The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.


Notes from the Edge (of the Forest of Dean)

Farmers Markets and the Cynical Foodie

Stroud is a small town in Gloucestershire in the West of England. It is full of ageing hippies, tree-huggers, greens, various Stiener-Waldolf educational establishments, organic cafes and yoga classes. If therapy became outlawed the local economy would collapse. I love the place.

I’m told that a number of people settled there because of its non-conformist tradition and the confluence of ley-lines. I think the real reason is that they arrived on the wrong train and got too stoned to go anywhere else. You can identify a Stroudie by the puce woolly jumper, purple corduroys and odd socks.

Stroud has the finest Farmers Market in the UK. It runs every Saturday, has dozens of stalls and sells incredibly good stuff. Food writers have raved about it. It wins awards. I visit it regularly and never buy a thing. It’s far too expensive.

I treat the market as free entertainment and a benchmarking exercise. You can find out what the harvest has been like for a particular crop, what the quality is like and what they are getting away with charging. Then I go somewhere else and do my shopping.

I was thinking of writing about what a con it all is. Then I realized that I am turning into a tight-fisted, jealous, miserable old git. It’s not a rip-off. It is very clever niche marketing, highly theatrical and makes people happy. It is a great shopping experience. The same applies to Harrods. I don’t go there either.

Farmers Markets are based on the conceit that they are cutting out the “middleman” and the profits go straight to the poor, impoverished farmer. People also really believe that “you get what you pay for”. The worst culprits in perpetrating this nonsense are the customers. They are buying a delusion of a bucolic idyll and keep going back for more. They are buying the sizzle, not the sausage.

The reality is that Farmers Markets are a harmless sideshow in the food fair. They use all the right-on language: local, sustainable, environmentally-friendly, low food-miles, organic, ethical.... the marketing is superb. Strip away the rhetoric and they are exposed for what they are--retailers. They retail farm produce and stuff manufactured from it. So does every other food outlet in the world. They sell things to the public for a profit. Farmers Markets are not for cynical foodies.

©2009, Charlie Burling, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, England.