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Atlanta Farmers’ Market Where the World Meets Daily

By Farooq A. Kperogi I was looking for food, fresh Nigerian food, and I ended up in a “united nations.” That’s the summation of my recent...

By Farooq A. Kperogi

I was looking for food, fresh Nigerian food, and I ended up in a “united nations.” That’s the summation of my recent experience at Atlanta’s famous Your DeKalb Farmers’ Market, reputedly the world’s largest indoor farmers’ market where fresh food from most parts of the world is sold on a daily basis.

I had become truly sick of American food in the last couple of days. I wanted to eat Nigerian food so badly. My craving for Nigerian food became especially intensified because of the constant dreams I had had about eating my favorite Nigerian dishes.

Then I would wake up and find myself in Atlanta—condemned to contend with American foods, which I frankly find unbearably insipid. (Because gastronomy is all a matter of acquired taste, I imagine that Americans and people of other nations also find our food nasty).

But, for me, deficiency in taste or flavor or tang is not even the worst nightmare about eating American food. Every visit to an American restaurant exposes you to what one might call a gastronomical inquisition: For every food item you order, you will be presented with seemingly countless choices, and every choice has even more minor choices ad infinitum. You can’t go to a restaurant and simply ask for, say, a burger; you will have to answer a litany of irritating questions about how you want the burger to be.

One day I got angry and said, “Look, just give me the damn burger! I don’t care how you make it!” The waitress looked me in the face and calmly said she won’t serve me if I didn’t choose from the interminable options on offer over every bit of item in the burger. It was frustrating for me because, first off, I was not familiar with American food, much less the names and constitutive parts of the food. Second, the variety on offer didn’t always strike me as variety in reality. As far I was concerned, it was all bland, unfamiliar stuff that I would not eat if I had a choice, I mean a real choice.

After years of living here, I am getting used to American food—and acquiring the taste to enjoy it, although I am yet to get over the catechismal rigor to which I am always subjected when I want to buy food. And I have also not got over missing my Nigerian food.

Recently, I narrated my culinary frustrations to one of my American friends. And he said to me that I could actually get Nigerian food here in Atlanta. I had heard that many times in the past, but all attempts to find a Nigerian restaurant online have not been successful. My commitments here don’t give me the luxury of being able to go round town looking for Nigerians and Nigerian restaurants. I told my friend this.

“Have you ever been to the Your DeKalb Farmers’ Market?” he asked.

“Well, it’s not far from where I live, but I’ve never been there.”

“Oh, you should definitely check it out. All your culinary frustrations will be over!”

“But what in the world is a farmers’ market? I don’t see any farmers in America.”

“A farmers’ market is a place where fresh food is sold, and in the DeKalb Farmers’ Market fresh food is brought from every part of the world.”

This sounded good to me. So three weeks ago I decided to visit the farmers’ market. And what I saw exceeded my expectations. It’s an incredibly enormous agric market located in a serene and extravagantly lush environment.

As you enter the market, the first thing that strikes you is the array of national flags of all countries of the world artistically hung on the walls. As you can imagine, the first color I looked for— and found— was “Green, White, Green”—the color of the Nigerian flag.

And under this green-white-green flag were fresh foods and fruits from Nigeria, fresher, in fact, than you can get them in Nigeria! Best of all: for the first time since I have relocated to Atlanta from Louisiana over a year ago, I met Nigerians, real living Nigerians. They were busy shopping fresh Nigerian foods and speaking their local languages as loudly as Nigerians love to speak.

I joined them and spoke Nigerian Pidgin English since I couldn’t speak their native language. Speaking Pidgin English was my own way of connecting with them emotionally.

They were excited to see me, as I was to see them. Within that little space, we recreated Nigeria. They directed me to parts of the market where I could get other uniquely Nigerian culinary treats “wrongly” located under the flags of other African countries. I bought goat meat, semolina, okro (which Americans call okra), and a whole host of other tasty Nigerian delicacies.

I have been enjoying my Nigerian food for the past three or so weeks. A faithful reader of this column wrote to say that one of my columns in the past weeks was “gushingly lyrical.” Well, perhaps, I was inebriated by morsels of pounded yam lubricated with hot egusi soup and goat meat when I wrote it!

The first person I saw in the farmer’s market was a Sierra Leonean who looked so Nigerian, so Yoruba to be precise, that the first thing I said to him was “ba wo ni!” (“how are you” in Yoruba). “I am actually Sierra Leonean, but every Nigerian I have met here has mistaken me for a Nigerian Yoruba,” he said. Well, the ancestral roots of most Sierra Leoneans are located in Nigeria. This man could very have been descended from some Odua ancestor.

Every, well most, nationalities in the world are represented in this market. I saw people from all over the world buying their national delicacies and speaking their native languages with gusto. I suspect that people come to this market not just to buy fresh food but to cure their homesickness, to meet people who speak their languages and with whom they can discuss common topics, and to nurture their nostalgia for home. This place is more than a market; it’s also a united nations, a united nations unmediated by bureaucracy.

The market's employees also come from different parts of the world, although it would appear that Ethiopians are overly represented here. Every employee speaks at least two languages—English and another national language. Some speak more than two languages. On all employees’ name tags are inscribed their name, nationality, and the languages they speak. This makes national identification easy. It also helps first timers to know whom to ask questions about the location of their national delicacies in this vast market.

Besides a massive and assorted green grocery section catering to all nations of the world, Your DeKalb Farmers’ Market also has a truly gorgeous panoply of fresh and live seafood, a cornucopia of meat, on-premises bakery, flower shops, a fruit bar, pastry, fresh coffee shops and a casual restaurant, featuring much of the exotic produce offered for sale.

Founded in 1977 as a small produce stand, the current market covers 140,000 square feet. Produce is shipped in fresh daily from every part of the world.

The Nigerians I met at the market told me that since they discovered this market, they have never eaten American food. They are having the best of both worlds. All other non-Americans I spoke to in the market said the same. They all come to this market to undertake psychological, emotional, and culinary journeys to their homelands.

Globalization has truly shrunk the world and dislocated our habitual perceptions of territorialization, deterritorialization and reterritorialization. The globe has been “villagized” as much as the village has been globalized. Globalization theorists call this phenomenon “glocalization.” It is a portmanteau word that encapsulates the fusion of the global and the local.

It is customary for people to assert that the world is now a global village. That’s no longer accurate. The world is actually now a “glocal” hamlet!

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