Here we are in the dead of winter, and Vancouver is trucking in snow for the Olympics, while Baltimore got dumped on this past week, setting an all time record of 5 feet of snow in 5 days (you can check my blizzard of 2010 videos on youtube.com/ThaILLST). Chalk it up to global warming, climate change or whatever you want to call it, but something is definitely amiss on planet Earth.
The good folks down here below the Mason Dixon panic at the slightest hint of snow, making a beeline for the supermarket to stock up, but this time, at least, their panic was justified. I even witnessed such surreal scenes as two grown women fighting over the last bag of apples, and the entire bread aisle (about 30 yards long) of a major supermarket chain stripped clean of any products. Impassable roads mean no deliveries, and in an urban context, no food. Even the weekly farmer’s market around the corner where I shop was a casualty of the storm.
This situation got me thinking about where we get our food in America and the west in general. As it is, I cherry-pick my way through the grocery store. Avoiding products with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial ingredients, trans fats, and preservatives does not leave much left for my shopping cart. Though I try to buy organic, I’ve noticed that even organic produce pales in comparison to the stuff you grow yourself.
When I am in the tropics, I shop daily at small roadside stands or street markets. Here the meats, fish, and produce is all fresh that day, and you can taste the difference. A tomato actually tastes like a tomato, and the beef, although it might be hanging outside in the sun with no refrigeration, is guaranteed not to be laced with any steroids or antibiotics.
While a trip to the supermarket is usually a chore, shopping at an outdoor street market is possibly one of the funnest experiences you can have–especially in a foreign country. There are so many new things to try, and, of course, tasting goes with the turf. Long lines are non-existent, as are plastic or styrofoam separating you from your food. Deals are everywhere, and bargaining a must. Plus you get vendors who are very knowledgeable about the products they are selling and usually very helpful as well. All of this adds up to a completely immersive and enjoyable shopping experience.
I have been to street markets all over Asia, but the one that stands out the most in my mind was in Vietnam. After taking a cruise on the mighty Mekong River, which also boasts a floating market on a series of boats, we ended up at a large local land market. And talk about the Asian pre-occupation for freshness–some of the stuff is alive up until the time you buy it! Check it out…