December 30th - Popcorn

posted Jan 7, 2012, 9:22 AM by Post Event   [ updated Jan 15, 2012, 7:53 PM ]
I think popcorn is delicious.  I rejoice that popcorn is sold on most corners of the city center of Chisinau, where I live.  I also enjoy that kernels are sold in bulk at the market so I can pop them on the stove at home.  In fact, I'm popping corn as I write this that I got from my friend's dad.  I'll attach pictures.

I am a Fulbright researcher in Moldova and while my main project is researching microfinance institutions, I also research environmental sustainability in development.  One thing I really enjoy about Moldova is that when you buy popcorn in the central market, you are talking to someone who is not too far removed from the person who planted the seeds kernels you are about to buy.  In fact, with a few questions, you might be able to find out that person's name without leaving the market.  This is, of course, impossible where most people shop in the US.  

The open air markets with the shouting and negotiating are to many a fact of life in a 'less developed country'.  These are the cheapest places to shop; if you're fine with a bad spot on a potato or a carrot here and there that looks more like a hand, you can get them for something less than 10 cents a pound.  Of course, here in Chisinau, you can also easily find grocery stores with clean, shockingly-uniform, out-of-season, pyramid-piled fruit if you are willing to pay top lei for it.  

The open air vegetables are also more likely to be organic.  No, they wouldn't qualify as USDA organic - they didn't fill out the paperwork and they might end up with a spray of something here and there.  But at that price, the farmer probably can't afford pesticides and still turn a profit.  

Interestingly, in the US, almost this exact experience is what people are willing to pay a lot extra for when they go to organic, urban, farmers' markets.  And because of increased awareness of where our food comes from, these markets are becoming more and more popular.  And even in normal grocery stores, non-organic whole fruits and vegetables are still among the most expensive items in the store.

So if we stand back and look at this we see that in this 'less developed country', the cheapest foods are (mostly organic) whole fruits and vegetables.  In our presumably developed country, our cheapest calorie is cola and our most expensive foods are whole fruits and vegetables.   

While I sit here eating this delicious popcorn, I can't help but think we've got something wrong in this notion of 'development'.

Bill Gugerty
Fulbright Researcher in Moldova