Hello, my name is Jessica. I am a gatherer.

When my husband left for work this morning, he joked about clubbing something for us to eat for dinner on his way home. He is the hunter. And for us, the roles are genderized; I am the gatherer.

The problem is that when it comes to food, I can’t seem to stop gathering. I can’t pass a grocery store, big or small, conventional or organic, without feeling physically pulled toward it. When I’m with other people, I stare at markets through the car window long after we’ve passed, imagining that I’m missing something by not going in. It’s a long-standing problem. (Note: If you’re the kind who hates going to the grocery store, and will avoid it at all costs, you do not qualify as a gatherer.)

Today is a good example of why I should limit my trips into the outside world:

I went to pick up some salami at Salumi, in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. But I was early for my pick-up, so I decided to find Big John’s PFI (Pacific Foods International), Seattle’s cross between Costco, Trader Joe’s, and your local Italian grocer. PFI is to me what an ESPN screen is to a sports fan–sure, you might have stuff to do, but how can you NOT STOP AND LOOK? They only sell cheese in quantities of one pound or more, for goodness’ sake. After promising I’d only buy the miniature phyllo tart crusts that had been eluding me elsewhere in the city (found ’em!), I left with a block of membrillo, nigella seeds, whole cardamom pods, a little freshly ground cumin, orange blossom water, and a few packages of crackers. All necessities.

I got in the car and headed to Salumi, which is approximately four blocks away. But one turn later, I was face to face with Uwajimaya, Seattle’s biggest Asian grocery store (and hands-down the cleanest one I’ve ever been in, by the way). I had only been once, and briefly at that. Besides, wouldn’t it be culinarily irresponsible of me to actually drive by Uwajimaya, bypassing an opportunity for cultural learning instead of stopping?

Answer: Yes. I wandered up and down the aisles, and stared into the fish and meat cases. My thoughts went like this: What would I DO with a whole fish that big? It’s been so long since I cooked oxtail. Why do they sell Alouette here? If you buy raw peanuts, how do you roast them?

I walked away with Asian soup spoons, funny Japanese gum (anyone know what flavor “Watering KissMint” is?), fresh crab, endive, dates, and dog treats (Uwajimaya has everything).

In the car again. This time I made it the three blocks to Salumi unimpeeded, and picked up my salami and proscuitto. Then I was standing in front of the salami storage room, about to put my hands on the window and lean my forehead against the glass to get a really good look at the guanciale, which I’d had before and would have loved to tuck into my bag along with the other stuff, had they not all been spoken for already. I forced myself not to lean forward.

You get the point. I have a gathering problem. It fuels my creativity (rice pudding with nigella seeds!), but may also be identified as a neurosis, really.

So, does this gathering neurosis (psychosis?) imply that I am:

a) simply food-obsessed, and as an extention, relatively normal? I mean, people collect stamps and stuff, right?
b) afflicted by a food-based materialism in an unhealthy way, especially given that the $30 I spent on the aforementioned stuff could have bought 10 homeless kids dinner?
c) just a really good gatherer, who happened to be born in a time and country when/where constant, borderline-competitive gathering is not a skill that’s all that necessary?

I’m trying not to think about it.

But in case you have the same problem, there are some wonderful markets that will help you feed your addiction.

My Top 10 Places to Gather Food in the World, in no particular order, are (for today):

1. Uwajimaya, Seattle, WA
2. The Boise Co-Op, Boise, ID
3. The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, San Francisco, CA
4. Formaggio, Boston, MA
5. Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
6. Chino Ranch, near Rancho Santa Fe, CA
7. Borough Market, London, UK
8. Savenor’s Market, Boston, MA
9. The Brattleboro Food Co-Op, Brattleboro, VT
10. Harvest Market, Stowe, VT

But unless I get cut off soon, I’d say I have a lot more to explore.

3 Comments

Filed under Seattle

3 responses to “Hello, my name is Jessica. I am a gatherer.

  1. Hi Jessica…sorry to leave an off-topic comment but I couln’t find your email address anywhere here…anyway, just a note to thank you for mentioning Stephencooks.com in your article in the Globe today! I think that used up about 30 seconds of my 15 minutes!

    By the way, with regard to “short, short lens” – your husband is on the right track. You can’t take good pictures of food with the camera on automatic…learn to shoot manual…and get a bounce flash unit that can be used off the camera in TTL mode (if that last bit was unintelligible, ask the teacher when you get to the class!)…

    Anyway, thanks again, and have fun playing with food!

    Best,

    Stephen

    Stephencooks.com

  2. Cathy

    I just found your blog and have been working my way through the archives ( you’re such a fascinating writer! I wish I had your talent!) and was just going to pass silently, but this question made me sit up and take notice: anyone know what flavor “Watering KissMint” is?

    If you haven’t figured out already, Watering KissMint is kind of a series of gum flavors– grape, peach, apple are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. They’re fruity flavors with a twist of mint, which sounds ridiculous, but they’re very, very good. The peach one has always been my favorite. Think of something like Orbit’s sweet mint with a fruity covering!

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