One day last year while I was in the Brooklyn Museum bookshop, I picked up a copy of “Veg Out, Vegetarian Guide to New York City“. I forgot I had it until yesterday. Is it a good guide? Well, it’s not bad, although the second edition I bought is slightly outdated.
But the problem isn’t the restaurant listings. Author Justin Schwartz’s comments on certain neighborhoods made my jaw drop. He speaks of Crown Heights and Flatbush as if it’s 1980…and even back then those areas were not as bad as he makes them out to be.
From a paragraph on Street Smarts… “A word of caution: If you’re a vegetarian freshman college student just off the bus from a farm in rural PA or a tourist visiting from Kansas, please don’t hop on a the subway alone at night to get some great Caribbean food in Crown Heights or Flatbush. Seriously, don’t.”
Ok, maybe he’s more insulting to out-of-towners than the residents of Crown Heights or Flatbush. The book is probably geared towards tourists as it’s a guide book. But he doesn’t stop there…
“Street-smart Manhattanites and residents of trendy neighborhoods like Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights may think I’m exaggerating. Let’s put it this way: if Crown Heights is so safe, why is the chef at the Caribbean Delicacy working behind bulletproof Plexiglas?”
Hmm. Plexi is old school. Hello, there were still some plexi places in “trendy” Park Slope up until the early 2000’s! Maybe the Plexi was installed back when the neighborhood was rough and they just never got around to taking it out? Yes, there are plenty of places with Plexi still around, but as shops renovate and as new businesses come in, the Plexi is becoming a thing of the past.
And why would only street smart residents of trendy neighborhoods think it’s an exaggeration? How about us folks living in these untrendy neighborhoods? Exaggerating? Yes. Insulting? Uh, ya-ah!
I figured I’d cut the guy some slack. The guide was written in 2006. Maybe it was ever so slightly grittier back then. So, I visited his website. From a 2009 blog post: “Crown Heights isn’t for everybody. Frankly, if I was a young woman alone after dark, I wouldn’t even think about going there. in fact, I wouldn’t even think about going there alone after dark myself, being a 6-foot tall guy. You definitely have to know your way around — you don’t want to look lost in Crown Heights.”
Wow. Am I overreacting? I mean, can’t the guy warn people it ain’t the Upper East Side without magnifying the situation? He makes it sound like a friggin’ war zone. A word of caution is fine, but dude…people live in these neighborhoods and walk around after dark all-the-time.
FYI, Mr. Schwartz, even white people.