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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.