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A new view on shopping for food

Posted 3 years, 6 months ago in SFYN Blogs

Coming from Newfoundland, Canada, a thickly wooded island in the cold Atlantic which we nicknamed “The Rock”, I have not had a lot of experience in the past with local, fresh markets. With 6 months of winter every year, conditions are far from ideal for farming or maintaining a personal vegetable garden. My whole life, the large majority of the food I ate came from Dominion, a branch of the largest Canadian food retailer, Loblaws. A trip to the grocery store was always a chore, a weekly necessity that my mother grumbled over as it took up her Saturday afternoons.

Written by: Laura O'Quinn
Photo Credit: Laura O'Quinn

The first time I travelled to Europe, I got to see the sale of food in
an entirely new way. My first trip to an open food market was in Barcelona, and I was amazed. Filled with people, both local and tourists like myself, nobody seemed like they were in the midst of
a Saturday chore, and for good reason. The market was colorful, lively, and overflowing with things to delight each of my senses. Some stalls sold ingredients to go home and make your own meal from local products, and others had dishes prepared which filled the air with delicious smells and gave me a sense of the local food culture. There were even stalls where you could buy drinks, and people wandered around the market with glasses of wine in their hands and friends by their side. It was such a contrast from my
life’s experience of shopping for food, where the big chain grocery stores have been all I’ve known. I have been to many since in different countries, The Netherlands, Italy, Greece, and I’m still filled with wonder at how totally opposite the experience is. The people work their separate stalls and sell something they have likely grown or made themselves. They know where the food comes from and seem to care about what they’re selling.

With each stall specializing in one type of food - vegetables, chocolate, pastries, wok, you name it - the difference in the quality of food is exceptional. I got the feeling that the people working there were passionate and involved and really believed in the value of what they were selling. It put a new spin on food for me, as it was being highlighted and proudly displayed, and bringing people together in a whole new way. As opposed to buying the same loaf of bread every week, made in bulk in a big factory by big machines, you could see the different bakers selling different breads and pastries, made with traditions, creativity, and care.

 My last trip was to Catania, Italy, where one of the main things to see was      A’ Piscaria Mercato del Pesce. a market mainly for the selling of fish but  which also sold fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other  meats. I thought it was  beautiful. The market was  in the street near the city center, it was full of  locals, bartering  in their quick, loud and passionate sounding Italian  conversation. While in the  midst of the market, I felt that I had found myself in  the true heart of an Italian  afternoon. That night I had dinner at a small  seafood restaurant near the  market, I had mussels and seafood linguini. The  dishes were exceptional,  and I never had to wonder about the freshness of  the fish or origin of my ingredients, because I knew I had seen them all  displayed right outside earlier that day.

As I learn more about the concept of slow food, I stop to consider the way I and the people I grew up with viewed food. Being born in the 90’s in Canada, big supermarket chains were the norm to me. Since I learned the more personal and celebrational relationship some cultures have with food, it is easy for me to decide which is better. While the outdoor market may seem old fashioned to someone from my home, I believe that the more people who had a chance to be part of this food culture, the more of a chance it would have to be the future of food, rather than the past.