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"This is not some hippy heaven down here. This is Hamilton"

One of the most insidious yet under-acknowledged aspects of the authenticity craze is that, even though it presents itself under the guise of “progressive” (i.e. left-wing) values, it is actually highly reactionary, even xenophobic. Chapter seven of the Authenticity Hoax attempts to make this connection clear, by arguing for a robust cosmopolitanism as against people who would make a museum out of homogenous cultures. (I clearly didn’t succeed. At least, not enough to avoid being called a racist by the Literary Review of Canada.)

Anyway, down in Hamilton Ontario, some local activists are doing my work for me. The city is in the middle of renovating its popular farmers’ market, which for most of its existence has been a thoroughly worldbeat affair, including stalls and vendors featuring products from all over the world. But vendors now have to reapply for a spot in the renovated market.

What’s the catch? Applications are being scored on a points system, with priority given to vendors whose products are “local” and “organic”, while vendors selling stuff like eggplants and coffee and asian foodstuffs are being railroaded out. In a place like Ottawa or Toronto, that would probably just be shrugged off as the price of authenticity. But in Hamilton? Nuh uh. Because in Hamilton, people haven’t fallen for the authenticity hoax, and residents who actually value the cosmopolitan nature of the old market are fighting back.

A spectacular example is a letter to the city by Jennifer Hompoth, on behalf of a group calling itself the "Friends of Hamilton Farmers' Market". I’ll let Ms. Hompoth make the case:

On xenophobia:

I need to express my deep discomfort that a discourse of localism, hinging on cultural exclusion and tinged with racial overtones, has been whispered amongst all of the conversations justifying the application process. I do not locate the city alone as the locus of these whispers, although its documents have, at times, amplified the language: "international" used synonymously with "disqualified," (correspondence with the office of Councillor Bratina, Nov. 17th, 2010), "local" meaning "not those others."

On reactionary nostalgia:

The worst of these whispers has moved from a discussion of international produce itself, to generate a "type" of unwanted person or vendor: "those Asians" who resell food from the food terminal. At best, this is a misguided nostalgia for a time and "purity" of culture which some feel to be lost at the expense of global change.

On cosmopolitanism:

A walk through the market reveals that products like samosas, garlic, panini, mozzarella, chestnuts, ginger, and bok choi (not to mention coffee and tea - the stuff of wars and conquests) have become venerable parts of a gastronomy enjoyed by all. The reality of our global economic and social framework is this: in an urban centre such as Hamilton, these historic interchanges, settlements, and contributions actually form the local.

 On sanity:

Furthermore, the seduction of the local as inherently better than larger-scale spatial approaches is hollow; cities need to consider a holistic analysis of food systems planning, in the context of national and global food production, sustainability, urban/rural economics, and consumer food needs.

As a followup, they have made a short video documentary looking at the vendors whose livelihoods are in danger, and the customers who find the whole thing annoying. The best statement of all begins at the 3:00 minute mark:

Go Hamilton!