UPPER WEST SIDE — A team of researchers canvassed more than 1,200 food stores in Manhattan and found that shoppers can find the largest selection of organic food on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, according to a study published this week.
The researchers — two from NYU's Department of Nutrition and Food Studies and a third from Clark University's Department of Economics — found that there's a high concentration of organic food offerings on either side of Central Park and in Morningside Heights.
But above Central Park, other than a section along the far west side of Morningside Heights, the selection of organic food was very slim, the study found.
Their analysis of 1,256 stores in Manhattan in January 2011 found that 60 percent of food stores in the borough had no organic food at all.
The team evaluated the stores using a list of 24 foods — including common dairy and meat products, as well as fruit and vegetables — and checked whether an organic option of each was available.
About a third of the stores had between one and 12 of the items, while 5 percent had at least 12 of the organic foods on the list, the study explained.
Out of 66 stores selling at least 12 of the organic foods on the list, only seven of them were located above Central Park, the researchers found.
The bulk of stores selling a dozen organic items or more were on the Upper East and West Sides, which researchers found correlated to higher income and education levels in those neighborhoods.
Race was also a factor, as "the greater the African American population [in the area], the less likely a store will sell organic food products," the study showed.
The findings lend "support to the notion that consumers with greater access to organic food are more likely to buy organic food,” said Carolyn Dimitri, associate professor of food studies at NYU's Steinhardt school and one of the study's authors.
Additionally, the larger the stores were, the more likely they were to sell organic food, researchers found.
In 2011, the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights had at least five large grocery stores: two Whole Foods (in Columbus Circle and Columbus Square); two Fairway Market locations (on West 74th and West 125th streets); and a Trader Joe's (on West 72nd Street).
Of the list of 24 foods the researchers were looking for at Manhattan food stores, organic dairy was the most widely available:
► 23 percent of stores carried organic eggs
► 35 percent of stores carried organic milk
► 22 percent of stores carried organic yogurt
► 11 percent of stores carried organic cheese
Less than 5 percent of stores had organic beef, chicken, lettuce or strawberries, the data showed.
Regarding the organic food scene now, "anecdotally we see greater availability of organic food throughout Manhattan, and I believe this is a response to gentrification and changing neighborhood characteristics," Dimitri said.
"I expect that as gentrification takes place (Chelsea, near the High Line, is a great example of this), the new residents tend to have more education and higher incomes, and are more interested in purchasing organic food," she added.
While the study aims to explain why organic food is sold in some neighborhoods and not others, the researchers concluded that more work needs to be done to determine how much and which kinds of organic food retailers decide to stock, once they've made the decision to do so.