retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In a fast food-driven, often lowest-common-denominator culinary world, there was a ray of hope in the New York Times the other day in the form of a story about something called the “Underground Night Market” in San Francisco.

The Times describes the event this way:

“At this quasi-clandestine monthly event, a tribal gathering of young chefs, vendors and their iron-stomached followers are remaking the traditional farmers market as an indie food rave. At midnight, the smell of stir-fried pork bellies was wafting through the Mission district. There was live music, liquor, bouncers, a disco ball — and a line waiting to sample hundreds of delicacies made mostly on location, among them bacon-wrapped mochi (a Japanese rice paste) and ice cream made from red beets, Guinness and chocolate cake.

“In a sense it is civil disobedience on a paper plate.

“The underground market seeks to encourage food entrepreneurship by helping young vendors avoid roughly $1,000 a year in fees - including those for health permits and liability insurance - required by legitimate farmers markets. Here, where the food rave - call it a crave - was born, the market organizers sidestep city health inspections by operating as a private club, requiring that participants become ‘members’ (free) and sign a disclaimer noting that food might not be prepared in a space that has been inspected.”
KC's View:
It is sort of ironic that this thing, which flaunts traditional regulations, exists in San Francisco, a city that seems willing to regulate almost everything.

(Philip Kaufman seemed to sense this dichotomy back in 1978 with his fabulous remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which he set in a San Francisco that seemed thick with counter-culturalism, and yet was a place where people could be replaced by drone-like pod creatures without anyone noticing. But I digress...)

I love this line from the Times story:

“Some see the growth of the underground markets as part of a high renaissance of awareness for a Fast Food Nation generation, with its antipathy for the industrial food machine. In the recesses of the markets, a certain self-expressive, do-it-yourself ‘craftness’ flourishes.”

The flourishing of such an attitude - and its expansion to other cities, which the Times says is happening - is excellent news.