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.Over the next six hours, the peach begins to degrade.For his purposes, Ziebold says, a peach delivered to the restaurant within 18 hours of being picked is still usable—it might work in a purée or a sauce—though it will have already lost its purity.After 24 hours, it’s “pretty much a different piece of fruit entirely.”Ziebold is perhaps pickier than most farmers-market shoppers, and initially I’m tempted to dismiss his words as the obsessive talk of a man who’s fanatical about purity and quality.But it occurs to me that that mania to experience a piece of fruit at its ripe and beautiful peak is the reason so many food-loving urbanites flock to farmers markets in season—indeed, that promise is woven deep within the “local” pitch.Better, fresher.If you drop big money on a peach, isn’t it fair to expect that the peach—which presumably hasn’t had to be trucked great distances and has been harvested not by a mass-production outfit but by the more attentive and loving hands of the small farmer—would be exceptional?And yet how many farmers-market peaches have you tasted in this area that were worthy of that adjective? I’ve had many good ones, but I can’t remember the last time I had the ecstatic encounter Ziebold describes.There’s a good explanation for that, he says: “If you’re a farmer selling in DC, you don’t necessarily want to sell a peach that’s going to get used that instant.They know that you’re going to go back to the office, and they want to give you a little better window.So it’s not a tree-ripened peach you’re getting.”Closer to the source, he says, it’s likely to be a different story: “If you visit that farm and pick up a peach and you don’t use it in six hours, it’s crap.But if you do use it in six hours, it’s the best peach you’ve eaten in your life.”It never occurred to me that the quality of produce at the urban farmers market isn’t the same as the quality of produce at a rural farmers market.That’s one lesson.The other, deeper lesson involves stretching Ziebold’s point to its logical conclusion.If perishability is paramount, if tasting things at their freshest is what matters most, then visiting a farmers market isn’t the only way to ensure that outcome.In some instances, it might not even be the best way.“I could get something FedExed that’s potentially fresher than a farmers market,” Ziebold says.So can we all.The Internet has opened up sourcing possibilities previously available only to insiders—oysters from Brittany, salmon from Alaska, caviar from Russia.Of course, the carbon footprint is likely to be considerably higher.More to the point: The romance is clearly missing.The Literal Fruit of Our PrivilegeAnd romance is not nothing.It’s very definitely a something.Local couldn’t exist without it.The wish to connect local food to something larger, to fetishize it as an object of desire, underpins the farmers-market experience and enables its supporters to justify dropping 80 bucks on a single bag of groceries.Listen to Robb Duncan, who owns Dolcezza—the excellent gelato shops in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Fairfax, and Bethesda—explain the appeal of going to the farmers market: “You eat this food and it’s delicious, and it makes you feel happy to meet this farmer named Zachariah, and he doesn’t put any pesticides in his produce, and you walk around as part of this beautiful, beautiful community of people.”This is the farmers market as embodiment of a surviving hippie aesthetic, and for many it’s a powerful inducement to spend, whether they came of age in the ‘60s or, like Duncan, merely wish they did.There’s also the market experience as ratifier of status, in which the notion of simplifying our lives is held out to the busy, scattered urbanite as a glimpse of a new good life and a $4 tomato becomes the literal fruit of our privilege.I ask Ann Yonkers—who, with Bernadine Prince, has run the area’s FreshFarm Markets since 1997—what, beyond the makings of a meal, she thinks her customers come to the markets to buy.Yonkers is as committed to the cause as anyone in Washington.When FreshFarm began in 1997, there were only about four farmers markets in the area; today there are ten FreshFarms alone.The nonprofit is among the finest purveyors of its kind in the country, with goods coming from 118 farmers and producers.Yonkers is justifiably proud of this growth and speaks with the tones of an evangelist who believes she has found a path to, if not enlightenment, then happiness.Again and again I’m struck, as we speak, by the way she invests a material good—a cheese, a leg of lamb, a squash—with the aura of the spiritual.Her customers, she says, aren’t just dropping their disposable income on what some might see as luxury items; they’re “participating in change.” In other words, shopping at a farmers market isn’t an upper-middle-class indulgence—or not just.It’s also a political act.I ask if she might share with me some of the ways people can participate in change.“You can participate in change just by what you eat and buy and who you give your money to,” she says.“People come to our markets and they feel empowered.”There’s also the matter, she says, of “change for yourself.”Change for yourself?“Discovering flavor.Just by virtue of how fresh [the products] are.” Not new flavors, Yonkers is quick to emphasize—the flavor of familiar things, like melons and potatoes.That these things actually have flavor and aren’t the bland, colorless specimens that generations of agribusiness have taught us to accept.“Eating all these different varieties”—like the many different kinds of tomatoes.Sampling tomato varieties equates with participating in change?“That’s a huge level of change,” she says.“The markets have brought back biodiversity, a lot of which was lost in the ‘50s.We’ve seen the whole return to grass-fed—and all these reforms as a result of that.Farmers are raising heritage breeds and heirlooms.”I tell her that this particular change, while important agriculturally, seems to me something less than the spiritual change she spoke of when we began talking.I tell her that mostly what I’m hearing from her and others is the opportunity for personal discovery in tasting new foods and cooking differently, and how that personal discovery—valid and worthy in itself—is being framed as a profound social and political act, and thus marketed as something more than it is.Yonkers acknowledges that a strong sense of the spiritual “runs through the whole movement,” then makes an analogy to Catholicism, with its ritualistic consumption of the body of Christ via the Communion wafer.She stops short of saying that taking Communion is akin to shopping at a farmers market, but I gather that for her, and perhaps for her many customers, the experiences are aligned.“Food,” she says, “is holy.”There’s Truth, and Then There’s TruthYou sit down at a restaurant and open the menu.There’s a note at the top: “Proud to support our farmers.” Near the bar, you find a chalkboard with the names of all the farms whose products presumably contributed to your meal [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]