to create many other successful food ventures such as Mission Control, Twisted Tiki, Mcfadden Public Market, and Amazebowls. The creator of the viral Ramen Burger, Keizo Shimamoto, took part in 626 Night Markets and opened in New York and LA’s Smorgasburg. Shimamoto later opened a Ramen Burger restaurant in Los Angeles’s Koreatown and a ramen restaurant in New York that closed last year. He is currently awaiting the opening of his new restaurant, Ramen Shack, in San Juan Capistrano, slated to open later this summer.
Other 626 Night Market vendors that have gone on to open physical locations include: Jichan’s Onigiri-ya, Milk Tea Company, Takoyaki Tanota, Drunken Cake Pops, Cafe 949, Main Squeeze, Sushi with Attitude, to name a few. Although new vendors are being added constantly, here are five new vendors to keep an eye on at this year’s 626 Night Market.
Move over kombucha, there’s a new fermented drink in town. Kefir drinks are currently all the rage in Asia and Kefir Mix owner Quyna Nguyen is the first to bring the Asian flavored kefir drinks to California. The drinks are popular in Asia for being a healthier alternative to boba drinks. Kefir is a healthy, fermented food with a consistency comparable to yogurt, and research shows it could help boost immunity, aid in digestive problems, and control blood sugar, among many other health benefits.
Cultured and fermented using kefir grains, the drink has been consumed around the world for centuries. As a result of the fermentation, very little lactose remains in kefir. All the kefir is freshly made daily and served with purple rice, mango, strawberry, and even Oreo. Nguyen opened her store in Santa Ana in May 2021, and will be at 626 Night Market this summer.
WezzArepas brings traditional Colombian street food to the 626 Night Market. The stand is a new twist on the classic Columbian dish made using ground maize dough. Arepas are typically served with accompaniments such as cheese, meats, and avocado. While traditional arepas use white corn, WezzArepas uses a yellow, sweet corn cake with a mozzarella cheese center stuffing. There’s also the option of adding jalapeño or pepperoni to the arepas. In addition, the stand serves Columbian-style hot dogs cooked with shredded mozzarella cheese and bacon, then topped with three kinds of sauces: creamy cilantro aioli, pink, and pineapple sauces. Each hot dog is then topped off with potato chip bits for a crunch.
Vegano by Stick Station specializes in quality vegan popsicles designed for those with lactose intolerance and casein protein-related allergies in mind. The creamy popsicles flavors are made with rice milk which in turn produces a creamy tasting flavor using less than half the sugar other popsicles use on the market. Flavors include: cafe choco chip, matcha, rocky road, coconut, mango chili, mojito, and strawberry lemon. This will be Vegano by Stick Station’s first foray into the 626 Night Market. It operates at Hermosa Beach, South Pasadena, Playa Vista, Long Beach, Mar Vista, and Torrance Farmers Markets.
Mason’s Den will be serving up the TikTok-famous mini pancake cereal. The pandemic has led to some interesting cooking trends like sourdough bread, Dalgona Coffee, and feta pasta, but people on TikTok have made a bowl of mini pancakes covered in syrup and milk that you eat with a spoon into a viral sensation. Customers can choose between original and matcha pancake dough before rummaging through the number of potential toppings, including sour gummy worms, Fruity Pebbles, Teddy Grahams, Oreo crumbs, strawberries, blueberries, and maple/caramel/chocolate syrups, among a plethora of other cereal and breakfast toppings. In addition to the viral mini pancakes, Mason’s Den will also serve funnel cakes, corn, and other fried fair food. Owner Jerman Arteaga has already been booked for next year’s Coachella and Stagecoach festivals.
Sandoitchi is a Texas-based Japanese sando restaurant that will travel into 626 Night Market debut this year. Japanese sandos aremade on thick, fluffy milk bread aka shokupan. Sandoitchi, which is Japanese for sandwich, serves versions with egg salad, pork katsu, hot chicken katsu, and fruit with cream. The sandos are known for selling out within minutes in Texas and at all the various pop up locations. Chef Stevie Nguyen gained social media fame with a ridiculous $75 wagyu sando topped with black truffles and gold leaf in the past.
The first 626 Night Market of the year will be July 9 to 11, followed by July 16 to 18, August 27 to 29, and September 3 to 5 with hours from 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 11 p.m. on Sunday.
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Smoothie Operator: Independent Blender Bringing Healthy Food To The Streets – BayStateBanner

