January-February 2010


When the calendar odometer turns over, everyone’s determined to make things better– whether that means drinking only from a reusable water bottle or ditching the rat race for a goat dairy. But despite all the chatter about personal responsibility, it seems the choices we make only have so much impact on the lives we lead; sometimes reality is dictated by laws we never even knew existed.

Which is why I’m so fascinated by Amy Zavatto’s feature on a state bill to allow food retailers- supermarkets, bodegas, even big-box stores- to carry wine (Wine on Isle Nine? p.29). While I’ve long marveled at my parents’ ability to snag a bottle of red at their sprawling supermarket down in suburban Virginia, I’d filed that convenience, alongside ample free parking, among the comforts I wouldn’t trade for diversity, sidewalks and five cheese counters within a few blocks of my apartment.

Like any 21st century epicure worth my sea salt, I know the farm bill holds the keys to our kingdom’s cupboard and can quote Michael Pollan chapter and verse on how federal corn subsidies make kids fat. But as someone who delights in seeking out specialty shops for the foods I cook with, I’d never pined for wine at Key Food or pondered its illegality. Now our little staff can’t stop debating what such legislation would mean– and not just for us consumers.

Did you know New York is one of just 15 states that don’t allow food stores to carry wine? Or that, of 48 states that have calculated per-capita liquor stores, it ranks 46th? Or that we were the second-largest wine-producing state- just behind California- until Washington State allowed wine in its supermarkets and overtook us?

But if such a change could nurture local wineries, it could also send independent wine shops the way of neighborhood ravioli stores, homogenize our culinary landscape of choice and leave us all swilling the easy-but-uninteresting offerings for which America is infamous.

Or would it? While editing this story we’ve discussed and debated over vino in vain: As I write this, it seems we can all argue either side. If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, well, our staff is a bunch of geniuses. I hope this issue makes you feel like one too.

Manhattan’s best dive. Cover photo by Micah Beree.