Monday, February 13, 2012

Hunts Point: From Land To Mouth

We rose before the sun, and met at the rock at 5 A.M. Fieldston was deserted; yet one classroom light was still shining. Our first stop of the day was at Hunts Estate, where a cemetery lay. Here Tess, Lena and Sam told us about "the Grange," which was the first house built in Hunts Point The cemetery held people such as Hunt, Leggetts and Willetts who influenced the development of the Bronx. After all being scared out of our minds, we got back onto the bus and proceeded to the Fulton Fish Market. Here, we were greeted by owner David Samuels, who took us inside and showed us the ENORMOUS market. The market appeared to be old fashioned in the sense that many of the workers smoked cigars/cigarettes, not worrying the health hazards. Samuels told us about how he loves the new fish market, because it is clean and efficient, but the workers hate it because there is no bar nearby or sense of place. He also explained that he paid the fisherman more for better service, and they gave him better fish in return. Before heading to the produce market, Hannah purchased 3 pounds of sea urchin for a bargain price.

Our next stop was the second largest produce market in the world. It’s the largest in America, and sells fruits and vegetables year round. The business is now run by the Katzman family. The fruits and vegetables come in from all over the world and are imported by truck, other than the potatoes which come in by train. The workers spoke a variety of languages (up to about 80) so that people from all different nationalities would feel comfortable speaking their language and interacting with others. Like the meat and fish market, there is "a consumer for every product" no matter what condition the fruits and vegetables are in. The softer, more rotten food they sell to low end super markets or restaurants that are willing to buy it for a bargain price.

After the produce market, we made our final food stop at the meat market. Here we dressed in lab coats, goggles and hairnets to go inside and see veal and lamb going through the assembly line to be sealed up and sent away. The director wanted no pictures and avoided any questions that he felt might cause problems, but he was very direct. We started at the carcasses in the back, where the animals came from farms all over the U.S. The meat was then taken to the first section where it was split by body part. From there the meat was separated, put through machines and eventually packed. Every piece of the animal was used in some way. Many of us observed that the women only worked in the back of the factory in the packaging section. It was later inferred that these jobs were the lowest paying, but our guide either wouldn’t or couldn't answer when we asked about salaries.
Before heading back to Fieldston we took a stop at Sustainable South Bronx, (SSBx) which is a non-for profit organization that works for "environmental justice and to make the South Bronx more sustainable. They told us of their project to supply the Bronx with more green roofs and to try to eliminate the pollution caused by the Hunts Point Market and the trucks going in and out all of the time. They raised extremely interesting issues about one way that poverty effects the health of the South Bronx: When these markets existed in Manhattan, the upper class was able to hire lawyers and make a case to get it moved, but the people who are in the South Bronx don’t have that power. They also don’t benefit from this market because the food is not sold in the Hunts Point neighborhood, but the residents still have to deal with the air pollution. The Bronx had the highest child asthma rate in the country due to these markets and other factors. Jacob K. pointed out the irony of having a "food desert" right next to the largest wholesale food market in the world.

To conclude the day we met with Angelo from Flik, our food service company at Fieldston. He told us that the Fieldston kitchen is almost 100% local and all of our chicken is free range. We are now a 3 star green kitchen. Most of us didn’t know how much care the staff put into our school cafeteria. Hearing about the effort put into making our kitchen as green and healthy as possible made us appreciate school food much more. Even small efforts such as encouraging students and teachers to go trayless make a big difference in the long run. It was a great way to wrap up such a great field trip because it connected everything we learned back to something very familiar to us. Waking up at 4 A.M was definitely worth it! 

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