Sunday, January 8, 2012

Oh, Farmer's Market - How I've Missed Thee!

Last Saturday, after a three-month hiatus due to a Saturday morning course, I eagerly walked to my neighborhood farmer's market with my two-year-old in tow. After a stop at the bank, I walked across the street to find the two vendors who are there when the the farmer's market is lively with crowds buying "specialty" goods (April - September) and sluggish (October - February): Meredith's Bread and a family-owned farm from upstate New York.

Jay, who is Meredith's husband of "Meredith's Bread," immediately remembered Jonathan and welcomed us back with a huge smile and promises of a cookie for the kid. Jay's freebie cookies basically secured Jonathan's early love for the market, as soon as Jonathan could eat them. I used to hoist Jonathan in my Bjorn "baby backpack" and troop from my apartment to the market, so his memory of the market stretches as far back as he can remember. I made it my mission to show my son that food do not appear on shelves out of thin air; they are grown and cared for by people with faces and names. 

I bought a ham and swiss quiche, raisin swirl bread, pumpkin cookies for me, a giant double chocolate cookie for Dave, and chocolate lace cookies for Dave's family (which were a big hit with my sister-in-law!). I didn't realize until I unpacked my bag that Jay had added an extra treat for us - the rest of the oatmeal raisin cookies Jonathan had chosen as his freebie cookie. I vowed that I would always, always patronize "Meredith's Bread" every week if I could, even if I had no need for baked goods. I believe that this kind of relationship between producer and consumer is a rarity today and I feel sorry for those that do not or cannot experience its warmth.

The next and last stop was the produce stall. The person selling the items today is coincidentally a university professor as well - he helps his family by selling their food on the weekends. I usually chat with him on the latest agricultural or food movement news, while he rings up the fingerling potatoes, a head of green cabbage, onions, sweet potatoes, and dozen eggs (that don't need the "organic, free-range label" because it goes without saying) I wanted to purchase. He introduced me to another customer, Gwen, who lives on my block and works at City Tech, another CUNY college. We struck an animated conversation and parted with contact information, promising to stay in touch. 

This is not an extraordinary day at the farmer's market: a real relationship exists between vendors and customers, and customers with customers. These two vendors are here, rain or shine, fair or foul weather, to sell the goods nurtured from their own hands. They sit in their down parkas next to their portable heaters, unfailingly every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm. In the "high season," other vendors vie for the profit, but I always buy from those two who shiver in the cold in February just so I could have my quiche and bok choy for the week - no matter how cheaper the other vendors sell their wares.

When I go to a supermarket, I never, ever leave with the same kind of appreciation and restorative ebullience as I do at the farmer's market. It angers me to no end that people continue to frequent supermarkets for reasons of economics or convenience. I always spend less on Saturday mornings on fresh, clean produce than I ever would at the Shoprite.  

I have another Saturday morning course lined up for the spring semester. In the meantime, I'll make my weekly visit to the market, renewing my vigor and resolve to advocate for these vendors. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Victories and Defeats in the Food Movement - so far

I've been absolutely derelict in my duties to this blog, but with the whirlwind of the holiday season, followed by a 16-day composition course, I haven't had the time (or energy) to write a post. Since there's been a flurry of movement in the food landscape - some exciting, some disappointing, and some plain crazy - I feel compelled to discuss these issues:

  1. A lobbying group is fighting to keep the EPA from releasing the limits for safe exposure to dioxins, an industrial pollutant that causes cancer, the same stuff used in Agent Orange. Americans consume this toxic chemical through the fats in meat. Again, the food industry objects to the proper labeling of food which would help American consumers can make informed decisions. The group's central argument? “You will have a whole lot of folks running in circles saying there’s nothing safe to eat, it will scare the crap out of people.” Right, because releasing this information will immediately result in mass mania. 
  2. Agricultural pollution is laying waste on the American landscape. The Environmental Working Group reports that farms are losing valuable topsoil at a rate 12 times faster than the government's estimates. This is of course a direct result of monocultural farming demanded by the food industry. 
  3. Pizza is now considered a vegetable in school lunchrooms. What the fuck? Do you know how much the food industry spent lobbying to make this happen? 5 million. 5 million. Schools spend less than a dollar per meal. The government subsidizes surplus products from the industry, but the industry charges more to process the food for the schools. A chicken might be free, but turning that into an insipid chicken nugget costs a lot more. Watch Seth Myers and Kermit the Frog's hilarious response here
  4. The FDA finally placed higher restrictions to the amount of antibiotics in livestock, a critical change since 75% of the antibiotics in America are used on animals. I'm hoping that this will have a positive effect on consumers' medical treatment. 
  5. Because of anti-obesity incentives in schools, I'm so pleased to report that childhood obesity rates in New York City are declining! I hope this momentum can be sustained and, at best, accelerated. 
  6. Since 2012 is an election year, there's been talk that progress in the food movement will be slow. Now that corporations are people, candidates have to keep them happy. Corporations like the ones  in Big Food. Here's to hoping that we at least don't move backwards. Obama's the first president to acknowledge that there is a huge problem that stretches back to agricultural policy, but lip service doesn't fix things. I hope whichever candidate wins 2012 will help make strides in the food movement, though that might be asking for too much. 
Happy 2012!