Brooklyn Artisans: Gentrification = Elephant in the Room


The feature on the new generation of Brooklyn food artisans in the New York Times food section was an interesting roundup of small producers/businesses like Marlow & Daughters butcher shop, Cut Brooklyn (a knife maker) and Mast Chocolates. The story is the most emailed story from the NYT this week–the people featured are entrepreneurs who care about good food done right, and they deserve the attention.

But. as Ed Levine at Serious Eats wrote, the story neglects to mention that Brooklyn has had a long tradition of small, quality food businesses, born about a 100 years before the new wave of artisans started their work.

On a related note, it’s even more interesting that the word ‘gentrification’ never comes up.

Why the story is made possible by gentrification, after the jump.

It’s surprising that the issue of gentrification is never mentioned, especially because many of those
old artisans have been put out of business or into jeopardy as Brooklyn
has become more expensive. (For example, 69-year-old A&S Pork store closed
because of skyrocketing rents, but thankfully found a new, affordable location.) Gabrielle Langholtz, editor of Edible Brooklyn (a great magazine) notes that many of the new artisans and their customers hadn’t yet moved to Brooklyn 10 years ago. And the story describes the new artisans like so:

These Brooklynites, most in their 20s and 30s, are hand-making pickles,
cheeses and chocolates the way others form bands and artists’
collectives. They have a sense of community and an appreciation for
traditional methods and flavors. They also share an aesthetic that’s
equal parts 19th and 21st century, with a taste for bold graphics,
salvaged wood and, for the men, scruffy beards.


“It’s that guy in the band with the big plastic glasses who’s
already asking for grass-fed steak and knows about nibs,” Ms. Langholtz


That sure sounds to me like the people who moved to Brooklyn in the recent wave of gentrification.

I’m not saying the artisans or their customers are a band of spoiled rich kids. Far from it. Gentrification isn’t necessarily bad, it just is–inevitable in many ways. You could say I’m part of the wave of gentrification in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and I can’t help that. No one really can–everyone’s just looking for an affordable place to live. But we should pay attention to how our neighborhoods change, for better and worse. By neglecting to mention the wave of gentrification that’s given rise to these new artisans, the article lacks a context that’s important.

It’s great that a new generation of Brooklynites are starting small food businesses. It means more good eating, and a less corporate approach to food. But it’s simply worth noting that there are demographic changes–changes that are sometimes harmful to older businesses–that have made Brooklyn into “The East Coast of Berkley.”

Anyone else feel this way while reading the story?

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