Gentrification is Shifting the Landscape of Astoria, Ditmars

By Georgia Kourkoumelis

Gentrification has been on rise in recent years and has become evident in our neighborhood due to its impact on local businesses in Astoria, Queens. This change in the community has caused many small businesses to be bought out by big developers. Many residents and business owners experience this impact on a daily basis. From small mom-and-pop businesses shutting down after years of operation, to residents having to travel far distances and pay high prices for groceries, gentrification has transformed the landscape of Astoria and raised the cost of living for many neighborhood natives.

The Ditmars staple, Pizza Palace, has shut its doors in June of this year after being open for forty years. Known for its beloved slices, red and white pinstriped exterior, and carousel that so many Astorians grew up with, the institution has gathered an expansive following not just from New Yorkers, but also from people around the country. Manuel Esteban, an Astoria local who grew up going to the restaurant, took to Facebook live to share his thoughts about the news. “It’s been like the Ditmars city hall, this has been the meeting spot for everything. If you’re meeting friends growing up in Astoria you would always say, ‘let’s meet at Pizza Palace.’” said Esteban. 

Pizza Palace closed with a “Thank You For 50 Years Sign” Source: Georgia Kourkoumelis

Clearly, many people are devastated by the news and are eager to see what will be done with the space. Neighborhood residents speculate that the owner was bought out by a developer who wanted to take advantage of its superb location. The closure of Home Comfort next door has further strengthened this expectation as there is now a large chunk of real estate available in the up and coming area. Miki Koumis has lived in the Ditmars neighborhood for 20 years and when asked what she believes the space will become she said, “I am not sure, but if it’s not a luxury apartment building, I’m assuming it will be bought by a big-name corporation.” Koumis’ perspective is one that many locals can attest to as gentrification comes along in patterns, and this pattern is starting to become familiar.

The emergence of a new residential building offering luxury condominiums has raised awareness of this new type of developmental gentrification that is occurring in the area. The Rowan, developed by DXA Studios, has reportedly broken the record for most expensive condo sold in the neighborhood at a final price of $1,699,000 (City Realty). Considering the fact that the building is also located on 31st Street, down the block from the now closed Pizza Palace, it is a very symbolic attribute that signifies what is occurring with Astoria’s real estate perfectly.

“The ideal solution to gentrification would be one that allows for the positives of the process to benefit all residents in a community—both existing and incoming—without anyone being displaced.”(Stephanie Waldek, House Beautiful)

Most Astorians who have lived in the neighborhood their whole lives are upset at seeing the sudden change in landscape. Astoria local Selini Kois expresses, “It is heartbreaking seeing all these small businesses, some of which have been established for 50 years, be taken away from the community and being replaced with chains. It’s getting hard to live here.” They feel their memories are being erased by major corporations and luxury apartment developments. But gentrification can also lead to new opportunities and allows neighborhoods to become more modern and safer in most cases. Wayne Norbeck of The Rowan developer DMX Studios emphasized this when he said, “A rare combination of sweeping city views, dramatic ceiling heights, and immersive garden spaces that frame the community” when highlighting what the condominium complex has to offer. Additionally, the neighborhood can bring in more people to support local businesses as well with its new gained spotlight amongst young people. Whether you support the revitalization of Ditmars is up to you, but always remember to contribute responsibly and pay respect to the local institutions and inhabitants.

Vacant stores next door to the Rowan. Source: Georgia Kourkoumelis


Medical school –> Cause of Depression?

By: Seval On

  Many factors can contribute to a student dropping out of medical school, whether it’s stress, financial concerns, or a lack of support and academic success. Throughout the years, studies have suggested that medical students experience high rates of mental illness such as anxiety or depression. When studying pre-med, many people consider that becoming a doctor takes a lot of time and dedication. People often talk about the challenging aspects of being a doctor so they’re well prepared to face those obstacles.

Students are expected to maintain good grades and constantly study, but do these expectations reflect the reality of medical school? In fact, yes they do; incoming freshmen are aware of how difficult medical school is but sometimes they underestimate their abilities. Before their freshman year, their minds consist of many expectations. Jessica Young was a medical student who graduated in 2019 from UConn’s honor program, and she gave advice to incoming freshmen and said, “You want to go into school open-minded and explore different things. You technically don’t need to know what you want to specialize in until the end of your third year.” Being open-minded and fearless to try new things is important in the medical field because their future jobs will consist of treating all patients with no judgment. People often fear that when they don’t meet these expectations, they stress out and suddenly quit because they feel their career advancement isn’t going as planned. 

