For 5 Days I tracked everything that went in (and out) of my body.

Because I’m not working, and have little income I tend to try and not leave the house. Leaving the house costs money. My eating habits are reflected in that. I live in a neighborhood with a diverse selection of foods, but maybe not the most healthy options. My eating habits are reflected in that.

I started tracking my eating on Tuesday February 8th. I ate breakfast in the morning at home, but ended up going to study at The New School’s library. I ended up going to get a falafel and pita when I saw a sign advertising a deal. Whenever I am at school, I usually try to stop at my favorite restaurant, African Cuisine, and grab something on the way home. I alter my train route home just to get there. I can eat a hearty meal for $2-$3 dollars there.

On Wednesday I had to go to class, but also left the house to DJ at a club in Manhattan. Since I didn’t have to go to class until the afternoon I was able to eat both breakfast and lunch at home. This helped me save money, and if we’re gonna get socially conscious… cut down my waste as well. I usually eat Cheerios for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch with the ingredients I buy at my local Key Foods.

Sometimes, when I don’t have time… a lot of times when I don’t have time, I eat dollar pizza. I usually go to the same place by the West 4th Street Subway stop. I usually by two slices and a coke. It costs $2.75.

The DJ gig that night was at a place called Don Hills, where I opened for the great rap group 9/11 Thesaurus. Buy their album when it comes out in a couple weeks!

I drank 2 beers.

On Thursday once again I was able to eat at home. I ate the same thing as the day before. Eating on a budget gets boring. So after a long week of studying and classing, I decided to treat myself to a meal that I tend to miss living on the East Coast… Tacos!

Not that you can’t find Tacos in NY, but in the Bay Area I survived on Mexican food. In New York, some good Mexi-Cali style corn tortilla, cilantro, onion, salsa picante, pastor, limón tacos cost $7.50.

Still, they were good. The place was called La Superior and it’s in Williamsburg, BK.

It’s what they call “Home food”, but as I move around I find that everywhere I go I miss food from somewhere else.

That night I drank 3 beers?

On Friday the Egyptian people rose up, and Mubarak stepped down:

I ate Cheerios and a sandwich. Then had another DJ gig with the FAM, Dutty Artz! It was a fun party. Come to them. They’re the 2nd Fridays of every month at the cove.

I was running out of time before the gig so I ate a Turkish Style Döner Kebab from Bedford Street in Williamsburg. I ate and threw everything away at the bar.

I drank % beers.

On my way home my taxi driver, maybe sensing that I was having a little too much fun decided to give me lessons on moral behavior.

On Saturday I had to wake up early (10:00, ha!) to go to French Class.

Since I was not in the best of shape, after little sleep and… hm… you know… I needed to put something in my body. I started with water, but it wasn’t keeping my alert (or mentally functioning) in class.

I don’t drink coffee. I went to Starbucks and got coffee. I ate an “Artesian Breakfast Sandwich”. I’ve always had the impression that Starbucks was an evil place. I didn’t seem so bad.

I feel like I’m going to start drinking coffee because of New York.

I recycled? 🙂

Then I went home and got more comfort food at African Cuisine. I passed out, woke up a few hours later, and decided I couldn’t leave the house. I ate whatever I could find.

newethnicbk

(Click on chart images for larger sizes)

This is a map of small business owners’ representations of their neighborhood by the names of ethnic groups they put on their awning to draw in customers.  The map provides an alternative perspective on the ethnic makeup of Bed-Stuy, to the one provided by census data shown on the NY Times map.  Not that the Times map doesn’t provide a useful perspective on the city as a whole, but a more dynamic and flowing map like the above may provide a more tangible example of the lived experience in a neighborhood through how people identify their neighbors. Individual peoples’ identities are not static, and the river with different currents is also more indicative of the way people generally self-identify.

