Tag: Photos

Why I Now Hate Southern California Farmers’ Markets

Credit Joseph Lapin: LACMA
Credit Joseph Lapin: LACMA

Every Sunday (sometimes Saturday), my wife and I head down to the farmers’ market in Hillcrest — a neighborhood in San Diego northwest of Balboa Park (one of my favorite places in the world) where a rainbow flag waves at the corner of University Avenue and Normal Street — or in Little Italy — a section of downtown that was once the Italian fisherman’s neighborhood. These neighborhoods are some of my favorite places to visit in San Diego because of their restaurants and general vibrancy, but my wife and I also consider their farmers’ markets two of the best we’ve ever been to in Southern California, even though we love the L.A. markets, too.

(My brother in law always tells a funny story of seeing Lauren Conrad pretending to shop at the farmers’ market in LA for the paparazzi. He said her assistant was holding the bags from the farmers to show she was shopping organic, and as soon as the cameras started snapping, she took the bags out of her assistants hands and started to pretend that she was holding them.)

Honestly, my wife and I really enjoy our weekend trips to either Little Italy or Hillcrest. It’s become a routine for us. We walk in Balboa Park, and then we head to grab food for the week. Before we leave, we grab the reusable bags from underneath the counter, and we drive over to the Hillcrest Market, park a couple blocks away near our favorite breakfast place The Great Maple, and start walking down the the center of the white tents as if we were walking through a bazaar in Game of Thrones.

There really is something about the farmers’ markets that just gets you. I’m not sure if it’s the fresh air, or listening to the desperate food hockers who start yelling to sway you away from the other vendors. (I always go to the people who aren’t yelling at me to try their food.) That strange and exciting tone could also be due to the fact that the vendors all give you free food. Shit, by the time my wife and I go home to cook breakfast (usually a scramble made with some fresh eggs and mushrooms) we’re already full. We filled up on the free samples of the vegan hummus, or the organic guacamole, or the dates from the old red-headed lady who never talks to you just sits in front of her plate of fresh dates, which are precisely sliced, set with toothpicks, and arranged in a perfect circle as if her fruit was just too good not to be eaten (I love that lady, and her dates), or the granola from the grannie who sells her bars with more genuine spunk than Goldie Hawn’s character in Wildcats. (Literally, the other day she told me she would sell me a granola bar any time, any place — even before the market opens or anytime I catch her on the street.)

Goldie Hawn in Wildcats
Goldie Hawn in Wildcats

But even though I love the characters at the farmers’ market, and their delicious pierogis, gourmet local peanut butter, fresh kale and swiss chard, infused salts, goat’s milk gelato, and cold pressed juices, I have to admit something very difficult. I love feeling that I’m healthy, supporting local farmers, and eating organic. I love know that I’m eating straight from the farm to the table, as they say, but I’ve realized something: The farmers’ market is way over priced, and it needs to change in order to create a realistic alternative to the grocery store.

I’m all about buying straight my farmer, and I know that they’re some of the hardest working people in the country, and their hands know strength that my keyboard-striking fingers will never know, but you’re really going to charge me $8 for a dozen eggs? At any grocery store, I can buy a dozen eggs that are organic and cage free for around $4. Why is it double at the farmers’ market? Some of these vendors and business owners charge reasonable prices, but when you’re selling at the farmers’ market, you don’t need to give the grocery store a cut. Perhaps I’m wrong: maybe the farmers’ market takes a cut. But why are the prices higher when there is no middle man? Yes, I get that it’s hard to grow organic crops, but if we’re ever going to be a society that eats healthier and values the lives of animals, then shouldn’t our farmers’ markets be, at least, the same price as the grocery stores who sell organic foods?

Lacma stairs

In 2011, The Atlantic ran a story that seems to contradict my frustration with farmers’ markets:

“A report released earlier this year by Jake Robert Claro, a graduate student at Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy who did the study for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, found that prices at farmers’ markets for conventionally grown produce items were lower than they were at supermarkets.”

Clearly this study is old, but it helps contextualize that people have often thought that organic food was more expensive than the conventional farming produce found in many grocery stores. In 2011, The Atlantic said I would be wrong, but I just can’t imagine that same study working today. Perhaps there is just so much demand that farmers have to charge higher prices? Here is what I found: “A January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that while more farmers are selling directly to consumers, local food sales at farmers markets, farm stands and through community supported agriculture have lost some momentum,” according to NPR.