        Subsequently, medical school students are at risk of mental health problems due to personal pressures, financial concerns, or lack of support. Colleges and programs acknowledged the importance of engaging in their students’ mental well-being and working with students to share their challenges with stress, anxiety, and depression. According to the report, 6 Ways Campuses Are Helping Students De-Stress, Michelle Baik, director of the Mind Matters program states that among many campuses, resources are available to help students navigate their responsibilities in the school or at work. For example, at California State University, videos were produced by the counselors at the Student Health Center. Topics they highlight include how to manage stress and how to deal with the fear of failure or lack of success. My sister, Selin, who’s currently studying for the MCAT stated, “Studying from morning to night every day has strongly impacted my mental health, which is why I see a therapist.” According to the Council of Faculty and Academic Societies, there are also resources to help all college students seeking help. This program is seen across some universities and provides phone numbers and foundations which address the needs of those who are suffering. Selin also expresses, “When I notice I’m overwhelming myself, I like to surround myself around my family or friends to distract my thoughts.”      Even though many students commit to medical school, the rate of dropping out is slowly increasing per year. As stated in, 45 Medical School Statistics Every Student Should Know, Maria Clark, Professor of the Health and Sciences department at the University of Nottingham says that the variation of people who fall out is between 7%-35% based on yearly graduation rates. Although the yearly rate isn’t as high as many expect it to be, many students worked extremely hard to be giving away their acceptance that quickly. Although many students decide to major in biology, it’s clear that some students conclude that they regret choosing a medical profession due to its addition of school years and work. Despite having the grades, giving all of your efforts and dedication to the school is one of the most difficult parts of becoming a doctor. Failure is part of the process of being in medical school, however many people quit there. Handling competition, time, and responsibility is a key factor in any medical career. Overcoming these obstacles demonstrates the path you wish to pursue in your life.   

How important are standardized test scores in College Admissions?

By: Chime Norbu

Due to the recent pandemic many colleges and universities have decided to go ‘test optional’ for their applicants. What this means is that standardized tests such as SATs and ACTs aren’t required during the admissions process for their program. Currently this only applies to the applicants during the pandemic or those that are applying for admission for Fall 2023. This will most likely not be the case for highschool students applying for colleges for Fall 2024 and into the future. But should colleges’ really bring back these requirements for standardized tests? Do these exams really measure a students’ academic knowledge and skill? 

We went around the high school, Academy of American Studies, to find out what the students there thought of these standardized tests. First by finding seniors applying for colleges for the Fall of 2023 and asking them what they thought of the SATs being optional. Do they think the test is one good way to understand a prospective student’s skills? Do they think it should be reinstated for all students? What do they think admissions should be based on? 

Madjola Ymeraj, a graduating senior, top 20% in her grade throughout (according to Naviance), stated, “I feel like the SATs do not define me as a student and its’ dumb. I’m glad they made it optional this year because I didn’t really have time to prepare and got a pretty bad score.” She also stated, “There are many other things that a college can look at other than these test scores such as gpa, college essays, courses taken, rigors, recommendations, and extracurricular activities. I think they define me better as a student than some test score.”

Jigmey Dorjee, a junior attending one of the top highschools in New York at Bard High School Queens, stated, “I think colleges should just stop considering standardized testing as a whole as a determining factor in college admissions. I have many friends that are extremely smart and talented but are not good test takers.”

Mekahael Guzman, a classmate of Jigmey’s, followed up and stated, “Well there is nothing you can do about it besides pay a few thousand dollars for tutoring and just pray for the best.” These juniors didn’t seem too excited to take the SATs.

Over the past few years it has been reported by, that the mean score of the SATs ranges between 900 to 1200. This falls between the 50th percentile and l st percentile; meaning that half of the students that take this test perform average to poorly on this test.

Colleges have multiple factors when admitting students to their campus. These factors include the standardized test, personal essay, class rank, extracurriculars, gpa, etc.. So to find out which of these factors are actually important in college admissions we got in contact with the office at multiple decently selective colleges and asked their admission counselors what they thought the most factor they looked at a student when admitting them. According to many admission counselors, they care most about a student as a person and what they have to offer to the campus and the program they are applying to, rather than their academic excellence. A counselor from one university specifically stated, “While academic excellence is a factor in the admissions process, what we really want to see is commitment and what a student has to offer to our campus.”

Standardized tests such as the SATs tend to build a lot of stress and pressure among lots of students and many believe that it shouldn’t even be a factor in the college admission process. Many students that don’t have to worry about submitting their test scores for the Fall 2023 semester tend to be really relieved and happy. There are many factors that can be looked at during the admissions process. What do you think is the most important?

