December 18, 2002

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Good tidings

FOR THE PAST few years, the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market has been slightly misnamed. When the market opened in 1993, it was indeed staged every Saturday morning on an expanse of Embarcadero asphalt in front of the Ferry Building, a splendid edifice newly liberated after decades of isolation and irrelevance behind an elevated freeway. But improvements to the Embarcadero, including the laying of streetcar tracks, drove the market north, to a more awkward space at the intersection of the Embarcadero and Green Street.

The Green Street space was never meant to be more than a temporary location, and by the end of March 2003 the market's tenancy there should come to an end. That's when the operation moves into its long-anticipated permanent home: the extensively refurbished Ferry Building itself, whose central hall is now a soaring vault reminiscent of one of Paris's great railway stations. For those of us who always found it vaguely embarrassing that San Francisco had nothing to match Seattle's Pike Place Market, the Ferry Building evens things up and then some. Its airiness reminds me of Vancouver's Granville Island market, as well as public markets in Barcelona and Budapest.

One obvious advantage of a permanent indoor site is that it can be open every day. At the moment there are 10 specialty food purveyors that will lease space in the food hall, among them Acme Bread, Frog Hollow Farm, Cowgirl Creamery, Hog Island Oyster Co., and Peet's Coffee and Tea. But the farmers' market will also continue, on an expanded schedule – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, with the eventual goal being a market every day – on the plaza overlooking the bay. Can somebody hum a few bars?

A reader, Erica Freeman, wrote to challenge my comment that we can all enjoy Dungeness crab with a clear conscience when what we are really talking about is "eat[ing] crustaceans boiled alive." I of course was referring to the fact that Dungeness crab populations have been well-managed on the West Coast and are in no danger of depletion, but still, point taken. As it turns out, the best way to cook live crab, or other crustaceans, is not to plunge them into a pot of boiling water. That is inhumane and also, because so shocking, toughens the meat. A better way is to refrigerate the creatures, which essentially renders them unconscious, then place them in a pot of cold salted water and bring it to a boil.

It is disturbing to be reminded that life is founded on death. Yet it is: everything we eat, whether animal or plant, was alive at some point. The real issue is not whether but how.

Paul Reidinger
paulr@sfbg.com