While the above map provides a glimpse at a new way to imagine the neighborhood, of course it is not perfect and far from scientific.  Chinese food is ubiquitous and not necessarily representative of the make up of the neighborhood, and the existence of Thai and Japanese point to another trend I address below.  There is also an interesting layering that happens amongst different immigrant groups, where the latest to arrive group puts all the names in their awnings, giving more weight and importance to words like “American” and “West Indian” than perhaps they deserve.  For example, all the Bangladeshi store owners put “Bangladeshi, Indian, African, West Indian, and American” in their awnings.  Africans generally put “African, West Indian, and American”, and West Indians put “West Indian and American.”  Those who identify culturally as American generally put “Southern or Soul Food” reflecting their migrant connection to the U.S. South.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the section of the map where the most non-immigrant identifying “Americans” live are the places where they are not represented on the map and vice-versa.

The next two maps can go deeper to show a more comprehensive view of different cultures in the neighborhood.  Food consumption, and dietary preferences are measures of how culture and class interact in the neighborhood.  Compare individual blocks to see how different food consumption trends correlate to the various ethnic identities.

foodplacemap

In the above chart, I lumped different food places into 5 major categories, and mapped their prevalence along the Fulton street strip.  The breakdown provides further insight into food behaviors in the neighborhood:

  • The blue strip is all small businesses that prepare food to buy as individual dishes, take out, ethnic eateries, and local chains like Golden Crust, and Crown Fried Chicken.
  • The gray outlining above are national chains like KFC, Popeyes, and Applebys. They are ubiquitous, but gain a larger proportion the further east you go, meaning there are less options for healthy dining (see below).
  • The red are Cafes, Lounges, and Coffee Shops, places that are often associated with gentrification.
  • The yellow are Buffet style restaurants that serve pre-prepared food by weight.
  • The green section are sit-down restaurants where people may go for a dining “experience”.  These are totally concentrated in Clinton-Hill a sign of its state of economic development.  The former stomping ground of Notorious B.I.G. perhaps means that these establishments are a true sign of gentrification.  Also I would argue, they tend to commodify their advertised ethnicity, instead of serve as cultural anchors for an ethnic group, as evidenced by a supposed Little Asia in Clinton-Hill.
  • The purple group, the largest, is represented by Delis, Groceries, Supermarkets, Butchers, Bakers, and convenience store.  This is the biggest group and probably deserve their own map.  What they have in common is that they all serve food for you to take home and prepare on your own.  Many of them prepare a sandwich or other simple meal for you to take home, which probably earns them extra money.

See a graph of this same chart here.

dietpref

This last chart is the most simple and I left it in graph form to show how significant the differences are amongst areas of Fulton Street.  Dietary subscriptions due to culture, whether religious or lifestyle choices, are a key indicator of who lives in an area.  The above chart when cross checked with the above two maps show some interesting correlations:

  • There is one “local food” shop in the Clinton-Hill section of Fulton street surrounded by several shops that advertise “organic products”.  These two food preferences are non-existent once you cross Franklin, and the only store that had it past Classon (the official border of the two neighborhoods) was a supermarket chain.  It makes the art installation marking an the symbolic border of two neighborhoods all the more interesting.

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  • The Halal mountain corresponds nicely with the most diverse area of Bed-Stuy meaning the diverse Muslim population is mixing in interesting ways, as referenced in the Bed-Stuy Patch.  The spike also corresponds with the Buffet eateries near the Mosque which were the most linguistically diverse places I visited.
  • Lastly the growing proportion of “healthy” signs in store windows as the proportion of national fast food chains goes up shows a significant attempt by business owners in the community to fight unhealthy eating habits in the neighborhood.  I also think that “healthy” corresponds to the existence of a Rastafarian community, as in other West Indian neighborhoods you see a similar preoccupation with health (Ital Foods).

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For my initial research questions see my first two posts (here and here). For more in-depth observations on individual sites, visit my map where you can click on various icons.  You can also see pictures of various awnings in the neighborhood on my flickr page.