Spotted Lanternfly Invasion

By: Omer Yar

Have you ever walked out of the comfort of your home, minding your own business and then boom, you see a really ugly big red bug just flying near you? If you have seen something like that, chances are you have spotted the spotted lanternfly. These annoying pests are actually quite harmful to the ecosystem since a horde of them can actually deplete some of our oxygen as they continue to destroy countless trees. And now these things are actually in NYC as invasive and annoying as ever. But don’t worry! Scientists are already working on possible solutions and remedies to help aid in the extermination of the bug. There is also a great deal that you can do to help.

The spotted Lanternfly is a very very invasive species and is also considered a planthopper. These weird-looking bugs are native to China and have spread through neighboring countries in Asia such as South Korea and Japan. And now all the way from Asia they have come and started breeding in America. They even went as far as to pop up in NYC, and they breed fast! “There were so many of them at one point that one of them managed to get into a moving bus and crawled up my leg,” stated Muhammed Elijah A student from Baccalaureate School for Global Education. In NYC alone they pose a significant threat to agricultural and forest health. As the numbers of these pests increase the more they damage our ecosystem as these bugs are often found in hordes leeching off something like a tree. They mainly impact the agricultural economy, as they target the crops that farmers need to sell. Research provided by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service shows that these pests can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses and hitch a ride on whatever it is they are on. This is how the spotted lanternfly gets around so fast and spreads/breeds even further. This problem has in fact gotten so bad that according to a study from economists in “Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences”, in the U.S. alone, it has cost us over 100,000,000 dollars. So not only are they annoying, they actually harm the well-being of the country, especially in rural areas where farming and taking care of crops is more important. 

Scientists suggest that anyone who happens to come across these pests kills them immediately. Why you may ask? This species is a very persistent insect, it’s hard to stomp them out. As mentioned earlier these things can breed very fast. But how can you spot one? Well, thanks to the very informative description given by the “Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection”, the front wings of the spotted lanternfly are light brown with black spots in the center. Their hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band in between. The legs and head are black; the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands. Furthermore, why should we kill them? How invasive could they possibly be? Well, one of these insects has the potential to produce 20+ more, and continue to mass breed during the fall-winter seasons. Cornell’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences states one female spotted lanternfly can create an egg mass of 30-60 eggs meaning that one female has the potential to make 30-60 more, and if any one of those 30-60 new lanternflies happens to be a female that’s another potential 30-60 more. This loop in breeding is what makes them so invasive. “There are too many of them in too many places. If they have hoards of these insects latch on to a multitude of trees, that has to be horrible for the ecosystem” said Muhammed Elijah. These insects have been frequently popping up around Academy of American Studies and the nearby communities that are around us. It is important to know how to effectively kill these bugs. They are a bit quick and can sometimes hop out of the way of a stomp but they tire easily so if you keep trying you’ll get them. The Integrative Ecology Lab at Temple University shows us a method that is effective and easy to do. All you need is an empty plastic bottle and boom! You’ve got yourself a spotted lanternfly trap, “Just hold the bottle over the pest, and boom, it flings itself off of the tree and into the bottle. Once you’re done collecting lanternflies, just stick the bottle in the freezer to humanely kill them,” This is called “The Bottle Method”. However, say you don’t want to do all that and just kill them when they happen to be right in front of you. Well sometimes stomping them just isn’t enough, it’s gross but you’re going to want to stomp on them and then drag your foot to really make sure that they are actually dead. 

Now moving further from the annoyances they cause to local communities, let’s talk on a larger scale even outside of New York. According to Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, they say that “If not contained, the spotted lanternfly could potentially drain Pennsylvania’s economy of at least $324 million annually and cause the loss of about 2,800 jobs” This economic crisis costs so much for it to be caused by only one species of bug and in one single state no less. Let’s go even further and think on a more national level. According to the same researchers from Penn State, they speak about a worst-case scenario kind of situation. “These losses could increase to $554 million annually and almost 5,000 jobs.”

Academy of American Studies can help ensure that they don’t spread further into the U.S. outside of killing these bugs directly. Students could help prevent the spread of lanternflies from even reaching the trees of their neighborhood. “I would want a big mass extermination for them. If it were up to me I would want to round up exterminators and take them all out at once,”  said Muhammed, “They breed too fast to take care of them individually”. But there are many more methods to try and help. One way is shown to us by Montgomery Township, New Jersey They inform us that spraying vinegar on trees and plants would kill the insects on contact, preventing them from spreading further, however, be advised that vinegar could potentially harm the plants you’re spraying it on. You can also email a photo to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation at any time when you come across these creatures so they know where they are appearing in our city.  Currently, there is no known research on the eradication of spotted lanternflies, however, entomology experts say that having people kill lanternflies is a short-term strategy as scientists continue to develop long-term, sustainable solutions.

Soaring Crime Rates and Their Effects on Minorities

By: Valeria Castro

Since the pandemic hit, New York City’s crime rates have risen, affecting residents, especially minority groups in counties such as Queens. However, efforts are currently being made in order to combat these surging crime rates. More people are beginning to voice their opinions through letters to the mayor, expressing their concerns over public safety.

