Friday, August 10, 2012

Market economy

Vegetables in Venice's Rialto Market
What is it about markets that attracts us, no matter where we find them? My summer seems happily filled with the sight of luscious displays of fruit, vegetables, and other delicious things to eat - whether it's in Venice, Italy; the medieval French town of Beaune; Paris, London or here at home in Los Angeles.

Sunday market in the French town of Beaune
I grew up, like many of you might have, in a culture where food came from a supermarket - delivered by big trucks, arrayed on shelves and inside big freezer cases, and usually hygienically packaged or wrapped in plastic.

Apples at London's Borough Market
It wasn't until I moved to Greenwich Village, fresh out of college, that I even thought much about the task of buying food, and it was there I learned a different way to shop. On the way home from the subway stop, I'd walk north on Bleecker Street, buying a fresh peach and a handful of green beans from the produce market; a pound of mussels from the fishmonger; a fresh loaf of bread from Zito's bakery. I bought what I needed fresh when I needed it.
Tomatoes in Venice
When I moved to Seattle I discovered the Pike Place Market - a wonderland of fresh food, fish and so much activity it's a tourist attraction as well as a place to buy your dinner.

Pike Place Market, Seattle
 And when I traveled the country on tour with theatrical shows, I visited other cities - Indianapolis, Philadelphia - with old, established farmers' markets.

French radishes in France
All over America in the last 40 or so years, cities and towns have been trying to revive their old market halls or bring back farmers' markets.

Geneva carrots, cabbage and beets
 Even the small town of Geneva, Illinois, near where I grew up, now has a farmer's market day.

Beets at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market
Here in Southern California, the California Federation of Certified Farmers Markets keeps track of Farmers' Markets to assure quality. The markets operate in parks, parking lots, or in streets closed to traffic on certain days of the week   Los Angeles County alone has 137 operating Farmers' Markets.

The best aspect of farmers' markets is the variety - some farmers grow specialty items in small quantities, or grow fruits and vegetables that may be superior in taste but that don't ship well to supermarkets. You learn to eat things in season, rather than rely on food shipped from far away - some of our supermarket produce comes from a whole different hemisphere!

In Venice, when you see the word "Nostrane" it means "ours," or, in other words, "locally grown."

Markets also offer specialty prepared foods, like this offering of cured meats in the market hall in Beaune. Other markets, like the Sunday Pacific Palisades market, have small mom-and-pop vendors selling preserves, dips, baked goods, or candy.

In France, some towns still boast great arching market halls from the 19th century, where established vendors maintain stalls. This is similar to the old American market halls, and the grand halls in London.

Borough Market, London
 Markets offer you the chance to connect with the growers and producers of the food you eat. What's better than that?

What about your home town? Do you shop at farmers' markets? When you travel, do you visit markets?


smalltownme said...

Our small town's farmer's market is on Wednesdays. The food section in the big town paper, with the farmer's market feature, is published on Thursdays, which annoys me a little bit. Oh, I shoulda bought THAT!

I hope to get to the Pike Place Market next week! Road trip!

cactus petunia said...

I love the farmer's market. We have one three blocks from our house on Saturday mornings. The one day I get to sleep late. I never seem to manage to get out the door to go! You've inspired me. I'm heading up there right now!

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

We don't have a good farmers market here. There is a market, but it sells mostly the same produce that you find in the grocery stores...often with the bar code stickers on it. Sigh. However, we often find roadside stands or just a truck pulled over offering watermelons or seasonal produce. We love to visit farmers markets when we travel!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I suppose there is a farmers market here but I have not come across it yet. (Confession: my hsuband does most of the produce shopping.)
In our little corner of Virginia, our local town (the one with the traffic lights and the high school, not the one we lived nearest to) had TWO markets: the official one on Saturdays that had seasonal produce and year-'round wines, fresh goat cheese, wonderful handmade soaps, cured meats, baked goods, and crafts. The not-so-official market was fresh produce in season. We were lucky to have both of them.
And now I am craving a trip to Pike Place Market!