Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tanque Verde Swap Meet.

This past weekend, I set my sights on how much food was sold in between the booths of pirated dvds and used electronics at The Tanque Verde Swap Meet in Tucson, Arizona. This trip came a day before I read an intriguing Op-Ed in Sunday's Washington Post that tracked a trend towards opting out of the gourmet-ification of natural food and eating just as well, for less money.   I never thought it would become a political statement to buy an apple out of a guy's truck, but here we are, trying to squeeze between Cargill, Monsanto and undervalued, over-produced organic crops to get to our food.

Just 75 miles south of Tucson, the mercado is a likely version of how goods are exchanged. Here, the same idea is short sold by images of fake sheepskin seat cover vendors and acrylic blankets booths, distracting one from the swap meet's utility as the original superstore where dad buys a set of tires for the car, mom checks items off the week's grocery list, and the kids play the in the dusty lanes the entire time.  Think about it.  Now, that space is called a Wal-Mart, where one wants to do anything but linger in the aisles, much less socialize.  At the swap meet, it's as much social as commercial, and the vendors give each transaction equal, generous merit.  The guy selling apples out of his pickup truck bed wouldn't let me buy one.  He gave it to me.

Chiletepin peppers must be in season because they were everywhere.  I don't know much about them other than I love their flavor. I was first introduced to them years ago in Tucson, at Native Seeds S.E.A.R.C.H., an organization devoted to preserving heirloom beans and seeds of the southwest.  These native peppers are more than ten times hotter than a jalepeno packed into a pepper the size of a pea.  They have a sweet, berrylike, full flavor that will punch you in the throat if you overseason with them, meaning if you use more than two to flavor an entire pot of stew.  Their abundance was packaged into reused Gerber baby jars and Ziploc baggies, and pickled and jarred into homemade batches. 

Salsas Rangel sold a dozen different versions of fruit-heavy salsas.  Combinations of mango, strawberry, pear, apple and the elusive ghost pepper were all on the table. I purchased the quince salsa.  If I had to guess, the four children playing in the back of the minivan backed up to his pop up tent were family, and the woman who gave me my change was the man's wife.  It was a happy unit participating in a necessary slice of life.

Homemade bunuelos. Flour, salt, oil, sugar, cinnamon.  Snack.

I don't like being more than one step removed from the maker of my food, but I am, every day.  Producer to consumer exchanges are so rare, they become their own fulfilling experiences.   In my own way, I am hoping to bring Burwell General Store closer to the straightforward principles of setting up a table somewhere and exchanging off the top of it. In my case, it is an exchange of ideas, but surrounded by this much inspiration, how could I not?


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