Friday, December 10, 2004

Shopping; blegh.

I mentioned below that I avoid shopping malls like the plague, and that is true; I loathe shopping malls. Part of it is that I loathe shopping, at least the kind that consists of walking around among a bunch of stores, gazing at Stuff, while sucking down a jumbo diet soda, and the kind that consists of buying stuff you don't need or even particularly want. I realize that, for many people, this wandering in the marketplace is a kind of live TV--you have the constant commercials, you have the latest fashions, you can see what other people are doing, you're part of a simulated community, etc., but it all seems like so much anesthesia to me. Everything about it irritates me--the crowds; the rude and/or ignorant salespeople; the poorly made, expensive goods; the fact that vast acres of land have been paved to make way for the SUVs of the shoppers; the fact that the people who slaved (sometimes just about literally) to make the crap that's for sale will not derive any profit from it and, indeed, will barely eke subsistance from their work.

And, it just occurred to me, that this is in rather drastic contrast to the two kinds of shopping that I enjoy. One is grocery shopping: I like the idea of having raw materials on hand out of which I can feed myself and others. I like seeing something in the produce department and being moved to build a whole meal around it, or sometimes just a dessert. I like stocking up on things like beans and tomatos when they're on sale. Even more than this, though, I love the farmers' market. Every Saturday, from late June through October, the city closes off two blocks in my neighborhood for the market. (There are multiple markets throughout the city, many but not all on Saturday; some producers sell their goods at more than one market.) Most of the produce is grown within, say, 150 miles of here, and a lot of it is from considerably closer. Most of it isn't organic--there's only one organic produce stand--but it's local, and that's a tradeoff I'm willing to accept.

There are at least a half-dozen vegetable stands and at least three fruit stands; I tend to get all of my fruit from one particular stand, staffed by an assortment of family members. There're two flower vendors. There's a spice and hot sauce stand. There's one guy who has more varieties of potatoes than you knew existed, plus a lot of varieties of onions. There's a baked-goods stand run by young women in Amish (or, around here, more likely Mennonite) dresses and bonnets. There's an herb stand, with bunches of herbs for $1.50 apiece. (At the end of the summer we buy ten bunches of basil and engage in a massive pesto-making operation.) There's meat--frozen and vacuum-packed--and the man who owns the farm and raises the grain and the cattle ran the cart this summer. (He, his wife, and a friend have run the cart in turn over the past four years.) It's great beef, too: it tastes like beef. (Here's the website, which is as homegrown as the meat.) Next to the Meat Guy is the Bee Guy--a husband and wife who have an apiary in Indiana. They often bring some bees with them, so kids can find the queen. The honey is wonderful, especially when it's unusual in some way--last year there was a really dark brown honey that was unbelievably good, but nothing that dark this summer. I love the fact that they don't have any idea what the honey will taste like until they get it out of the combs--it's so contrary to the standardized production of most things. (It's also entertaining listening to people who've apparently never seen honey in the comb before.) There are definitely irritating aspects, but they're mostly caused by customers: people who think it's a good idea to bring a Great Dane, or really, any other kind of dog, on their expedition, for example.

So what do I like about this kind of shopping? Well, I like dealing with people who have had some hand in actually producing the goods being sold. I'm not always dealing with the owner, but there's usually at least one family member around. I like that the products haven't traveled hundreds of miles on a truck before they got to my kitchen. I like seeing the same people every week--every year, at this point. I like the enthusiasm--love, really--that so many of them have for what they're doing, and getting them to talk about their work isn't all that hard. I love the variability of the product, particularly with the honey, but with other things as well. I love the seasonality of it: Raspberries are available in early July and then again in early October. Peaches are in August. Winter squash isn't around until September or October. Good tomatos and sweet corn aren't available until July or August. And I like adjusting my diet to accommodate what's available, oddly enough. I like the fact that the farmers start arriving less than an hour after the bars on the street close, and that the customers don't need to drive or park to get there.

So maybe it isn't shopping, per se, that I hate after all.


Blogger Ann said...

Ooh, I love farmers' markets, too. What a nice thing to think about when it's 14 degrees outside. Besides the fruits and veggies (only the ones in season, which I like for the same reasons you do), ours has buffalo beef, an olive stand, hot cinnamon rolls and grilled corn on the cob, homemade soap and sweaters, the bee guy (who sells thin plastic cases of different-flavored honey called "honey sticks"), tons of flowers, pottery...

I also really like shopping at our local yarn store. They have so many fantastic colors and textures and weights, and there's always a table of people knitting. And they're passionate about it, which I, like you, really appreciate. They aren't selling yarn just to make some money; they're actually interested in spreading a love of knitting.

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Blogger kStyle said...

Amen, sister! Hate the malls, love the grocery store, and love love the farmers' market.

It turns out I also enjoy thrift shops a great deal. I'm doing a Very Vintage Christmas this year, and I'm loving it. I've found unusual, lovely gifts for half the normal cost, without jostling through crowds or engaging in Parking Lot Wars. It's fantastic.

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