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Toronto Undergound Food Market

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  • ylsf Apr 29, 2011 07:32 AM
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LOCKED DISCUSSION

I was reading about this on Blogto.com. The basic idea is that it will be a market outside of the normal channels where people can sell their home baked/cooked goods, etc. How do people think something like this will do in Toronto? Do you think the membership structure used in San Fransico would allow it to operate in Toronto? This is about food and specifically about Toronto so hopefully this is the right section to post it in.

It is better described here:
http://www.blogto.com/eat_drink/2011/...

or the Tumblr page that is proposing the idea:

http://torontoundergroundmarket.tumbl...

  1. I think this is cool - it's sort of like the Toronto Bakes For Japan thing that went on a few weeks ago, but without the fund-raising aspect.

    However, the second anyone gets sick, I can see things going sour...

    That being said, I'm excited to see this come to fruition.

    1. I'm not that keen on it. The aim in SF was basically to circumvent existing health/sanitation standards whose costs served to bar amateurs from commercial sales. How would it be any different here? There aren't even food trucks in the GTA on par with bigger US cities, so how would this fly? A culinary Etsy really isn't my idea of fun.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Kagemusha

        It's a bit of a dice-roll, for sure... still, I think it's an interesting concept.

        Maybe having a shared professional kitchen would be better, and home-bakers could time-share that.

        1. re: jlunar

          Interesting until you're puking your guts out for 24hrs. If we had private health care, I'd say "caveat emptor, baby," but we all end up paying for this sort of "freedom" when it goes sour.

          1. re: Kagemusha

            It can't be more dangerous than eating at say, McDonalds, can it? Now there's your death trap, the chefs are all teenagers.
            That being said, I think I'll still pass on the salmon mousse.

            1. re: graydyn

              True, *some* if not most working at McDonalds may be younger workers, but at the same time, at least corporate gives them standards to adhere to and training for food safety, etc. In addition, lest anything happened, you can at least identify AND locate the accountable party. We cannot assume that a home chef would necessarily meet or have a certain level of food safety standards...that is the purpose of inspections. IMO, in that sense, it may be riskier than eating at say, McDonalds. It may just all depend on your appetite for risk... :-p

              I think it would be an interesting thing for Toronto to have, though I doubt I would buy anything myself...

              1. re: pinkprimp

                "We cannot assume that a home chef would necessarily meet or have a certain level of food safety standards...that is the purpose of inspections." In theory the inspections and training would ensure proper food handling, however inspections are not happening on a regular enough basis. And even though people may be trained as food handlers in places such as McDonalds, that doesn't mean that the standards are upheld on a daily basis. Just because a place passed inspection on one day, does not mean the next day they those pickle jars are properly sterilized for preserving. I would never eat at McDonalds, but may be inclined to purchase food at an underground market if it was a market taking place on a regular basis and saw the same vendors representing themselves and their product.

                1. re: phisherking

                  "In theory the inspections and training would ensure proper food handling, however inspections are not happening on a regular enough basis. And even though people may be trained as food handlers in places such as McDonalds, that doesn't mean that the standards are upheld on a daily basis."

                  I agree with you completely. My point wasn't that inspection guaranteed safety - just that when one needs to be inspected, they are likely to be better informed on food safety for the sake of passing the inspection.

                  1. re: phisherking

                    When you say you would never eat at McDonald's, surely it isn't because you believe you'd be in the hospital with food poisoning as a result. I mean, McDonald's has everything so automated that the people doing the "cooking" aren't really.

                2. re: graydyn

                  "Chefs?" The chefs are all machines, with teenagers responding to timers to move the food from one place to another.

            2. re: Kagemusha

              A bit off topic but I've been to what are called "home kitchens" whereby people would go to these homes and order food and eat there (or can get take-out as well) for money, essentially like a restaurant. It's never occured to me before, but it doesn't seem likely that they would have undergone health food safety premises inspections.

              I agree with Kagemusha, there is an element of risk involved in these underground food establishments.

