Side Dish


Everybody knows that meat and fish, eggs and poultry, and milk and cheese taste best when they're fresh, unprocessed, straight from the producer, right? Then why are such things so hard to get? Part of the answer is that the agribusiness establishment finds it more convenient, not to mention profitable, to arrange things otherwise. But another part of the reason is that over the years, those who know what's best for us have imposed so many health and safety regulations on the transport and sale of genuinely fresh products that it's all but impossible for consumers to find them. A hearty huzzah, then, for Chris Curtis and her colleagues at the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance for slogging through a solid year of meetings with suspicious county, state, and federal bureaucrats to come up with a new set of rules allowing poulterers, fisherfolk, and raisers of livestock to vend their products directly to the public at King County's seven summer farmers markets. Most food-safety regulations aren't mere meddlesomeness for its own sake: Salmonella, E. coli, clostridium, and other pathogens partial to growing on or in food can make you very sick or even kill you. But processing doesn't protect against food-borne diseases: Eternal vigilance does—scrupulous cleanliness all through the production process, plus hygienic handling on the way to the consumer. As scandal after scandal has taught us, shrink-wrap and Styrofoam do not guarantee antisepsis. The new rules for King County's farmers markets don't relax guidelines on food-handling; they just recognize that devices like high-performance ice chests and heavy-duty cold-gel packing make it possible to retail perishable products like eggs and fish without mechanical refrigeration. Organizers like Curtis, who helped the whole local farmers market project get rolling in these parts back in 1993, recognize that they'll have to exercise constant supervision to make sure health standards are met if they want to retain the new-won privileges. But it's worth the trouble, Curtis chortles, "if my egg lady from Carnation can now market her gorgeous, plump, free-range, organically fed chickens to Market shoppers. . . . [This program] really does open the consumer door wider to the incredible array of local agricultural products raised and caught right here in Puget Sound." Indeed. How about this for a post-WTO slogan for us all: "Think globally; eat locally." For farmers markets' days and hours, call 632-5234 or visit farms/Index.htm.

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