Sunday, May 05, 2013

The means of produce production

The delights of eating with the seasons! Come April, the bounty of Central NJ arrives... in Manhattan. Maybe Brooklyn and Queens as well. Farmers bring quaint to the cityfolk a month or so before it arrives around here. Because I need/want to go into the city every so often, I've been able to re-import the various vegetables I desire, grown (or foraged) in these parts, and now home again. But I was looking forward to May, when some markets around here open for the season. I should have known, though. I should have, but I refuse to learn. There was a "Farmers' Market" on the Princeton campus, one I hadn't known about but, when we were showing my brother-in-law around the area, there it was. It consisted of some promising-looking tents, but seemingly no farm-produce whatsoever. A stand from a local bakery, another from a health-food store, some grass-fed meat, and some prepared foods. And I'm drawn to these tents, no matter how many times I'm reminded that under them is likely to be something ordinary, displayed rustically, with whichever markup that entails.

Yesterday, though, the real local market reopened for the season. Tons of tents, a big, full parking lot. And... there was yak meat. Beef jerky. Cupcakes. Crepes. Bread. Frozen soups. Handmade soap. Llama-fur products. Festive music. Fit-looking yuppies in exercise gear, bearing tote bags. Long waits for individual stands where one may folksily converse with the seller. A coastal-elite extravaganza, in an area with super-high housing prices. The scene was set for a farmers' market. The only thing missing: produce.

Thanks to whichever pathetic economies of scale, there were, in the end, two stands with vegetables. (It may not be fruit season yet.) One had a few dainty bunches of kale and some other greens, as well as a picked-over-looking basket of radishes. (I bought 40 cents worth of radishes, which was actually kind of a lot of radishes.) The other was slightly more robust, with a few more vegetables (leeks, scallions), but apart from asparagus, none of the spring highlights (peas, ramps, green garlic, etc.). This trip, for which we'd gotten moving early on a Saturday morning, brought us a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, a bunch of asparagus, and the aforementioned radishes. Make-the-trip-worth-it purchases, more than anything.

So indeed, you may call the waahmbulence and explain my grocery situation. But there is - I promise! - a larger point here, if not an entirely new one for WWPD: the conversation about how "we" eat tends to be that there are on the one hand educated elites, who eat only organic/local/seasonal/whole foods, and on the other, the Dorito-craving masses. When the reality is, there's some tiny % of mostly-well-off Americans with year-round access to the socially-acceptable produce and of those, only whichever % is actually basing a diet off of that. Where I live, farm-to-table has arrived, and boy oh boy are people who live in the mansions that surround this apartment at the income level that allows for paying $3.50 for a bunch of organic arugula. Restaurant menus know full well to mention the local farms they source from, or better yet, to have farms of their own, perhaps (I saw a Craigslist ad for this, since taken down) staffed by unpaid interns. Belabored point being, it's not that people in these parts don't know about local-seasonal-etc., or that they can't afford it. It might be that they are in fact so rich that they're only ever eating in restaurants, anyway, so if everything in Palmer Square sources its provisions in an acceptable manner, problem solved.

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