            3. This'll never fly. People and authorities are so paranoid when it comes to health and safety. Toronto will never have a great street food culture or underground food culture. It isn't happening. We have the strictest health and safety laws in the world. Heck we can't even get any real traditional ham from Spain. We pay ridiculous prices for dairy and poultry. They make it as difficult as possible for food operators and will continue to do so for regular folk.

              3 Replies
              1. re: uberathlete

                "We have the strictest health and safety laws in the world."

                Then why can't we eat hamburger rare anymore? Why do our eggs carry salmonella?

                1. re: crawfish

                  That's the point. The laws are strict therefore we cannot.

                  1. re: JennaBean

                    If the laws on food handling and meat processing were strict enough we could eat raw eggs like we used to. It's the massive meat packers that have infected the entire chicken life cycle with salmonella. The small operations kept things clean.

              2. "Just gimme five bucks and, uh, sign this waiver..."

                http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/...

                1. There are already underground kitchens in the city. With the number of different ethnicities in this city, there are already people who produce food to order and it's not inspected or organized. No different than anything else, I make good food and you want me to make some for you for cash. No problem I say.

                  1. It would be interesting to see how the city would react - given that Rob Ford's City Hall just axed the 'A la Cart' program because (in part) it was an example of bureaucratic red tape impeding people selling 'whatever they want', this could be just the kind of grassroots thing that his politics should favour.

                    In general, most of us eat regularly at houses without expecting inspections have verified their kitchens, as well as at establishments where we willingly close our eyes to what may be happening behind the swinging door.

                    1. Looks like it should be a good event. Here's an article from today's Globe and Mail.

                      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/n...

                      1. This being held in a public space will make things very complicated. Inspectors are going to make this a pain to participate in. Vendors may be forced to buy refrigeration and heating units just to be able to hold and display food. Those health rules, if enforced to full effect, will cut down the types of food that vendors can sell.

                        16 Replies
                        1. re: uberathlete

                          I don't see a downside, particularly from a food safety angle.

                          1. re: Kagemusha

                            I do. The whole point of the event is so that those without resources can bring the food they make to the public. If I make a cake or any dessert that has dairy, I will have to buy a refrigerated display case for the day of the event. Same thing for some hot foods. Meanwhile, large supermarkets like T&T happily place meat buns on a shelf when, according to food safety regulations, they must keep them at a certain temp (140 deg was it?). Safety is nice and all, but the rules, if followed to the letter, will severely limit what can be served.

                            1. re: uberathlete

                              Go for it if getting sick is part of the ride. The SF story's follow-up shows that inspected, certified communal kitchens are the officials' prefered solution. Making your cake in an uninspected home kitchen, then popping it into a 'fridged case isn't the answer. If you pick up the tab for your E. coli or salmonella episode, then you can have all you want.

                              http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/us/...

                              1. re: Kagemusha

                                That's not even the half of it. Any vendor can prep and make their wares in a commercial kitchen. But once they are on the floor, they also have to have equipment to hold and display what they're serving. Sorta destroys the whole point of the event. So basically, you pay $150 to participate, get free usage of a commercial kitchen, then pony up hundreds more dollars for equipment so that you can hold and display the food (so that you really follow the rules). I'm glad your health righteous, but there's no denying that product diversity will be limited in the event.

                          2. re: uberathlete

                            It looks like they've got the food safety aspect sorted:

                            "There will be strict rules. Almost all the food preparation will take place in Evergreen’s commercial, fully inspected events kitchen – a key condition of keeping the market within municipal and provincial public-health regulations. Vendors with access to an offsite commercial kitchen may use it, but most won’t have that luxury. Either Ms. Aviles or another organizer with a city food handler’s certificate must be present in the Evergreen kitchen while every dish is being prepared. All ingredients must come from approved distributors, says Suzanne Lychowyd, healthy environments manager at Toronto Public Health."

                            And just curious as to where the line is drawn. Is the Rotary Corn Roast, a school bake sale or a Boy Scout BBQ outside a grocery store against the regulations, strictly speaking?

                            1. re: hal2010

                              In a way, it sort of defeats the whole "underground" idea. I guess that also eliminates a ton of interesting things that could be sold at the market that I would probably consider buying if they were available.

