Hooked on Farmers Markets and Beauty Shots
Being a city dweller always on the go, I never thought I’d become a farmers market regular. Taking the subway and then lugging bags of produce home didn’t make much sense for me, but one day—having a little free time on my hands—I tried it, and I’ve been going ever since, once a week on Saturday mornings. The market is a just one subway-stop away, and since I’m single I never have a whole lot to carry home.
I got hooked. I liked the color and smell of the market, the farmers and their families, and all the unusual crops I’d never seen before. On my first trip to the market—it’s at Union Square in New York City—I found wheatgrass juice. Amid the crowds that late Saturday afternoon, I made my way to what seemed to be the only empty stand at the market and asked for a shot of the juice. I had never tried the stuff and had only recently heard of it from my kid sister, who mentioned that it prevented people from getting gray hair. The young woman behind the stand looked quizzically at me. It has a “rejuventating effect,” she said, but she never heard anything about its powers to prevent gray hair. “I wouldn’t be surprised, though,” she smiled.
She put the grass in a grinder and within a few minutes handed me a two-ounce plastic cup of a foamy grass-green liquid. I downed it in two gulps. The liquid had a warm thick texture and yes, a very grassy taste. Next time, I told myself, I’d chase it down with a glass of water as the woman had suggested.
I was happy with my $2.50 investment in beauty and vowed to get regular beauty shots once weekly. It didn’t make me any prettier or less gray—as far as I could tell—but I did feel healthy.
These days, instead of wheat grass juice, I’m drinking hot apple cider, hot and savory to get me through cold winter days. As committed as I was to wheatgrass, I realized that the last thing I wanted as I wandered through the market was a shot of the bitter-tasting juice. So I decided I’d give the beauty goals a rest for the winter.
Though there’s lots of talk these days about eating local food, it’s not the reason why I started going to the farmers market. I wanted to poke around and see what was in season, and learn about crops I’d only heard of, like tomatillos and rhubarb, or had never heard of, like celeriac.
I soon learned that I was a little naïve about the market, as naïve and over-enthusiastic as I had been in thinking that I’d stick with wheatgrass juice year-round. I assumed that all the produce at the market would be organic—pesticide-free—but found out that wasn’t so. When asked, many farmers explained that the fruit was “minimally sprayed.” It was a huge disappointment.
At first I refused to buy the peaches and nectarines, deciding to buy them instead at the health food store, where they were organic. But soon enough, I gave in. I started buying the peaches and nectarines because they tasted so good, were so plentiful and came in so many varieties, more so than at the health food store.
But the choice raised for me a bunch of issues that I contend with whenever I shop at the market. Do I buy organic produce? Or do I buy local, as local food advocates—or “locavores”—propose?
To be honest, I never gave a hoot where my fruits and veggies came from. As long as they were organic and tasty, I didn’t think much about their carbon footprint. Environmentalists and locavores argue that eating local food minimizes the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere because the food doesn’t travel great distances.
But let’s get real. Buying local isn’t always realistic. Organic spinach at the farmers market goes for $5 for a ¼ pound. At the health food store, I could buy three times more organic spinach for less than half the price—it sells for $1.69 for roughly ¾ pound. The only problem is that the spinach comes from California. So, what do I do? Buy locally grown organic spinach or the cheaper organic spinach from the West Coast?
For me, the difference in price was too great. I went for the California spinach. But it wasn’t an easy decision. Some people—if they can afford it—might pay more to support local farms and local agriculture, but I wonder if such noble gestures really make a difference. Can the purchases of idealists reverse the forces of globalization? Do we want to? Do we really want to eat local food, all the time, year-round? I thought I did with wheatgrass, but I discovered that I really didn’t.
Who knew that eating—one of life’s great pleasures—could be so complicated? I never would have guessed that a simple farmers market would open a window on so many food dilemmas.
I’m going to continue my weekly trips to the market and continue reading about issues surrounding food and farms. And I’ll give you my take on what I learned. Hope you’ll stay with me…