I remember thinking the local grocery stores in my hometown looked like an after school special. During certain times of the day, it was staffed almost entirely by people from my high school. Standing behind the thinly sliced stacks of salami was the mousy haired boy with thick eyebrows, whose legs I had accidentally stepped on when trying to navigate the crowded hallways. There, in the baked goods section, was quiet lanky kid arranging baguettes in woven baskets that were set out in an attempt to create a rustic, old fashioned feel to the process of buying bread, though the contrast with the polished tiled floor ruined the illusion. Cheery, red apples glowed wanly under yellow fluorescent light, waxy coatings lending them an unnatural shine. Like many other grocery stores, it has a very industrious atmosphere. Stacks upon stacks of food converged to rows upon rows of cashiers. Staffed with grudging kids who had recently grown too old for an allowance, people came in and out without a thought.
Recently, after being introduced to the ideas of food security, I was strongly encouraged to try and buy LOFT (local, organic or fair-trade) foods whenever possible, and within reason. Foods fulfilling any of these criterions can be pretty expensive at places like Metro and such, especially when you’re on a student budget. This is what led me to start shopping more at local Farmer’s Markets. Maybe it’s because I’m a person who’s always been nostalgic for the older and simpler days, and a silly tendency to romanticize eras in which I have never lived, but I absolutely love places with atmospheres like those.
It’s an entirely different shopping experience. Instead of the neat, utilitarian set up of any local grocery, you usually get a mess of colorful tents and tablecloths flapping cheerfully in the wind. There you can find your usual fruit and vegetables, but also much more. I’ve gotten freshly made zucchini loaf that I had to cautiously take from a baked goods display, mainly because of the cloud of bees hovering above, clearly attracted to the sweet smells. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea, but I was probably very hungry. The best apple cider I ever had? I used to buy bottles of it from a family who ran their own apple picking orchard back at home. They told me they bottled it up to sell commercially, but it didn’t taste quite the same as when it was fresh. And is it just me, but does anyone feel extra fancy when they are walking down the street with a freshly made local baguette, or loaf of bread, tucked under their arm? Just be careful, paper bags are not the sturdiest and there’s a chance your bread will slip out and fall into a puddle, which is very upsetting. Lastly, though not food related, you can sometimes find really interesting pieces of clothing. Sometimes it’s made by the locals themselves, but sometimes it’s been brought back by people who travel around the world. A woolly hat from Nepal for $10? I want. I also have a weak spot for pretty saris and wall hangings from the Middle East. I adore clothes with an interesting story or history (like hearing about how the wool in my scarf is made from sheep who frolic happily in the Himalayas) – it’s a marketing technique I never stop falling for. As well, by buying pieces from locals, you are supporting those who make these things for a living in a more direct way. So maybe next time, try ditching the stagnant and nondescript grocery store smell for the fresh air at your local farmer’s market, and spend an afternoon there. You’d be surprised what you can find.
– Jennie T