Ultramodern, sprawling agribusiness conglomerates produce food in massive quantities. Fruits and vegetables imported from all over the world crowd the shelves of our supermarkets. And, increasingly, consumers worry about the quality of the food they buy and the environmental footprint of their eating habits. Farmers markets, a positive trend and a way to push back, feels like a refreshing trip back to the future.
I grew up, well, I won’t tell you when, but I’ll give you a hint. Back then, kids brought their lunches to school in brown paper bags or tin boxes printed with super heroes. Inside, wrapped in plastic film, peanut butter and marshmallow cream slapped between two slices of Wonderbread sans crust passed for food. Dry store-bought cookies were swapped for individually packaged metallic sacks of potato chips. Remember Tang? Yeah, back then.
My mom, the daughter of Italian immigrants, walked a fine line between keeping up with the Jones’s, and the pleas of her whiney kids—but everyone brings Pringles!—by trying to get us to eat more traditional items. For example, she put olives in absolutely everything, loved black bread (pumpernickel) and “stinky” cheese, and home-backed sweets. I rarely had anything anyone wanted to swap.
I survived the many socially awkward moments of my youth and, thanks to Mom, developed an adventurous palette. These days, farmers markets, a throwback to simpler times, make grocery shopping a treat for all the senses. Montreal boasts four farmers markets. My favourite? Jean Talon.
Only a short subway ride away, Jean Talon is open every day of the week. In the warm season, it sprawls over an entire block adjacent to Montreal’s Italian neighbourhood. In the winter, the outdoor kiosks disappear, but there’s still plenty to be had at the market’s permanent indoors location.
Year-round, you can find tasty produce grown locally. A nice change from woody, near tasteless fruits and vegetable doped with god-knows-what that have spent weeks in refrigerated transit.
Meat eaters can find old-fashioned and newer halal butchers. Seafood also abounds. There are two egg stalls. And olives. Tons of olives. Spices, too.
In addition to comestibles, kiosks also sell artisanal products. For example, Botania, a boutique that sells soaps and bath salts, just opened a stand at the market. Street musicians often serenade shoppers.
Last Saturday, with Canadian Thanksgiving looming, I got to the market early to snap some photos before it got too crazy. Later, I met up with my cousin, Francesco Piatti, an inveterate globetrotter and churros connaisseur, who swears that Jean Talon is the best farmer’s market ever. I have to agree.
Not convinced yet? More tantalizing photos on Flickr. Bon appetit!