Friday, September 28, 2012

The Experts Weigh In: Eating Well (and Sustainably) on the High Line


I am in denial about the date on the calendar. When I think back on my summer, all I can think is that I didn't get enough - I didn't get enough BBQs in Prospect Park, I didn't get enough parties in Kai and Erica's yard, I certainly didn't get enough beach time and I didn't get enough time eating and drinking outdoors. Because I live in a city that is obsessed with arctic chill air conditioning (do you also keep a fuzzy sweater at your desk in the summer time?), I cherish those places where I can enjoy a good brew or tasty munchies while the sun is warming my back and New York is passing me by in all its quirky incarnations.

A Pom Jasmine Popsicle from People's Pops
Though any sidewalk cafe will do for such an activity, my number one summer escape for eating, drinking and feeling like I'm getting away from the city (even though I'm only taking the train down to 14th St. and walking west) is High Line Park. Though I have been enamored with the High Line since its fledgling park days, my single favorite addition for this year has been their partnership with AMAZING NYC-based restaurants to create a mini 'food bar' along the Upper Chelsea Market Passage at West 15th St. Offering four entree options, two frozen sweets options and one coffee option, the High Line has you covered when it comes to munching while enjoying the expansive views of the Hudson River, the creative, thoughtful and inspired architecture of the park and all of the beautiful people passing through Chelsea.

Not only do all of the vendors serve outstanding food with lovely smiles and heartfelt service, but much of their ingredients come from local farms that grow produce and raise livestock in sustainable ways, free of pesticides and hormones. Ever conscious of the impact that collective human eating habits have on the environment AND aware of the political nature of eating, the High Line chose to engage vendors that serve tasty and affordable items produced by true food artisans that have elevated their sourcing standards to promote long-term sustainability.

This year's vendors in the Upper Chelsea Market Passage include Bark Hot Dogs, The Taco Truck, L'Arte Del Gelato, Blue Bottle Coffee, People's Pops and Northern Spy Food Company, while the Porch features Terroir's latest outpost - an amazing wine/beer bar with great small plate options. These food vendors are the real deal, people! And to have so many specialty options all within 10 feet of each other? Sign me up. Sustainable eating doesn't get any better than this!

BLT from Northern Spy Food Company
For me, the point of living is to keep on doing just that. Sure, I indulge in excess, make bad decisions and engage in activities that are not particularly healthy, but my end game is to sustain a happy and productive life, free of excessive doctors visits, heart attack scares or expensive prescription refills. For that reason, I find it particularly important to support restaurateurs, farmers markets and groceries that source local products grown in organic and/or sustainable ways. I applaud the High Line's decision to partner with restaurants that approach eating and feeding people the same way I do.

Kale salad from Northern Spy Food Company
If you have ever read my blog Harlem Food Local, hung out with me or maybe even passed me on the street while eating a Big Mac (I might just say something to you - sorry, I am THAT girl), then you know that I am a firm believer in supporting pesticide-free/organic local farmers (that raise both produce and livestock), and I try to live a lifestyle that is as sustainable as possible in a city that is far too obsessed with convenience at any cost (hello, you can get wine delivered in NYC!). Don't get me wrong, I know that eating sustainably is not achievable for every meal - especially if one eats out often or has a job like I do that consumes 80% of your waking hours - but even if you make a small change (maybe one day a week or one week a month), you will be helping your body and the local economy, while having a really positive long-term impact on the planet.

Lauren and crew at the High Line
Eating out and buying groceries is no different. Here are a few (very condensed) reasons why you might want to explore sustainable alternatives to your typical grocery store purchases, and, whenever possible, support restaurants that subscribe to sustainable sourcing practices. (Please note that for brevity's sake I have focused specifically on the benefits as they relate to fruits and vegetables. We would need a whole different post to discuss the benefits in regard to meat).

PERSONAL HEALTH BENEFITS - Produce that is produced locally and sustainably or organically (meaning that there is intentional crop rotation and the use of little or no chemicals/pesticides) is healthier for you. Once a vegetable is picked, its nutritional value immediately starts to diminish. The longer it takes to get from the plant that grew it to your belly, the less nutrition it offers your body. So if you are eating vegetables that were grown on another continent, picked before they were ripe and shipped by freight or truck to your favorite restaurant, a week or two could pass from the point of harvest to the point of consumption. Additionally, when vegetables are grown on factory farms that don't practice sustainable crop rotation (meaning, they grow the same crop in the same soil season after season), the minerals in that soil are depleted at a rapid rate. These crops start out being less nutritious and less resilient than crops grown with sustainable or organic farming practices. And because these crops are more susceptible to illness and disease, factory farms will spray harmful pesticides or growth hormones on the plants to ensure a crop that looks healthy, does not succumb to rodent or insect predators and can be sold. Unfortunately, because of their direct and excessive contact with the plants they are 'treating', these pesticides and hormones end up being absorbed through the roots of the plant or the skin of the vegetable; thereby, becoming incorporated into the building blocks of these crops as they stay in the soil year after year. The result? Contaminated soil and crops that have pesticides as one of their main ingredients. But if you support restaurants that buy their produce from local, sustainable farmers, then the nutritional value of your food increases because the food was harvested more recently AND because you aren't downing a dose of pesticides with every salad that you have for lunch (and sorry, but washing it won't do the trick).

