16 June, 2011: Vegetable Wholesale Market

We took a break from meetings yesterday to engage in a little observational research. There is food everywhere you look in this city–as soon as we walk outside the hotel where we are staying, our senses are filled with the fragrance of ripening fruit, complex spices mingling on hot griddles, and limes lacing water stands. From the simplicity of women selling bruised bananas on mats on the pavement to the chaos of narrow streets lined with produce vendors to tiny restaurants that draw you in with fully fired tandoori ovens, there is a lot going on that we can only muse about with our limited time.

What seems to be absent is what Americans traditionally think of as a supermarket. Food appears to be purchased outdoors; beyond the confines of walls, isles, and stacked shelves. After asking around a bit, we were directed to the Azadpur Sabzi Mandi: Delhi’s wholesale vegetable market. Not exactly where families go to shop on the weekend, but a critical piece of the food system nonetheless.

All I can say is wow. It is a series of streets and alleys with the purpose of moving produce. And, yes, from what we could see, it is happening primarily outside. There is a cluster of cold storage buildings, but much of the activity is, literally, on the ground. It is a fine-tuned system of green, ripe, rotting, and decayed fruits and vegetables. Mangoes, apples, watermelon, onions, potatoes, garlic, chilies, and cilantro. Where does it come from and where is it going? With the language barrier (not to mention the strangeness of two young white women and a guy with a white beard tromping through what clearly was not a tourist attraction), we were resigned to observation only.

This experience, while only peripheral to our specific research goals, was illustrative. Food is out in the open here. And even though it is being produced and moved at a scale and rate to (in theory) feed a megacity, it is comprised of many tiny pieces moving together rather than one big conglomerated mass. The urgency to streamline the process does not seem to be a priority here–at least that is the sense I get from the ground. Observation can be an eyeopening opportunity, but it is impossible to put aside personal assumptions. We are anxious to begin our interviews with local farmers on Sunday!

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