Mayor Eric Adams is attending public conventions in Queens to hear the people’s concerns on the subject, attempting to reform public safety by getting to the root of the crime issue and finding ways to
combat it. Moreover, Queen’s city councils are attempting to abolish the gang database bill– a notorious police tool, that according to them, has been used for several years to target ethnic people for crimes they didn’t commit.

Residents of Queens are growing tired of seeing the same news headlines on television and have even written letters to the mayor in a cry for help. According to a letter to the editor posted on the Queens (Chronicle’s) site, a resident states recent crime rate statistics have increased by 30.5%, with murders rising by 34.3% and shootings by 13.3% since July 2021. He emphasizes the importance of working together as a community in raising kids in a healthy environment, and provides ideas on ways to give people a sense of security; putting up posters, flyers, and ads of the NYPD giving encouraging quotes on how they will keep us safe from gun violence. He mentions how unsafe he feels in the community as a senior citizen, and implores Mayor Eric Adams to make changes to keep communities safe. This letter highlights the significance of the need for a community to unify to combat the continuous violence in Queens neighborhoods for the benefit of the people.

Recently, the mayor is starting to attend public conventions to hear the people’s opinions and thoughts about safety in their communities. According to the Queens Chronicle, on October 6, Mayor Eric Adams held a Public convention in Forest Hills. His goal was to get to the root of the crime issues and find ways to combat them for the betterment of the people. Many shared their opinions based on how they felt in their communities. A resident of Queens expressed concerns over how insecure they feel in their neighborhood, stating that even though they carry pepper spray, they still don’t feel safe. During the convention, they discussed recent incidents, such as the attack in Howard Beach— where a woman was brutally beaten to the point of losing vision in one eye.

The topic then shifted to discussing the root of crime in Queens. The Borough President, Donovan Richards, expressed his concerns on equity in the city, and how incarcerations mainly affect people in poverty. Mayor Adams followed up by stating the recurring pattern in our society; incarcerating the same people for a felony they’ve committed about 30-40 times and shortly releasing them, increasing the risks of committing that same crime. ( Mayor Adams’s statements convey that the cause of these surging crime rates lies in the criminal justice system. The chances of a prisoner being convicted for the same crimes they committed in the past are higher each time they are released. So, it’s a never-ending pattern of releasing and convicting the same person.

Furthermore, according to articles published by the Queens Chronicles, and the Astoria Post, three city council members, Tiffany Caban, Julie Won, and Shekar Krishnan, are co-sponsoring a bill to abolish the gang database—a police system that they say is used to create allegations against people who were suspected to be involved in gangs. Michael Dothan, a writer for The Astoria post, and Sean Okula, a writer for the Queens Chronicle, quoted Queens council member, Tiffany Caban on her stance on the system. She says the system does nothing to reduce crime instead it “intensifies” it, and claims she has seen prosecutors use the gang database system to pressure false confessions out of people. She also stated that as a result, police were pinpointing kids on the list who have on many occasions worn the wrong colors at the wrong

Moreover, according to the Astoria Post, the public says police have taken advantage of
the system to target people of color, especially in 2018 with Police Commissioner Dermont Shea
when 99% of the people in the database were people of color. Residents of Queens neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, feel insecure with where they live, even when going outside. In an interview with Ana Julia Almeida, a resident of Jackson Heights, she opened up about the perception she has formed of the neighborhood based on her experiences. “Ridiculous,” she said when questioned about the crime rates. “I get notifications daily about someone getting pushed in the train station, robbed, or stabbed.” She mentions how untrustworthy people are around the area, and how unsafe she feels whenever she
walks out at night.

The crime rates in Queens neighborhoods have been impacting different groups of
citizens, including ethnic groups, senior citizens, and children. Everyone agrees that crime rates must start decreasing for the benefit of our community and people. But how can we as a community help in lowering these crime rates? Well, there are numerous ways in which you can help combat this issue; you can write letters to the mayor or any political representative if you have ideas on how you believe this issue should be taken care of and post them on sites such as the Queens Chronicle. You can also vote for candidates in your district
during the midterm elections that advocate for criminal reform. Moreover, you can attend public conventions to hear what ideas are being forethought, and have an opportunity to voice your concerns to political authorities (sp) such as Mayor Eric Aams, and Queens officials. The only
way to restore our communities is through time, effort, and dedication, with people working together we can hopefully start seeing a change in the future.

What Competing Meant to Yuzuru Hanyu 

By: Liz Dejesus 

Some may argue that Yuzuru Hanyu is the best male’s singles skater to ever touch the ice.  He has a big fanbase called the “Fanyus”, creative if you ask me. However not one bad comment could be found about him as a person on the internet. He was an olympic figure skater however he has chosen to retire from competition.

