'The Apple Pushers': Green Carts and Good Work

Photo by Richard Schultz.

The Apple Pushers makes the case that differences, not conformity, produce the most vibrant communities.

The Apple Pushers

Director: Mary Mazzio
Cast: Jake, Bardo, Gloria, Shaheen, Sarahi, Thomas Farley, Ben Thomases, Christine Quinn, John C. Liu, Pete Napolitano, Edward Norton (narrator)
Rated: NR
Studio: 50 Eggs Films
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-04-22 (Do Something Reel Film Festival)
Nearly every produce vendor I met was a first generation immigrant. They were an amazing array of ethnicities and cultures -- the United Nations of vendors.

-- Mary Mazzio

"This is an American story," narrates Edward Norton at the start of The Apple Pushers. What makes it American, he explains over images of New York City streets, is its focus on two vexing issues, immigration and obesity, issues that are bound up in that most perennial of American fixations, money.

Mary Mazzio's documentary -- screening as part of the Do Something Reel Film Festival -- focuses on five immigrants whose pursuit of the American Dream has led them to fruits and vegetables. Specifically, they sell fresh produce from street carts, their opportunity the result of a city health department initiative, an initiative that on its face seemed smart and righteous, but one that ran into objections by city council members. Namely, John C. Liu, who makes an appearance here in an effort to justify a position the film plainly rejects.

Liu's inclusion potentially makes The Apple Pushers an odder and more complicated film than its broad outlines suggest. The council members who support the initiative make something of an obvious case, that the rise of American food deserts is damaging not only for the poor individuals and communities who don't have access to affordable healthy food, but also for the broader US economy and social fabric. Unhealthy populations drain resources when they're in need of care, due to their lifelong exposure to "too much bad food and mind-bending amounts of cholesterol."

The film doesn't get into debates over health care and the insurance industry, but they're part of the intersecting equations; neither does it engage precent studies that question common wisdom concerning food deserts. Rather, it makes the argument that increasing obesity in the US results from the glut of fast food joints and scarcity of grocery stores, especially in poor neighborhoods (not to mention the marketing campaigns that ensure McDonald and Dunkin' Donuts prominent placement in consumers' minds).

The film pairs this argument with another one, that immigrants -- documented and not -- are not only typical members of the populations afflicted by food deserts, but also that they're an ideal means to address that affliction. Conscientious and ambitious, they're a resource instead of a liability, eager to improve the lots of their families and their communities.

The immigrants who tell their stories in The Apple Pushers are exemplary good citizens and hard workers (and hardly need the narrator's clichéd phrasing: "These are the harsh realities immigrants face to make it in America"). They follow the rules, they do their best to collaborate with surrounding (and competing) businesses, they're parents and providers and, in the case of Jake, an Iraq war veteran. To support the case, the film makes assorted appeals -- emotional and intellectual -- and deploys an array of beautifully composed images (bright green apples and super-red strawberries in tantalizing close-ups, terrific handheld shots of vendors on streets or on the boardwalk in Staten Island) as well as expert talking heads.

It also makes clear what's wrong with the counterargument, courtesy of John Liu. His presentation characterizes the "circular" thinking of the anti-green carts position, there's no demand for fresh produce but if more fresh produce is offered y the cart vendors, they'll compete with the fixed site vendors. Combine this illogic with the familiar presumption that "poor people are too stupid" to understand the value of healthy food, and you see how the US food industry has evolved over time, its focus on profits trumping all else.

As Liu fails to make his case convincingly, he allows viewers another sort of confirmation: government (at least as this city councilman, in 2008, represents it) creates problems rather than solving them. Of course, the good council people, like Christine C. Quinn, and pro-green carts speakers at the hearings, like NYC Food Policy Coordinator Ben Thomases, and the NYC Coalition Against Hunger's Joel Berg, indicate the ways government can actually benefit constituents.

The film cuts back and forth between the city council machinations ("City council meetings are not for the faint of heart," notes Norton) and the vendors' own experiences. After watching the council members snipe at one another about drinking too Starbucks, it's hard not to be moved by Sarahi's description of her difficult passage from Mexico (she was briefly caught on a border fence, and frightened when her fellow travelers "took off running") and Gloria's recollection of how painful it was to leave her children behind in Ecuador.

As these stories lack illustrative footage or photos, the film provides some occasionally odd filler: animated dollars falling from a bright blue sky or a clip from a Georges Méliès film to help with Sarahi's hopeful description of her destination as a "princess' castle," an actor mimes Jake's father's description of a local bully as a "Mafia guy," and Shaheen is introduced by way of grainy TV footage showing badminton, the career he wanted to pursue while a boy back in Bangladesh.

Such imagery, however distracting or incidental, underscores the variety of the vendors' experiences. And that's the most resonant point of The Apple Pushers, that differences, not conformity, produce the most vibrant communities.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.