Why the epitaph on my urn will read “Twittered Away”: I posted that we bought a loaf of rye from a new vendor at Union Square and it turned out to be hardtack — $$ hardtack at that. Within minutes followers were Tweeting thoughts on “vintage hardtack” and, even better, “artisanal hardtack.” Through the reaction, I learned why more and more breads are turning up in the Greenmarkets: The future of local food looks “value-added.” Apparently baked goods sell out much faster than fruits and vegetables that need to be converted into dinner. No wonder our every trip to a market yields more sightings of canned squash, peppers as paprika, tomatoes in sauce and any of the above as part of gift boxes. I’m so old I remember attending a meeting of Greenmarket overseers back in the early Nineties when the arguments over rules were long and furious. Keeping it pure was the big goal, when farmers were really struggling to make a go of it all. And I’m open to new vendors — our neighborhood market now has almost everything we need for a full week: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit. But the things we don’t buy are the “value-added”: the ice cream, the margarine-tasting cookies, the jams. Aren’t those what the neighboring Whole Foods is for?
And I myself was called quite a bitch way back when for attacking a certain hymnal to farmers’ markets, so I should feel a bit queasy about actually disseminating my own photo that makes said markets look just as annoyingly fey/elitist/romanticized. I should be worrying that I am regressing into one of those “I shop there for the community” Trumpmouths. But it’s taken me 20-plus years to acknowledge there is more to the markets than just fud. A photographer who lured my consort (and me) to Estonia back when it was joining the First Consumer World sardonically noted that shopping malls are the new cathedrals. Greenmarkets are Saints Peter & Peas. But I’ll try to get a grip in the future. If for no reason than that it’s easier being mean when they have no idea who you are. . .
Even before the latest crane fell toppled as I was heading over to the Greenmarket on 97th Street, I was thinking how unfair it is that Holy Foods is invading my neighborhood with a soulless behemoth just steps from the best food-shopping opportunity in town (at least as long as Union Square is Pure Hell during renovation). And I certainly eyed that scary crane up around 100th with total dread on a 9/11-level severe-clear morning. As skeptical as I have been about how commerce can edge out quality, I did have qualms about the hardy souls who turn up Friday after Friday within limping distance. But I came home with Ronnybrook milk and Kernan strawberries (and Sweet Williams) and a booster shot of vicarious seasonality even though I would not be cooking while home alone. And a postcard announcing that Keith the Garlic Guy is back downtown for the season had almost the same restorative effect. It was a reproduction of a woodcut of a “walk-behind seeder.” It looked to be more authentically hand-signed than any condolence note Go-Fuck-Yourself has had mailed to the nearly 5,000 families of Iraq war dead on our side. And even the stamp was chosen to fit, a new-rate pink one depicting a watermelon. Imagine one single slaughterhouse owner taking a fiftieth of that care with the product itself. I hear the wolf out on the horizon but can’t imagine giving up food by hand even when the beast turns up at the door.
I misread the blackboard on Union Square announcing a renovation of the north end of the park — I thought it said the Greenmarket had “shitted south.” But it turns out the shift is pretty guano-esque for everyone involved. Now you have to schlep through a maze of nonfood vendors to get to the underselling milk; it’s like a frenetic flea market crossed with the long-gone flower district. Odd that the city would wait to start until the farmers’ business is about to bust out all over, considering the winter was so warm it seemed every other week the same section was closed so they could make snow for commercial shoots. Now the yogurt’s not connected to the bread, the eggs to the bacon. If it isn’t one disruption down there it’s another. But then again, bitching is the only thing always in season.