New York City’s food system is complicated, decentralized, and growing. With unique geographic characteristics, immense cultural diversity and a booming, densely packed population, The Big Apple poses for an interesting case study in how the world’s urbanites are fed.New York contains more people to feed than any other city in the United States. It also has the highest population density, containing 27,000 people per square mile. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. Servicing these people are more than 20,000 restaurants, 13,000 food retailers, and 1,600 public farmers markets. Each of these establishments receive their food from a variety of distributors, usually involving middlemen. Many retailers source their ingredients from distributors like Restaurant Depot, and Jetro.
Although sitting on one of the largest natural harbors, most of NYC’s food ironically arrives on truck beds. As much as 96% of all food flowing into NYC, in fact, is hauled by trucks according to a study conducted by the Earth Institute of Columbia for the NYC Mayors office. In 2002, when the study was conducted, there were more than 33.5 million tons of food moving into the NYC area. By 2035, this quantity will reportedly bump up to 54 million tons.
The diversity of New York is almost as staggering as its size. Over 3 million people living in NYC were born in another country–almost a third of the population. One would imagine this diversity makes NYC not only one of the largest food systems, but also one with the greatest disparity in taste preferences. Yet, as many who don’t even live in NYC know, pizza transcends all. A long-time unifier of the city’s population, the New York Slice is an icon for not just the metropolis, but the whole state. New York state offers more than 9,000 pizzerias, over 80% of which are independently owned. In fact, New York ranks as the state with the most independent pizzerias according to PMQ Pizza Magazine, and 11% of all independent pizzerias in the United States reside in the state alone.
New York city consumes a large amount of pizza, without a doubt. However, this makes perfect sense when you consider how the food fits in with the city’ unique demographic. For those on the go, there are ready-to-go slices on almost every NYC street corner, and for those who don’t want to go anywhere, there is always delivery. For price-focused consumers, there are 99 cent slices, and for those with the opposite predilection, there are gourmet and fine-dining establishments serving pizza that receive the highest of critical acclaim. There are also farm-to-table restaurants that focus on local or organic products, such as Roberta’s in Brooklyn, NY. And there are the local pizzerias around the corner that are the perfect solution to feeding a large family. New York even boasts to have the most expensive pizza pie. According to pizza tour guide, Scott Weiner, one pizza found at the Nino’s Bellissima Pizzeria can cost you $1,000. Pizza in NYC can come in a variety of forms to fit each of the unique dining needs of every social and economic class of consumers. New Yorkers can get their pizza from a delivery man on a bicycle, from the frozen foods aisle at their local grocer or bodega, via a pizza cart in Central Park, at a five star dining establishment, a fast-food restaurant and franchise, or from the local mom-and-pop pizzeria down the street.
Because pizza can apply to every demographic, social class, and economic class in NYC, and because of its iconic food status in the Big Apple, it is an ideal food to use to examine the NYC food supply chain. How do the supply chains differ between a pizzeria that tries to offer the lowest price versus a pizzeria that tries to serve the highest quality? Does the pizzeria serving 99 cent slices use the same ingredients, middlemen, distributors, or food manufacturers, as a place like Di Fara Pizza which sells their slices for $5 each?Pizza remains a unique food commodity in a city that contains such a wide variety of cultures, economic levels, social classes, and ages. A New Yorkers’s pizza choice can illuminate a lot about that person. What can pizza itself illuminate about the entire city?