One of the reasons I was initially attracted to living in The Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, aka Bed-Stuy, was the ethnic and religious diversity of the neighborhood’s residents.  My 3 unit building alone represents several of the major groups that are leaving their cultural mark on the place.  I have a Bangladeshi landlord with his family living below me, a West Indian family above, and my roommates and I, a group of first and second generation American Africans in the middle.  When I saw the “ethnic diversity” map of New York recently published in the New York Times, I saw it as problematic in many ways, but not least of which was that it didn’t really reflect the lived experience of my neighborhood. So I went ahead and decided to try show what an actual map of my neighborhood’s diversity would look like.

In thinking about what my mapping of restaurants on Fulton Street should entail, I didn’t just want to go into places and make assumptions about who was or wasn’t in there based on stereotypes. Since the stores themselves advertised it on their awnings, I realized I didn’t have to. I decided to focus my data collection on the ways an establishment uses it’s awning as a marketing tool to reach out to the diverse population of the community.

What I’ve noticed about all the restaurants between Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy is that businesses use specific words to draw different customers in.  Different ethnic groups and classes use the signs differently, and different words correspond to areas with higher concentrations of different ethnic or economic groups.  The inside of the establishments vary widely ranging from restaurants retaining specific cultural and religious cues and food, to enterprising businesses just trying cast the widest net for potential customers.

I feel that the signs also do a service to the neighborhood to diffuse potential ethnic tensions.  I’ve heard that in other communities like in The Bronx, and Staten Island, with a high concentration of African immigrants, a tension between Black Americans and African immigrants has developed.  I haven’t seen that so much in Bed-Stuy (at least on the surface), and I believe that the welcoming nature of the signs, and the diversity of the community plays a roll.  There’s also an interesting diversity within the Muslim community centered around the several Masjids in the area.  As I noted before, the biggest one, Masjid At-Taqwa is a definite central node for the community where Sufi Muslim Senegalese mix with Sunni Muslims from places as diverse as Eastern Europe, Bangladesh, and Yemen.  The neighborhood focused blog, the Bed-Stuy Patch has an interesting 3 part series detailing the experiences of the Senegalese in Bed-Stuy.  The first one is on their businesses, the second is on the youth, and the last is on the greater Muslim community.  Again, a potentially explosive and controversial subject in other parts of the city, such as an Islamic center, has fostered harmonious living between groups in Bed-Stuy.

Some other trends I’ve notice include a socioeconomic divide accentuated by a “transitional” residential area on Fulton between Clinton-Hill and Bed-Stuy.  Clinton Hill is a neighborhood that is widely known as going through a process of gentrification, and Bed-Stuy has been pegged by some as the next front in that stuggle.  It was telling that there was an installation addressing food and gentrification done by MoCADA on an abandoned building in this section of Fulton, symbolically marking the gentrification dividing line.

Gentrification an almost universal trend across much of the United States, and especially in the post-industrial cities of the Rust Belt, is the perfect example of how Capitalism cycles through areas of production, creating booms and bust across both urban and rural landscapes.  Less publicized (but perhaps more focused on in the past) is the roll of immigrant communities in changing the face and make up of a community.  Some questions for future research beyond the scope of this project include:  Is a burgeoning Senegalese population more inviting to middle class and wealthy clientele that may have avoided a neighborhood nicknamed “Do or Die” before?  (There was a similar trend in Harlem with Little Senegal preceding that neighborhood’s gentrification.  My roommate and I jokingly call Bed-Stuy Young Harlem.)  How do ideas of African identity play a roll in the relationships between the three major African diaspora communities?  How does the relationship between class, race, and nation of origin play out in the various neighborhood meeting spots?

