Written by Sydney R.
Trips to Feria Libre Market can be quite the sensory overload. It’s unlikely you’ll go even a few minutes without a woman approaching you and asking in a sympathy-inducing, yet business-like, voice, if you’ll buy unos duraznitos or a few chirimoyas.
Each vendor touts the girth, freshness, durability, or quantity of her products (it can get exhausting to keep repeating, “No, gracias’’). With a variety of smells coming from all directions, your nose will probably realize before you do when you’ve reached the seafood or hanging meat section. It’s also difficult to make a decision about where to buy from, with one stand after another having seemingly identical fruits or vegetables or legumes or meats and cheeses.
Despite the overstimulation and the 15-minute uphill walk from the Feria back to our house, our arms filled to the brim with heavy bags, my host mom would never even consider doing her weekly grocery shopping anywhere else. The prices are much cheaper than at Coral or Supermaxi, and she has trusted sellers she visits every week, with whom she makes small talk and performs her ritual of conducting simultaneously friendly and resolute bartering. But in addition to these social and economic benefits and the bonding opportunity that accompanying my host mom on Saturday afternoons provides, I appreciate these outings for another reason — it helps me understand where my food comes from.
I am no stranger to the concept of locally grown or organic food. Back in the United States, most of my family’s food came from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) called Farm to City, where Amish farmers from Lancaster, Pennsylvania would send us fresh fruits and vegetables — whatever happened to be available and in season that week. Even so, I still felt an emotional separation from my food. I rarely helped cook, and there were certain supplies my family was just accustomed to buying instead of preparing from scratch. For example, we would buy Tropicana orange juice, jam, french fries as a special treat; and I never thought twice about it. But here, my host family makes freshly-squeezed juices from naranjas or babaco or tomate de arbol on a daily basis to accompany our lunch. My mom takes advantage of the strawberries that come back squished from the market to make her own marmalade (with much simpler and healthier ingredients than what would come from a store). And I’ve learned that making homemade papas fritas requires minimal effort — just slicing, seasoning, and frying the potatoes (with more oil than I wish I knew) — and is one of the few meals I’m comfortable preparing without my host mom’s assistance. My host family would consider buying any of these already-processed items to be unnecessary and wasteful. With raw, basic ingredients, one can cook almost anything, and I’m no longer too oblivious or intimidated to try.