Tag Archives: food

Feeding a city II: From macro to micro

Indian Market


NOTE FROM JONAH: This is a follow up post from ealier “How do you feed a city of 22 million people?” mentioned here at the Atlantic Monthly.

Having recently visited one of the biggest wholesale food markets in the world in Beijing, I thought it would be interesting to see the process in India. While I didn’t make it to an enormous food market like the Xinfadi Agri-Food Wholesale Market, I did make it to a market which supplies one smaller city its food.

Night Market

In the state of Bihar, you’ll be hard up to find a foreigner in the city of Bhaglapur — yet, unlike in China when you get to a tier 3 (or less) city no one is surprised to see a foreign face. Perhaps this is the leftover stench of colonialism …

Beyond the obvious difference in scale, these marketplaces are simply incomparably different — yet, perhaps equally as interesting.

The End of the Chicken

The first observation I made was the general cleanliness of the market. All food is being sold off the ground (not out of trucks or stalls). There might be a cardboard box or a basket underneath the food — but clearly the ground is the area where business is done and goods are stored.


Most vegetables are covered with flies and other insects while meat sits under the hot sun, with vendors attempting to fan off bugs from their goods.

Market in the Street

This market operates almost in the middle of a street. Rickshaws, tuk-tuks and the occasional car attempt to pass through, but really its just a grid-lock of constant honking, ramming and yelling. The market spills off the street and underneath a larger road’s underpass.

Underpass Market

People are living underneath this highway in the same spot where they are selling food. This spot also functions as a place to throw trash as well as a bathroom. Thinking about the food I eat at restaurants and hotels while I am here its hard not to connect what I am eating to the cleanliness of this market.

Bhaglapur Market

The vendors themselves take a much different shape. While child labor is clearly a problem in China I don’t necessarily see it in my daily life. You’d have to go and seek it.

Market Salesman

In India, its been much more obvious. I walked around this market for a couple hours but also passed it a couple times going in and out of my hotel and continued to see many children selling goods throughout the day and late at night.


Another big difference is the way which goods are taken away. While China has gone ‘car’ crazy, and goods at markets there are taken away by cars and trucks — at this market almost all goods were taken away by hand, head, wheel barrel or bike.

Grapes for Sale

While I’ve seen how you feed a Chinese city of 22 million, I’ve now seen how you feed a smaller Indian City of 350,000.

Thinking about Western supermarkets and grocery stores, the difference is as big as the physical space which separates these two worlds.

How do you feed a city of 22 million people?

Feeding Beijing


As a freelancer I often find myself chasing ideas before they become stories. A lot of these ideas pop up just from simply living and working in China.

Recently I noticed that a lot of my favorite Xiaochis (小吃 ) were increasing their food prices. For those not in China, a Xiaochi literally means “small eats,” refering to hole-in-the wall restaurants often run by mom and pop. I eat at these type of establishments frequently – both because I like them and also because its a fantastic way to save money. Eight steamed dumplings in my hutong normally cost RMB 4 (about 61 cents). However, last week I noticed there price went up to RMB 6.

While I’m still happy to give my local neighbors RMB 6 (91 cents) for a meal — percentage-wise it is in fact a huge increase in price. This got me thinking about photographing food in Beijing and specifically raised the question — how on earth do you feed a city of 22 million people? Where does the food come from, and what would one of these large food markets look like?

Xinfadi City

After working primarily with video as of late (3 more videos on there way soon!), last night I got a burst of motivated to go take some still photographs at one of the world’s largest wholesale food markets — officially known as Xinfadi Agri-product Wholesale Market, but known locally simply as Xinfadi.

Above, is this massive market which looks like a city itself.

I’d been by this market once before but hadn’t really spent time there when it was at its busiest. Interestingly enough, this market is most crowded at around 4:00 am; when restaurants, families and markets travel to the far south of Beijing to get their supplies from what appears to be a self-sustained city filled with produce, fruit, meats and grains. Xinfadi never sleeps: according to state-run China Daily the market is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is also said to supply up to 70 percent of Beijing’s vegetables and 80 percent of its fruit.

Xinfadi Agri-product Wholesale Market

So — I figured the best time to go was at 4am. Fortunately for me, it (or perhaps the state) decided it would be the best time for Beijing’s first snow of the year. I decided that was not going to stop me and so I jumped in a cab to travel an hour south of the city and started snooping around.

Xinfadi Vendors

The maze of food spreads in all directions. In the dark, it has a seemingly shady characteristic — as if everyone was doing something illicit. In dark corners, behind trucks, vendors and customers slyly exchanged large stacks of bills. People whisper as they bargain so as not to let other customers know the price they are getting.

Some vendors were asleep in their vans, while others chop endless piles of meat. In short, this is how Beijing feeds 22 million people.

After collected these images and also some video — its clear there is a story here, whether it is on the city of produce itself or rising food prices.

We’ll see if what started as me chasing an idea, can turn into a story … stay tuned.