In France there are food markets in every town at least once a week, usually more like twice. The market holders are well practiced at unfolding bountiful, colourful displays of food early in the morning and then folding them up again before siesta time. They are an army of people each producing vegetables, meats, breads and cheeses on a small scale and selling them to dedicated customers. Instead of consumers flooding to supermarkets, which are colossal businesses with rows of tills where the cashier has no involvement or meaningful endorsement of the products they are selling, at the street market you can buy the product from the person who made it. In this way the power of the transactions are spread out creating a web of social and monetary exchanges, this is human scale rather than industrial scale shopping.
To me this is an example of a culture with a deeper involvement in food; more people getting their hands dirty and staking a claim on what they put into their mouths either by making it themselves or by taking it from the hands of the person who did. It seems to me, that in England the general overriding attitude to food is more passive. It is quite normal in our society to go to the supermarket and buy products that are made in bulk quantities or prepared to the point where our involvement is minimal.
According to something I heard on BBC Radio Four’s The Food programme it was the Industrial Revolution that caused Britain to forget it’s fresh food production skills and loose it’s infrastructure of fresh produce in preference for packaged and processed goods. At that time the convenience of packaged and preserved food was seen as the only sensible way forward. Who wants the inconvenience of dirty, fresh perishable food, the Victorians must have thought.
Of course preserved foods have their place but choosing to exchange money for the freshest food possible and support smaller producers where possible helps to spread out power between more people. These exchanges are on display regularly at every French street market. Surely this is evidence of a healthy resilient system, minimizing reliance on distant, large and anonymous businesses and building a food culture with pragmatism, social interaction and traceability at its heart.