Lucky Dip – Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

The real costs of being a farmer and coming to market. It’s more than you think. [Ontario’s Own]

A celebrity chef’s name is no longer enough of a draw at newly-opened restaurants. Especially when you’ve taken over the Laurier in Montreal. [Globe and Mail]

Local butcher shops are a hot trend everywhere, but in the UK, they just might be the beginning of a return to the high street. [The Guardian]

Well, that explains the whole comfort food thing – fatty foods can alleviate sadness. Makes sense. [National Post]

The KISS-themed coffee house so popular in South Carolina will open a second location in Las Vegas. Alright, that’s it, I demand a Duran Duran-themed cocktail bar. [Las Vegas Sun]

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Our Elite Clubhouse, Made From Peaches and Tomatoes

Oooooh, Loblaw’s you bastards!

How dare they?? I mean, really how DARE they try to sell local produce? Don’t they know the rule about how you’re not a good, conscientious consumer unless you buy it directly from the farmer? You icky supermarket shoppers, you can’t be in our special club! Yes, sure, we preached at you to buy local produce and support local farmers. But not from an (ewwww!!) supermarket!

Yes, Loblaw’s is at it again, for the third year in row they are setting up stands within and outside their stores with a farmers’ market-style booth featuring locally-grown produce. This is good, right? Because we want people to buy and eat more local food. And since, despite the proliferation of farmers’ markets in urban areas, most people still buy at least some of their fruits and vegetables from supermarkets, it’s better to have it be local instead of imports. Any switch is a step in a positive direction, right? Good things grow in Ontario?

Apparently not.

Because Robert Chorney of Farmers’ Market Canada seems to think that Loblaw’s is just trying to capitalize on the markets’ success. Well… yeah. But that’s a given. And food activist Anita Stewart says “For generations, all across Canada, farmers markets have been embedded in our collective food culture.” Really? I’m thinking Stewart has/had a very different food culture than the majority of Canadians, because my informal poll indicates that most people grew up with supermarkets, only occasionally visiting a farmers’ market.

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To Market, To Market… To Market

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses as to why people don’t make the effort to shop at farmers’ markets, with the most oft-heard one being that there just isn’t anything accessible and easy to get to. This has changed considerably in the past couple of years, and downtown Toronto now has over 20 separate markets, with at least one market taking place every day of the week during the summer and early autumn.

Which begs the question – have we hit a saturation point? Are markets the new Starbucks with two on every corner?

On Thursdays in the downtown core, there are now three separate markets within walking distance of each other. The market at Metro Hall is the most established of these, with a selection of vendors who are predominantly farmers. There are many vendors selling the same in-season produce, but this tends to create a healthy competition that keeps prices reasonable. During the lunch hour, there are live performances, and half a dozen food vendors along the south end of the square selling everything from Caribbean food to crepes to peameal bacon on a kaiser.

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Local Yokels

Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment.

I had a conversation with a colleague recently in which the subject turned to local food. Specifically, how people in the Toronto area are prone to blindly follow and buy anything grown locally despite the quality of the products themselves.

My colleague suggested that most consumers want their farmers’ markets to carry the same things that the grocery stores do (instead of the other way around) – i.e. expecting varieties of fruits and vegetables similar to the bland varieties grown in California that were mostly developed for easy shipping. They also suggested that certain local food producers create products of inferior quality; that many esteemed Toronto chefs who specialize in local food don’t actually offer a good quality meal; and that fans of local food willingly buy these inferior products or meals anyway, because they refuse to acknowledge their own sense of taste, instead deferring to local “experts” or advocates (chefs, food writers, etc.) who tell the food-lovers what to like and what to buy.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of this opinion, thus my “devil’s advocate” disclaimer – please don’t shoot the messenger – but on some levels, my colleague has a point. The argument cooked in my head a bit, because I’ve been wondering for a while – how many local products are we buying are because they’re the best products available, and how much of it is for the ideology of “supporting local”?

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