Maybe it’s the result of an economy that requires a skill for penny pinching or maybe it’s just a renewed love of food, but whatever the reasons behind it, amateur involvement in culinary culture is happening big time, bringing the power of being a foodie into the hands of everyone who wants a taste. Call it indie, call it DIY, but this trend is simply expanding on something we’ve done for centuries: create sustenance.
Independent food markets are taking place more frequently in underground economies, providing an outlet for small-time food vendors to take a stab at doing what they’re best at and at the same time turn a profit. In places like these, a friend’s, “Mmm… that’s delicious, you should sell it!” is no longer just a compliment, it’s motivation for business.
In Brooklyn, $20 gets you a six-foot folding table at the Greenpoint Food Market, where you’re welcome to sell whatever concoctions you wish. “Some of my vendors just sell granola bars wrapped in saran wrap or foil and that’s about as far as they want to go,” market founder Joan Kim told Chow.
In San Francisco, kombucha is pitted against jam in a competitive audition to get into the Underground Farmers Market. So far, there have only been a handful of the markets hosted, but interest is at a high, feeding both people’s desire to sell something they’ve made themselves, and also, to buy homemade goods that don’t have a commercial flair.
Independent markets like these give people with a penchant for crafting creative edibles the opportunity to try their hand at the food industry, but with very low barriers to entry. The result is a diverse array of foods, with something to please every taste, that is as empowering as it is cutting-edge.
But even those not willing to devote late nights to baking up a storm and hauling the goods to the local market early on a Saturday morning are still taking part in the changing food movement.
At Forage in Los Angeles, the restaurant depends on connecting with its customers to provide seasonal fare at a reasonable prices. When a chef is on the lookout for a special ingredient, they don’t turn to a distributor, they turn to urban foragers, depending on the restaurants clientele to bring them the taste of the day – be it lavender or bundles of citrus fruit. Chefs sample and select which produce will make it to the restaurant’s palate. The concept is aptly named Harvest Call.
The result is a menu that is inherently more local, but also more communal with various clientele getting to take part in deciding what they eat. Taking the idea of urban foraging to a new level, restaurants like Forage encourage interaction with food, not just a passive experience of it.
This idea of gastronomic equality, making everyone an equal part in the food process, may just be an edgy passing fad – people do in fact still love the occasional 5 star experience – but in the meantime, it’s truly changing how we think about food and our relationship to it. And encouraging all of us, no matter what our foodie level, to get more involved with what we eat.
Editor’s note: This is the debut of Anna Brones’s new column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground. Each week, Anna will be taking a look at something new and different that’s taking place in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to culinary avant garde.