Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fruit & Veg, North & South

I didn't grow up with tropical fruit and vegetables, as the options in 1970s Alaska were limited to a few set 'exotics' like bananas, kiwi fruit, or peaches. Mainly we ate what was grown (and then canned) there: strawberries, cabbage, potatoes, rose hips, abundant wild berries, fish and game. Today, in a globalized food system, so much more arrives in Anchorage from all points if not at its freshest then at least offering Alaskans variety. "Food miles" is an issue for another post, and certainly not unique to the Last Frontier.
California, though, is another agricultural planet, a gloriously fertile one unto its own. Even considering the rest of the World, this State stands above nearly all others for quality, variety, fecundity, and creativity in the fields, orchards, and the plate.

Mission Street Produce
In San Francisco, neighborhood ethnic composition becomes evident as you walk down a main street.
Along Mission Street in The Excelsior District the Latino markets rub up against a distinct Filipino and Italian presence. This south city neighborhood is near Daly City in San Mateo County that statistically has the most Asian residents per capita of any municipality in the United States. The blending of Latino and Asian cultures is the hallmark of The Philippines, in fact. As for Italy, North Beach may boast of its Italian heritage, but it has become an echo of an immigrant community, replaced with Italian-American institutions, restaurants and cafes that rely on Latin American labor, visiting Europeans and tourists up from Fisherman's Wharf. It conspicuously lacks produce markets, although it can be argued that Chinatown next door is overstuffed with dry and wet markets to make up for it. San Francisco is deservedly famous for its food-obsessed culture, and yet there are areas like Bayview/Hunter's Point that are so lacking in markets they are designated Food Deserts. This inequitable distribution of quality, fresh and affordable food outlets is one of the prime practical issues facing American neighborhoods and cities. Ideally, everyone would live within walking distance of a vibrant market. Bonus if it also sells Piñatas!

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