AOC Shares Story of How Hard It Was for Her to Buy Fresh Basil, ‘Very Illustrative’ of Racism


BLUMENAUER: “In Portland, we have people who are camping in the streets and in the vacant lots. There are consequences for our failure to do what the representative just talks about. And it produces conditions that deeply trouble people, produces unnecessary conflict, has health implications, so doing it right is actually going to improve the quality of life for everyone. And failure to do that is going to diminish the quality of life for all.”

BRAYLOR: “That was an excellent point. Our next question comes from Katrin Eriksen and she asks, the Bronx is consistently ranked one of the unhealthiest zip codes in New York state due to a laundry list of socioeconomic, environmental and health impacts. What is being done to make access to healthy fresh produce and quality meat available to the poorest of Bronx neighborhoods? Also, what is being done to promote healthy exercise habits of Bronx residents? They add, Earl and AOC have worked together on the ag portion of the Green New Deal and that ties into this conversation. She says thank you for taking the time to read her thoughts and she looks forward to hearing them during the town hall. So I’ll turn it first to you, Congressman Ocasio-Cortez.”

OCASIO-CORTEZ: “Sure, sure. What an incredible and thorough question. This area, of course, touches very close to home and it’s — and I’m glad that it’s being asked because, you know, as a Bronx resident, there have been many times, I mean, it’s almost a way of life where it can be very difficult to get access to fresh and healthy foods. I remember one of the early — earliest times, like, one of the worst stories I have about this is that I was very excited to make — I think I was making gazpacho or something like that. I looked at this recipe and I needed basil, and I was going home and I get off the subway station and I go into the grocery store and there’s no basil, no fresh basil in the grocery store. So then I walked to another grocery store two blocks down, no fresh basil. I was very stubborn about making this recipe that evening, and I must’ve been — I must’ve walked around for an hour in our neighborhoods, visiting four or five grocery stores, and there was no basil, no fresh basil in any of them. And it just goes to show, it’s very — it’s very illustrative of the difficulties that we have in our communities in accessing fresh produce. And even when we do or are able to access some of that fresh produce, a lot of times it’s on a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic, or if you’re able to access it, it may have been sprayed with tons of pesticides and what have you, and it’s almost as though the good stuff, you have to travel all the way to affluent neighborhoods to do that. And in fact, in New York City that is very common. People will go to work and they’ll commute to their job in Manhattan, which tends to be in a more affluent neighborhood, in a service economy job, and then what a lot of people will do, and what I used to do when I worked in restaurants, is that I’ll go shopping in the grocery store in the more affluent neighborhood and then I’ll take it onto the subway and schlep my groceries an hour into the Bronx, almost like importing them from Manhattan in order to feel like I was eating fresher food. And I noticed that I was not the only one that did this because I would look down the subway car and so many people were carrying bags of fresh groceries. And so, this is a very, very — you know, this is a very systemic problem and it goes all the way from what seeds that the federal government encourages we plant and what we subsidize, Earl touched on that earlier, that much of the food that the federal government subsidizes is less healthy. And we can simply ship some of those subsidies into not only healthier crops, but more sustainable agricultural practices like regenerative agriculture to make sure that it’s not just healthy for us, but healthy for our earth, which then becomes healthy for us. So everything from that to examining what is allowed to be purchased under programs like WIC, SNAP, etc., we can expand and change the scope of these programs to make sure that, you know, families can actually purchase deeply nutritious food. For those of you who don’t know, you can use SNAP at our farmers markets here in New York City and I’d really, really encourage you all to do that because if you have access to SNAP or WIC or any food assistance program in our green markets here in New York City, your SNAP — your SNAP points kind of, they — your SNAP goes further. Sometimes you can get double the amount of groceries if you get them at a local farmers market, or a CSA. But, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of progress to go, everything from zoning, once again, to make sure that we can get more grocery stores per capita in our community. Even just a subway stop down from me in Castle Hill, the only grocery store that was accessible to many seniors and communities in the area was on the verge of shutting down. And we have to make sure that we are — that we make these grocery stores financially tenable, lot of this comes down to small business fronts and etc. To make sure that grocery stores can stick around. And you know, when it comes to exercise, one of the things that I am very excited about is that we’ve been very successful in winning and gaining is expanding the amount of green space in the Bronx. We’ve been very successful in — you know, in the south Bronx, a little bit south of my district we have the complete revamp of Barretto Point Park and we have many, many of our local community members have been revamping and doing activities in Virginia Park, right here in Parkchester, and really expanding access to green space. And bike lanes. Bike lanes — we are on the Zoom call with the chairman of the Congressional Bike Caucus, so Earl, I’ll let you take that part away, but you know, I think bike lanes and building pro-biking infrastructure in our communities will allow people to get from A to B in many healthy ways as well.”

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