I’m watching Chef’s Table on Netflix and Massimo Bottura is shopping. There is something leveling about watching a world class chef at the same market everyone uses in Modena, Italy. He and grandma rub elbows in the market and use the same mushrooms, the same Parmigiano Reggiano, the same balsamic vinegar. Perhaps this is why the home cook is so revered in Italy, and why Bottura had such a difficult time with Modena accepting his restaurant at first.
I visited a similar, smaller market last winter in Chinon, France. The market was full of cabbages and radishes, citrus, mushrooms and pears. The food radiated with vibrancy and life. Mushrooms were calling “Take me home, I’m delicious!” I was tempted. I don’t like mushrooms... or at least I don’t like the mushrooms I’ve had here.
I am filled with longing. American supermarkets do not inspire me in this way, with its mountains of waxed apples devoid of scent and tepid tasting watermelon in the height if summer. We settle for this because we don’t know any other way. We have forgotten what true agricultural bounty is. We’ve forgotten how to cook because we have packaged alternatives with consistent taste, plentiful fast food, and because the food we do have is a shell of its former glory.
Place matters. Terroir matters. This, more than carbon footprint, is why local is important, why diversity of crops are important. We need more than 2 or 3 varieties of tomato, corn, potatoes and peppers. If one strain is susceptible to disease, what happens to out food sources? We need larger and smaller independent farmers. We need to stop shipping produce halfway around the world, only to have it go to waste because of our expectation of visual displays of plenty. The condition of our food markets determine the condition of our people. Boxed mac and cheese might appeal because we have forgotten the taste of a tree-ripened plum.