In trying to address many of the questions that I came up with when pondering Fulton street, I decided to focus categories that weren’t based on appearance of people or assumptions based on stereotypes like skin color, dress, and accent.  The categories I focused on gave me a sense of religion, nation of origin, and class without having to make judgments on individuals.  These are:

  • Marketing: I am looking at words in the awning advertising, signifying ethnicity or cultural dietary needs.  Dominant words include: American, African, Bangladeshi, West Indian or Caribbean, Spanish or Latin, Halal, Healthy, and Organic each corresponding to assumptions about the ethnicity of the groups in the area.
  • Service: The style of service whether sit-down, deli, or buffet to signify targeted economic class.  Most of the restaurants in Clinton Hill use are “fancier” sit-down restaurants, and while their clientele may be diverse ethnically, they tend to be wealthier, and dishes more expensive.
  • Language: I will also look at language in a selection of establishments to try and come to conclusions on whether or not certain places serve as a cultural anchor in the area, or is just a store trying to cast a wide net.  Since presumably all the stores are trying to cast wide nets, I will use language spoken between workers and clientele and the language of media (TV and radio) being broadcast to gauge if people are going there for cultural reasons beyond food consumption.

As Sze Tsung Leong pointed out, shopping evolves.

Yesterday, I took a Virgin America flight, and we had to order all our food through a Linux powered touch screen interface.  You add items (including free items like water) to a cart, then press checkout and the flight attendant brings you your item.  The lady next to me tried to ask the flight attendant for water, and she was told to order through the screen.  Now they can track what you do over a flight by what seat you were in and what activity you engaged in.  If airlines sell this information to companies it could be big business.  Facebook and Google already do this.

M.I.A. has a song in which the chorus warns that “The Google connects you to the government,” and Egypt provides an example of how far governments are willing to go to control its people’s internet usage.  But, what scares me more is how corporations use and control the information we willingly give them.

When I moved to New York, four months ago I convinced myself that I had to live in the vicinity of a West African community.  I had planned on moving near Little Senegal, 116th Street in Harlem, but found that the rents were too expensive.  I was staying with a friend in Bed-Stuy and he suggested that I check out the neighborhood around Fulton and Bedford as there were a collection of African restaurants around there.

On the corner of Bedford and Fulton sits the Masjid At-Taqwa.  From what I can see, the building is a large part of the identity of the neighborhood.  Muslims of all backgrounds have congregated in the area, and you can see people from West Africa, South Asia, and The Middle East all going about their business.  I wonder how the settlement pattern happened.  Were immigrants attracted to the area because of low rents and the Muslim community brought the Mosque there?  Or did the community develop around the Mosque?  The block surrounding the Mosque is filled with restaurants that exist to cater to the crowd coming to worship.  Halal food signs dominate the block with various ethnic food themes: Chinese to Arabic to African.  The names of the restaurants entertain me as most of the restaurants manage to work the words “Halal” and “American” into their often long and strung out names.  Signs promoting healthy or more conscious lifestyle choices such as, “Don’t eat junk” and “No Pork” line the street.

Al Pasha restaurant, next to Masjid At-Taqwa isn’t the best restaurant in the neighborhood, but it’s clientele seems to be one of the most diverse.  I sat late last night with a diverse collection of men eating, and women either working or studying and watched the events in Egypt unfold on Al-Jazeera.  Most of the restaurants I’ve been to have flat screen TV’s with satellite connections to news in the local language about events back “home”.  My favorite restaurant, “Halal African Cuisine African and American Food” down the street serves home cooked West African food and depending on the time of day will show a range of shows, from French language news, to soap operas.

What I like about the restaurants in the neighborhood is that you can eat well for cheap, and no matter the targeted crowd, you can find a diverse clientele.  Some of my favorite people watching happens at the Dominican run, “Spanish and American food” restaurant, where Black Americans talk in broken Spanish to prescribe an alternative to the Dominican version of rice and chicken.  The ordering habits differ by cultural familiarity.

I hypothesize that there are two main groups that frequent these restaurants.  One is the ethnic or religious community that is targeted by creating familiar home-style dishes, and the other is a local low income clientele that is attracted to the decent food at affordable prices.  This study will be focus on socio-economic and cultural motivations for frequenting the food establishments in the area.