So the expensive prices in the San Diego farmers’ markets can’t relate to the rising demand, unless San Diego does not correlate with the rest of the country. I still can’t figure it out, and I’m not the only one. Just look no further than celebrity chef Jay Rayner. As reported by the Daily Mail, “The MasterChef star, who also works as a critic for BBC One programme The One Show, said that the overpriced fare sold at local markets is nothing more than a ‘status symbol’ for wealthy shoppers.” The article shows that Rayner went on a tirade because he had to pay £15 for a chicken.

Star Wars Mural

What’s even more shocking is that Pacific Standard Magazine pointed me toward “a study of every farmers’ market in the Bronx [that] finds they are basically boutiques, offering produce that is more exotic, and more expensive, than the grocery stores located nearby. What’s more, their merchandise includes “many items not optimal for good health.” So, it’s more expensive and not even healthy. Okay, something is wrong.

But maybe I’m wrong. And I could be. I could be missing something about the industrial farming complex or something really elaborate behind the scenes, but I am committed to eating healthier and buying directly from farmers. I have bought into the farm-to-table movement, but I’m also done falling for a marketing scheme. I’m done falling for the idea that organic produce, meats, and eggs have to be double the price of grocery stores. In order for our world to be more sustainable and to create a community that supports farmers growing healthy products, there needs to be an economic shift in these white-tent bazaars that we flock to on the weekends.

I would love to hear your comments and insight. These are just observations I had from really looking at what I’m spending at the farmer’s market compared to the food I actually bring home, and I’m just not happy with my analysis. Let me know how you feel about farmers’ markets in the comment section. Also, hope you enjoyed the photos from my recent trip to LACMA. Please take the poll below.

Photos of Florida and the San Diego Zoo

I had one of the best holidays in a very long time, and I was able to travel back to my secondary home: Florida. I was in Jacksonville for almost 10 days, and I spent time with family. The St. John’s River, to me, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, so when I was back home, I took some shots from a dock that I often visit. Then when I returned to California, my family from Massachusetts came and visited me in San Diego. I took them to Cabrillo in Point Loma and the San Diego Zoo. Below you’ll see some random photos from that time.

Lunch Poem, October 21, 2014

I’m about to move out of my apartment. It’s the place I’ve been living for the last two years. I’ve seen the change in seasons here. I’ve seen the trees in front of my home dump down cotton and pink petals. I’ve seen friends move away and strangers move in. I’ve seen a black widow hanging from a web. I’m starting to see poetry here, but for the first time in my life, instead of only writing it down, I’m starting to take photos. I took the shots above during my lunch break. I’m trying to think about contrast, lines, and composition. These are my lunch poems.

Finding a Voice by Killing Your Darlings

Design: Joseph Lapin
Design: Joseph Lapin

As you may have read in last week’s Sunday blog post, I just returned from my honeymoon, and the trip helped reawaken the artistic spirit. Paris and Barcelona were an inspiration, but now that I have had this great revelation — or reawakening — what the hell does that mean? Yes, I have a new profound interest in photography, and I’m rededicated to writing stories, poetry, and other creative projects in the small amount of free time that I actually have, but what’s the goal? What’s the plan? How do I ensure that the revelations I had during my honeymoon don’t become a faded out dream like an old photo of a friend that I’ve stashed away in a box underneath my bed and pulled out years later only to say: “Oh yes, I remember him.” I’ll explain what I mean below while sharing some more photos from the honeymoon.

Kill Your Darlings 

The first step is the hardest: Kill your darlings. As I’ve mentioned, when I left graduate school and moved to California, I had a bunch of writing — a novel in stories and a collection of poetry — and I truly believed in these pieces. Some of them have been published but others have not. So after some difficult examination — and yes, a four-year opportunity to reflect — I’ve decided it’s time to move on. I went back into my collection of poetry and just started deleting poem after poem (keeping some), realizing that I must start over. My novel in stories: well, I’m not even going to look at that for a bit more but try to reimagine the themes and the stories new. For now, they’re in the trash.

Photo credit: Joseph Lapin: Another attempt at black and white photography
Photo credit: Joseph Lapin: Another attempt at black and white photography

This has been incredibly difficult, and it’s the artistic equivalent of having an identity crisis. Basically, I’m trying to define what I hope to look and feel and sound like through my writing, and I’m going trough the painful act of destroying the old parts that don’t seem to work anymore. As if I’m throwing the digital strips of my past into the furnace, I can hear a voice calling out to be saved. I want to reach into the digital fire and save them (it’s so easy to recover deleted documents in the Internet age), but I have to admit that my writing wasn’t working in the way I wanted it to…that’s not easy…though there is clearly much worse out there.

