A special guest post from Michelle Vaughan:
It’s a beautiful pre-spring day in Manhattan and we’re having guests for dinner tonight. I dust off my bicycle and make my way over to the Green Market in Union Square. I needed a few items for my menu plus some kind of pie or fruit crumble for desert. I make my way to the first stand… I pick up some loose shallots, 4 small onions and leeks. I walk up to the cashier, he weighs it, then eyeballs it – “seven dollars!” I say to him, “Are you kidding? Weigh it again.” He does… “seven dollars!” The person behind me gives me a look, I’m holding up the line. “That’s outraqgeous!” I say, and pay him the money. Annoyed, I walk over to the flower stand, I pick up 3 small groups of flowers for $18.00. They smell amazing and are definitely pretty. Then I look for a fresh pie for our desert, that puts me back another $12.00. A grand total of $37.00.
But I’m not done shopping, and the green market doesn’t have everything I need, so I bike over to Trader Joe’s on my way home. I immediately see some of the things I just bought at the Green Market: a bag of shallots $1.69, a bag of 7 large onions $2.69, apple pie (it looked good too) $6.99 and then finally large bouquets of flowers for nothing over $7.99. A grand total of $19.36.
I definitely admit there’s certain reasons to visit the Green Market when specific items are in season. But with Trader Joe’s around the corner and many local grocery stores catching up with the organic trend, the Green Market starts to look like a rip off. I remember one time my husband and I were haggling over a gorgeous frozen lamb roast at the Green Market – and finally ended up going to the Whole Foods butcher instead for a fresh cut of lamb – Whole Foods was CHEAPER! And it tasted out of this world. I am not a chef, but I definitely like to cook. I make certain choices in the markets regarding price. I ask myself, what will my guests really get excited over… is it the shallots from the Green Market or shallots from Trader Joe’s? I can promise you no one will be able to taste the difference tonight. And I would have saved some cash. Cash, I might add, that my husband promptly pointed out that could have been invested into cheese at Murray’s instead of some schmuck at the Green Market making up prices out of his head while brainwashed shoppers like me pay up.
Here is a photo of what $7 of onions looks like:
By the way, I was given a strict $30 budget for cheese — which, I might add, I managed to stick within, despite going to Murray’s, where double-digit shopping expeditions are rare. Their Taleggio is only $12 per pound, and they had an amazing sweet and strong raw-milk blue called Persille du Beaujolais for $14/lb. But if I’d had the extra $20 that Michelle ended up spending at the Greenmarket… let’s just say we’d be in even cheesier heaven than we are.
Also: Never mind Trader Joe’s, Essex Street Market is absolutely amazing these days. I got some beautiful swordfish there for the eye-poppingly low price of $8/lb, and I’m sure it’s at least as good as anything costing over twice as much in Soho or Tribeca.
To be fair, the first week of March is hardly the optimal time to get fresh anything from a greenmarket. And certainly the one at Union Square is permanently packed: no one else there seems to be particularly price-sensitive, so I can hardly blame the growers for jacking their prices into the stratosphere. But they’ve lost a couple of customers who would love, in theory, to support local agriculture — but who simply can’t afford to, at these prices.