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In my early twenties I was lucky enough to be able to live in Paris for two years. Whenever friends or family came through France, I would take them to Les Halles, the city’s fabulous food market. It was a cornucopia of sensual pleasures. We would head out at first light, indulge ourselves with a bowl of French onion soup followed by sweet, luscious strawberries, croissants and coffee. It was heavenly.

One time a friend landed on my doorstep after an exhausting, solo road trip from Beirut, Lebanon, through Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Since his Russian was limited to one word, he ate nothing but bread in Bulgaria. When we got to Les Halles he went a little crazy. He insisted that I get him a job, any kind of job, lugging lungs if need be. The sensory overload of Les Halles had that effect on people.

Over the years I have been to a number of food markets. One of the most memorable was the “wet” market in Hong Kong, the main source of meat and fish in they city. The wet market makes one realize the true extent of man’s carnivorous character. There are a staggering number of creatures for sale. The sights and smells are not for the timid. I was told that some of the snakes found on the hiking trails in Hong Kong were destined for the soup pot. They slithered their way to freedom.

We are blessed with a wonderful farm market in the town of Wolfville, five kms from Grand Pre. Wolfville is a charming University town with one main street. The college is small, but the town has attracted a lively mix of academics and artists, working folk and retirees.

Every Saturday morning they gather on the plot of what used to be a dairy plant. The building bit the dust nearly twenty years ago, but the chimney was saved to benefit migrating “chimney” swifts. These small birds have a rigid wing. They reach higher speeds than any other family of birds, but their tiny feet are not well suited to perching. They dart into hollow trees or old, unlined chimneys to roost.

The market is a place to shop, visit, eat, drink and listen to live music. Like the town, it has changed considerably over the years. Old timers who had been away for a decade would be astonished at the sight of tofu cakes, coffee beans from all over the world, fresh sushi, samosas, delicate French patisseries and heavy German breads.

On a beautiful summer morning there will be throngs of adults, children and dogs mingling amicably around the stalls. They will give over the better part of a morning to the event, relishing the chance to get their groceries, see their neighbours and make new friends.

The farm market may be the new church in this secular age, the church of fresh food. The sermon is simple: Slow down. There is absolutely nothing else that is more important than this moment. To live is to eat, so eat well. In Hong Kong, one of the very first phrases I learned in Cantonese was “sik fan,” which means, literally, have you eaten yet?  Colloquially it is the closest phrase they have to our everyday greeting, “how are you?” Try it next time you go to your farm market.  Surprise somebody.

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