A Full Cupboard for $8.95

I went to the market yesterday, and I bought:

  • 2 heads of lettuce

  • 3 purple onions

  • berries

  • kale

  • cabbage

  • 3 zucchinis

  • 1 bushel of carrots

  • 1 yellow cauliflower

The grand total of my purchases: $8.95

As I told people on twitter yesterday, this trip to the Farmer’s Market brought with it an adventure in yuppie entitlement.

I chose the Farmer’s Market I shop at very carefully as I have a choice of two, neither of which is conveniently located from our house. One is frequented by my colleagues and is located in what the gf and I refer to as “no man’s land” ie the gated community area on the outskirts of the city, the other is located in what many refer to as the other side of “the war zone”, ie you have to drive through some of the poorest parts of the city to get to there. I chose the latter because what it lacks in bright lightening, arts and crafts, and outdoor cafe options, it gains in diversity, straightforward and cheap pricing, and friendly people.

I also chose this market because it is centrally located to many of my students. While many of them who work as day laborers, or have family members who do, get their produce straight from the source, many others do not. Often they are relegated to shopping in the one grocery store serving their area which, as you may recall from previous posts, often sells spoiled milk and eggs, and dry goods years past their expiration date. The store is also unsafe after dark; often, you cannot even get into the parking lot because of the police tape. So choosing a Farmer’s Market in their area and familiarizing myself with it is not just for me but also so that I can encourage students who want to eat healthy and want to get their kids off processed food to use a cheap and accessible place that also benefits local farmers. In my social justice classes, I always include a trip to both Farmer’s Markets with a list of questions they have to get answered. (We’ll get back to those questions in the second part of this two part series.) Along with my gf’s work to help low income people cultivate family sustaining gardens and hook up with local experts in their own neighborhoods, the trips to the Farmer’s Market are part of a larger vision we have for encouraging sustainable veg based lives that center working class people of color rather than upper class “good people” consumption.

When I looked at my bill yesterday, even I was in shock at how cheap it was. And honestly, I turned right back around and bought even more food to take to the local health clinic/last chance food box giveaway that is between my house and the Farmer’s Market.

Not everything about my trip to the market was progressive:

Yesterday, while shopping amidst the largely immigrant communities that call the Farmer’s Market their mainstay, I witnessed a woman who had clearly not been told there were two markets. She wore designer heels and white jeans, both of which will get you a sprained angle at beyond war zone market because there are no paved, wide, brightly lit aisles here, just human packed down dirt and clods of crab grass; no beautiful bins with matching artisan designed labels given to everyone who pays the vendor fee, just big, cardboard, crates with the clumps of earth from the hard working hands that pried the produce from it and then packed in the crates for sale. Like a dear in the headlights, she stared wide-eyed at both people and food, finally settling on huge crates of fruit. Despite the fact that there was a large sign next to the crates saying “by the crate area”, she proceeded to pick over the food and place individual fruit in her bag.

When one of the farmers noticed her, she simply pointed to the sign and said “This is the by the crate area. You’ll need to buy a whole crate.”

The woman glared at the farmer as if to say “You don’t get to talk to me.” She looked around for someone to back her up, but most people were too busy shopping to care what she was up to. Finding no one, she finally said, in her best indignant yuppie voice “But isn’t it better to pick out your own fruit? Isn’t that the point?!”

The farmer, an older woman with long silvery hair, brushed her calloused hands on her overalls, and said “It’s $15 a crate. That’s a really good deal.” Not waiting for the woman to respond, she walked away, considering the matter settled.

The yuppie on the other hand, hugged the bag of fruit to her chest as if it was the stuff of life and looked around the dusty aisles to see if the farmer had gone to get security. Not noticing anyone coming her way, she took her bag of pilfered goodies over to the “buy the bag” section. It seems, despite all her doe-eyed confusion, she knew full well she was in the wrong section.

Suddenly, the silver-haired woman re-appeared and the woman with the fruit jumped. She glowered at the farmer and dumped her bag in the bin of fruit in the by the bag section. The silver-haired woman, who was talking to another farmer, only then noticed her and simply raised a single brow. The woman responded by running her hand over through the fruit to mix it in with the rest in the bin. She then crossed her arms defiantly and lifted her chin.

The farmer who was helping me with my purchases, sighed. He was an older, heavy set, African, who had given up his booth to his daughters because he could no longer lift the big crates that some of the local restaurants bought from his stand. Instead, he rung up members like me who were allowed to come to the market and shop freely paying at one convenient location with a card that showed which farmers needed to be reimbursed. It’s a system that makes it convenient for families, elders, and impatient folks such as myself to get through the market quickly while still ensuring all of the vendors have a chance to sell their stuff. No haggling, no burn out.

As he handed me my bag and asked for the $8.95 I owed, he glanced at the sign above the register. In a big huge chalkboard above the register it said “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone without explanation.” I’d noticed the sign on the way in and I’d also noticed that they seemed to have proliferated all over the market. Originally, I had felt sort of unwelcomed by them but in light of the woman in the white pants who had finally stopped standing like a 2 year-old mid tantrum by the fruit bin when she realized no one had the time, energy, or even felt her important enough to take on her behavior, made the signs welcome friends.

It occurred to me that it is that time of year when new faculty start moving into the area to start their jobs as bonafide Professors and when the new core group of students for the snotty private colleges in our area also arrive with their parents and their credit cards in tow. And for the next few weeks, locals who have settled into a basic system of class segregated lives and easy going quiet, are disrupted by the gazelles who don’t realize the fence is meant to keep them in as much as to keep us out. And everyone will have to deal with their temper tantrums and their disdain until equilibrium is reached mid-September.

Yet it seems to me that if people simply followed the rules instead of thinking that by nature of being X they get a free pass and no one who is Y gets to say different, this could all be avoided. The signs were clearly marked. The prices cheap and the people friendly. Yet Miss White Pants was bent and determine to have drama even if it was a drama of one. She let her anxiety about not wearing sensible clothes for the area and being surrounded by poor people, immigrants, and people of color (sometimes overlapping identities, sometimes not), translate into entitlement and defensiveness and expected all of us to care. Even when acting out, she was still the center of her universe and unclear that she was not the center of ours. Watching her reminded me of so many other conflicts in this town and in this nation around race, class, and gender in which the targets are always expected to center the snipers and where often the snipers don’t even realize they are traipsing about with a loaded gun. These little interpersonal moments illustrate the larger costs of identity wars, for while I was getting a week’s worth of groceries for the price of 2 gallons of gas, she was on the verge of being refused service over a couple of pieces of fruit she felt entitled to because she comes from where she comes from and she found them here. Watching her drama play out, also made me question just how little we have actually changed when it comes to individual thoughts and feelings about identity and how much farther we will have to go to really be safe as a people in this nation.

(this is part one of a two part piece on the Farmer’s Market and class relations)

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