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Hyde Park couple ready to buy historic building
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Hyde Park couple ready to buy historic building
Tanisha Sullivan announces bid for secretary of state
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NEW ORLEANS — Good food and music are staples of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Unfortunately, that food usually comes in the form of seafood, gumbo, jambalaya, king cake and beignets — items that make your taste buds happy and your waistline expand.
However, 5th Ward native Domonique “Dinero” Meyers offers a delicious alternative to the city’s famous, but sometimes greasy fare. His Ascent Blends brand of organic smoothies had a modest start on the sidewalks of New Orleans, just a blender and organic fruits.
His efforts at healthy living didn’t go unnoticed — he recently secured a distribution deal with Rouses Markets that will soon see his smoothies and ginger shots on its store shelves. (Rouses started in Houma, Louisiana, more than 40 years ago and is one of the largest independent grocers in the U.S.)
Meyers — who prefers to go by Dinero — understands that health is wealth and hopes his Ascent Blends will create a healthier city. He recently talked with Zenger News about the success of his company, how the Rouses deal came to fruition and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Domonique “Dinero” Meyers for Zenger News.
 
Zenger: Tell us about the name of your company and the mission behind it. 
Dinero: It’s Ascent Blends; everything is handcrafted, made fresh daily. We’re your jump-start to becoming healthier. We are community-driven, and we care about your health.
Zenger: From what I understand, you were making smoothies in the hood and that turned into something big. How did it get started?
 
Dinero: Being mindful of my diet over the years, I started this company in July 2016. So, five years ago, I was riding on a pink scooter in my neighborhood, the 5th Ward. And I see a building that used to fix motorbikes and scooters for lease. I said: “This could be a smoothie business right here.”
I reached out, talked to the owner and the numbers were good. But I really wasn’t ready to start a business there. I had never even made a smoothie to sell. The idea just kind of sparked. I worked at a nonprofit, so I asked a few people there what I should do. They said: “Well, if you can’t get the building, just get started by setting up a stand at the barbershop in the neighborhood.” And that’s what I did.
They also told me to get quality ingredients. I wanted to make sure my smoothies are healthy. I wound up using non-dairy agave, which is better than sugar.
I started selling smoothies at the barbershop. They were an instant hit. I was out there 24/7, all over the city. I would have the entire sidewalk lined up with people wanting smoothies, which weren’t available anywhere else. We didn’t have any healthy options there — the 5th Ward is crammed with liquor stores and fried foods.
I was working out every day on the sidewalk, people were joining in with me, and I also started running and doing 5K runs. We are definitely about health education and informing all of our customers, leaving them with literature and inspiration on changing their lifestyle. It’s much more than just a smoothie.
Zenger: Was it hard to get these healthy smoothies to take off in a city not known for having healthy dining options? 
Dinero: it was a bit challenging, but it wasn’t hard. About three or four years ago, things were shifting in the city. You started seeing some healthier options come around. I think that I had a lot to do with people being able to have access to that kind of product. It helps that my smoothies really taste good. I’ve had people looking at my green smoothie like:“Man, that thing probably tastes nasty.” Keep in mind, I’m dealing with the hood, so it was straight like that. It was: “Ugh, I don’t want that green one, give me the pink one.” But then they would taste the green one and find out it’s amazing.
I actually shook the culture from understanding that looks can be deceiving when it comes to things like a healthy smoothie. You have to give things a try.
Zenger: How did the deal with Rouses come about? 
Dinero: One of my homies had a meeting with Rouses about figuring out how to do something together. He brought in a few people who had businesses already, from the farmers to people who cooked to products. He said he wanted to do a vendor market every week or something like that at Rouses. So, I took the meeting. I’m community-based, and there were a lot of things at stake, as far as them righting their wrongs. So, if they were willing to do the undoing, I’m with it.
That was my whole pitch in the meeting. This is not just about me. It’s about creating opportunities for jobs. It was a decision I had to make for myself and others. We are about four or five months in now, and every Saturday, we do the market at Rouses on Tchoupitoulas. And very soon, they will have my fresh-pressed juices and ginger shots on the shelf in their CBD [Central Business District] location.
(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Fern Siegel)
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What to eat while recovering from Covid – The Week

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What to eat while recovering from Covid  The Week
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