It’s about 9:30am Sunday and I’ve stumbled out of bed and walked across the street to the Grant Park Farmers Market. Despite its proximity, I rarely visit the market. I know it’s a great opportunity to buy local produce and countless artisan products that are not available at Kroger. But it’s also true that prices are comparatively high and, to be honest, I’m annoyed by the sanctimonious attitude of many advocates of the so-called Healthy Food Movement. It’s even spawned a new eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa — an OCD-like obsession with healthy food.
So, you’ll understand why I am so sanctimoniously happy this Sunday to see that the market’s longest line by far is outside the booth operated by the superb Revolution Donuts. Now, Revolution does make a few vegan and gluten-free varieties of its exotically glazed donuts, but it doesn’t guilt you and make rash promises that you’re swallowing a huge pill of life-saving ingredients. As I continue my wandering, I see that the second-longest line is in front of the Little Tart Bakeshop, whose croissants are arguably the best in the city.
Of course, the pile-up at these two bakeries is partly a result of the time. At 9:30, the crowd has not yet arrived and many are snacking before they begin their serious shopping. I visit the market’s administrative booth and meet the manager, Sam Gader. She’s been at the job for three years. When I tell her about my annoyance with the Healthy Food Movement, particularly the emphasis on ill-defined organic food, she instantly responds, “That’s not really the point. The market is about food and community. People bring their children and dogs and have a good time visiting one another.”
She’s right about that. By 10:30, the wide sidewalk has become an obstacle course. You can’t walk 10 feet without almost stumbling into a stroller or getting your hand licked by someone’s dog. The crowd is snow-white and clearly prosperous. I ask Gader if the market has any program to feed the homeless. “Our first concern has to be supporting the farmers,” she says. Then she explains that the market accepts food stamps and doubles their value. “So you can basically get $20 worth of food for $10.” That undoubtedly covers more than the higher expense of shopping here, but there’s no denying that nutritionally empty fast food is far more accessible and cheaper to the poor.
I continue my wandering. Despite my grousing, I know that locally grown food is a thousand times tastier than the crap at Kroger, whether organic or not. Today, I buy some peaches, which are in great abundance. I sample miraculous tiny tacos made with ground walnuts. Then I run into David Sweeney, whose iconic but short-lived vegetarian restaurant, Dynamic Dish, was a huge game-changer. His cooking is among the best I’ve ever experienced. Sweeney now lives in north Georgia and only does pop-ups around town. His farmers market business is dubbed David’s Seedy Bars. I’ll settle for his website’s own description: “Made with Popped Amaranth, Millet, Hemp, Chia, Maca, Goji Berry, Raw Cacao Nibs, Coconut, Peanuts, Flaxseed & spiced a little with Urfa & Cinnamon. 100% organic, gluten-free and vegan. They give energy for hours.” I taste a fennel tea biscuit that is magnificent.
My final visit is to the booth operated by the brilliant Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter, co-owners of Talat Market, which operated as a pop-up for several years at Gato in Candler Park. If you never sampled Savang’s food, you should make it a priority to visit the new restaurant that is opening in Grant Park later this summer. Savang is Thai and his cuisine is a remarkable mélange of Thai flavors and Southern ingredients. I ordered jok — rice porridge with pork, collards, fried garlic, cilantro, celery leaf, and scallions. I had a coddled egg added to the mix. Unbelievably good.
I end my hour at the market feeling a lot less sanctimonious and I do not feel compelled to call anyone an orthorexic. You can find everything you need to know about the market and the vendors I’ve mentioned online at cfmatl.org/grantpark.