People walking along the High Line -Image courtesy of
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS - Most of the produce that you find in a grocery store or on a menu (unless specifically designated otherwise) was probably grown thousands of miles away. It doesn't matter if it's organic or conventional, if the tomatoes you are buying were grown somewhere in South America, the journey to get to your grocery store shelf was a long one, spent partially on a diesel truck. Shipping that produce to your local grocery store creates tons of air pollution, which adds to each of our personal carbon footprints and collectively has a significant impact on our environment. There is also the previously mentioned pesticide problem. Pesticides are powerful chemicals, and when used often, they pollute the air, are absorbed into the soil and seep into our ground water, which eventually ends up in our reservoirs, lakes, rivers and oceans. When humans, fish and other water-dwelling wildlife are exposed to these chemicals long-term, there are higher instances of genetic disorders, cancers and birth defects. If you support restaurants that source sustainable and pesticide-free products that are produced locally, your produce isn't travelling very far and your carbon footprint shrinks at least a few sizes.

Lounging on the High Line, overlooking the Hudson River -Image courtesy of
LOCAL ECONOMY BENEFITS - Our economy is a global one - everything is connected. The way each of us decides to purchase food (whether to eat at home or in a restaurant) and the corporations from which we buy it has a direct effect on the way that agribusiness and food conglomerates lobby Congress. It affects food policy and impacts biodiversity throughout the world (yes, the world). In short, MONEY TALKS, and as American consumers, where and how we spend our hard-earned paychecks is of utmost importance to every consumer goods and services company out there. Knowing that where I spend my money counts as a VOICE and a VOTE towards my food values, I choose to spend my food budget on food that is grown close to home by independent and sustainable farmers. I go to restaurants that do the same because it speaks volumes about my perspective regarding the corrupted state of food production and nutrition education in this country. Today especially - when almost everyone is still feeling the impact of the recession - how and where you choose to buy your food is often as much a political act as it is an act of survival. Supporting local and sustainable restaurants is one of the best ways to support the small businesses in your local economy, while decreasing your carbon footprint and increasing nutrition and taste. It's a win-win-win-win for everyone involved (that's me-restaurant-farmer-environment) and, most importantly, it lets conniving agribusiness giants and huge food conglomerates know that I'm not supporting their business practices, lobbyists or factory farm models.

Still not convinced? Read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food Rules or In Defense of Food. Or hop on Netflix and watch Food, Inc, Supersize Me, Food Matters, King Corn or The Future of Food. Or check out these links on the subject of sustainability in all of its forms:

The High Line, an old above ground railroad track that's been converted into a park -Image courtesy of
 Where a chef chooses to source ingredients is probably one of the single most important decisions that she/he can make. Why don't we all head to the High Line and let these chefs, Friends of the High Line and the rest of New York City know that we are willing to put our money where our mouths are? 

You've got to eat, right? Now you can do more than just feed yourself!

**NOTE: The Upper Chelsea Market Passage will be hosting the aforementioned food vendors until the end of October, but each has a flagship location or a food truck where you can nosh on their tasty treats year round.**

Arionna Shannon-DiPietro is a native New Yorker - straight from Albany, the proud capital city itself! By day, she's a successful technology recruiter, but don't be fooled, Ari is a creative type - whipping up masterpieces in the kitchen. She actually gets excited about new kitchen items more so than new clothes, shoes or bags combined. She finds it impossible to pick a favorite food (yes, I made the mistake of asking), but her favorite type of food would have to be some sort of dough stuffed with a tasty filling. If you call it a xia jiao, ravioli, tortelloni, perogie, empanada, gyoza, mandu, samosa, shumai or any variation therof, she will gladly eat it. On her day off, you can find her scouring Chinatown for the cheapest and best bubble tea (Iced Jasmine Green Tea, 10% sugar, no milk or powder please) or attempting to attack her bucket list of restaurants, which is 4,000 restaurants long. Check out Ari's blog Harlem Food Local and see what she has to say about cooking and eating uptown!

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