I'd been invited, along with Ms. Christina Waters, whose coverage of food, wine, art, films, and more in Santa Cruz (and far beyond) is one of my more entertaining weekly reads. I hadn't been aware that it was a tour especially for families affiliated with the Weston A. Price Foundation. (If I'd known that, I wouldn't have brought beer to the picnic lunch.) There must have been twenty kids—the oldest of whom was eight, and with several toddlers in the crowd.
We walked over a mile, for three hours, looking at the littler pigs, the chickens, the roosts and boxes where they lay (children gathered eggs), and the whole tour culminated in one lusty, unmistakable display of the prowess of the biggest boar on the ranch, affectionately and accurately called "Assmaster," who took the opportunity to jump on a sow (pictured above, "dead center," so to speak) who hadn't realized just what "piggyback" really meant until that point. Yes, Mr. DeMille, he was ready for his close-up. I'm talking CLOSE UP: ten feet in front of the amazed crowd. "Daddy, what is THAT? What's he DOING?"
Ahem. Onward. (Christina, there were other comments I'm too chicken (ga-hilk) to post here, but I'll fill you in soon.)
For the record, the reddish guy on the right, who is touching a tree on both ends, is the boar in question.
I know little about the Weston A. Price, but I did meet a mother with two children previous to this farm visit. While lamenting the state of our modern world, and taking exception to the idea that everything has to be sterilized and "hygienic," which can actually be detrimental to one's health, this mother told me that she and her family ate dirt tablets every day. Or capsules. For the microbes, you see.
Out of context, such a statement made me wonder: why on earth would you have to eat dirt? Why not just stop cleaning your kitchen?
I guess I'm going to have to read all the back issues of Wise Traditions, their quarterly newsletter, to figure it out. I wish there were an explanation of why the Board of Directors ate an average of 3130 calories a day in this journal. One board member consumed 4245, 4635, and 4850 calories over the three-day period.
I do like the dietary guidelines, especially the last three:
- Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light.
- Think positive thoughts and minimize stress.
- Practice forgiveness.
I'll work on that.
The afternoon at TLC Ranch was very, very pleasant—but I love children, and these kids were complete troopers. Even the toddlers trudged the distance with only two (very brief) meltdowns. We walked well over a mile, and the whole tour took over three hours. Jim did his usual great job explaining the choices he is making: not feeding the animals soy, not feeding them corn, and letting the chickens eat pork scraps. (Chickens are vultures.)
I was intrigued (but not tempted in the least) by one father who described their new regime of eating raw meat and eggs. Apparently their toddler, a three-year-old with the exact same birthday as Logan, was rebelling against the flavor. (Or lack thereof.) Who could blame him? As Justin Severino, my butcher friend with more culinary talent in his little finger than most people have in their whole bodies, said later, "If all I wanted to do was make my body healthier, I'd probably eat raw proteins. But I want flavor: I want the full experience." Agreed. But maybe they're enjoying it: I used to eat raw hamburger meat when I was a little girl.
I really have no conclusions about Weston A. Price: it costs $40 to join. Slow Food's $60, or a family for $75. Is it worth it? I can't say. They were a very very focused group of people, and the kids were smart and fun.
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FOOD MOVEMENTS: Eat Local, Locavores, Slow Food, etc.
Last month, a local bookstore contacted me and asked if I'd liked to help promote one or two readings that they thought would interest me. The first, which seemed to be the natural fit, was Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, written by Alisa Smith and J. B. McKinnon—who for a solid year, ate only foods grown within a hundred miles of their Vancouver home. I know it should have grabbed me—they're good writers.
But I've found myself resisting all "movements" lately. While I enjoy reading the results of others' forays into things like the Eat Local Challenge, and the Pennywise Challenge, I just don't have the desire to commit to a week, month, or year of restrictions.
