The Bazaar Experience

Posted on April 29, 2012 by

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The change was subtle put palpable. The watermelons, blackberries and pears had given way to fresh, full ears of corn, peaches and apples, which in turn yielded to the sparser fare of fejoias, the last of the fall vegetables, and the early tangerines. The succession continued in the full bloom of tangerine, lemon, and orange season, with the only green in sight being the hearty cabbages that are a staple of Georgian winter cuisine. But without me noticing, this almost monochromatic array was soon punctuated by splashes of color, by the return of apples, the early spring greens, and a host of vegetables taking advantage of the freshly thawed ground. Here I have needed no calendar, no ticking off of the days to tell me where we are in which season; the bazaars do it for me.

I do all of the shopping I can at the bazaars, gladly trading the coldness of set prices and electric scanners of supermarkets for the personal touch of haggling over a jar of honey, trying to charm the person you are buying a half kilo of walnuts from for a discount as much as they are trying to charm you into buying from them. There is a certain element of sport to the experience; it turns shopping into a much more engaged and interpersonal affair. While the game of bazaar shopping has its appeal to me, it is not the primary reason I appreciate shopping there over any other stores or markets. For me, it stands in as a symbol of something greater than itself, a symbol of food maintaining its relationships with the cycles, fluctuations, and mercy of nature. In the United States, unless you are devoted to getting as much as you can from farmers’ markets or growing your own food, it is easy to forget what seasonality used to, and perhaps still should mean in terms of our diet. You can get almost any fruit, vegetable, or any other product year round, and the produce section only changes slightly from month to month. Certainly the quality of a December tomato is not the same as that of an August one, nor is a July grapefruit going to have the same taste as one harvested in February when the fruit is at its ripest, but all too often there is a slow progression in quality from high to low that goes largely unnoticed, and our diet is not adjusted accordingly. At least in my family, what we ate in winter looks a lot like what we eat in the summer. Though there are certain dishes present in one season and not another, often that is a product not of availability or quality of ingredients but of other factors (e.g. a hot bowl of savory chili is a distinctly winter food, while a cold ham sandwich and a side of potato salad has a much greater association with a summer picnic).

While this was my food reality growing up and living in the States, Georgia has made me refreshingly aware of how our diet should change with the seasons, and has given me valuable insight into what it means to be more dependent on the land, animals, and one’s own labor. Here, tomatoes are a summer food, hogs are slaughtered in the winter, and spring announces the arrival of a whole host of foods that the sparse bean and potato dishes and the meat heavy diet of the winter had all but made you forget about. Out in the villages, milk comes not from a homogenous carton of milk indistinguishable from any other in content or appearance, having been subjected to the homogenizing and bacteria-depriving process of pasteurization, but comes in a jar, filled from one’s own cow if she is producing milk at that point, or from that of a neighbor’s if it is producing while yours is not. At every stage, the natural cycles of food production are easily visible and accessible, if you just take the time to consider them.

In the bazaar this importance of seasonality is glaringly apparent. Everything changes. The type of meat hanging in the meat rooms, the wafting scents of spices, the proliferation of colors; it is all part of a cycle that, if you let it, will remind of what the earth provides when. It demands a sort of creativity, adjusting your diet to the time of the year, expanding your repertoire of what you will make or accommodating the alternating booms and busts of different crops. In an age when raw food, local food, organic food, raw milk, fair trade, sustainability, etc. movements have begun to dominate the way we think about the way we eat, the bazaar serves as a reminder that what to us seems to be part of these hip, new movements, is a way of life that has been preserved elsewhere in the world, and leaves me with the hope that what we lost and are trying to regain in America may remain a consistent and enriching part of life here in Georgia.

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