In America, I never acquired a real taste for fruits and vegetables. Rather, I didn’t know that they could taste good. I knew you had to eat vegetables to be healthier, but that was it. Most supermarket vegetables are terrible, tasteless mysteries probably manufactured in a lab. Worst of all, fresh fruits and vegetables in America are very expensive. It is much cheaper to buy a Big Mac than a bunch of carrots. Going to the farmer’s markets was even more depressing for me. It was impossible to get farm fresh vegetables at an affordable price every week. And forget Whole Foods! I wasn’t motivated to cook and I had given up trying to eat healthier.
Things are much different for me now. In France, fresh fruits and vegetables are so much cheaper than they are in the US… best of all, they are quite accessible. Meaning, you don’t only have to go to the supermarket to get them (and the produce at supermarkets is almost as bad as in America!). Every day, except for Monday, there’s a market happening somewhere in Paris.
(one of my many food hauls... summer cucumbers and purple basil)
Sunday has become my favorite day of the week. It’s the day of my favorite market. I wake up as early as petit copain will get up (usually around 9:30am) and we head out to the main boulevard with our old lady cart (a caddy). My main goal when I go to the market is to get the freshest in-season produce at prices I can afford.
(peppers from the region of Eure)
France does have organic produce (called bio or bee-oh), but I often find I don’t have to seek it out. There are many laws protecting the quality of food (no GMOs, not as much pesticides as in the US, no growth hormones, etc.) that I’m not so concerned about non-bio products. Most importantly, France is very transparent about where food comes from. At any store or market, there are big signs displaying the origin of every vegetable or fruit. When going to the market, you will either see different countries of origin or different French counties (also called régions or départements). I try to avoid vendors that sell products outside of France in order to support locally grown and sustainable food. However, I’m not perfect and sometimes I’ve gotta get that avocado or two…. being from California and all.
(look at these tomatoes!)
When I go to the market, I find farmers who sell their own produce instead of middle men vendors who buy a variety of products from the very big Rungis market (a kind of center for food imports). I also like to find vendors who are middle men but only deal with farmers from their specific region. You can find a lot of specialty stalls, from people selling Provençal products to products from Brittany or even more closer to Île-de-France, such as the provinces of Picardie and Normandie. Every region grows unique products.
(Bastille Market, my favorite)
One of the most important things I’ve learned from France is how to enjoy food. I especially love eating things I know came from nature (well... farms at least!) and not from some kind of lab operation. Things are changing a lot in America and people are becoming more concerned about food, but it’s not enough. Our food is being grown to feed big corporations and bad eating habits. This really needs to stop. I mean, look at these amazing vegetables!!! We need them!!!
(Petit Copain just politely reminded me we also eat lots of Haribo and Cheetos)
When you go to the market, you should seek out food that’s in season (check out this website to see what's good this month). The best time to go is very early in the morning, around 8:30-9am, to avoid big crowds. French is not necessary at the big markets, but you should at least know some basic French politesse. Greet vendors with “Bonjour” and always say “Merci! Au revoir (or avoir for short)! Bonne journée!” at the end of your transaction. Be patient if vendors do not speak any English and if they refuse to be patient with you, don’t take it personally… it’s the French way!
Since it’s almost winter time, squash and tubular vegetables are in season. Pears and apples are also in season and are quite excellent. If you’re just visiting Paris and don’t have a kitchen to prepare any food, there are vendors who sell prepared/take-out food. I’d probably get some apples, cider, and a crepe and sit down in a park somewhere, but that’s just me.
Until next time! À bientôt!