Recent news about customers losing interest in “fresh” produce at Walmart doesn’t come as a big surprise. Any food that’s been in transit for days, then left languishing on warehouse shelves, is going to suffer. Not only freshness and flavor are at stake, but nutritional value plummets too. There are sometimes compelling reasons to buy produce at Walmart. It’s cheap. It’s convenient. They are making healthy foods more affordable and available to larger parts of the population. But it’s always better to buy as much fresh produce as you can at local farmer markets. Better for health, better for taste, better for our communities. Way better.
As for markets in Paris, keep in mind that open-air food markets are not the same as farmers’ markets. Most vendors who sell produce are not the growers or even their farmhands, but instead middlemen. The quality can be high, and the range spectacular, but it’s not always local or seasonal.
When I shop for produce, I prefer to buy as much as I can from local farmers. Which raises the question of how does one recognize who the truly local growers are when shopping in Paris?
Here are some tips:
- Pay attention to signs that say “producteur” or “maraîcher”
- Ask the vendor where the produce they’re selling comes from. Be suspicious of dodgy answers. Local growers will be glad to tell you where their farm is located.
- Notice when fewer items are for sale. Local growers bring what’s in season. Their range of offerings cannot be as broad as other produce stands where items are from all over the world.
- Remember that beauty isn’t everything. The locally grown produce at markets has often been plucked out of the ground earlier that morning. Soil might be clinging to bunches of carrots or tucked between leaves of lettuce. Many of the freshest foods haven’t been spray-washed spic’n span. My mother was an early advocate of eating healthy foods. She taught me not to turn away from produce that’s misshapen, discolored, or nicked. That often signals it was grown under more natural conditions and will be healthier, tastier to eat.