Thursday, April 9, 2009

You Are What I Eat Visits Florida

Last week Stephanie, from the blog You Are What I Eat visited Florida. In a fascinating post with lots of pictures, she praises the local citrus sold in our highway rest areas and notices that weary travelers are migrating towards big bags of Florida oranges and grapefruits instead of junk food. Then she visits a farmer's market and finds that sadly, most of the produce there isn't local at all and is flown or trucked in from other states and even other countries.

I've had the exact same experience and it never ceases to disappoint me enormously. To me, it's like a fake farmer's market. It only looks like a farmer's market. Something about stacking fruits and vegetables outside in the fresh air does seem to make them prettier, but in situations like this vendors are merely creating the atmosphere of a farmer's market, without providing the genuine benefits of one (highlighting native species of fruits and vegetables, providing the freshest in season foods and supporting nearby farmers). I think it's really wrong and I've visited several markets this spring, only to be disappointed in the same way Stephanie was.

I've visited farmer's markets in other states and have had a different experience. In New York, California and Delaware the markets sell genuinely local wares. In Florida, they mostly don't. I wondered why this was and after a great deal of thought I theorize that it's because in Florida, where so many people are from "Up North" we feel a pressure to conform to a diet more suited to northern climates. People want to eat what they're used to - things like apples, pears and cherries that they're familiar with, instead of learning about indigenous, more unfamiliar varieties like yucca, caimito and canistel. It's as if we privilege the northern diet over the tropical diet and perhaps there's even some racism or enthnocentrism in this. Maybe our society as a whole associates a tropical diet with a "less American" culture, with foreign-ness and with lower class immigrants and we collectively believe that the diet of a temperate climate is inherently more "American."

I know that saying something like that sounds horrible and that it is controversial and highly debatable, but it's just a theory and not even a theory that can explain everything. I could be completely wrong. Maybe we're all just spoiled and want it all, all the time. Apples, are after all, pretty good and I often find myself craving them. I can't recall ever having had a craving for caimito. But thanks to Stephanie for a great post with a valuable and important observation.

Soon, I will be posting about some excellent farmer's markets in South Florida that are proud to support local farmers and native species.

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