Once upon a time, before large supermarket chains took over most of the developed world, shopping at local markets was a standard feature of daily life. Nowadays, most French fill their shopping cart at Carrefour, Monoprix, Leclerc, Lidl or Super U and going to the market turned into a once-a-week family outing.
In France, most consumers don’t rely on retail markets to meet their fresh produce needs. Markets are no longer particularly cheap or lively—they serve an ethical purpose. You don’t just fill up the fridge, you support local producers, buy GMO-free veggies, backyard-raised chickens, artisan pastas and fresh seafood. Fifty euro later, the sins of the week—meals at McDonalds’s, salads with genetically modified corn and endangered tuna, disposable bottles of Évian—are forgiven. That Sunday, while supermarkets were closed, you rejected intensive agricultural production, globalization, megacorporation and junk food.
I’m being slightly sarcastic because food activism has a price. You need an upper middle-class income to feed a family relying only on farmers’ markets. Merchants know their customers. While some emphasize on genuine, local food is real, there are also many marketing gimmicks. Besides, there are more ready-to-eat meals than basic ingredients our grandparents used to buy. Why spend hours making a stew when you can buy it pre-portioned? Why make your own salad when the deli did the job for you?
For me, market stalls are a great way to reconnect with food. You don’t pick a brand but a product. There are no fancy labels, no multicolour packaging, no health claims in big bold letter. For instance, I don’t eat meat in Canada, yet I find meat and fish stalls mouth watering because it looks fresh and smells good. I like misshapen fruits and veggies and I’m happy to be able to recognize every single ingredient in deli food.
The future of agriculture is one of these topics that worries me. On one hand, as a consumer, I want fresh, tasty and cheap produce. On the other hand, growing food is a tough job and anyone working on a farm needs to be paid fairly. These sci-fi books predicting that by year 2050 we will just swallow a few pills instead of wasting time in the kitchen freak me out.
I hope the world will be able to eat good, affordable food. It matters.