Sunday, April 25, 2010

Farmers Markets > Supermarkets

There were no strawberries at the first Thanksgiving. Wild New England cranberries, perhaps. Strawberries, no. The Pilgrims naturally worked with local produce and what was in season. So did our grandparents and more remote ancestors. Tomatoes in December? Try South America. Canning and mass global distribution of produce have conditioned us to expect food all year round. I myself have been beguiled by the engineered good looks of off-season produce, but one taste of cardboard is enough to send me reaching for my napkin to expel the offending counterfeit. Nothing is more flavorless than a supermarket tomato in winter, but a true vine-ripened specimen in summer is nothing short of divine.

If there's one thing that's become apparent, either through Mireille Guiliano or Michael Pollan, it's that shopping in supermarkets simply won't suffice. Which is unfortunate since our cities and suburbs are designed for everyone to drive to their giant grocery store in their giant SUVs and buy enough processed foods to last for a month.

I wanted fresh foods, and unfortunately the only place to find them (usually) are either on farms or farmers markets. Since I live in a city with no car, finding farms with fresh meats and produce isn't an option. In the winter (at least in Chicago), there was only one farmer's market. It was small and didn't have much, but it gave me my first experience with fresh foods, and while it is slightly more expensive (but only slightly), it was worth it.

I also loved meeting the farmers. They were able to tell me about that week's crop and give me tips on how to prepare my food. I purchased meat from several local farmers who were all able to give me specific instructions on how best to cook it to get the full effect. I'm never going to find that in a grocery store, and I'd have to wade through pages and pages of crap on the internet if I tried to search for that.

I haven't yet had the pleasure of stopping at a farmer's market in New York. It's much easier to go to the small grocery store a block away or to stop at the vegetable cart on the side of the street. I'm definitely going to put an end to that soon!

Of course, it's also best to do your research. Most farmers markets have websites, as do the vendors. Just because something is fresh, doesn't mean it's organic or that the animals were raised properly. It might not even be local!

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