23 May 2010
My roommate Lee walked in the door today with a wing of fresh chicken, freshly roasted and ready to eat. My jaw dropped — I thought for sure he’d paid an arm and a leg for this wing, and I didn’t know how he or I or anyone could justify the expense.
Turns out it cost him three euro. And he got a chicken sausage with that too. Freshly-roasted chicken for cheap? No way!
There was a street market down in Place Flagey, and after checking it out for myself — and making a few purchases — the place challenged every concept of how we think of food in America.
America’s concept of food is dominated by chain supermarkets with sterile names like Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart, Jewel-Osco, CostCo, and Rainbow. Their argument: make us bigger, and we’ll keep your prices lower. And in America, people who exclusively “buy local” are hippies or yokels or worse. Farmer’s markets are a secondary option to the primary source for fruits and veggies: the big-box grocery store.
At this street market, that idea was turned completely on its head. In a way, the weekend street market at Flagey is its own supermarket, offering everything from fresh breads, cheeses, fruits, veggies, fish, meats, and pastries, to books, movies, flowers, furniture, and even panty-hose. I made out of there with four delicious loafs of bread, a jar of homemade jam, and a box of fresh strawberries for less than 15 euro.
The best part? It wasn’t “niche” at all. And the prices weren’t ridiculous. In fact, there is probably more free market economics at play in a street market where multiple vendors compete for the best prices on the same products than there is in big box stores, where there’s one “low” price that may not be low at all (to say nothing of quality).
I knew how Europeans deal with food is different going in, but it always seemed to be rooted in tradition rather than logic — they’re willing to pay more for better food at the expense of convenience.
Well, the food is better… but it costs about the same. And it’s an extremely convenient and intimate way to buy your food.
Sadly, I don’t think Americans will ever develop the same culture around their food. The stranglehold of big-box stores on the market is just too great. But the Flagey market made me a believer in this way of doing things very, very quickly.