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This morning at 4am, I was on my way to the outskirts of Paris to visit what is by FAR the largest wholesale food market in the world. Of course, there are other large markets around the globe, such as the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo (which turns over much more fish than Rungis sees in a year), but where Tsukiji just sells fish, Rungis sells everything you’d ever need. As our guide put it, the market is quite literally a small town in itself. There are restaurants, a hospital, police stations, store selling equipment, and of course the acres and acres of warehouses and offices. It’s tremendous, and we were all eager to see as much of it as we could manage in a morning.

We arrived early because the fish markets close their sales floors at 5:30am. Even when we got there, many of the sellers were already down to their last cases, or beginning to pack things up. Even so, we were able to catch a glimpse of some of the madness.

Fish Market, as seen from the bus. The fishy smell even made its way out to the parking lot. Standing there with your eyes closed, you might imagine yourself at the beach.

The view from inside.

on closer inspection, all those stacks of styrofoam were packed fish. the building itself was essentially a giant refrigerator (we were all wearing our winter coats in there), so the fish were staying plenty cold. We were told all of these were caught just 2-3 days ago (mostly in Denmark or Norway), and by the end of the morning, every one of them would be sold off to fishmongers and restaurants in Paris and beyond. keep in mind, these stacks had already dwindled quite dramatically by the time we got there.

Even a rather small tuna is still a quite large fish.

After working our way through the fish building, we got back on the bus and rode across Rungis to see the meat.

Just about any cut of meat you want is available here. Most of the meat we saw was beef and veal, but we spotted these tiny pigs too. There is also another building dedicated just to pork, as well as chicken buildings and buildings just with organ meat….and so on.

3rd on the tour was the dairy building. This one was also a bit smelly until you acclimated yourself.

Wheels of cheese in need of a home.

smaller cheeses packaged up and ready to go.

My favorite buildings, by far, were those with the fruit and vegetable vendors. This is also where it really hit home just how much food gets eaten in a day…There was a stunning amount of produce on display here.

Some sellers created some really nice displays.

Stacks of mushrooms….

An endless variety of tomatoes, all shapes and sizes and colors

Overall, we had an incredible visit to Rungis. I really believe in knowing where your food comes from and how it gets to your table—visiting the market and seeing part of this chain in action just fills in another piece of the puzzle. And before anyone starts to complain about how expensive their food is (which honestly, it isn’t), just think—somewhere you have to pay the workers and growers in the fields, the truck drivers to deliver it, auctioneers (in many cases) who bid on it, the 15,000 workers in the market, the people who package it, the air-conditioning and maintenance of this huge complex…all before it even arrives in stores. Not to mention all the waste and pollution that is created by 1.5 million tons of food products passing through annually.

If you have the time and want to make the effort, Rungis is well worth a visit. Its hard not to be a little overwhelmed at how much food we eat…and to remember that while Paris is a big population (and a portion of the food does go outside of Paris) it is just a small fraction of how much food passes hands across the earth. Its certainly a reminder to be good stewards of what is given to us, the amount of energy and effort that goes into feeding a city, and to not take our food sources for granted. It struck me that, if anything ever happened to Rungis, life in Paris would grind to a halt.  In this world of mass industrialization, its sometimes hard to keep in mind how much we depend on all these transactions going smoothly to deliver the food we want–year round—to our tables.

I’d certainly say that if you ever have an opportunity to visit Rungis, it’s probably worth it (but not so worth it to plan your entire Paris vacation around it). If you can’t go, at least stop by your local farmer’s market sometime this week and thank a farmer for all the work they do to keep you fed and keep your life as easy and comfortable as it is 🙂