Hanyu was an olympic figure skater for Japan and won two gold medals over his career, one in 2014 and one in 2018. He would’ve won a third in Beijing however his injured ankle stopped him from landing a quadruple axel, which was his goal for the Beijing 2022 winter olympics. A quadruple axel is the most challenging move in figure skating and to this day only one person has successfully landed it, which happened recently. Hanyu didn’t win a gold medal however he still made history. (Metrowest Daily News).  

He became the first Japanese man to win an olympic gold medal. Not only that, but Hanyu has established world records. One was that he had a remarkable score of 101.45 points in the short program, and he was the first person to surpass 100 points in a short program. However he didn’t stop there, he broke his own record scoring 112.72 points. The other record he broke was being the first male skater to break the 200 point barrier in men’s free skating and the 300 point barrier for his combined total score. ( His drive and determination mixed with his striking talent makes him all the more inspiring and loved by his fans. Not only that, but it is also well known that he loved winnie the pooh, and his fans would throw him stuffed winnie the pooh bears after his performances which he would donate to children in the hospital. In fact he even won the People’s Honor Award, which is the highest honor awarded to a civilian and he was the youngest recipient to receive this award, according to the Japan Times. 

Hanyu suffered an ankle injury that led him to not be able to compete in some competitions. He actually injured his ankle a couple times. Whilst letting his injured ankle heal he thought through some things and he stated that he felt as if he no longer had to compete, he wanted to stop being evaluated. This didn’t change how his fans see him, not one bit. Hanyu loved doing competitions, he won just about everything there is to win on ice. “It is a place where I was able to prove that I dreamed, that I put in the effort. It gave me proof that I lived.” he said. Hanyu retired from competing however he will still be skating professionally, in fact he had a professional ice show in November and again in December. He titled his show ‘Prologue’. This was the first time where he was responsible for everything. “I am going to pour my heart and soul into this ice show which I hope will serve as a prologue to many different stories to come”. Hanyu states. “I wanted to produce an ice show that reflected my skating career, my personal history”. (  
Jerick Dejesus, a wrestler, could relate to Hanyu because he ended up not going to college where he thought he would compete. He commented on how he felt about this shift in his life saying “I continued to play a little after that but I didn’t get the same rush as I did when I would compete. I continued to play the sport but it was more exhilarating when I would do competitions.” He also commented on how it felt to stop playing, we can get a sense of how Hanyu felt as well “When I realized I wasn’t going to play anymore, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sad to say the least, but I try to play when I can, with whoever I can, and that brings me joy again.” Hopefully both Jerick and Hanyu find joy in their new adventures in life.

High Skylines High Homeless Rates

By: Madjola Ymeraj

The height of skyscrapers is one of many things growing in NYC. The New York homeless population is expanding yearly, and people are now seeing the impact on their neighborhoods. Before Covid, your daily commute to and from Academy may have consisted of an encounter with one or two homeless people a week. Ever since quarantine, there usually have been at least 5 homeless people on the commute from Ditmars Boulevard to 39th Ave. Why are so many more people on the streets? How are they affecting our community? And how can we help?

There has been a steady incline in homeless rates, with the number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters now 15% higher since 2012. The Nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless reported the main occupants of these shelters are people of color where 57% are black and 32% are Hispanic. Since COVID-19 the mental health of many people has been declining to create one of the main causes of these high rates along with eviction, lack of affordable housing, and job loss. The gentrification of many beloved New York neighborhoods has pushed these underprivileged communities out of their homes with no place to go. The lack of shelter space and affordable housing has left these needy families with no options but to reside on the streets and subways where there is at least some form of utility like heat.

the article describing the protests and reporting that the residents wanted “homes not hotels” for
the homeless community in the area.

Although more shelters are advocated for, there is also the question of how they affect our communities. Take Long Island City, for example, Florence Koulouris, the District Manager for the Community Board in their monthly meetings of February 2022 reported that the multiple homeless shelters that reside in close proximity have been affecting crime reports, making them more noticeable. She announced at the meeting that there were about 2 thousand calls made to local police informants regarding the residents in 2021 as a result of many shelters in one area causing tension between the residents. Koulouris claimed there has also been insufficient police surveillance, increasing crimes.

