Farmer’s Markets are Not Bullshit
Editor’s Note: As part of our Greatest Hits Week/Post Good Food Fest Feeling Good, we’re digging up some of our favorite items from the root cellar. Once, someone dared challenge the glory that is the farmer’s market. We let him have it.
Yes, I know I am preaching to the choir. You Beetniks know the worth of farmer’s markets. Nor do I have the heft of the Tribune’s listserv, contacting everyone else when this post goes up. Besides, earnest defenses are just not as cool as snarky contrariness. Yet, God, I cannot let a bunch of crap from some snob go unanswered. He’s telling you farmer’s markets are bullshit, essentially telling you that you are a fool for shopping there. Do you want to be called a fool? No, that’s BS.
To this snob, if you go to markets you pay too much; you’re not getting very much; you’re forcing restaurants to charge too much (I think that’s one of the arguments), and you are buying into a false sense of obligation when shopping at a market. The snob’s case falls apart from his own minimal research let alone his odd rhetoric. It really falls apart if you apply thinking slightly less shallow.
Do You Pay too Much for Farm Food?
Yes! There’s reasons you do, but before we get to those reasons let’s address whether you really pay more when shopping at farmer’s markets. Snob throws up a chart attempting to show how the suckers get taken, and boy does the chart prove something. It’s an odd chart, often making no account for objective differences. For instance, when he throws out prices for NY strip steak, he does not differentiate between the grades of the meat. Does that not account for some price difference. Same for organic labeling. Don’t you pay more for that regardless. Without those points, the chart still proves little. After all, the market shopper would pay $4 for blueberries but only $3.99 at Dominick’s! That’s what his chart shows. You fool paying $5 for a dozen eggs when you could pay over $8 at Whole Foods or $4 for strawberries when you can pay $5 at Dominick’s. Woops. Even in the cases where there’s a difference in price, the differences are minor. If you pay fifty cents a pound more for something are you really getting rooked?
A guy who goes by Food Snob is probably also the kind of guy who will tell you that two buck chuck is as good as any other wine. There is no accounting for taste. Some of us pay a bit more for taste. Or we pay more for things beyond taste. We have seen Food Inc. or Fresh or read Pollan. We know the threat of antibiotic resistant animals. We want out of the industrial system. We pay the real costs. Now. Who knows how many recalls, infections, diabetics, et al. later there will be to pay later.
Besides, we do not always pay the costs Snob says we pay. He says you pay $4/lb for potatoes. You can, for certain heirloom varieties or for certain freshly harvested potatoes, but even Nichol’s Farm does not sell all their potatoes for that price. Likewise tomatoes can easily be found for $2/lb (or less!) at markets. A savvy market shopper knows also how to get good deals. In fact, here’s a couple of studies (granted not from Chicago) showing that local food is not more expensive: one/another.
There’s a Better Market in France
Snob makes an odd turn. After trying to prove you pay too much at the market, he turns around and tells you that your market is no good anyways. Hahahahaha. Sucker. If you only went with him to a small, random market in the South of France you’d get “fresh stroopwaffles, fresh spices, plethora of tapenades, and fresh bread.” Right, not just stroopwaffles, but fresh stroopwaffles. Snob says this even though he went to Green City Market where one could get not waffles but at least crepes made to order (from genuine Frenchmen) and fresh bread to boot. Of course, GCM, with strict standards does not allow tapenades as olives do not grow around here as they do in the south of France, but there are farmer’s markets in the Chicago area selling tapenade if that’s your thing. We’ll concede spices, having to say walk a few blocks from GCM to the Spice House.
Frankly, I cannot see how Snob can say the market selections blow. I could toss out anecdotal evidence from my Beet Reporter in Italy or from visitors from San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston or San Francisco who raved about our markets compared to others, or that Alice Water’s own gardener felt highly about Green City Market (also put in a top 10 by CNN), yet I know its a logical fallacy to rely on such evidence. After all, you could cite someone who’s been to Madison or Urbana, telling me about better, bigger markets than around here. I do not need a rank to know our markets don’t blow.
Farmer’s market food is better. Ignoring all that industrial food system stuff already mentioned, I can give you other reasons why markets don’t blow. For instance, farmer’s bringing produce to markets can pick their products when they are ready to be picked not when they are ready to be shipped thousands of miles. And they can grow varieties for deliciousness not for how many of them can be fit into a box. Need more. Well, do you know the standard recipe for corn–you set a pot a-boilin’, then go get yourself some corn. For those of us without corn in the backyard, the farmer’s market is your next best bet. By a mile. Then, there’s all the varieties. I saw about 25 types of apples at the Daley Plaza yesterday. I’m not seeing anything that blows. I see some markets with more than others, and I do know a few suspect markets, but overall to say our markets are no good is more bull-crap.
Markets Drive Up Restaurant Costs
By the time we get to this argument, I wonder if Snob is simply being paid by the word. His editors and Chicago Now wanted things a bit puffier. So, he came up with this argument that the high prices of market food cause, may force the chef’s hand (Snob writes, “chefs want to emulate other chefs with notoriety and feel they need to keep up with the Joneses”). Is this just another zag after zigging. The selection blows but it blows so much that chefs have to use it simply to save face. Maybe I can get Rick Bayless to address this one if, my my, it needs more addressing. Let’s just leave this the way we’ve left some other points, some things are worth paying; some are willing to pay.
Don’t Shop on Pity
Snob wraps things up with, what I imagine he believes is his hidden ace. All of you who willingly pay more, who pretend their markets are actually good, well Snob portends that you do it out of a sense of pity towards farmers. And do you know what. To crush your hopes and tell you how much BS you are putting up with, he tells you that not all markets take the LINK card and that farmer’s don’t give back as much as chefs. In other words, these people are not worthy of pity.
The commentators in Snob’s Chicago Now post do a pretty good job or wrecking his Google research on LINK and farmer’s markets around the Chicago area. Those readers, unlike Snob seem to understand that there are other markets besides Green City. What Snob also did not know is a few things I happen to know. I know that the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry routinely does “food rescue” from unsold items at the Oak Park Market. I know that the Forest Park Market requires a donation to their food pantry as a condition of selling at the market. I know that vendors at the Hines Market support veterans. I can go on about things like Farmer Vicki taking time to speak to kids at schools. Does any of that matter?
Who takes pity on farmers. Sure we recognize the difficulty of their endeavor. We recognize how things are often skewed against them, subsidies and such. Farming is not an easy plight. I shop at farmer’s markets because I like farmers. I like meeting them. I like knowing the story behind my food. I like knowing about my food. I know it’s not a charity to shop at farmer’s markets, but I also know that knowing where my food comes from is worth it. For me. It’s all worth it. What about you. Do you find farmer’s markets bullshit?