Food, Community and Living Lightly
Picture yourself walking home from work on a Friday night. You pass eight or nine restaurants but it is 9 pm and you are not quite that hungry. You decide maybe you will stop at the local market instead. You pick up broccoli, chicken, bok choi, carrots and onions for tomorrow’s stir fry lunch, and find little “hair peppers” (dried red pepper strips thin as hair) which will make a perfect, spicy topping. Having tried a number of the local potato chips, you decide to try “kelp chips” this time for something different. [They taste like crunchy seawater with sugar.]
You wander across the street to get croissants for breakfast and then down five stores to the other French bakery for a walnut baguette (it will be perfect with butter and jam, an omelette and milk tea for breakfast). The woman who owns your favorite neighborhood restaurant sees you through the window and waves hi. Two students see you and wave hi. You decide you need something more than kelp chips this evening and stop by the fruit stand for a basket of persimmons. They have one basket left and the owner throws in a few apples because she knows you.
Then you see the “spicy chicken on a stick” (takkogi) vendor and realize that is exactly what you want. You debate - pickle and pineapple sauce? No, just spicy this time. You pass by the sweet cinnamon fried dough vendor with deep regret - your hands are completely full! Maybe tomorrow. He waves and you head back to your apartment. Total time, 25 minutes from leaving campus.
In New Hampshire I live in a rural community where each house sits on two acres. I have a large garden and lots of trees. We’ve seen bears, moose and deer on the property. But the nearest shop (a small general store) is an eight minute drive. In the summer I do my food shopping at the local farmers’ markets - I can get vegetables, chicken, lamb, bread, eggs, jam, friendly conversation and even a music concert all on the Town Green in Weare, NH. But the rest of the year, it is a 60 minute round trip drive to the supermarket where I rarely meet anyone I know.
My Korean neighborhood is the best of “urban” living with a dry cleaners, a pharmacy, a hardware store, three food markets, a fruit stand, two bakeries, two dozen restaurants, a dessert shop, a bank, a copy center, four bars, three hair salons, a DVD rental place, a florist, and a sauna all within a 10 minute walk. That list only includes the places whose English or Korean signs I can read - there are at least two dozen other shops I have not explored yet.
Do I miss having a garden and green space all my own? A little, though I have not thought about mowing, weeding, tree-trimming or brush-hauling for almost three months! The rice paddies here are a saving grace - they provide green space, a sense of the seasons, and a place for long, rambling walks. Do I miss having a car? Once or twice a car would have been nice, when public transportation did not easily go where I wanted. But I have not actually needed one. Do I miss having my own home instead of an apartment? This is more troublesome - I am less fond of sharing my neighbors’ noise, wailing children and smoke. But I am in one of the cheapest apartment buildings and could buy a fair bit of peace and quiet by moving to another building.
With no car, no commute, and no need to drive to the supermarket or Walmart, I have probably never lived this lightly on the earth in my entire life. Importantly, I am doing it without even trying - it comes with the shape of my urban environment. While I do not know my immediate neighbors, I do know my neighborhood, a community of grocers, bakers, pharmacists and clerks. And I have never eaten this well this easily! As Americans think about “going green” and “building community,” we could learn a lot from a small neighborhood in Korea.
1 comment November 30, 2007