The danger of these areas has made the students more fearful on their walk to school from local train stations. Academy of American Studies student, Georgia Kourkoumelis, claimed when she got on the train she would “sit at a further distance from them, just in case.” People become more alert because of the reports of violence. Although many people advocate for housing for these underprivileged individuals they don’t like the idea of it being in their communities. The high rate of crimes have many residents in the neighborhood protesting the shelters, especially residents considering the proximity to the Academy of American Studies and the nearby daycare creating a “not in my backyard” mentality. One of the most impactful protests was from the Blissville Civic Association, which held back-to-back oppositions for a third homeless shelter in the Blissville area. QNS published

Canned New York, a New York activist organization, explains that the homeless issue won’t be solved by decreasing the number of shelters, but by donating to organizations like Breaking Ground, The Coalition for the Homeless, Picture the Homeless, and the Ali Forney Center to actively support addressing the situation. Ethan Giustra, another student, understood the importance of proper circumstances in these shelters. He emphasized the importance of “the city investing more money into mental health facilities and stopping the alienation of the homeless population to provide a more permanent solution.” As Mayor Eric Adams and other city representatives pass more acts and policies to support homeless populations, the communities will be safer. Although on your way to school your first instinct isn’t to think why the people you see are homeless but to walk away with your head down to avoid eye contact, it’s important to realize that change is needed. The increasing homeless population will continue to grow without
more sustainable solutions.

Ethnic Foods Ruined by Americans

By: Mersina Galianos

One of the most significant aspects of culture around the world is food. Luckily for Americans, it’s relatively simple to find good and even authentic food from other countries across all five continents. Unfortunately, because they are manufactured in America, these items are designed to satisfy consumers and attract more of them by emphasizing flavor and appearance. For example, cheese is considered a processed food, and when combined with pasta to form an Italian dish, it essentially ruins it by removing the natural flavors, textures, and colors. Since additional ingredients, such as oils, food coloring, sugar, etc may be added, there are various different types of processed cheese. But this doesn’t mean that all cheeses, and all ingredients in general, are unnatural. It’s not too difficult to find cheese from local farms or organic stores, and when cheese is labeled organic, it will contain at least 95% organically produced raw/processed products. But these natural cheeses are more likely to be double the price of processed cheese, meaning the latter may be people’s first choice in regards to purchasing cheese. The authenticity of meals with ingredients like processed cheese will be diminished if Americans continue to add other unnatural ingredients to them.

According to the Department of Agriculture, foods are considered processed when any raw foods or ingredients have been altered from their natural state. “…processed food is any raw agricultural commodities that have been washed, cleaned, milled, cut, chopped, heated, pasteurized, blanched, cooked, canned, frozen, dried, dehydrated, mixed or packaged — anything is done to them that alters their natural state. This may include adding preservatives, flavors, nutrients, and other food additives, or substances approved for use in food products, such as salt, sugars, and fats.” This varies based on the type of commodity, but overall most foods found in supermarkets and grocery stores are processed during their preparation. “They’ve (processed foods) been blamed for the national rise in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes,” explains Anne Harguth, a registered dietitian in Minnesota. The unhealthiness of these processed foods takes away from their authenticity, where they are healthy and/or fresh. Katrina Paulson uses a quote from an online platform in her article about food additives that demonstrates how “European regulations against additives in food products are stricter than they are in the United States.” It’s a known fact to just about everyone nowadays that almost all foods in the US are made with food additives, unlike in Europe, where the only additives put into food are proved to be unharmful. The difference between the food additives in the US and Europe is very noticeable once an individual has both. Academy of American Studies student Anisa Kandic points out how she can taste that American-Montenegrian food is processed and not natural and that it even tastes “plastic-y” to her whenever she dines in restaurants or makes her own food at home. She clarifies that food in Montenegro looks and tastes better than Montenegrian/Kosovar food made in America, and how she feels better eating them there than she does in the US. This difference in the foods that Anisa and many immigrants and their families easily recognize discourages them from having their own ethnic foods because the US decides to add all types of preservatives and flavoring to them. 

