That’s the elegant level-headedness of Robert Sietsema, the longtime Village Voice food critic who was fired today, per a Gawker report. He’s the guy who writes about restaurants you’ve never heard of, because they don’t have publicists and they’re not listed on UrbanDaddy. Sietsema goes reviewing in parts of the city where yellow cabs don’t fill the streets, where subways aren’t always close by, in neighborhoods you didn’t know existed, and where English isn’t the first language of either the clientele, the waiters or the owners. He was, and still is, one of our most essential critics.
“His relationships with small restaurant owners not only led directly to the creation of the paper’s annual, sold-out “Choice Eats” event, but his written reviews literally changed the economic fortunes of several hundred small business owners throughout the five boroughs over the past two decades and left an indelible mark on the city’s food culture,” Hugh Merwin eloquently writes for New York Magazine’s Grub Street.
It’s important for us food writers and critics to cover the highly-touted new restaurants in Manhattan and cool parts of Brooklyn, because, well, that’s where people are spending their money, and it’s our job to follow and critique that money trail. Of course, every now and then, with re-reviews, we try to lead our readers off the trail by turning a spotlight on a more forgotton venue, or a venue that’s imporoved over the years.
And while Sietsema covered the big important new joints like the rest of us, his dedication to leading us WAY off the beaten path, outside of our Manhattan-Williamsburg-Carroll Gardens comfort zone, is why he’s so necessary. And with our city’s hospitality industry still getting back on its feet in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it’s ever more vital that these small “Sietsema restaurants” (if I can call them that) be given their proper due.
I hope we find him writing again soon. New York City needs Sietsema.
Watching the U.S House agriculture committee markup the 2013 Farm Bill this week, one amendment caught my eye. Submitted by Rep. Fudge of Cleveland, Ohio, the Healthy Food Initiative would create public/private partnerships to encourage retailers in food deserts to expand the sale of fresh food, and encourage new groceries to open in these areas.
I asked Fudge’s office to provide some more information, and here’s a summary I received (which is a longer version of what I just wrote):
The amendment, to Title IV of the bill, would authorize the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which is a public-private partnership that uses public dollars to attract private investment in communities by providing critical loans, grants, and financing opportunities for food retailers, farmers markets, cooperatives and others who face barriers to carrying and selling healthy foods. The amendment also supports expansion of existing stores so they can provide the healthier foods that consumers demand.
I’ll list some of the public health and economic reasoning behind Rep. Fudge’s thinking on this amendment in another post. But here’s her statement presented to the committee. You’ll notice that the Senate bill includes similar language in its base Farm Bill text. The House adopted this amendment in committee. Let’s see if it makes it into the final bill:
“There are too many communities in our country that lack adequate access to fresh, healthy, affordable food choices. According to USDA, 29.7 million people live in low-income areas more than a mile from a supermarket. It comes as no surprise that these same people are less likely to have a healthy diet than those with better access. Barriers to healthy food have worsened the growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related health problems in these communities.
The amendment I am offering today, seeks to combat the lack of healthy food retail through a public private initiative that would allow for the leveraging of millions in private capital at the national level. HFFI provides one-time loan and grant financing to attract grocery stores and other fresh food retail to renovate and expand existing stores so they can provide the healthy foods that communities want and need. This financing will help local businesses through loans and tailored financing packages that is not readily available.
To know that this works, we just need to look to our neighbors in Pennsylvania. A similar program that began in 2004 resulted in 88 projects being built or renovated in underserved urban and rural communities across the state. Fast forward to today and more than 5,000 jobs have been created or retained, and 400,000 people now have increased access to healthy food. Thirty million invested state dollars has resulted in projects totaling more than $190 million. The Pennsylvania’s program’s success rate has been better than the grocery industry overall.
The Senate has recognized the case for HFFI and included this text in their base bill. I hope that we too can recognize that the farm bill is the appropriate vehicle to fully invest in a national effort to bring healthy food access to every city and small town that needs it. Food access is a critical problem. The good news is that we know what to do and can do it.”