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C-Mart and being local?

In an effort to be smarter about my grocery shopping, I was wondering where C-Mart gets most of their produce. How local/safe is it to purchase my fruits, vegetables, and more importantly meat, seafood, etc here?

I normally go to the C-Mart on Washington and Herald St.

Would you suggest shopping somewhere else in Boston that's both economical and 'better for you'?

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  1. My goodness, do you have any reason to believe that C-Mart does not get their produce, seafood, and meat from the same wholesalers who supply the other grocers in the Boston area? Otherwise, why ask the question?

    1 Reply
    1. re: PinchOfSalt

      I think many people, myself included, don't spend too much time thinking about the wholesale grocery distribution patterns in the Boston area, and even if I were to, wouldn't know the first thing about it. I don't think it is so shocking that someone like this would, in good spirits and with good intentions, pose a question about it on a board like this where there are likely many people who have a much better chance of knowing and being able to help. I appreciate the thoughtful responses of the posters below.

    2. I shop in CMart and find their produce to be generally very good. Occassionally I'll buy pork or chicken (soup). It's convenient and inexpensive. I prefer Misty Knoll chix from Savenors and beef, lamb from Savs or Sulmona but CMarts beef are ok for a stir fry.. and their pork is as good as most x a Stillman's, etc.I eat plenty of pork in Chinatown.

      I've bought less seafood there mainly because I have other sources I like better but know of people that buy it regularly. I've gotten eel, octopus, squid..rarely finfish.

      As to local, I don't think they make any claim for local or organic, just like most big supermarkets. I did see a crate of Asian pears from Overlook Farms..which is local..but they don't make any pretense of local.

      "Better for you?" I just got back from the Govt Ctr Farmers Mkt and bought some apples. I don't know if they're btter for me but they taste better than CMart's. That said, I don't think I'm taking any health risk by shopping at CMart.

      I've been doing it for years and I'm still here..:)

      1. C-Mart, H-Mart, Hong Kong, et al are cut-throat retailers, it's certainly "safe" or as good as say Shaw's at any rate.

        Russo's in Watertown on the Waltham border just off Route 20 on Pleasant St is even closer to wholesale, I suspect they started out in wholesale restaurant deliveries and eventually opened a full-on retail outlet to supplement their business. No fish or meat, they do have decent cheeses a bit less than whole foods, and the fresh pasta is the best value around. The produce is very much "conventional" from all over the country and otherwise, but very fresh, and very diverse, in fact it's as good as C-Mart in terms of Asian vegetables. It's a favorite for in the know home cooks who like to make Thai one night and Mediterranean food the next. Coupled with Arax and other shops in the Mt. Auburn area of Watertown, it's a very economical and fulfilling shopping experience.

        3 Old Concord Rd, Burlington, MA 01803

        1 Reply
        1. re: tatsu

          I'm sure timing plays a part in this, but the few times I've been at Russo's I saw some Asian veggies with quality certainly as good as Chinatown, and then a few that were so horridly withered, I couldn't believe Russo's was selling it. For a store that offers an otherwise wonderful selection of products, it was shocking because the veggies looked like stuff I had placed in a plastic bag in a corner and forgot about for 2-3 days.

        2. It might help (you and us) if you clarify what your objective is, exactly. if you have decided to eat only certified humane meat and eggs or free-range meat, etc., then you won't find that at C-Mart or just about any large grocery store, except perhaps Whole Foods and usually one or two chicken options at some grocery stores (though most grocers now seem to have "certified humane" eggs). But as the other posters said, if that is your line in the sand you will need to buy meat elsewhere, at a butcher that promises that is what you are getting. Even at Savenor's, the chicken is advertised as farm-raised, etc. and the provenance is made known, but I don't usually see the same level of information about the other meats. Not to say they don't fit the bill, but I usually just spend my money there taking into account assurances from the butchers and knowing that I am assuming a lot. We all have our own little definitions of almost perfect, and mine is flawed like the rest of them.

          If you have decided that you will only eat locally grown produce, then your best bet is absolutely a farmers market, of which there are a number near downtown. There you can ask the farmers any questions you have about their food and how it is grown and sometimes you can even find meat depending on where you shop and who comes each week.

          For what it's worth, I would offer that you may not want to conflate "local" and "safe" (or organic and safe, or organic and local, etc.). These are terms that are becoming very common, often with the best of intentions but not always with a great deal of substance. Local produce comes from closer distances but uses more vehicles to get it there, while "non-local" produce comes in larger batches at longer distances. Even in this seemingly easy calculation, if environmental costs are your measure then it isn't always clear which is more "safe." If you are worried about pesticides, local produce might contain fewer than that grown on factory farms but you would need to do more research on each item. Organic produce should involve fewer pesticides than non-organic but of course it costs a lot more--and that is arguably money that you can use towards other things that bring you or others better health, like a more efficient car or a new bike (just two random examples). I have been disappointed to find that the evangelists who tout "local" and "organic" don't always help teach how those goals can be achieved at an individual or community level nor why they are necessarily automatic goods. It pays to be skeptical and to ask a lot of questions.

          But if you find a way of eating that you are comfortable with and can afford then that's a good start--I would personally begin at your neighborhood farmers market, get to know a few farmers, ask about Community Supported Agriculture shares (available in the summer and winter, and many say a better deal than buying from the market each week), and make friends with your neighborhood butcher. If you like shopping at C-Mart because they have things that you have difficulty finding elsewhere (i.e. you won't find mangos or taro at most farmers markets in Boston) or because it is what you can afford, than I don't think you should feel that you are harming yourself. It's already much healthier to simply be more mindful about how you are spending your food budget.