I had decided in March that I was not going to be renewing my Slow Food membership, as much as I love the convivium leaders in Santa Cruz (that would be Cliff and Claudette Warren)...Cliff and Claudette, along with former leader, the lovely Martine Mahoudeau, created some lovely (non-stodgy) events. A red wine and cheese tasting at their Beach Hill home—with Andrea London, a cheese expert in attendance to expound on her greatest passion on life—was superb, and well-attended. The picnic and tour of Everett Family Farm was likewise dandy. But my experience with Slow Food in general is that the bulk of leadership is ponderous and dour, and the "we take ourselves so seriously" vibe is oppressive. (And seriously, who needs to pay $75 a year to create or attend "slow food" events? Around here, we call them "potlucks," because everyone I know cooks and shops at the farmers markets.)
A few weeks ago, Justin Severino was invited to cook for a Santa Cruz event that was intended to be a fundraiser for Slow Food USA—for the event next spring, Slow Food Nation, that has people peeing in their pants with excitement. (Not me. I'm starting to react to hype with suspicion. Even if it comes from Alice Waters, whom I respect. I think it's likely that I won't go.)
This Slow Food event was, from what I could tell, the very thing that made me wish I could have been a fly on the wall, because then I would have been too tiny to run from the room screaming. Presented at the home of a trust-fund baby (scream #1), whose guests included only chefs, restaurateurs, the publisher of tony cookbooks, a food columnist or two from The Golden City to the North, and a man generally thought to be one of the most intelligent and important (and genuinely nice and down-to-earth, seemingly unimpressed with his own celebrity—a man from whom I would never run away screaming) food writers in the world, the menu was to include only recipes from Very Important Cookbooks Acknowledged by the Cognoscenti to be Time-Honored and Significant for Historical Reasons (scream #2). Justin pooh-poohed that, though: "I'm going there to do my thing, my way. I don't care about those old cookbooks. I don't need them to impress people."
I'd asked him before what he thought about Slow Food, when my own experiences aside from Cliff and Claudette's have been so lackluster. He answered just as I expected: "I don't need a movement." It reminded me of what I'd written about Ron Garthwaite and Claravale Dairy back in September, 2005:
Claravale does no marketing: Ron sells every drop of milk the cows give. He said a lot of interesting things, including "I make good milk" and "We do not want to be affiliated with any kind of food movement...not Slow Food, not anything related to 'foodies' or a 'lifestyle.' We're doing what has been done for a million years: it's the oldest thing in the world. It irritates me when people act like they've discovered me."
• • • • • • • • • • •
I never know what to make of it when I read the word "lifestyle." I recognize one when I see one, but some parts are intentional and some are merely circumstantial. (I intentionally buy from small, sustainable farms, but I am fortunate to live in circumstances that have placed me here, surrounded by them.)
I had joined Slow Food last summer, when I got a windfall. I was still reluctant, given what Jim Dunlop had told me about one convivium leader, now retired. That man has used his podium to instruct people not to buy Cornish Cross chickens, calling them "Frankenchickens" (which implies genetic engineering, a blatant lie)—he did this right when Jim was getting started raising and selling his Cornish Cross chickens at the Santa Cruz farmers markets.
Luckily, a ballsy rancher lady we know read Mr. Convivium the riot act, in her very polite way, that is. And luckily, Jim Dunlop's got a throng of fans from here to Da Moon.
I once saw Carlo Petrini speak, and I was inspired. (I was also fortunate that the ticket, which would go for $135 on the open market, was free. Slow Food, elitist? Non!) But yesterday someone pointed me to read this brouhaha over at MouthfulsFood—what do you think? (A brave man, Rancho Gordo...except "brave" isn't the right word, since I doubt he was ever afraid to say what he thinks.) (It would be nice to know exactly what was said...I'm sure it will be online soon.)
Well, that's pretty damning of Mr. Petrini (you have to read the whole thing), and it somehow makes perfect sense. And it adds to the pomposity of the whole Slow Food organization: who needs to pay for that kind of abuse, really? What really (really) pisses me off is that now I'm less enamored of Italy, probably in the same way the whole world is less enamored of America, what with the Uni-Brow Halfwit occupying the Very Very White House. I hate it when that happens. Damn you, Carlo Petrini: I like my farmers just the way they are!
