Toronto erupts in mild annoyance
The Toronto edition of The Onion launches today, so the editors are on the lookout for local absurdities to skewer. Here are two recent events—wonderful in intent and execution, but with a quirky, mildly annoying but very Toronto twist.
On Tuesday night, about 400 people converged on Toronto’s Distillery District for a potluck picnic, inspired by a secretive Paris event, the Diner en blanc. Everyone is required to wear white to the invite-only event coordinated through social media, flash-mob style. In Paris, the event has been going since 1988, and even now the location remains a secret until day of, and no one asks permission of the authorities, even though it is often held in very prominent, public spaces—this year, in front of the Louvre and Notre Dame.
Last Saturday, I attended the first Toronto Underground Market at the Brickworks. (For a gallery of some of the delicious food I ate—just some of it—click here.) “Underground markets” started in San Francisco as a venue for very small, entrepreneurial food producers who can’t afford established farmers’ market fees. For the first two years, the SF market circumvented the need for inspections and such by operating as a private, members-only club.
Both of the Toronto events were very successful—evidence, I believe, of Torontonians’ desire for a less bureaucratic approach to food selling and, especially, a livelier street food scene. For all the fantastic foods from around the world that are available here, we have the most boring street food of any city I’ve visited–nothing but hot dogs and sausages. A few years ago, the City tried to introduce more variety, but kneecapped their own plan with excessive fees, regulations, and a requirement that vendors buy very expensive one-size-fits-all carts. It’s a shame. The street food scene in other cities—such as Portland, Oregon, where gourmet food trucks are common—has become a tourist attraction.
The pent-up demand for more interesting street food was obvious at the Toronto Underground Market, which gives micro-businesses a chance to test the market for their product without a big financial investment. But it seems we’re not angry enough to defy the authorities. For both events, the proper permissions and permits were obtained. I can understand it in the market’s case, but do we really need a permit to have a picnic? Sometimes I wish we actually got angry about heavyhanded food regulations (and the ones that are too lax as well). Whether you agree or not with farmer Michael Schmidt’s determination to continue distributing raw milk, despite losing an appeal in the Ontario Court of Justice, at least he has the courage of his convictions. From the Toronto Sun: “There’s no stopping,” he said. “Nothing will stop me. If (going to prison) is necessary to wake people up, then that’s what has to happen.”
Did you attend either event? Or are there similar events where you live?