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.)
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?
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.
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.
You want to know how to evaluate the bond of a life-long love? Well, like most great aspects of life, it can be found in a book. Let me explain.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve read Richard Price’s “The Whites,” Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train,” William Gibson’s, “Peripheral,” and David Sedaris’ “When You’re Engulfed in Flames,” and I’m also listening to a Stephen King book. But if you want to know about how to evaluate love, then you need to read Kazoo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant.” I want to focus on Isighuro’s book, because something took place in the novel that has stuck with me since I came across it.
The novel is set in a period of English history that would have been associated with King Arthur. It’s a magical world that blends myth, fantasy, and pieces of history into a journey about a married couple who are looking for their son. In the novel, everyone has a difficult time remembering aspects of their own lives. There is a mist (an almost memory-stealing fog) that pervades the land.
As the married couple is trying to find their son, they encounter a terrible storm. They need to seek shelter. The story structure follows the “hero’s journey” that was made famous by Christopher Vogler in his book, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.” It’s a guide for screenwriters, and it was influenced by the works of Joseph Campbell. If you’ve ever seen any movie, or heard a fascinating tale told over a campfire, then you would recognize the structure Vogler presents.
What is amazing about Ishiguro’s books is not the structure itself, but it’s the way that the structure becomes a vehicle for the voice to tap into a mythic and fantastic world, where dragons, knights, and Sir Gaiwan still exist. But it’s achieved with such artful and tasteful strokes, as if he had found a way to make King Arthur seem more like Game of Thrones…minus the sex and random killings.
So this married couple comes to a shelter in the rain, and inside the shelter, they find a boatman inside. He is on a holiday from his job, which is to take people across the lake to an incredible island. On the island, people walk alone for years. They can hear other people, but they can never find each other. They are doomed to be alone. But certain couples are brought to the island together, and they are allowed to walk in peace and harmony for the rest of their lives. The boatman only brings couples over to the island who actually have true bonds of love, and if they fail his test, then he brings just one person at a time, and they are doomed to never see each other again. You can see how this has a fairy tale feel to it.
What was so interesting to me was how the boatman decides whether the couple actually has a strong bond of love. The boatmen simply ask the couple to tell him their fondest memory with each other.
“Besides when travelers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years–that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together…”
I thought this passage was memorable, and it’s an interesting way to evaluate love. When you ask your partner what is the fondest memory, what will they say? What does their answer reveal about the quality of love? What does that say about the very nature of memory? Can a memory define love?
I dare you to ask your wife or your husband this very question tonight. Make sure to check out this new novel by Ishiguro.
Below you will find a podcast that dives deep into an unsolved murder trial, explores how lawyers are creatives, and riffs on beer and Brian Williams. Let me explain. If you’ve been following this blog, then you’re probably aware that I recently moved to San Diego from Los Angeles. While I was living in Los Angeles, I started a great project called The Working Poet Radio Show, which explores the working lives of creative people. This project has been on hold over the last few months, but we’re having some rumblings about taking the project to Miami for a live show in April, and I’ve decided to revive the podcast…in a smaller capacity.
For this episode of WPRS, I interviewed Michael Semanchik of the California Innocence Project. He wrote a great blog post on Brian Williams, which looked at the complications of memory and how that applies to expert witnesses and his larger work with the Innocence Project, and I wanted to sit down and talk to him more about his work and how is role can be creative. We ended up discussing everything from DNA to a murder case that takes place in the rural parts of San Bernardino. Plus, in the third section of the podcast, we talked about beer and Brian Williams during the “True and False” portion of the show, and we were joined by special guest Robert Lee of Circa Interactive. Take a listen below or on WPRS.