What’s so Super About Markets Anyway?

Written – May 2023

When I moved to France a few years ago I set myself some goals.  One of these, for there were many, was to eat and drink more healthily and support my local economy as much as I could.  This led me to start sourcing some of my food, namely fruit, vegetables, eggs, and bread, from local businesses with everything else having to continue to come from the local supermarkets.

Over the years though I have become more and more familiar with the facilities in my local and wider geographic area and the local farmers markets have become a weekly fixture in my life.  It began innocently enough, with the aforementioned fruits and vegetables for my meals, and with visits to the bucherie next door for meat, and the boulangerie in town for bread and croissants.  Everything is locally sourced where possible, though it takes a while to get used to a photograph of the cow on display above the butcher’s counter.

This all gave me a buzz, as I was supporting local businesses, putting money back into the local economy, and above all helping farmers.  It has long angered me that supermarkets demand farmers produce food for them at ever diminishing prices, putting their own corporate profits ahead of the needs and actual day to day running costs of a farm and its staff.  Being able to pay that money direct to the farmer, or to a local business that in turn has a great relationship with the local farmers, provides a definite feel good moment for shopping.

I have a banana plant in my garden, maybe one day it will grow me some bananas

The benefits of shopping locally don’t just come with a clean conscience of not giving any money to big, greedy businesses.  The overall quality of what you can buy makes it far tastier, far more nutritious and far longer lasting, because none of it has been frozen or spent the previous week in the back of a lorry.

Everything else though I was still getting from the supermarket and this got me thinking about what else I could source from local markets, and if it might even be possible to cut out the supermarket altogether.  This last point would be incredibly difficult unless you happen to be near a small business that makes dishwasher tablets or bin liners.

I spent some time walking around the markets paying much more attention to what was on sale than I had before.  Aside from obvious foodstuffs like cheese (I’ve switched to cantal over cheddar) and fish, which here is caught by fishermen working out of Bordeaux, I’ve also now found I can buy everything from flour to soap, shower gel, wine, sauces, coffee, tea, ice cream and even fresh milk direct from local businesses and farms.

It’s actually now reached the point where, during a visit from a good friend earlier this year, I found myself becoming genuinely upset and angry when he bought some tomatoes and other fresh foods from the supermarket that I would have personally preferred were sourced from the local markets.

This, of course, is where we hit the sticking point.  I’m very lucky, I live in the middle of nowhere in the south of France where all of this produce is readily available and the markets are regular and plentiful.  For everybody living in a major metropolitan town or a city because, you know, they have to actually have a job and raise a family, these markets rarely exist if they exist at all, and people might have to drive a significant distance just to find one.

Many towns and even cities do, of course, have regular markets, but they can be hamstrung for many people by being difficult to get to, or have other problems such as poor availability of parking, lack of public awareness, or just being placed in the wrong area so they’re not large enough to serve the community properly.  Also, many councils will charge far too much money for stall space, often making the cost of doing business, and thus the cost of goods, not much less than going to the supermarket anyway.  In my nearest town a Sunday morning market space can be booked for as little as €2.  Where I lived before in the UK the council charged £75 (equivalent to €85) for the same thing.

All of this though has opened my eyes to what’s possible with supporting local businesses and local economies.  It’s great too to see that the supermarkets in the area have actually figured this out and are beginning to stock many more products that are sourced and made locally.  Okay, this still means money is going into the pockets of big business, but if they decide to spread the availability of these goods to their town and city shops then it’ll at least be a step in the right direction.

I would also like to see more towns and cities inviting in farmers and local producers for regular markets.  These wouldn’t have to be weekly, though for some towns this is very possible, but where I lived in the UK before we were lucky to get two or three ‘proper’ farmer’s markets a year, and we’d still have to travel a great distance to get to them, even if we saw them advertised which often never happened effectively.  Once a month would give many more people a much greater opportunity to feed back to their communities.

So with my rant over I can safely say I feel healthier and happier with this new way to shop and buy the goods I use and consume every day.  I sincerely hope that as the years go on I can do more of it, but I also sincerely hope that in a world or ever-rising food prices, stagnant local economies, and whole countries realising they need to rely less on imports from countries they can no longer trust, that more people get this opportunity.

Taking all this to it’s logical conclusion of course, three new vegetable beds are being installed in my garden next week, and I plan to grow as much of my own fruit and vegetables as I can.  This doesn’t help the local economy, though I’ll still need to buy things from farmers anyway, but it will make my life healthier.  I’ll *feed* back one day and tell you how it goes.