The 'Big Apple' has enough food and drink for Africa

21:37, Jul 29 2012
Martin van Beynen
Martin van Beynen

Sometimes when we are having a particularly good Sunday lunch and I am piling a sandwich with fillings, I wonder if having so much choice in food is sustainable.

While the incredible range of food and drink we have in our supermarkets and speciality shops is great for a more interesting lifestyle, it is a vast change from simpler and perhaps more economical times.

Well, everything is relative, I find, as I spend a few weeks on a study trip in New York.

The proverbial visitor from Mars might fairly conclude New York is a city of starving people who need to be constantly feeding and drinking to stave off immediate death.

What else to make of the myriad restaurants, bars, bistros, pizza joints, ice cream parlours, health food shops, sandwich counters, bakeries, food supermarkets and cafes that line every street in New York?

Take Broadway, which goes almost the length of Manhattan. In New Zealand, we connect Broadway with theatre and musicals, but it would be more accurate to associate it with victualling. It is packed on either side, almost without break or interruption, with outfits dispensing food and drink.


Take a small section of Broadway between 110th and 113th Streets, with which I have become slightly familiar. It contains the famous Tom's Diner of Seinfeld fame. Along an 80-metre stretch you find at least 10 eateries on each side of the road and if you can't be bothered stepping inside one of the establishments, you can still get sustenance from caravans parked on the corner.

Don't forget we are not even in the foodie districts of Chinatown or Little Italy, where starving New Yorkers have an even smaller chance of collapse, because the merest stumble will land them at the foot of a maitre- de, who will be able to render food aid immediately.

A shop on the corner of Broadway and 110th called Westmarket is a good case study. It looks like a very well-stocked fruit and vegetable shop. Stacked on footpath racks are oranges from Florida, lemons from California, Mexican avocados, Texan baby water melons, Washington cherries, New Jersey blueberries and Upstate peaches, to name but a few.

Then you go inside to have your mind blown by a range of food and drink that covers covering every centimetre of the emporium. You want cheese? Every taste is catered for. If you like one-year-old Dutch edam, rather than two-year-old Dutch edam, you will not be disappointed.

Let's take olives. You can have green or black pitted olives, marinated or marinated spice mix olives, pitted Tunistan or Manzanilla olives, Nicoise or Picholine olives and if you still looking, how about some nice green Castelvetrano olives from Italy?

Other counters specialise in cooked foods and you can assemble a whole gourmet meal from a delicious collection of meats and salads.

Some of the food markets, I notice, have salad counters where you build your own salad from about a 100 different fresh ingredients displayed in front of you. Your choice of selections is then mixed in a big stainless steel bowl, a dressing is added, and then the whole lot is put in a plastic container for you to take away.

Then there's a service called Summon. Clients phone in and it will deliver food made by one of the thousands of restaurants in its network.

Thirst is also well catered for in New York. My younger friends tell me about a McDonald's midtown where you can choose one of 100 different soda drinks indicated by a computer screen. A pub near Times Square called The Ginger Man sells over 400 different types of beer.

Many tourists compete with New Yorkers for food and drink, but there seems plenty to go around. So much so that you wonder, especially if you are a conservationist and a sharp-eyed glutton like me, where all the leftover food goes.

Even the starving New Yorkers could not chow down the mountains of food that flow every day. This leads to the conclusion a huge amount of food is wasted. But I don't want to think of that. The bountiful and plentiful New York continues to provide and even the Martian would have to conclude one must make hay while the star shines.

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