Thursday, July 25, 2013

Those Places Thursday: Why Smithfield Market is Important in Our Locavore World

In 1993-1994, I was at University College London on a Fulbright Scholarship for the study of Victorian Geography.  After a key hotel in my first topic, Scarborough in Yorkshire, fell into the sea, I decided to come up with a second and more convenient topic.  I chose the Smithfield Market.

Today, the City of London and various historic organizations are struggling to determine a plan for the market building.  This is a question that, I think, is more broad than the structure itself.  Which is saying something - it is a LARGE building.

For my research, I was fascinated by how the urban depictions of the market and its participants evolved as London developed into an industrial city.  A market which started out in the 14th century as a natural part of the city became, by the end of the 19th, an object of ridicule and derision.  The farmers who came to the market, and their animals, were seen as fat, uncouth bumpkins who were dazzled and amazed by sophisticated urban London, even as the Londoners happily ate the products provided.

It was a microcosm of the industrial and post-industrial detachment from food sources, from farming, and from rural people.  But we are now learning, across the globe, the consequences of that detachment:  GMOs, pesticide-contaminated food supplies, wide disparities of food quality, and disregard for food production, from farmers to honeybees.

Smithfield is a symbol of the long-gone balance between urban and rural, the ways in which the two populations need each other and need to support each other.  We have lost that relationship, pushed the farmers farther and farther away even as our city edges expand, and we no longer recognize their importance.

In Denver, we have the National Western Stockshow, which comes to the city every January.   Hundreds of thousands of people go to the show, wearing their best cowboy gear.  The cattle are paraded through the downtown.  The Junior Livestock Auction is broadcast on TV.  For a week, we connect with the farmers and ranchers upon whom we depend.

Around the world, we are attempting to reconnect: the locavore movement, the slow food movement, the farm-to-table movement - these are all connection opportunities.  I think it's only fitting that while we are making these changes, we are also preserving the old connection points, like Smithfield.  There are always things to be learned by understanding our past, particularly in this fragile moment when we are just starting to recognize what we lost in between.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post...I couldn't agree more. It seems like we are always so quick to get rid of the old. Yet, it seems like the new is never quite as good as the old.