                              It;s basically the concept completely stripped of everything that makes the SF version interesting, and completely misses the point. It could certainly be neat, but I doubt it will be anything like the originally conceived idea.

                              1. re: tjr

                                Who wants a culinary flea market full of "interesting" dodgey stuff? Check in at one of the GTA's big flea markets and tell me you'd eat anything on offer if food took the place of the schlock.

                                1. re: Kagemusha

                                  The concept is not for it to be anything like a flea market. The one in SF is actually probably the type of place most people would berate on here for being full of hipsters. Many of the people there are involved in the food industry, and it didn't seem dodgy at all. I doubt the Toronto one would end up being anything like a flea market (also, I've eaten food at flea markets in France and didn't die), and more likely something that would become increasingly commercialized to the point where it doesn't look much different from any other markets, albeit with a few dishes produced in the Evergreen kitchen by people who are really interested in this sort of project.

                                  Then again, I'm not overly concerned about the implications of a less than perfectly regulated inspection system, but then again I eat charcuterie and pickles my friends make.

                                  1. re: tjr

                                    With no oversight/certification/regulation of the sort involved in the Evergreen scheme, costs would no longer be a barrier to entry apart from stall fees--that's a flea market where all sorts of crap is sold around the GTA. I eat friends' and my family's homemade foods, too, but they're not sold retail. You might also check the follow-up NYT link I posted above on the SF scene.

                                    1. re: Kagemusha

                                      The NYT article states that nothing bad happened, but that it grew beyond the original scope and was shut down by public health because they could no longer overlook it.

                                      How does that have anything to do with your comments? It ran successfully for years before popularity killed it. If anything, Toronto's heavy-handed public health shakedown will probably kill this idea before it even gets going.

                                      As for your comment re: costs, I suspect you've never been to the SF Underground Market. As I said before, it didn't begin with the general pubic's knowledge, there was a ton of industry professional experience, and there was a specific structure put in place to prevent exactly what you continue to suggest is the eventual outcome.

                                      If it worked in SF, why can't it work here? This is one of the reasons why we can't have nice things.

                                      1. re: tjr

                                        "It ran successfully for years before popularity killed it."

                                        Have a look here:
                                        http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/...

                                        As for SF, I think they were lucky. Even pros run amok with inspectors, so with amateurs unburdened by education/ regulation compliance/inspection costs, you can be sure making a buck will win out over doing it right. I don't share your "what the hell" take on public health standards. Thankfully, the City doesn't either. Plenty of nice things on offer around the GTA, foodwise. Get a dose of salmonella or E. coli and you may think differently about a "free" food market.

                                        1. re: Kagemusha

                                          I meant that the popularity killed their chances at being overlooked by public health, not that the market itself was killed.

                                          SF wasn't lucky; it was just well-run, which is a wonderful contrast to the way the City mismanaged the "A la Cart" program.

                                          I have had bouts with different foodborne illnesses, and, surprisingly enough, the only place I've ever contracted any sort of food-related pathogen was in Toronto restaurants with green ratings. Thanks, City of Toronto; at least I can still have hot dogs and 160F+ burgers (and pork).

                                          1. re: tjr

                                            "the only place I've ever contracted any sort of food-related pathogen was in Toronto restaurants with green ratings."

                                            So you think you'd be even safer eating from uninspected kitchens? Really.

                                            1. re: Kagemusha

                                              It appears so, given my track record!

                                              1. re: tjr

                                                I guess nobody had food poisoning until the DineSafe program came along...

                                                1. re: Full tummy

                                                  I'm being facetious.

                          3. This place sounds more like Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, which itself is an outgrowth of the Brooklyn Flea. While it may have been inspired by SF's unregulated and underground food market, this is a legal and licensed version, the existence of which is tweeted, facebooked and tumblr'd to the masses instead of being passed on by word of mouth and protected by omerta. It's like the Red Hook ball field vendors after the city made them get legalized. And guess what? The city needs this. I hope it's affordable and successful.

                            1. Since this thread is mostly people arguing about health codes, and not about this possible future food endeavor, we're going to lock it now. When this thing is a little further along and closer to existing, we hope someone'll start a new thread with the details on the wheres and whens.