Thursday, July 7, 2016

Farmer's Markets: Where the Real Food Is

One of the great luxuries of life in Northern California is the accessibility of quality produce year round. Even in winter, a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits are available from regional farms. In San Francisco, neighborhood farmer's markets provide urban residents the opportunity to deepen their understanding of seasonal growing cycles and to become familiar with a broad range of produce which is seldom available commercially.

In our earliest millennia as a bipedal species, our primary occupation was to search for and gather our food. Anthropologists observe that foraging peoples walked an average of three to five miles a day in search of a remarkably diverse selection of edible plants, roots, nuts, berries and fruit. Our ancestor's survival hinged upon their knowledge of where each of many varieties of food was located in its season and the ability to gather it. Energy, intelligence and perseverance were critical to this task; our motivation was hunger. Homo sapiens succeeded in this endeavor well enough to reproduce and pass on the human genome from generation to generation.

Many thousands of years later, this essential human project has turned upside down. Moderns have little need to gather their own food, and little time to prepare it. Most of us spend our days (or nights) earning money with which to purchase our food, much of which bears faint resemblance to that of our forager ancestors. A vast assortment of what Michael Pollan calls "edible food like substances" is readily available in supermarkets and few calories are consumed in the effort to acquire it.

These changes have created a deep disconnect between humans and their sources of food, a decline in food intelligence and a troubled relationship between the instinctive drive to eat and an oversupply of aggressively marketed low quality calories. There is much confusion surrounding food choices and eating styles which has engendered a huge proliferation of widely variable and contradictory information about nutrition and health. Lost in the deluge of advertising and misinformation are the essential unprocessed foods which once were the sole components of our diet.

Farmer's markets offer honest commerce on a human scale. They bring farmers and shoppers together in venues where an abundance of the real food which truly nourishes and sustains us can be found.