As Chinese restaurants suffer losses, supermarket business remains brisk

An hour’s subway ride from Manhattan is the Bensonhurst neighborhood of south Brooklyn, home to a growing Chinese community. Under the Bay Parkway station, 86th Street is lined with Asian grocery stores. One popular market flowing with customers is Thanksgiving Supermarket — a marked departure from South Florida’s Publix.

Ripe fruits and vegetables decorate the front of the store in a farmers market fashion as customers gather to select their produce. The interior of the market is a world of its own. To the left is a wide selection of animals for consumption that couldn’t be fresher. Live frogs bounce in buckets and butchers are rarely unoccupied. A prominent smell lingers in the air but the people in the crowded market remain unfazed.

In the breezy rain selecting heads of bok choy was Stephanie Wu, who has been coming to Thanksgiving Supermarket almost every day for the past three years since moving to New York from China. Wu shops at this supermarket specifically because she said the prices are better than those at other markets.

Tim Becker and his wife, Irene Zhao, were down the street at Golden City Market. Once a week they stroll down the streets of Bensonhurst visiting all the markets. Lately, they’ve left with only fruits and vegetables in hand.

Live frogs for sale at Thanksgiving Supermarket in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. (Mariana Vargas/Caplin News)

“Maybe we should not buy meat and fish for a couple of weeks, just so the city has a chance to get more information and hand it out to New Yorkers,” said Becker.

Becker and his wife are among those being more selective about the food they buy since the coronavirus outbreak and its unconfirmed link to animal meat.

Markets in China — that, like Thanksgiving, sell live animals — are suspected to be the origin of the coronavirus outbreak. Along with the virus, a new wave of racism and xenophobia has surfaced online as people attack the Chinese for their eating habits.

While many westerners may shun the unfamiliar food choices, markets like this continue to thrive across New York. Thanksgiving Supermarket sells a variety of animal meats that range from live fish and eels to frogs and packaged turtles. It is one of many stores in the area that sell these products to customers.

However, Chinese restaurants have suffered a steep decline in business since the beginning of the outbreak. Some restaurant owners have had to let people go early due to lack of sales, according to Eater New York.

The virus originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and has since spread to many parts of the world, including a handful of confirmed cases in the United States.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is part of a large family of viruses with origins in animals such as bats, civet cats, camels and more. According to the CDC, the cause has not yet been pinpointed.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Illness, answered questions from the public on a conference call. While she confirmed that the virus originated in bats, the details of how it spread to humans are still under investigation.

“The novel coronavirus is genetically related more to SARS than MERS, which also have their origins in bats … There’s still a lot unknown about the newly emerged 2019 coronavirus and how it spread,” Messonnier said.

While Americans may fear the exotic foods known as common delicacies in other parts of the world, it is just as important to be cautious about everyday foods that can pose serious health risks.

The number one item on lists of dangerous and banned foods in the U.S. is typically the Kinder Surprise, a chocolate egg with a toy inside deemed a choking hazard by the Food and Drug Administration.

And in local but unusual food news, there were recently reports of Miamians selling iguana meat after a drop in temperature caused the invasive species to fall from trees. The meat was dubbed “chicken of the trees,” and was advertised on Facebook Marketplace. If prepared properly, scientists say iguana meat is safe to eat.

Mariana Vargas is a senior at FIU majoring in journalism. She was born in Bogota, Colombia but grew up in Miami. Her passion for writing led her to journalism. She strives to write stories that bring awareness to special causes and inspire others. She hopes to one day travel the world, writing stories of the different people she encounters.