My mother used to take me to small farmers’ markets when I was younger. I remember how our town center’s field became occupied with 10 or so tents, and how fun it was to pass by each stand. Walking through a Traditional Florentine food market was a whole other worldly experience. The sheer amount of stands, people, smells, and abundance of food was thrilling, and was like nothing I had experienced before.
I watched a butcher chop away at a piece of raw meat with one hand, and a cigarette in the other. Compared to America where I always see everyone in the food industry wearing gloves, I found myself laughing at the stark difference I saw at this market. However, I noticed that this market had their own precautions, as only vendors were allowed to touch the produce–unlike America where most customers can be seen touching a few avocados first before deciding which to purchase.
In America, shopping is a solitary process. It is possible (and quite common) to do all your food shopping without speaking a single word. Especially in times such as now, where we are recovering from a pandemic, I find this experience to be incredibly isolating. For this reason, it was so refreshing walking around this market and seeing hundreds of people all passionately looking to be a part of a food community. There is no such thing as self checkout here. Even if you don’t speak Italian well, you have to find a way to ask the vendor for what you want to buy. I watch as some young Spanish speaking girls hold up their iPhone screens to a cheese vendor, showcasing typed phrases in the “Google translate” app. I keep that strategy in mind as I pass by, as I am still unfamiliar with the different types of Italian cheeses and I will need to ask the vendors for advice.
In America, shiny bright red apples piled up on stands, neatly packaged bread and countless other stocked shelves in the supermarkets are abundant. In American supermarkets, we typically have no idea where the food is from, or how long it has been sitting in the store. On the other hand, Italian markets such as this Florentine food market restore the human connection to the food we consume. I watch as an older Italian woman converses with a vendor. As she speaks in rapid Italian, she points to some dried mushrooms. This woman knows as well as everyone else that the mushrooms are fresh. However, if she has any questions about the mushrooms and their quality, or where they are from, she can also ask the vendor herself.
This market is a reminder that all parts of food– not just the eating aspect– can be social. It’s a reminder that food is kept clean in different ways, is served in different ways, and is best when fresh!
Italian fresh markets such as the Traditional Florentine food market have not been immune to change. Over the years, the market has become a bit more modern with touches of American influence. I found it funny that vendors are aware of the many tourists passing through, and showcase items such as frozen sealed parmesan blocks for them to take home. I also love the American inspired food court above the market. I was overjoyed trying foods created with ingredients as fresh as those in the downstairs market. However, the heart of the market is still preserved, and I will definitely be going back many more times before I leave.