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Big Cities, St. Alice, The Bay Area, Californicated, & More
When I traveled to Chicago last March, to speak at a family farm conference, I fell in love with the place and the people. Seriously. I'd marry it if I weren't afraid of having cold feet and no one to warm them in the winters. I was thrilled to be in the heartland, and thrilled to meet farmers, cheesemakers (Hi, Wisconsin!), and to go to some of the famed and not-famed eateries.
One thing that puzzled me was when the people apologized to me for not being as good as California. This happened repeatedly: "I know you're used to really good stuff, being from California..." they would always begin. As though they thought I were Alice Waters, wanting them to hand me a perfectly ripe strawberry, materialized out of thin air. Mind you, I hadn't complained: quite the opposite. I stopped short of shaking hands with every stranger on the street, and thanking them for letting me inhabit their wonderful town, if only for a few days. I was thrilled to be there, and thrilled to see such a great food town. Such a real place.
Chicago's great: it's ballsy and earthy and bustling and artsy and lusty like New York, but doesn't need the constant reassurance that you love it most of all. (Seriously, New York. I love you, but you're too insecure.) And Chicago doesn't have the San Francisco thing that I wish we could all laugh about: it's paradise, we know it, but stop taking it for granted. Yes, San Francisco, you are beautiful beyond the power of words to describe. Now step away from the mirror and let's get to work. (No one better take me seriously here. I mean it.)
Oh, what do I know? I live in Hickville—the patchouli capitol of the world. I wouldn't inflict the downtown farmers market on anyone I cared about. But at the sweet little market on the West Side yesterday morning, I ran into author/friend Jenny Kurzweil, with her partner, Andrea, and their beautiful little boys. Jenny was filling two large brown grocery bags with basil, leeks, carrots, lettuces, strawberries, and much more.
She had helped organize the food at the afore-mentioned bookstore gathering for Plenty, and said that the authors, Alisa and J.B., told her what we both already know—that here in Santa Cruz, we enjoy an abundance of diversity and quality that is unparalled. Heck, we already have peaches at the market, and it's barely May. (Up in Vancouver, they're still stuck with root crops and winter. God bless 'em.)
I don't take any of this for granted, ever. I am constantly brought into contact with visitors to the markets who lament their own local farms. "You're so lucky!" they say. But Jenny and I know the truth: we aren't lucky, we're blessed. And blessed to have made the choice to be here—choices transcend luck. Choices are about intelligence, not luck. And yes, it's expensive, and I'm not rich—financially, that is. (Riches are relative, though, huh?)
The blessings of living on the coast of California are abundant: with the Mediterranean climate, the accumulation of free-thinking folks who chafed at tradition enough to "Go West, young man!", and the sheer open spaces that some people never experience. These things are good for a body—I've been here for a total of 25 years.
I remember a Nashville guy I used to know, who came to the TGI Friday's I was helping to open in Los Angeles. He was one of the guys who nailed the antiques to the walls. He drawled emphatically, "I don't like Cali-fornia. Cali-fornia tries too hard." (He was also the first person I ever knew who used the word "Californicated.")
It's probably true: California tries too hard. I know a lot of people don't like it. Us. Whatever.
But Santa Cruz is my home, and it's where I belong, since I don't really fit anywhere—too free for the South, too old-fashioned for the West, too uncomfortable (crowded) in any city to ever want to live in one. I want to live outside all the movements and just hang out at farmers markets, and nosh on the gossip and food.
• • • • • • • • • • •
I'm looking forward to hosting a couple of visitors next week, going on tours of some farms. One is Russ Parsons, a writer I am thrilled to finally meet—after small exchanges via e-mail for some years now. The other, lesser known, a regular "Joe," a perfect (or nearly perfect) stranger who introduced himself and said he's moving out here.
• • • • • • • • • • •
Last note. I visited the beautiful little cemetery near my house yesterday and took one photo that turned into a lesson in Photoshop for me. A few of the results are here. (That is the original: click "Previous" until you come to the end of the line.) I particularly like the sepia one.
And that is all, and plenty, for today.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “We're not short of movements proclaiming that a different world is possible, but unless we can coordinate them into an international movement, capitalism just laughs at all these little organisations.” — Jose Saramago
Well, maybe Mr. Petrini is laughing all the way to the bank. But not with my money.