Have you heard of something called a food desert? Here’s the definition according to the USDA:
Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
In the City we are definitely not in any kind of a desert, food or otherwise. A large grocery store and shopping mall are within walking distance. A smaller grocery and a discount grocer are even closer, with an additional five different “corner” markets and convenience stores just downstairs. Add to that our butcher’s, bakery, organic food shop, pizza place, hairdresser, bank, pharmacy, vet, doctor’s office, etc., etc., etc. and it makes for easy shopping even without a car. I can just pop into any of the stores to get what I need. Ok, I have to get it home but that’s just a minor inconvenience. If I was really stuck at home, I could use any one of a number of internet grocers and get my groceries delivered to my door - often with no fee. Our neighborhood may not be considered posh by any standards but I cannot deny that it is loaded with conveniences. Life is hard.
In the Village, shopping is harder making life in the village a bit less convenient, and perhaps less posh as well. We have one little shop which mostly serves as a place to drink beer in front of and share the local “what’s happening” - which I can tell you lately is nothing except that they got a new cash register and everybody’s new year’s resolution is to lose weight. The local shop is also good for the occasional missed item - bread, milk, butter, but I wouldn’t want to do my everyday shopping there. The selection is limited to say the least. Besides potatoes and an occasional rock-hard tomato, you cannot really supply yourself in fresh fruit and vegetables. And the prices are on par with Żabka which means expensive.
We travel the 10 kilometers into “town” to hit the grocery store, the butcher’s, the bakery and our favorite fresh fruit and vegetable stand. This stand is even up to Chris’s superior standards, ha ha, meaning they have sweet potatoes around the holidays. It breaks my heart and my wallet to pay 15 zl a kilo for basically a big, orange potato but it is just once (or twice) a year.
Pańska skórka is something I certainly want to avoid. Even if it is good, the name is so off-putting. Bleh.
So how do my carless (not careless) neighbors supply themselves in fresh fruit and veggies? Well, in the summer months practically all of my neighbors grow a vegetable patch. Many, ourselves included, have their own fruit trees. However, unless you are a keen canner, your summer reserves won’t last you very long. My own very modest blackberry jam stash, picked and preserved with love, lasted only through autumn, and frankly speaking, we were a bit tired of blackberry jam by the time we reached the last jar. Next season, I’ll have to diversify.
What to do? A few neighbors take the bus into town. Or the phantom bus (autobus widmo) as I call it as I have never actually ever seen it. Apparently the bus goes twice a day. That means that unless the neighbors have very carefully planned their shopping trip they can find themselves stranded. Hitching or walking is then the only way to get back home. Some neighbors opt for their bikes, but it is a very hilly ride and especially difficult if you’ve got a basket full of shopping. One very mobile neighbor takes his electric wheelchair to the gas station on the edge of town to do his emergency shopping. These are not very convenient options. I guess that makes us a food desert – the rural kind.
Recently on a carless day as I sat in the village library with the kids, I commented on what I assumed was a careless (not carless) driver. The white van took the turn next to the library at a dangerous speed, honking the horn like a maniac all the way. Imagine how you would take a turn if your brakes had suddenly gone out – practically on two wheels only, honking like crazy warning everybody to get out of the way, hoping that you’d soon lose momentum and reach a stop – like that. The librarian casually looked up from her work and said, “Oh, that’s just Pan Warzywa as we call him. He sells fresh fruit and vegetables out of his van in the rural areas around here. He has eggs as well.”
Hmmm, I was wondering about the condition of his eggs (hee, hee that would be a double entendre in Polish) after that turn he took, but other than that, what a brilliant idea. It’s like the ice cream truck but with groceries. I love it. There is one problem though. He doesn’t come to our street. I observed the van with excitement yesterday as it traveled down the road across the field honking like crazy. One neighbor ran out to buy her groceries and they were some heavy ones, the kind you don’t want to carry home from the store. I waited at the window for the van to stop on our street. No van. No honking. No charming cultural experience with Pan Warzywa. Bah.
I got to wondering why he doesn’t stop here, and I think I have cracked the code. You see, at the beginning of our street is the one and only local shop. It’s maybe not a good idea to upset the shop owner. Oh, and the shop owner lives on our street too. Oh and so do his adult children with their families. Maybe Pan Warzywa figured he wouldn’t be too popular on our street. Darn it!