The East End is in fact edible, with its countless producers of fresh-grown fruits and vegetables and an abundance of agriculture at its residents’ fingertips. The main roads of our towns are not lined with fast-food joints, but rather farm stands and pick-your-own purveyors.
We are very fortunate. But, not more than a hundred or so miles from Long Island’s East End lie areas that have literally been deemed “food deserts”: low-income parts of New York City and its surrounding boroughs, where residents have little if any source of such nourishing ingredients to feed themselves and their families.
It was partly the alarming rate of obesity within these neighborhoods that prompted New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to work with the City Council to launch the NYC Green Cart Initiative in 2008, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. While Manhattanites will be familiar with the umbrella-topped displays of apples, bananas, potatoes and other produce on street corners much of the year, the initiative set out to double and triple the number of these mobile carts and push them into specific low-income locations in outer boroughs of the city where fresh produce options are scarce. This program is also the subject matter of The Apple Pushers, a documentary film by Mary Mazzio, narrated by Edward Norton, that made its world premiere at this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival.
And while the actual apple pushers themselves—about 525 vendors across the five boroughs (our of about 1,000 available permits) who are primarily first-generation immigrants, much like the Jewish, Italian and other ethnic produce peddlers of previous New York eras—worked on a Sunday afternoon in October, 100 miles or so away a crowd of about 150 gathered in East Hampton’s United Artists Theater to watch their story unfold.
“The goal of this film is twofold” says Mazzio, “First, to inspire municipalities to think creatively about different ways to address the problems of obesity and food deserts. The other goal, which became apparent to me while making the film, is to inspire other philanthropists to consider public-private partnerships within their own cities, like Laurie [Tisch] did through her support of the Green Cart Initiative.”
Mazzio is proud to report, “In New York the Green Cart Initiative is one of several strategies underway in the fight against obesity and food deserts. However, the concept of mobile vending is catching on, and several cities are working on developing their own ‘Green Cart’ initiatives.”
For more information on The Apple Pushers visit theapplepushers.com.
Courtney MacGinley has a passion for good food and great films. She writes from her home in Coram.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article misspelled the filmmakers name and misstated the number of Green Cart vendors.