It won’t replace the local Farmers Markets. It isn’t designed to do that, but the new Healthy Living Market and Cafe at the Wilton Mall (yes, it is in a mall) just outside of Saratoga Springs, New York should make a very nice complement to the weekly local markets. Opened one week ago, the focus of this market is food that is meant to embody the Slow Food slogan of “good, clean and fair.” The owners of the market don’t explicitly state that, but that is the implication of their promise to bring healthful, good food to their market.
Healthy Living Market was founded in 1986 in South Burlington, Vermont by Katy Lesser. That store has grown from a small health food store into a 35,000 foot natural and organic foods supermarket. The new one in Saratoga matches that and has been designed with great flow and easy visibility.
They have an emphasis on local and regional products when available and of appropriate quality. This is readily apparent in their impressive cheese case, which is loaded with many of the finest cheeses of northeastern New York and Vermont as well as selections from around the country and Europe. The focus here at the moment is more on Vermont than the immediate area, but that (hopefully) just reflects their history as a Vermont store. On display are a number of Vermont favorites from the likes of Jasper Hill, Consider Bardwell (in our area) and others. I expect more local artisanal cheeses will become available as relationships get established. In the meantime, the quality of the cheeses that I tried, including Simply Sheep from Nettle Meadow in nearby Warrensburg, NY, have been exceptional. Hopefully, the demand will be such that their inventory will continually refresh and the cheeses will remain well affinaged.
Their meat case also features plenty of regional product, although nothing from the local farms that I am personally familiar with. They are purchasing whole or half animals from nearby farms and affording whole animal, nose to tail butchery. It would be a major coup to source quality, locally raised offal, but the market for that has yet to be demonstrated and I did not see any organ meat actually displayed. I would love to be able to easily buy cuts like sweetbreads, trotters, heart and more.
In addition to the fresh meat case, there is a nice selection of sausages from regional, national and international producers, including Jamon Iberico from Fermin and dried sausages from NYC’s Salumeria Biellese amongst other producers.
They do not have a service seafood department in their Vermont store, but they do in Saratoga. This is a new venture for them and they say that they are partnering with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to assure sustainability in their seafood. On their first day, the display case did not hold much besides several choices of farmed salmon, some beautiful dry scallops and wild shrimp. They were not fully prepared to discuss the specific sourcing of the farmed salmon at the time, but this is something I plan to follow. Farmed salmon, shrimp and other fish have a deservedly poor reputation on both environmental and nutritional bases, but not all aquaculture practices or fisheries should be lumped in with the bad. There are good sustainable aquaculture fisheries including those for salmon, shrimp and other fisheries and for shellfish, that has become the best and most sustainable way of sourcing. I expect that the sourcing at this store will hold up to the best standards, but I would like to see more direct evidence here before I fully endorse it.
The fresh vegetable displays looked lovely too, though I have not yet inspected it closely as I wasn’t in need of any fresh vegetables at the time.
The management of Healthy Living is justifiably proud of their bulk section. It is extensive with nice looking product. It shines most brightly in the spice area, though, as they carry some unusual spices and blends.
You won’t find Coke, Pepsi or any other huge conglomerate here, but you will find a lot of interesting niche products, including the widest selection of kambuchas that I have seen in any store including kambuchas from Vermont on tap. Other fermented products like kim chees, etc. are also well represented.
I was also pleased to find that not only do they carry my favorite ice cream brand, Jeni’s, they offer a very nice selection. In stock when I was there was the always amazing Salted Caramel and a new favorite, Bangkok Peanut amongst others. Jeni’s isn’t cheap, though. Other quality brands also line the shelves including a few local brands like Battenkill valley Creamery.
Opening day was very hectic in the store. They drew a much larger crowd than expected. This resulted in a few snags and blips, including unusually long and slow checkouts. Nevertheless, most people seemed willing to tolerate this, understanding that some kinks would inevitably need to be worked out. One woman, though, approached me as I was photographing some of the items on the Market’s shelves. She said, “I hope that you are photographing the prices too! It doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be so expensive!” I didn’t get into a discussion with her, but perhaps I should have. It is true that they carry many expensive items. This is not a typical supermarket and many of the items they carry don’t hide their costs or pass them on indirectly like many mainstream products do. Supermarket meat is generally cheaper for a reason. Many corners get cut trying to keep the feedlot costs down. We all pay the price for the conditions that require widespread antibiotic use, hormonal supplements and environmental pollution, let alone the ethical issues involved in factory farming. Sure chicken, pork and beef at supermarkets or fast food joints may be cheap in the immediate sense, but we pay in terms of increased taxes to clean up environmental waste and increased health care costs when there are widespread food-related illnesses or more insidious problems that are more difficult to identify. Yet, as more people are able to purchase quality alternatives, prices should decline and they should become more widely affordable. That said, I was impressed that the Healthy Living Market doesn’t just cater to the high end. They offer quality products at more affordable prices too.
Time will tell how well the Healthy Living Market walks the walk, but at this point I am excited by the talk that they talk.