By far one of the things I most enjoy about life in China is the outdoor produce markets. Of course, I never quite got comfortable with seeing raw chicken and beef and pork laid nonchalantly upon stone counters under a day of heat, China air, and occasional flies. Being conspicuously the only foreigner, I didn’t quite like the spotlight that seemed to follow me around. But I always succeeded in making friends by going to the same producers each time. Not only was the produce of higher quality and lower price than the large supermarkets, but once I became a preferred customer, I got free ginger and onions and some extra bananas or oranges.
The outdoor produce markets are, in America, a luxury, a sort of hip, once-a-week-half-the-year social event, not the place you buy your food every day. The green markets and/or farmers markets are revered for their ‘green-ness,’ which we associate with ‘eco-friendiness,’ which nowadays translates into ‘coolness factor.’
I don’t know about the situation at most green/farmers markets around the country, so I’m using my experience with Santa Monica and Phoenix farmers markets, focusing on the West Palm Beach Green Market. The WPB version runs every Saturday in the not-so-ungodly-hot months. It has its share of culinary yummies, and higher quality products, but it also seems like a bit of a show.
Outdoor markets play a different role in America. This market is a sort of social event for those who can afford it, and while it is tons of fun, it seems to have a hint of smug. “Look how green and local we are. Look at how natural we all are, selling our local produce in natural organic yoga clothes.”
Imagine how interested I was to learn that a fair percentage of the local produce stands were not, in fact, local.
Outdoor markets in the US have a novelty factor, as though we’re getting back in touch with nature by skipping Costco and buying our strawberries on a lawn instead of a giant refrigerator. You can save me the sanitation argument because somehow, despite all the fresh produce and meats sitting in the outdoor market for who knows how long in China, they somehow have more than maintained their population numbers.
There are so many dogs at the WPB Green Market (I don’t know about other outdoor markets) that an alien observer might think it was a gathering for canines who bring their masters out. Dogs are everywhere (you want to talk sanitation now?), even by the grill, which might be a bit more of a precarious spot in China.
Green markets here are quite luxurious. The local one here is filled with pastries and artisan cheeses and fresh breads, as well as cakes, handmade fresh pastas, specialty teas, and orchids.
And black lava sea salt?
Despite my slightly curmudgeon attitude to the smugness of the green market, it is a lot of fun, and definitely better than the supermarket. It’s the shopping version of dining al fresco. And we get to talk to produce people who say things like “Check out the ass on this tomato!”
People who know their produce will do funny things, like play with their malformed tomatoes.
And show them off.
And then let you take them for free.
I love that people are out there and interacting a bit more with their food, and that they’re buying the fresher, sometimes more local food. But why isn’t this the norm like it is in so many other countries? I never see produce this beautiful in the supermarket. I don’t quite understand why this isn’t a daily, or at the very least bi-weekly, thing. Why don’t we want to buy our food outside on a regular basis when it’s fresher, more sustainable, and fun?