When I was in Scotland last fall, I found myself surrounded by delicious Scottish delicacies. The only problem was that most of them found their way into the ravenous mouth of a deep fryer before approaching mine. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love deep-fried food (everyone does, don’t get all self-righteous about it). The only issue is that after a relatively short period of time, it can get tiring. Deep-fried Mars bars, sausage and the student-staple chips and cheese are all absolutely delicious; the only issue is that most of us don’t have an industrial-sized deep fryer in our kitchens to support our greasy habit. Away in a foreign country and watching my funding dwindle, I realized that eating out was too expensive. Faced with no alternative, I confronted reality and decided to teach myself to cook.
Armed with a few cookbooks and a few basic skills, I set out to peruse the local grocery stores. The only issue was that most groceries were spread out between stores. In order to get fruit and vegetables that weren’t, shall we say, yucky, I had to go to the fresh produce shop. Fresh fish and meat meant visiting the fishmonger and butcher. It was a system that I found ridiculously inconvenient… until I learned to love it.
I returned to the States in December eager to prove to my unbelieving family that their money had been well spent in sending me abroad, apart from funding my beer habit and some mild education. However, my beloved shops were nowhere to be found, so I turned to farmers’ markets.
Here in Santa Barbara we are blessed with the sort of weather that encourages public gatherings year round. Whereas most cities only hold their farmers’ markets in the summers, ours are held throughout the year. Believe it or not, there is even a governing body for these things. The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market organizes weekly events and has a listing of all the markets that they organize. Whether you want to or not, you can actually attend a farmers market every day of the week in our area.
I could lecture you about how buying locally is a great idea, or how buying imported food kills American jobs and the environment. I won’t, however, since those of you who care already know it, and those of you who don’t won’t care enough to make the change.
So instead I’ll offer you this: Even if you don’t care about sustainability, farmers’ markets are educational and even interesting to go see. A few weeks ago I was going to make a curry and went to the market to pick up my ingredients. The man behind the rack of fresh ginger was able to tell me all about ginger and even helped to teach me how to choose the best piece. I shudder to think what would have happened had I simply grabbed any piece of ginger at Vons.
Aside from supporting local business, it is also a great chance to hang out in the community and check out the other part of the population that doesn’t live in I.V. You can walk up and down the street checking out fresh produce, educating yourself, enjoying the sun and chatting with your fellow human beings – many of whom, I assure you, are thrilled to see college kids joining their community.
Even if you don’t want to buy anything, you can step into one of the many chain coffee shops and return to the street to sip on your drink. Sure, old hippies will judge you as you peruse local organically grown bok choi, especially while sipping your deliciously tasty corporate treat and lamenting the downfall of the small farm. But who are they to judge? After all, it was under their watch that Nixon was elected. If you start to feel guilty and decide to buy something without the skills to back it up, just drop by my place and I’ll Iron Chef something up for you.