From Too Many Chefs - www.toomanychefs.com

May 6, 2006
Shopping Locally at the Organic Market

localfood.jpg

Ever since the first of May, I've been waiting impatiently for the weekend. Although it's been interesting to see how much information I can get about the food I buy at the supermarket (not much) I knew that the open air organic market would be the real testing ground of how feasible eating locally can be in Paris. Markets in general in Paris tend to have only small(ish) producers. For the organic market, this is even more the case, as it's even more of a niche market. This means that the producers don't have the resources to travel across the country with their produce; most of them have have to get up early to get to the market by 8 a.m. and so are limited in how far away they want to travel.

At first glance, as expected, it was a lot easier to see the origin of produce: most of the chalkboard slates marking prices told the region of France that produced the vegetables. However, even within a single stall I found that some listed the exact departement and some did not give any indication whatsoever. The first person I asked about the origin of his produce was a young man walking through the only self-service stall at the market who was offering an absolutely mouth-watering mango for tasting to patrons. I accepted a piece for myself and one for the boy (he didn't want it - yippee!) and asked, "Ca vient d'ou, s'il vous plait?" That checked him in his progress and he asked me to repeat myself. "Where is it from?" I repeated patiently. Burkina Faso. Which is not a part of France. Interesting. This was the stall that had the greatest number of slates without the origin marked and had the most exotic fruit.

I'm torn between feeling like it's a good thing that they are enticing into the market more "mainstream" clients by supplying exotic fruits and being annoyed that they are no better than the supermarkets about flying in produce.

Also, I wonder how strict the rules for organic certification is in the exotic countries the produce hails from.

I moved on paying more attention than usual to the little cards and learning a few points:

- there is not much meat that is produced within 200km of Paris

- a lot of stalls sell fruit that is obviously not produced by the stallholder (I actually knew this already because Clotilde had advised me to look for the signs marked "a nous", signifying that the produce actually came from the seller's property)

- a lot of the fruit and vegetables sold by the above stallholders comes from very far away and is sold completely out of season

and the most gratifying one:

- the stall that supplied me with delicious butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash all autumn long only sells their own produce and are only about 50km from Paris. I have always bought from this stall in the past but I'll make it a priority now. What's more, it's very small and I really like the woman who sells the produce.

So what did I buy? I'm guessing the exact distance below but they give a rough idea. Clockwise from the upper left corner on the photo:

- 2 bunches of spring onions from the Seine et Marne region (about 50km)

- 1 kilo of Swiss chard (Seine et Marne)

- 700 grams of carrots (Seine et Marne)

- 4 litres of semi-skimmed organic fresh milk from the Loire Valley (about 100km)

- 2 kilos of flour from a mill near Auxerre (about 100km)

- 4 bunches of onions from the Loire valley

- Pears from the Loire valley (I think, actually, that the pears the boy has been eating daily for the last three months pretty much all come from the Loire...)

- 2 duck breasts from the Vendee region (about 400 km from Paris, about the best I could do)

- Brie de Meaux (50km)

- a loaf of raisin bread from near Auxerre (the same mill as the flour)

- 2 artichokes from Brittany, about 300km from Paris, depending on where in the region. I've been seeing Spanich 'chokes all over Paris for a couple of weeks and broke down even though they were from a bit far away.

- and in the center, barely visible, 1 kilo of rhubarb from the Seine et Marne stall.

I was right about the cost, though: nearly 80 euros for the lot. The duck breasts were the worst, coming in at 24 euros for the two. If I had looked more carefully at the price and the weight of the two breasts, I probably would have gone for one or maybe even bought something else. Live and learn!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 6, 2006 2:27 PM
Comments
"Where is it from?" I repeated patiently. Burkina Faso. Which is not a part of France.

I admit to being slightly puzzled by this. Did you think mango might have been grown in France?

Posted by Harry on May 6, 2006 at 4:17 PM

Well, no, not at this time of the year. I was interested, however, in seeing exactly how far it had travelled. You can get mangos from Spain in early summer and they are actually grown in France but only available in late July and August. I discussed the mangos with the woman who has my favourite stall in the Seine and Marne region (and she was the one who confirmed the season for me).

I knew they were out of season and therefore most likely not from the area.

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 6, 2006 at 4:37 PM

Excellent detective work. You can learn a lot at a farmer's market, no? If you are interested, Google Maps now covers Western Europe, in case you want to see how close you are to those towns.

Posted by Justin on May 7, 2006 at 9:05 PM