Anytime we drive from Orange County to the Central Coast where my father in law lives, we love to stop in the beautiful Santa Barbara. We like to break up the trip strolling around State Street, getting a hot tea and enjoying the beautiful stores of this pretty town, that still reflects the original urban structure of the Spanish mission founded here at the end of the 1700’s.
The historic downtown area called “El Pueblo Viejo district”, still showcases many traces of Santa Barbara’s missionary imprint: red-tile roofs, decorative ironwork, and whitewashed walls are beautiful examples of the city’s historic heritage. And, for a European visitor, they are for sure a breath of fresh air in the overwhelming modernity of Southern California, where “old” means the 1960’s.
This last trip we were lucky to stop in Santa Barbara on a Tuesday afternoon, right while the farmer’s market was taking place!
Two entire blocks of the main promenade were closed off to the traffic and filled with colorful fruit and produce stands, honey and nut sellers and home bakers surrounded by a few players who kept the atmosphere even livelier with their music.
As much as I love getting fresh, local produce directly from the farmers, I always get a little upset about the crazy prices that everything has. Of course, it’s for sure money well spent. But the fact that the prices are so high (for 3 small, I repeat “small”, bunches of lettuce I spent $6!) and that the farmers markets are considered a trendy event contribute to keeping fresh produce markets an exclusive shopping experience, only reserved to people that can afford it.
In Italy, fresh produce markets are ubiquitous and very frequent, but yet they are considered nothing but a fancy event.
They’re simply part of every person’s daily life. The prices are very affordable and anybody, from the 80 year old lady that bikes there to large families of 5 that live on one salary only, can afford to shop from the farmers.
Sometimes farmers markets are actually considered the cheap shopping option, as even older people who don’t have a car and live in small villages can afford to go buy food without needing a lift to the closest grocery store.
The market in Santa Barbara got me thinking about this issue and a big question mark arose: “Why don’t you see any of the typical families that shop at Walmart buying their groceries here?”
This is for sure one those things from Italy that I wish was more universal: having access to fresh and local produce is a right of every human being and it should naturally be at the base of anybody’s diet.
But when a bunch of lettuce cost $6 and a box of frozen lasagna cost $1, the message we send out to the world is quite the opposite.
And mass-produced food mistakenly becomes the staple.