          1. Some things maybe local today but may not be the case tomorrow, depends on the wholesale price I guess.

            You can also try eating in-season items. Summer squash and tomatoes in winter time are definitely not local.

            1. Thank you for your long and well-informed response(s).

              I didn't mean to throw around words like 'local' and 'safe' without thought, and especially didn't mean to sound ignorant in my original post. I just want to be more aware where my groceries and food comes from.

              I'm definitely going to look into getting a shares in some CSAs, I feel like this is the probably the best way to get my food directly from farmers. I'm just concerned that they might be lacking in the winter months.

              Also, can anyone suggest a good butcher in Boston with reliable source? That would be amazing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: dtewfik

                As you fear, there is very little fresh local produce available in the winter. There is a tomato operation up in Maine that is year-round if you count Maine as local. Your best bet would be to get a winter produce CSA share, but the variety will be limited to things that are harvested late in the growing season and maybe some sturdy greens. Beyond that, if you want fresh (not frozen or canned) you will be eating produce grown a long way from here.

                Local meat is an easier thing to find. Your best bet may be to join a meat CSA. While most of them distribute their meat and poultry frozen, it is local, and you can satisfy yourself about the methods used to raise it. You may also find that you are paying less than you would at a butchershop or high-end retailer.

                1. re: dtewfik

                  There are in fact several options for winter CSAs as discussed in this recent thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/734121

                  If you care more about the values of the farmer growing your food, and less about where it comes from, Enterprise Farm has a winter CSA that focuses on sourcing from small, mostly organic, farms on the Eastern Seaboard (mostly Florida and the Carolinas).

                2. Why ask the question, PinchOfSalt? Because C-Mart does indeed carry a large variety of specialty items that are not at all available at many larger supermnarkets. Ingredients like lotus root, bitter melon, numerous types of greens, Thai Basil, and galangal are not carried by many of the larger wholesale suppliers that operate in Boston. Their selection of seafood is also much larger than most places in town outside of real fish markets (Wulfs, the Fishmonger, etc.), which also raises the question of how they are able to have such a variety in comparison to their competitors. The more run-of-the-mill stuff probably does come from larger suppliers, but because C-Mart is not part of a larger corporate chain, I would not paint them with as broad a brush and jump to conclusions about they're sourcing. Unless you are intimately familiar with their ordering practices, inchOfSalt, which I certainly make no claim on, where their food comes from is a perfectly legit a question.

                  Yes it is most likely fine to eat, although much of it is probably rpided up and a lot of it is imported. Despite that fact, it is very cheap, and as previously mentioned they carry a lot of fish, meat, and produce that cannot be found elsewhere. However, as one of my chefs once told mde, when it comes to meats and fish, "always beware the cheap". I've been shopping there for a long time and have certainly never had any complaingts, but a place ios only "safe" until it isnt.

                  As for butcher shops, there are a few reputable one's in the North End, but I usually hit up McKinnons in Davis Square for quantity and my everyday meat needs. They're super cheap, and while it may not be the most top-notch organic product, they always have what I need. They also cdo all the butchering in house and can also accomodate special requests if you call ahead. For something a little higher quality, I'd hit up either Don Otto's or the Butcher Shop in the South End. For something of very high quality that's a little outside the box, Ron Savenor of the two markets by the same name in Cambridge and the MGH area, is one of the best connected and knowledgeabl suppliers of all things meat in the city. In additional to high-grade beef, chicken, pork, lamb, etc., they regularly stock elk, bear, wild boar and have had items such as rattlesnake and lion in the past.

                  Hope this helps!

                  Thai Basil Restaurant
                  132 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02116

                  5 Replies
                    1. re: SonOfAllston

                      Note that last I checked, for my March profile of butcher Vadim Akimenko, McKinnon's didn't have locally sourced beef. Excerpt:

                      McKinnon's in Somerville buys all its meat in parts except for suckling pigs and baby lamb, said Clemente Palmariello, who nonetheless shared Akimenko's pride in the work. "I'm a meat-cutter 33 years," Palmariello said. "I'll be doing this for the rest of my life."

                      His customers weren't asking for locally raised or, say, grass-fed meat. "If it was something big, I would've done it," Palmariello said. They prioritized price and ease of preparation - mostly chicken.


                      1. re: SonOfAllston

                        Also, if you do want Asian vegetables and still want to shop farmers markets first, many markets now have excellent farmers from Flats Mentor Farms (generally Hmong farmers) who offer thai basil, daikon, bok choy, and many other nice choices. Sheng Lor, from the Harvard University farmers market, even had a summer CSA program this year (others might too).

                        1. re: hckybg

                          I cook a lot with Asian veggies , usually bought at CMart. When I have the chance I buy from the Hmong farmers at the downtown Farmers Mkts. Easily recognizable difference in quality for the locals.

                          Not to say CMart is bad (it isn't) but the local produce is far superior in taste.

                        2. re: SonOfAllston

                          Why such a cutting tone? C-Mart's variety of specialty produce and seafood is no different from that found at any other Asian supermarket in the area such as H-Mart, Super 88/Hong Kong Market, Kam Man and Mings. Visit other Asian markets in places like Revere or Lowell and you will see more of the same. Plus the same types of produce are also usually available at Russo's. So I doubt they have some special wholesale connection that is not generally available to other supermarkets. While different from a standard American supermarket, it is this lack of uniqueness that drove me to ask the question. After all, there is a large Asian community in the greater Boston area. Certainly there are established distributors for the foodstuffs that they would like to buy.

                          3 Old Concord Rd, Burlington, MA 01803

                        3. Seriously, this is a supermarket, an Asian one, but a supermarket...

                          How much local produce do you get at Shaws, Stop and Shop, Whole Foods, or Market Basket?