We took a trip to the “Tortilla Triangle,” an area of Brooklyn straddling the border of Bushwick and Williamsburg that gets its name from the many tortilla factories there (read more about the area in Edible Brooklyn). One such place is Tres Hermanos Tortilleria (if you click through, be prepared for some Mexican music), located on Starr Street, that deserves special mention because it also has its own taqueria where they serve up fresh-made Mexican delicacies. Thanks largely to the marketing departments at Corona and Jose Cuervo, Cinco de Mayo has become a favorite excuse for non-Mexicans to get drunk, but on this day, most of the Mexicans we met didn’t have time to celebrate – they were too busy working. After placing our order at Tres Hermanos, we stepped through the door in the back, and there we saw the manufacturing line buzzing away at 10 p.m., with fresh tortillas rolling out, soon to be filled with savory meats, fresh vegetables, and sour cream and served to hungry customers just a few feet away.
But back to the tortilleria. Having a restaurant in the front of your factory is a great way to create more jobs and generate more revenue, but it also invites people to see and learn about the manufacturing process. Manufacturing remains an important part of New York’s economy, but it is usually done in small-scale operations hidden away in quieter, more remote parts of the city. New York actually ranks second in the nation in the number of industrial jobs, and one of the largest industries is food processing; companies that make products to serve immigrant communities, like tortilla factories, make up a large part of this sector.
When I first encountered this project, I was actually eating a taco that I made at home, and it gave me pause. But not because I thought about the global impacts of the taco in my hands; rather, I thought about how it was so closely linked to the local economy. Nearly all of the basic ingredients were either grown, processed or manufactured in New York City. So, being a cartographer, I decided to map it out in a similar manner as the Tacoshed project had. Here’s what I came up with:
The tortillas I used actually didn't come from Tres Hermanos, but Tortilleria Buena Vista in East Williamsburg, and the mole was made at the nearby Moore Street Market. The sour cream was made at Casa Blanca’s in Rockaway, Queens, and the cheese came from Quesos Mexico just a block from my house in Windsor Terrace. The beef came from a butcher in nearby Kensington, though I later learned that it was slaughtered and processed in Jamaica, Queens. Other than the Green Mountain Gringo salsa, which was made in North Carolina, and the onions from a farm on Long Island, nothing traveled more than a dozen miles to my local grocery store. Of course, for most of these items, only the penultimate step to my belly (the last being my cooking) was made in New York. The ground beef probably came from a cow raised in the Great Plains; the mole was likely made from cocoa grown in Mexico; the list goes on.
Perhaps someday I will be able to do a full commodity chain analysis of the food the food that I eat (and the full report of the Tacoshed project will eventually be published as a book). But until then, at least I know that I can eat a delicious, authentic, homemade taco that supports local producers and manufacturing jobs. And that made for an enjoyable Cinco de Mayo.
If you would like to learn more about the city's efforts to preserve and expand manufacturing jobs, or to find a list of manufacturers, visit Made In NYC. For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment. To see more of his graphic design work, visit his website.