Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
As in any society, the diet of the people in Spain is revealing of its culture. Spain's unique and expansive array of cuisine varies from region to region, giving the country an expressive and expansive gastronomy. Although the many dishes of Spain alone speak volumes to its unique culture and identity, in our modern society it's important to look not just at the food, but the source. The food markets of Spain play a fundamental role in the characterization and workings of Spanish society. From the smallest village to the biggest city, the idea of the ‘market' impacts the daily lives of the Spanish people by making errands a personal experience. In Spain it is not uncommon to buy your bread daily from your neighborhood panadería, - bread shop. To visit your carnecería - deli, or frutería - produce market, several times a week is perfectly normal, a drastic difference from the U.S. where a weekly trip to our nearest supermarket does the trick. To be on a first-name basis with your butcher and baker is a rare and valuable thing today and it is this practice that brings a sense of community and a heightened consciousness of the source of ones food to its eaters. Though historically, this way of life dominated the Spanish food culture, today supermarkets such as Carrefour have taken precedence, offering the appeal of convenience, consolidation, and price. Consequently, the idea of the bustling market in Spain has taken a hit, and now seems a dying art.
My year in Spain fed my fascination with the idea of the ‘market,' both where and who the food was coming from. Initially inspired by my daily walk to buy bread during my three-week stay with a family in rural Segovia, I grew to love the entire experience, the walking, the talking, and the buying, right down to the breaking of the bread that night at the dinner table. I became smitten with the Spanish market and would notice them everywhere I went, dazzled by their colorful displays and delighted by the freshness of everything. It was this infatuation that led me to my research.
In addition to exploring the many markets where I was living in Madrid, I set off to find two of the most well known remaining markets in Spain; La Boquería of Barcelona, and El Mercado Central of Valencia. My research grant allowed me the opportunity to travel to both places where I would document my journey through these markets photographically. As my love for the markets is hugely for the esthetic value, I wanted to record their beauty in pictures. I brought with me my digital camera and my SLR film camera, a sort of play on the concept of markets old and new and my study of them. My goal was to discover more about the future of the market in Spain. Is it environmentally and economically sustainable? Is the future of the traditional market only as a tourist attraction? Is there hope for a return to the simplicity of the small-town market or have supermarkets made them a thing of the past?
My travels through these markets led me to many conclusions; the markets simply cannot compete with the price and convenience of the grocery store, but they still remain a huge aspect of daily life for a large part of Spanish society and for that reason there is much hope for the future of the Spanish market beyond that of a tourist attraction. The truth is that while wandering the crowded aisles of the markets the ‘tourist' is the minority. Locals surround the stands drinking coffee and eating churros while regulars are huddled in line anxious to do their shopping and head home, a fact, which frankly made talking to anyone quite the challenge.
Over all, the journey was successful. While the interview process I had hoped to complete was less than satisfactory largely due to the fact that I chose the busiest days to visit the markets, the experience and the photo-documentation were a huge success. I am extremely happy with the photos and the juxtaposition of the black and white film photography with the digital color images that show the contrast of old and new. I think the images show the other-worldliness that is the Spanish market and capture the beauty and cultural importance that these markets and their history hold. I am hopeful that as sustainability becomes even more of a priority in our modern world, and Spain will revert back to its roots as a market-fed society (much like the movements we see going on in the U.S. with a boom in farmers markets and sustainable agriculture efforts). In the mean time, there are still many of these gems all over Spain and beyond. These surviving markets serve as testimony to the importance and artistry of the market and I feel incredibly lucky to have seen the bustling insides of a few of the greatest.