People visiting or just moving to the US will try to find authentic food from their home countries, and be disappointed when they realize that the countries prepare the foods differently. “…Yet, she did not realize food from her homeland would be prepared differently to please the American palate,” says Chao Yu, a graduate student from Qingdao, China. Even if the ingredients are unauthentic, restaurants can still make, or at least attempt to make, the foods as similar as they can to the real thing. But in the US, these recipes are totally different from how they’re prepared in their origin countries. Ashley Martinez, author of “American Adaptations Lack Authenticity” for writes about how Chinese food in America and Chinese food in China are cooked, prepared, and served differently from one another. “A typical meal from a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. wouldn’t be complete without fortune cookies, wonton soup, and some orange chicken. However, in China, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are no fortune cookies, wonton soup is typically only served for breakfast and orange chicken will be challenging to find on the menu.” In Brazil, açaí is one of the most popular desserts, and it’s growing and becoming popular in the United States. Sophia Boutureira, a student at the Academy of American Studies, loves to go out and order her traditional Brazilian foods, such as beans, rice, and acai bowls for dessert. She describes that the açaí is purer and more natural, while in the US there’s more sugar. In Brazil, they don’t add bananas, blueberries, or strawberries, only granola and on occasion, they would add honey. She further explains how it’s cheaper in Brazil, with a cost of around 20 cents in USD. American restaurants don’t follow the traditions that foreign countries have when it comes to their food and dining, which people see as essentially ruining the traditional, cultural dishes. As result of these immigrants bringing their home-country meals with them to the United States, it led to people wanting to recreate it with their own twists on it. In his new book The Ethnic Restaurateur, Krishnendu Ray, book chair of the food studies program at New York University, “explores the history of how immigrants in the food industry have shaped American notions of good taste — even as they themselves may occupy the lower echelons of the social hierarchy.” As a result of this, authentic meals are being reapproached into satisfying the American palate. Ray explained how Greeks, Italians, and other ethnic groups gained popularity in the food business and began to develop their ethnic food traditions in the US. “In an increasingly multicultural society, the term ‘ethnic food,’ while still commonly used, is now starting to take on an offensive character, lumping all nonwhite people and their cuisines together in a category of ‘other.’” As these ethnic groups began to develop popularity over their food traditions in the US, American palates started to expand and change towards these foods. “Each new large wave of immigration has remade American cuisine for the better, making it ‘more creative and rich…’” Unfortunately for these cultural meals, the American ingredients and processed foods result in these recipes being altered from their natural state. “And just as Italian food was once given the side-eye by nutritionists, Chinese food was also derided under the auspices of science. Witness the health scare that began in the 1960s over MSG, used as a flavor enhancer in Chinese cuisine and many other foods, too…” explains Maria Godoy, author of “Why Hunting Down ‘Authentic Ethnic Food’ Is A Loaded Proposition.” But this is very different from the authenticity people demand from “ethnic” cuisine. Ray says that what customers really want is a replica of what they think a dish should taste like. As a result, immigrant cooks easily able to fall into a trap of very narrow expectations of the American expectation of authentic ethnic foods.

Extended Care Facilities Need Extra Care

By Preeti Minhas

COVID-19 has greatly affected everyone’s lives, from contracting the virus to death to unemployment. However, we may not have thought about the many people in senior centers across America that have struggled with the transition from the old world into a world of isolation. The seniors at long term care facilities in New York City have been affected negatively by the coronavirus at disproportionately high rates. There was a sense of uncertainty and confusion during the beginning of the transition and now seniors have to face the feeling of isolation. The staff, the elderly and families of the elderly have all had to make adjustments and have been hit hard by the coronavirus. They have worked very hard to provide the previous level of care while maintaining CDC guidelines and staying cautious. The people involved in long term care have all faced troubling times since last March and it is important to appreciate and applaud the work they have done to ensure the safety of many lives.

Firstly, it is proven by scientific data that long term care facilities (LTC) were hit hardest between the months of April and August. One analysis was completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation and showcased how the number of cases and number of deaths in LTCs changed over that time period. In fact, the study indicated that although the number of cases LTCs had were only about 8% of the total coronavirus cases, the number of deaths were about 40% of the total coronavirus deaths. The reason federally available, facility specific data does not include the months of March and April, is because it only became a requirement for facilities to report information after the date of May 7th. This excludes when the number of cases and number of deaths peaked the most. Initially, in mid-April, there were 10,000 deaths and 50,000 cases in LTCs; in August, 70,000 deaths and 400,000 cases were reported in LTCs. It was also shown that these patterns connected to national patterns indicating a link between community spreading of cases and deaths to LTCs. This analysis clearly illustrates the connection between LTCs and the spread of COVID-19. The global pandemic has severely disproportionately impacted long term care facilities.

Secondly, a simple virtual meeting with the elderly in your local senior centers can help their mental state immensely. As a matter of fact, John Leland interviewed many seniors for a The New York Times article voicing their thoughts on life before and after the outbreak of the virus. He visited the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center and quoted the following from Anna Reifman, “I’m really isolated now. This isn’t just about lunch. I come here to talk to people other than my cat.”. Another article by Naveen Dhaliwal for ABC7 News stated that bi-weekly meetings improved the seniors’ mental and physical health. An example of this is when seniors called cardiologist, Dr. Narendra Bhalodkar, after meetings to tell him that their blood pressure would go back to normal levels and they would feel less depressed by just talking to each other. Something as simple as having a conversation can help tremendously with mental health and help them get through the anxiety they face over being isolated or in response to the pandemic in general.

