Tuesday, June 29, 2010


A farmer friend of mine said, "My place looks great. That worries me. It means I'm overstaffed."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Foodies: The Book

  1. Okay, it's definitely not a conventional page turner, but I was fascinated by this rather academic analysis of sociological trends at play in today's world of food aficionados.

The book's subtitle is "Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape", and it describes the tension between our egalitarian inclination to enjoy all types of foods, from burgers to truffles, and our relentless pursuit of authentic and exotic foods. These two tendencies play off of each other in complex and perplexing ways, like relentless pursuit of high quality simple staples and appreciation for cheap street food that you can only experience with an expensive plane ticket.

Johnston and Baumann also point out contradictions and blind spots such as the emphasis on eco friendly foods but overall lack of awareness regarding social justice issues in the food industry, and the shared conviction that we can purchase our way towards a more just and sustainable foodscape.

I would have liked to see more discussion of one of my pet topics--attitudes towards meat consumption--which happens to provide fertile illustrations of many of the book's main ideas. Sustainable meat has been eagerly embraced by the foodie community, with good reason. But there's been very little reflection over the fact that its price is too high for most people to enjoy it regularly and even if it could become a mainstream staple, it still wouldn't be sustainable for everyone to eat a lot of it every day.

I doubt that a book like this will do much to raise awareness within foodie communities about these issues. Still, I'm glad someone is thinking about them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Renegade Vendor

  1. There's been a renegade food vendor selling pink lemonade and corn on the cob in the park right across from the Columbia City Market the past two weeks. Apparently they applied to the market and were turned down, but they decided they were going to come anyway.

After their appearance the first week a few of us called the health department only to find out that the health code makes a special dispensation for corn on the cob, so they don't need oversight by an organization like the farmers' market, as required for other food vendors. The health inspector suggested that we call the parks department, but apparently they're covered there too, with a permit that allows them to set up in public parks.

Yesterday the market folks had Billy's Farm move their big, colorful box truck to a spot that blocked the line of sight from the market to the corn vendor. In response, the corn vendor called parking enforcement, so the market folks had to move the truck.

I don't want them there, but I've been wondering why they have less of a right to be there than the ice cream truck or the guy selling African baskets.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Georgetown Carnival

"It's like a carnival," a farmer friend excitedly told me last weekend about the brand new Georgetown Market. (I wasn't able to be there personally on opening day because I was at the Bastyr Herb and Food Fair.)

I found it ironic that she described the event's vibrant atmosphere using exactly the same word that some farmers' market managers use disparagingly to describe events that don't focus sufficiently on farmers.

The Georgetown Market feels a lot like Fremont 1995, before the event split and the farmers' moved west to Ballard. There are crafts and flea market stuff as well as farmers and prepared food. There's even a guy selling Vermont maple syrup, which seems to defy the local focus, except that he divides his time between Washington and Vermont and actually does make the syrup himself. He's in the craft section rather than the farmer section, which is an interesting way of integrating this unusual compromise.

Rebekah Denn wrote an interesting piece in this month's Seattle Magazine exploring the question of whether Seattle has too many farmers' markets. Reading it, I was struck by the thought that I've always regarded farmers' markets as an ancient phenomenon in the sense of people gathering in public spaces for commerce, but they're actually quite modern in the sense of providing a venue with a strict focus on farmers, as a way to foster local, small scale agriculture. If that really is the point of a farmers' market, then perhaps these "carnivals" are getting in the way and creating debilitating competition.

On the other hand, farmers' markets are many things to many people. They're public gathering places as well as places where local economies can thrive. Food happens to be the ideal product for this type of event because local food is the freshest food, so locally food producers can offer great value on the best food around. But a great market has to give customers more than just food as an excuse to come down week after week. Even the farmers-only markets recognize this when they offer live music and chef demos.

The Georgetown market has room for 100 vendors, There are about 50 vendors there now, so there is considerable room for growth. It's got a unique setting, with railroad cars and a defunct brick brewery as a backdrop. Last week was crazy busy. This week was considerably less busy, but that's not unusual at a new market that holds a big opening. I'm looking forward to watching it evolve.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Food Stamp Foodies

I've been reading lately about controversy swirling around food savvy food stamp recipients spending their food stamp dollars at establishments that focus on quality food, like farmers' markets and Whole Foods. A recent article in Salon.com, titled Hipsters on Food Stamps, has generated a flood of responses from outraged foodies defending their right to buy sustainably produced food products, even with government subsidies. (Many aptly point out that the industrial food system is heavily subsidized as well.)

But the discussion, like so many other others, seems like an unfortunate collection of one dimensional, knee jerk reactions. The Salon.com article uses phrases like "a local, free-range chicken in every Le Creuset pot" and makes reference to "organic salmon". (What is that anyway? If you could control everything going into a salmon's diet it would be a farmed salmon, and no self respecting foodie would want to eat it anyway.)

Although the line often grows blurry, there is a real difference between fussy gourmet food products and honestly produced staples. Both are available at farmers' markets and at Whole Foods, and both tend to cost more than the highly processed industrial foods that are killing and sickening so many people. But there is a real difference between expensive food as a pretentious status symbol, and quality products that happen to cost more than the garbage on the shelves of the typical American supermarket. Fancy food may be a luxury, but good food is a necessity.