I grew up in little suburb of Sydney, Australia. 10 minutes in one direction and you would hit the beach, 15 minutes in another and you would hit farmland, and within 30 minutes you could be in the heart of the city. I only drank coffee from independent cafés; I bought meat, fish and produce from independent, specialist providers; and I drove around in the comfort of my car.
Then I made what I consider to be the best, but what others often call the strangest, decision of my life and I moved to London. For the past few years, I have fully embraced the London lifestyle and all the wonderful things it has to offer. I’ve even embraced the rain.
There is one thing though: what started as a tiny thought in the back of my mind has now built up to a much larger feeling of what I can only assume is urban guilt. I feel guilty about buying coffee from the large chains rather than independents. I feel guilty about buying food from supermarkets rather than specialist providers. I feel guilty about buying ready-made lunches rather than making everything at home. I continue to do all of the above because it’s ‘easier’, and that makes me feel guilty as well.
For the most part, urban guilt can be pushed to the back of one’s mind. But every now and then you find yourself nestled into yet another person’s armpit during yet another morning commute and you think to yourself: “I hate myself for living like this” (although apparently the proper London response is to hate everyone else for living like this). In this instance, the urban guilt can manifest itself into a full-blown need to escape. Unfortunately, city living often makes us too busy (read: lazy) to leave on a regular basis.
Enter in the farmer’s market, or rather the farmer’s market-dining hybrid, seen cropping up in city neighbourhoods around the world. They’re a brilliant antidote for urban guilt, being country enough to feel ‘close to the land’, but not so country that there’s any actual land involved. You could wear sandals.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a rise in market eating around the world, bolstered by the equally worldwide street food trend. Food markets touch on many elements that today’s consumer is looking for: non-branded, authentic, accessible, explorative, providing sense of place. Whether it’s a burger from a van or a bunch of kale from a stall, the ‘back to basics’ nature of food markets is inherently appealing to people, especially jaded city-dwellers.
Take Brockley Market for example, which happens to be my local. A sense of community and supporting ‘the little guy’, all without leaving zone 2. It is admittedly quite expensive to rely wholly on food markets, but I find that it only takes a few select purchases to make me feel a lot better about myself as a person. I can then treat myself to a pork and Bury black pudding pie from Hartland Pies, which is basically a healthy option now that black pudding is a superfood.
Neighbourhood markets have become destinations in their own right and as such can breathe life back into urban areas. If you find yourself around Greater Manchester, a trip to Altrincham Market is definitely needed (note for fellow foreigners: don’t pronounce it Al-trinch-ham as I did. It’s Ul-tring-um and people will find it absolutely hilarious if you get it wrong).
The revitalised, award winning food and crafts market includes the Market Hall, with a number of permanent food stalls, seating in the centre of the room and – most importantly – wine! When we arrived at 2pm on a Saturday it was packed out with families, couples and groups of friends, which came as a great surprise to the bona fide North Westerner I was with. To quote: “why are we going to Altrincham? There’s nothing there”. Yet obviously the addition of the revamped market is bringing plenty of people to – or back into – the area.
As people continue to flock to food markets, so do the markets continue to evolve. Eataly is a gateway to Italian culture in New York, whilst Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon is a love letter to Portugal. Even hotels are getting involved: Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur and Hyatt Regency Waikiki all offer weekly farmer’s markets for locals and guests.
So will the food market trend as we know it continue? I predict that they will continue to thrive for as long as urban guilt does. If I’m anything to go by, that means we’ll be enjoying them for a very long time to come. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Pret.
By Laura Condon
Cover image credit: Arlindo Camacho/Time Out