What can we do to help? There are many ways to contribute to boosting the health of the elderly, but ultimately it depends on the facility. You can contact your local senior center or elderly home and ask how you can help make them feel better. Some facilities are accepting handmade cards, virtual cards, Zoom Meetings and even recorded videos of yourself with nice messages to the elderly. Your school may also have clubs or events that collaborate with facilities in order to interact with the elderly. For instance, the Academy of American Studies has a Glamour Gals Chapter in which they create virtual cards for the elderly to read, so that they know we miss them and hope to see them soon. Any small act of kindness can make a huge difference for them.Personally, my volunteer experiences taught me about easing the emotional state of extended care facility residents and the happiness it can bring them. They desired conversation with our members much more than the manicures my club, Glamour Gals, provided them. I’ve made deep connections with a few women from the Queens Boulevard Extended Care Facility, and they express to me how much they appreciate and value the time I spend with them. Therefore, it is important to the elderly to create intergenerational connections by helping those who feel the most secluded. If you are able to, please contact a local facility and find out how you can safely contribute to helping improve the mental and physical health of our elderly. The countless long term care facilities all across the country cannot be forgotten as they are affected deeply and need special care.

Punjabi Farmers

By Tashi Lhamo

Our everyday household items are very crucial to our routines, from our morning breakfast to our dinner. Goods such as rice, lentils, spices, and cotton are all exported from India. India produces 70% of the world’s spices while also being the largest producer of rice, lentils, and cotton, states the India Brand Equity Foundation. Farmers that grow these products in India come from a generational Punjabi farmer background. India has passed laws that help large corporations and hurt local farmers. Farmers were outraged thus leading to the biggest protest in history from people protesting worldwide. However, the peaceful protest of the Punjabis has only led to them getting violent responses from the Indian government through the use of tear gas and hands-on action.

Before continuing, it is noteworthy to know the history behind these farmers to understand their circumstances. It had all started when India was a new nation and free from British rule. As a new nation that had become used to having a ruler for the last two centuries, India faced famine, and to combat it, they used the green revolution program in 1966. CNN explains that the program used new technologies, irrigation systems, chemicals, and engineered seeds and the Punjabi farmers come into the story as they were put under this program. Although the program helped to calm down the famine, over time, it had only seemed to exaggerate the issues that lay between the farmers and the government. Farmers were not guaranteed profit, and the cost to produce in many cases overrode the profit made. Disturbingly, according to the Punjab Agricultural University, 8 out of 10 farmers have debt.

The government states that they work in favor of the farmers however, they do not protect these family-owned farms from giant corporations. Malkit Singh, a member of the Sher Singh Wala village and many others believe that the government continues to pass reforms that inevitably harm them. Not to mention the strict seed policies that further put these farmers in debt. These seed policies do not allow farmers to keep extra seeds for the following year. The government has been exploiting these farmers for decades while also ignoring the dangers. The technologies from the green revolution program have been found to increase the rates of cancer. It is alarming that, in villages like Sher Singh Wala in the northern state of Punjab, 18 people fall ill with cancer every day. Skyrocketing cancer in the community has been linked to the harsh chemicals and pesticides as well as contaminated water used in these very farms. Singh commented in the Pri radio, “The overall responsibility goes to the government, and the people are also responsible because they have not made an issue of it”. Many seem to agree with Singh as the government had failed to notice this pattern until the social groups sent letters to the Punjabi government. Many families cannot afford the medications needed for treatment as pharmacies are allowed to sell medicine for ten times the original price of 20,000 rupees ($400) a month due to the lack of regulation according to the Pri radio program.

The lack of support from the government, debt, and super high price tags for medications have all caused a Punjabi farmer to commit suicide every 30 minutes according, to studies conducted by the New York University in 2011 reported by Forbes. The Suicide rates led up to mass protests around the world as Punjabi farmers and allies have started calling for justice. Farmers have been blocking major entry points of the capital (Delhi) while removing police barricades. BBC covered the moment when the whole world’s spark ignited when viral images had been passed around as police repeatedly hit elders with batons and tear-gassed protesters. The Indian police violently injured respected elders and peaceful protestors which has only worsened the situation. Large groups of communities in countries such as Canada have been holding up banners in the freezing streets in support of the generational farmers according to Aljazeera news. Social media and Generation Z have continued spreading information, and while educating the young impressionable demographic, many people have also stepped into organizing fundraisers. These organizers have raised substantial funds, the Guru Nanak Langar Sewa Society has raised $90,000 worldwide alone within a window of 2 months on a go fund me page. 

Local Punjabi farmers that produce most of the world’s staple home goods are heavily affected by the reforms passed as well as the lack of regulations by the Indian government. These farmers request aid as they drown in debts and lack healthcare. Unprecedented times have led to high numbers of suicide per day. People around the world can also help by taking part in the movement whether it be protesting in your city, signing petitions, donating on go fund me, or letting your area know about the situations that these farmers are doomed with.