Richmond’s Underground Food Market is a Too-Risky Business

Underground food markets and private kitchens in Richmond put consumers at risk with lack of health and safety regulations

Nicole Kwit

Something’s growing underground in Richmond, and it’s not just the vegetables.

Like several cities before it, Richmond has seen an underground food market spread its roots over the last few years, giving community members easy access to cheaper ingredients and meals. This simplicity, however, often comes at the cost of quality assurance.

Underground food markets first took off in the early 2000s in San Francisco as a means of giving start-up food businesses a platform to quickly deliver their product to consumers. After three years of operation, the underground food market in that city was served a cease and desist letter by authorities, and has reportedly since been out of operation since 2009. In 2014, again after three years of operation, the underground market in Toronto was also forced to shut down.

In recent years the underground market has shifted towards individuals buying large quantities of items and selling them to other community members at a reduced cost. Private kitchens, where a specific dish or dishes are made and sold, have also become popular.

Made even more accessible by food sharing apps and messaging services, the underground food market in Richmond is at an all-time high. According to Richmond News, customers will order products via social media and the seller will visit their supplier before meeting the customer, often in parking lots, to sell the goods tax-free.

The health and safety of the consumer is an obviously concerning factor here. With no real way to verify where these goods are coming from there is a lot left to chance in terms of the cleanliness, freshness, and overall quality of the product. Reportedly, goods sold via the underground market range from seafood to desserts and dry goods, all of which could be contaminated.

The same concerns apply for goods sold out of private kitchens. Private kitchens are not held to the same standards as restaurants—they aren’t held to any legitimate standards at all.

If you’re planning to buy food and ingredients from the underground market, do as much research into the source as you possibly can and opt for someone you or others you know have had a good experience with.

Your local farmer’s market is a great place to find fresh ingredients and other things that may not be available in your local grocery store. They’re also a great jumping-off point for an individual or small startup to begin selling their products to build a client base and provide income. They may not be cheaper in terms of the cost per item, but the money spent at farmer’s markets goes directly to individuals sustaining their own life and giving back to the community, whether it be economically or environmentally.

Underground food sourcing has the potential to profoundly impact the economy in an unfavourable way when you consider the amount of tax dollars lost through these types of sources. As the market continues to expand in Richmond, authorities may need to step in and shut the operation down.

If these underground markets are able to remain confined to serving a small target audience that struggles to afford food, then by all means, keep them going. Just understand that the risk is solely the responsibility of the consumer.

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