Good eating is part of staying healthy, especially while traveling.  The New York Times recently wrote about the farmers’ markets in Prague, and it is helpful to understand the differences, quality and variety of those all around the world. Today, our friend Joel Wachs writes about his experience in Paris:

“The outdoor markets of Paris are world famous. With their abundance of colorful produce, pungent cheese, crisp bread, unusual cuts of meat and presence in every neighborhood, they are easy to find and fun to explore.

But every traveler should be aware that most vendors at the Parisian markets are not producers, i.e. farmers, bakers, ranchers, etc.  In reality, very few of them raise, cultivate, bake, or make the products that they sell, which is what many travelers expect and want.  At one of the city’s larger markets earlier this year, there were only 5 producers out of more than 60 vendors; the rest were resellers.  In fact, based on conversations with various vendors at markets throughout the city, I learned that even though the city of Paris sets aside 10% of the stall spaces for producers, most of these are not filled.  So over 90% of the vendors that a traveler sees at a Parisian market are resellers.

It is easy to enjoy these open-air markets without being concerned about whether the vendors are also the producers.  In general the food,  whether or not it is sold directly by the producer, is very good.  Travelers can enjoy the experience of these markets in many different ways: watching how the French shop; noticing how the vendors display and promote their products; sampling the different food products; marveling at the variety of foods that a neighborhood outdoor market sells; purchasing the makings of a picnic…

Even the language barrier should be no reason to prevent a traveler from seeking out the producer vendors.  First, many have signs that say “producteur” or “fabrication maison” [house made].  While those that are resellers typically have signs indicating this, such as “Direct de Rungis,” which means “direct from Rungis,” the big wholesale market just outside of Paris. Second, by law, vendors of produce must indicate the country of origin of their products.  So, travelers can quickly scan the signs to see if the produce comes from France or not.  Finally, many vendors speak at least a bit of English and so will be able to talk with travelers about their products.”

Do you have an interesting story about a farmers’ market you visited?  We would love to hear it.

Author: Joel Wachs
Joel Wachs is the president of the Washington State Farmers Market Association.  He lived in Paris in 2007 and has traveled back to Paris and France several times since returning to the States.


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