Saturday, February 16, 2008

Greenmarket Mon Amour, or why poor people eat so badly in most cities and towns

I went shopping this morning. I bought an uncut loaf of bread. I picked up some free cheese. I bought curry lamb sausage with pomegranates and currants. I bought a bottle of milk, and had a snack- some hot apple cider and a donut. I splurged and bought flowers- tulips and hyacinths. And not once while I did my shopping was I indoors.

I was at my local Greenmarket during the dead season. Right now nothing is growing, so all the veggies are from late last year's harvest except for the greenhouse tomatoes from one farmer. The meat, except for the poultry, was slaughtered late last year also, for the most part. The milk was fresh- it came out of a cow the other day. The cheese came from a sheep, and the reason it was free is because one of my favorite sheep farmers forgot to bring me the fleece she was going to sell me, and gave me cheese as a present. The loaf of bread was baked early this morning, and is never sliced- I laugh whenever I'm online to buy bread and overhear someone asking for sliced bread.

I love my Greenmarket, even in the dead season. But there's one thing that makes me angry. Even though I know that many of my farmers take EBT (the New York State equivalent of food stamps), I don't see a lot of poor people taking advantage, because they don't know that there's a market where even in the dead of winter they an get fruits and vegetables for their families. Yet in my city right now there are whole neighborhoods where the local stores don't sell fruits and vegetables at all and the supermarkets sell their 'fresh' food in a state I wouldn't give away to a starving person in Darfur. Yet this isn't true just in New York City; my mother had never really heard anything about the farmer's markets in Baltimore and other parts of the state, and when I visited New Orleans, most of the people shopping at the market there were tourists and wealthier cognoscenti.

Why is this happening? Part of it is advertising. Greenmarkets and farmer's markets, which can be found in various forms all over the country, usually aren't found where they are needed most- in poor areas. The local papers that cater to ordinary people don't mention them, and certainly don't mention the kind of bounty that can be had, even in winter. But I think it goes deeper than that. A few years ago, as an experiment, I brought in fresh bread and jam from my market to my students, and ran a taste test. They were skeptical, but after tasting, they were shocked. Pretty much every single one of them said that in tasting the bread, they realized they had never in 18+ years taste real unchemicalized bread before. They had never tasted real jam. Not only that, but they liked the taste of the the food I brought in, as it was better than anything of that kind they'd had before. My sweetie had a similar epiphany when he had some of my local milk. He said he hadn't tasted milk like that since childhood. He also bought a bottle to take home with him, and refused to share it with his brother. His favorite part was shaking the bottle to mix the cream back in with the milk. Now he frequently mentions how he lusts after that milk (and the sausages, apples, and other market items I buy) and is unsatisfied with the milk from his supermarket.

What would happen if every American got to taste what food is really supposed to be like? What if they learned that real bread goes stale, and that when it does one can make fabulous French toast with it? What if people learned that real milk tastes so rich that a small glass is satisfying, and one can enjoy it without pushing up one's cholesterol? What would happen to all of the fast food restaurants and crap food in supermarkets?

As yarn lovers, this concerns us, too. What would happen, for instance, if people had access to yarn that still felt like it came from an actual animal, and was dyed in natural colors? What would happen if people realized most clothing and accessories feel awful because they are made from inferior textiles, and that really good textiles can actually be made while sitting on the subway or talking on the phone? That beautiful, well-made objects that fit do not have to just be within the price range of the rich; that if people began to work together to spin, knit, crochet, tat, sew and quilt items in small co-ops, more of us would be warm, well-dressed, and not suffer from allergic reactions brought on by the very clothing (and the chemicals therein) that we wear? That we could be at least partially free from the slavery we are now forced into to major corporations who don't care if clothing is badly made, poorly constructed, and falls apart in weeks?

The next part of the burgeoning DIY revolution is not in making cute toys or adorable scarves- it's going to be producing viable, beautiful and carefully-made items, not just for the young and thin and trendy, but for all those who will want to work together with farmers to take raw materials, turn them into fabric, and clothe people at a reasonable rate of money or trade. The same also goes for decent food. If we want a happy and healthy society, we'll have to move beyond creating joy for ourselves, and making sure that others can partake, too. It's a matter of figuring out how best to do it; currently, New York City is opening a Greenmarket in Harlem, and has a well-established one in the the South Bronx.


knitwhit said...

Stop, you're making me cry. But at least you're looking at solutions. And this is true of most parts of the country.

Frankly, I'd prefer to live on the farm that produced all that delicious goodness. While have servants do all the work, of course. While I merely partake of the tasties. I shall toil not, nor spin, but eat. And eat. Well.

bubbo said...

This is something I have been railing about for years. Personally, I'm on a campaign to end high fructose corn syrup. It's in everything and the cheaper something is at the grocery store the more hfcs there it.

We need to take back control of our food. Shop fresh and locally when we can, read labels, educate ourselves.