I’m thinking of something I heard about Franz Kafka right before he died. He was on his deathbed, and he asked his friends to burn all his manuscripts and his journals. Of course, his friend didn’t listen, and he went and published them anyway. I wonder if I would have the courage, if none of my work wasn’t actually backed up anywhere, to throw an entire manuscript in the fire, to watch it burn and become ash, to watch a part of myself disappear.

I’ve read stories about men and women who walked away from everything they know, from their families, from their states, from their homes, to pursue something different, perhaps important, and that type of permanence, that type of goodbye, is terrifying. I’m watching the Leftovers right now after reading Tom Perrotta’s book, and The Guilty Remnant amaze me as characters. Basically, after the rapture had taken away about a third of the population and people just disappeared, The Guilty Remnant are a group of people who left all their family members to join a new type of organization that believe the rules and social norms of the past were dead: family, friends, work, health. To say goodbye to something that was such an integral part of your life, to explaining your world, seems like one of the most difficult tasks, and it’s a decision, to say goodbye intentionally or unintentionally, that can happen in an instant.

Look at It From Another Angle

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

There is something else I learned about the act of changing a creative project, and the lesson has presented itself through photography and journalism. The photo above was taken on Bastille Day in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was the most amazing fireworks display I had ever seen. Sorry America. The fireworks were shooting straight out of the Eiffel Tower, and they were timed to accent the rhythms and the music being pumped into the air. Even the colors of the fireworks matched moods in the music. It was a true spectacular. I was having a very difficult time taking photos of the fireworks, however, because I didn’t have my tripod and couldn’t keep steady long enough to keep my shutter speed open and still capture crisp shots. So I pumped up the Iso. They came out decent but noisey, and they weren’t the quality I wanted. So I decided to just look at the photo differently, and I cropped it and suddenly the fireworks looked like pieces of wheat growing out of a steel Earth. That’s the photo above.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin. Paris, Bastille Day.
Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin. Paris, Bastille Day.

The same thought went into the photo above. I wasn’t quite getting the photo I wanted, so I just decided to find another angle. This is a skill I learned as a journalist: how to approach the story from different angles depending on the information you have at hand or the direction you want the story to go. Well, it’s something that I’m taking into my creative life. How can I look at the work I’m creating from the appropriate vantage point? Right now, I’m in an airplane flying above the middle of America on my way to a conference in Baltimore. A different angle can mean something so incredibly large — or it can mean just a slight variation. I have dozens of stories, dozens of journal entries, countless scenic sketches, hundreds of ideas — now it’s about finding the right angle to breathe life into the process. I’m thinking about an interview I conducted with a photographer named King Lawrence. He said, anyone can take a picture, but it’s the idea behind it that counts.

Finding a Voice

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Finally, after all of this tearing up and destroying the old pieces of writing, I’m starting fresh and searching to finally define my voice. I’ve always felt I had a pretty strong sense of my identity as a writer, but I’ve realized that I don’t. I need to keep on finding my voice — basically the vehicle for the stories that I need to tell. I’ve been traveling a lot since I was 17. I’ve lived in Detroit, Bradenton, Miami, DeLand, Long Beach, Los Angeles, some time in Europe, and each place keeps on changing me drastically. But my hometown, Clinton, Mass, is where I was raised. In my work, I call it Kilroy, but I need to return to my roots a bit. I need to set some stories in the place where my voice was initially crafted. And I need to spend some time in one place artistically, finding a true sense, an authenticity, to speak again, to write, to create. That’s my plan of action. More next week and some announcements soon.


The Marriage Blog: I put a ring on it

La Bella Imagery: Megan LeeAnn Doyle

So I’m married…and I’m a writer. Some said it couldn’t be done. Others said it was a myth. But yes, I am a writer, slaving away at night and working a demanding job during the day…and I’m married.

When I was younger — let’s say around college — I wanted to transform my life into the image of what I imagined a writer to be. Think of Hemingway wandering through the streets of Paris, perusing the women like he later hunted Kudu in Kenya. Or Jack Kerouac, hopping on freight trains and shacking up with random women who lived in everything from adobe to train stations. A writer needed to know how to live. As for marriage, that wasn’t living.

