A few weeks ago, before the coronavirus pandemic upended our daily lives, my Facebook feed surfaced a photo from 2018, in which I was cooking a chicken that had been slaughtered in front of me at a wet market in Essaouira, Morocco. Anthony Fauci may call wet markets an “unusual human-animal interaction,” but it wasn’t that long ago in America that chilled, mass-produced, and nationally distributed meats were regarded as unusual and inferior to backyard chickens.
Wherever I am in the world, I make it a point to visit links to the past. I’ve been to a rural slaughterhouse, killed a pig and chickens on a farm, and shopped and cooked food from wet markets, from Morocco to China. I can’t help but romanticize the markets, as an old way of life preserved against modernization, as a showcase of regional diversity and culture, and as a model of access to nonprocessed foods for various income levels. I’m not alone: These markets are often popular tourist destinations. And for the residents, these markets are essential, not despite China’s efforts at modernization, but perhaps because of them. In a report on wet markets in urban China, a shopper says, “Everything comes alive in the market. Sitting in the office, I have no sense of season. The seasonal, colorful, fresh food in wet markets tell me the season.”