Long Island City is becoming a trendy food destination, but many residents are still going hungry

By Decca Muldowney, Amel Ghani and Nic Dias

Long Island City is home to many gourmet restaurants catering to the young professionals flooding the area. But many low-income residents still face difficulty accessing food. Three Columbia Journalism students set out to explore the many faces of Long Island City’s food boom.

A tour of LIC’s trendy new restaurant culture

Long Island City is fast becoming a food destination — so much so that Richard Mulmith has turned its culinary diversity into a business. For $57.95 per adult, Mulmith tours people around old-school steakhouses, French pastry shops and Italian cafés in an attempt to tell the story of the neighborhood’s history. “The food is as diverse as the borough itself,” he says. According to Mulmith, the food tours attract customers from across the city, even Queens locals.

Mulmith gave us a short list of some of the Long Island City stops on his tour, and we set off.

While Mulmith’s food tours showcase ethnic diversity, it misses one of the more eccentric new eateries.

Like New York City’s first and only dog café.

There’s even an chow-spot for dogs

Château le Woof is a gourmet dog-food shop and human café that offers healthy options for canines and their people. Natassa Contini, the owner, says she’s seen a steady stream of customers over the past year and her clientele is growing with the neighborhood.

However, if you only see Long Island City as a gourmet food destination, you’ll miss another side of the story. Just around the corner a very different reality exists.

Food scarcity hidden around the corner

Hour Children Food Pantry provides groceries to those in need. The Pantry has served 9,400 people in the past 12 months. Alyssa Adkins, the pantry’s Outreach Coordinator, says that many people come three times a month, for the entire year.

A woman named Beth agreed to let us follow her as she signed in a picked out food. She didn’t want her face, name or background disclosed.

Beth (right) has her rolling knapsack ready for food.
Each person who uses the pantry gets their own punchcard that records their visits.
Beth signs in.
She checks out some of the dozens of packaged foods available today, like apple sauce.
Beth picks out some rice. Adkins tells us rice is one of their most popular items. “We cannot keep rice on the shelves,” she says. Other items, like swiss chard, are unpopular.
Beth also grabs some milk.
Hour Children partners with upstate farms to bring fresh produce to the city. Today, the produce counter has some greens and dried corn on the cob.
She picks the greens,
…bags them,
…and goes on her way.

Hour Children isn’t the only food pantry in the area — or even within a mile. St. Margaret Mary’s Church is home to another neighborhood food pantry.

How can food be fairer?

There are deep food fault-lines in Long Island City. The question is whether the new food boom can contribute to greater food equality. Mulmith says that when his food tours are more established, he hopes to give 2–3% of the profits to local food charities and organizations. For Adkins, a true solution would require drastic change. “It takes a government system” says Adkins, “to lift people out of hunger.”

P.S. Here’s a little peek at the making of this project:

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