Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

KaiJune 18, 2023

How to boycott the produce section

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Markets are magical places, and they’re also a wonderful antidote to soaring supermarket prices.

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

I’ve recently done something kind of traitorous. After years of loyalty to West Auckland’s Avondale Market, I’ve switched to South Auckland’s Ōtara Market. My heart will forever have equal space for both morning markets, each delightful in its own distinct way, but the switch was sparked mostly by a yearning for change, the fact that Ōtara Market is slightly smaller and, probably most importantly, there’s a Māori-helmed stall with the best mussel fritters in town – a superlative start to your Saturday morning. (You could technically go to both markets as they’re on different days, but I think that’s excessive – even for the market obsessed like myself.)

I talk about markets so often because they’re the centre of my kai universe. I promise that I do actually eat out on occasion, but the rituals of buying fresh fruit and vegetables at the markets, taking them home, washing them, planning what to make with them and then the best part, eating it all throughout the week makes up a huge portion of my daily relationship with kai. And in an era where food inflation and the supermarket duopoly plague our experiences of kai, the markets are a balm.

My market haul vs the same items on an online grocery order.

Take, for example, my haul from last weekend: jubilantly frilled kale; a heap of button mushrooms, potatoes and kūmara (still expensive, but not shockingly so); a cauliflower globe, the burliest whole celery I’ve ever seen; fat baby bok choy; a requisite bunch of flat leaf parsley; and posies of radishes and carrots still traced with the dirt that they were plucked from. All this came to $26.50, with a complimentary side of hustle and bustle, megaphone sermons, ever-changing music, crisp air, bartering and conversation.

The same kai added to my online cart on Countdown’s website: $50.98. Almost double the price of the market and minus any of the weekend morning theatre and fizz. And flat leaf parsley wasn’t even in stock the day I checked.

Granted, weekend markets are, for myriad reasons, not for everyone. As noisy, often cramped spaces, the market can be inaccessible for people with disabilities and in many cases, their locations are prohibitive if you don’t have access to a car. A market no doubt requires more time than a trip to the supermarket, and unless you have evolved into some kind of creature who can survive on fresh fruit and veg alone, you’ll probably still need to visit one for all the other things you need to survive.

Because the food available at markets tends toward the seasonal, you might not find the out-of-season produce we’re so used to in the supermarket – so you need to be slightly more thoughtful. This only gets easier the more you go, as you get used to the ebbs and flows of availability and where your favourite stalls are.

Plastic bags catch a wind at Ōtara market. (Image: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

More than just a place for a bargain, markets are an activity; a weekly event of which no two are the same. On a recent visit to the Ōtara market I spotted an uncle with three fresh frangipani tied to a lanyard with satin ribbon. The weekend before that, a woman walked past me beaming the widest smile you can imagine – and of course she was, she was pushing a pram with a pooch inside. Last weekend I eavesdropped on a (from what I could tell) constructive conversation about co-governance between stall holders. It’s all happening at the markets.

Still, despite buying produce from the market, I’m not entirely free from the grips of supermarket culture. In fact, sadly, not at all. That is to say, I still get to experience that sense of bafflement at the checkout when you silently blink back and forth between your five essential items and the extravagant price just rung up on the till.

But I like to think of my purchases at the market as a kind of one-woman strike against those discombobulating supermarket prices – even if it is limited to my fridge crisper drawer – in the vein of consumer boycotts against rising prices and shrinking products. Just as currently, Italian consumer rights groups are calling for a 15-day “pasta strike” to protest prices for the staple product that have risen at double their rate of inflation, this is my own quiet protest that says, “No, I won’t be paying $4.75 for your wilting bunch of curly parsley, and nor will I be splashing out $7 (described as a “great price”) for a 400g bag of sterile-looking mushrooms, thank you”.

Keep going!