Peto's Pic

Shortly after developing this idea of a writer, I remember I went through a huge philosophy phase; I read Nietzsche, Rousseau and Plato instead of going out and hanging with my friends. It was wonderful to open myself up to ideas, and I soaked up every line, branding their messages into my DNA…until one philosopher just rubbed me the wrong way.

His name was Schopenhauer. I wanted to read him, because Nietzsche kept alluding to him; so I figured, well, Nietzsche isn’t god, but he killed him: probably should listen. When I started to read, I was instantly turned off, because Schopenhauer kept telling me that if I wanted to find truth, understanding and knowledge, well, then I should just give up everything…especially love.

Love was a distraction. Love was evil. Love was an opium that deluded me from truth and understanding and life…really?

Sadly, for a time in my life, I believed that to be the case. That was before I understood what love actually was. That was before I understood that, for me, being a writer was forever attached to commitment and loyalty. That was before I saw my bride walk down the aisle for the first time — before I said my vows and made an eternal promise — before I walked away a changed man.

It’s funny how much I’ve changed on the idea of marriage, but it really comes down to finding the right person. I remember the day I realized I wanted to marry Heron. I was riding a bike with fellow FIU writer Nick Vagnoni, Pete B and David J. Gonzalez, the creator of Cabinet Beer Baseball Club, along the intercostal in North Miami Beach. Suddenly, it just hit me: I had found someone forever. Literally, I took my hands off the handler bar and screamed at the top of my lungs: “I’m going to marry her. I’m going to marry her.” Since that moment, I never looked back.

Planning the Wedding Isn’t Easy…But It’s Worth It

If you’re someone coming to my site, because you’re planning a wedding, then let me tell you this: the planning gets crazy a few weeks before the wedding. Maybe that seems obvious. But what’s really wild is the variable you can’t plan. For example, you might not have food like you planned; you might have under budgeted; you might not be able to find a band; you might find that your wedding venue has been overbooked. So just remember, in the end, it will all work out. It’s worth the effort.

But how will you capture the day of events? How will you remember them?

Of course, you’ll need a photographer for professional photos, but what I found to be one of the best experiences, so far, is that all of our friends and family started to share their personal photos on social media, especially Facebook. I loved seeing my friends’ shots, and it was instant access for me to relive the memories.

Social Media and the Wedding

At one point, I was looking at the photos that were posted on Facebook from our wedding, and I started to think about what was going to happen to all these photos. Should I save them or print them out and put them in a box somewhere forever? Should I save all the files in my iCloud? And how would these photos age? Could they be just like the portraits from my grandparents or would they stay on the internet always as timeless pendants of a long time ago? While digital photos won’t erode, they will still age, right?

It’s weird to think about how my grandchildren will look at my wedding. It’s going to be completely different from my parents and especially my grandparents. Just think about the way social media is influencing our lives and changing the we way record it. How will my grandchildren interact with this vine taken by my good friend Clayton Dean?

Remember, Stay in the Moment…Though It’s Impossible

Yes, social media is changing the way we reflect upon our memories, but that shouldn’t give us an excuse to not live in the moment…to be tweeting about a wedding while it was happening. And being present while your family is pulling you seven which ways and talking to uncles — though awesome — makes it impossible to remember to be in the there, in the zone, with your loved one. It’s essential to take those opportunities and allow those moments to surprise you and just take in the event…it might even happen after the wedding. Look for the small details.

Let me tell you about one of those moments I will never forget. Heron and I were flying back to Los Angeles, and we stopped in the Atlanta airport to hop on our connection to LAX. Heron and I had a couple of drinks, and we were laughing and smiling and being generally in love as we moved throughout that monstrous airport in Georgia. Well, I had been carrying a picture of my grandparents in my jacket pocket, and when Heron wasn’t looking at me, I would sneak glances at the photo.


Everything I know about love — I’m talking about commitment and ideology here — comes from my grandparents, Eleanor and Raymond Cain. They went through so much together in their 55 years of marriage. And they loved each other until the day they died. They couldn’t be there at our wedding, but they were there with me in everything I said and thought.

They were on my mind when Heron stepped into a store, and I took out the photo and started staring at them on their wedding day. They looked so happy and young and alive. That’s when I heard a voice.

“What’s that you looking at?” a voice asked.

I turned around, and it was a janitor who was cleaning one of the bathrooms.

“It’s my grandparents,” I said. “I was just married.”

And in that moment, talking with a janitor outside of a bathroom in the Atlanta airport, the moment really hit me. It was true. It was real. It will be a moment I’m always trying to recapture.