Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Back to school

I was invited to a lunch at Delfina yesterday celebrating the publication of The Niman Ranch Cookbook. Bill Niman was there with his wife Nicolette Hahn, an environmental lawyer, along with Bill’s co-author Janet Fletcher and assorted folks from Ten Speed Press. We munched on all kinds o’ meat: grilled lamb chops with rosemary salt, roasted suckling pig, beef carpaccio, and bacon-laced pizzas.

At one point, Nicolette mentioned an op-ed piece she was trying to get published. It was about animal feed, and how most of us don’t know what’s going into the chain at the early stages. The Times had published her op-eds before, but no one wanted this one.

Which got me thinking about how little we know, or even care, about the food we eat. For all my rhapsodizing about all things organic and artisanal, and all the visits to the farmers’ market, whenever I try to think or write seriously about our food system, I trip over huge gaps of understanding. I know that the growth of Niman Ranch is a Good Thing (setting aside questions of carnivorism). Five hundred independent family farms are now raising cattle, pigs, and sheep according to Niman’s protocols. If places like Burger Joint and Chipotle are buying the meat, and people are willing to pay a little more for them, then that makes the world a better place, right? That’s easy.

But that’s also a little shallow for someone who calls herself a food writer. Food is a big subject to tackle: history, cooking techniques, ingredients, wine. A life-long pursuit. But this stuff is important, and I need to launch this part of my education in earnest.
Anyone have any recommendations? Favorite books?


Bill Dykes said...

Loving to sample different foods from all over the country I suggest you venture down the coast and visit places like Jocko's in Nipomo, F.McLintocks in San Luis Obispo or Shell Beach, and of course any street corner in Santa Maria on the weekend will deliver the fantastic Santa Maria Style BBQ of Tri-tip, pinquito beans, salsa and french bread. Then head a little inland to Benji's, The Pyrenees or Noriega Hotel (circa 1890) in Bakersfield for some of the best Basque food in the country. While you're there you definitely have to visit Luigi's for a great Italian lunch, it's been there since 1910. Last, hiding away in the east end of Cuyama Valley on hwy 33 is Sagebrush Annies (only open Fri-Sun for dinner). Great food and even better atmosphere. Also try their reserve cabernet!

Linda Maloney said...


Etwan News said...

I've just discovered your blog in the past week and have found it interesing. I'm a scientist who has a passion for cooking. I'm also a lefty enviro type and have thought a lot about food sources for the food I eat. My garden this summer was vegan--I didn't even use the llama poop I got. I'll try to help you find sources.

Having grown up in rural Minnesota where the pigs were often fed "silage" from the local corn canning factory (at least in the summer) I have wondered about even the organic beef I buy here in Montana.

Hutterite chickens in this area are apparently really free range.

These are some touchpoints.


Amy said...

Thanks, Matt. I appreciate it. I actually lived on an organic farm once, but that was half a lifetime ago and I need a refresher!

Amy said...

Oh, and thanks Bill! I'll add those to my list.

redwood recluse said...

I think you should look into the slow food movement, permaculture and look to authors such as John Ash, Alice Waters and Deborah Madison.
Northern California food is incredible. Organic, seasonal, and eclectic.
People here are very in touch with the land and seasons here.
We forage for things in the forrest,such as wild mushrooms and huckleberriesThese are events you wait for. Just like when the salmon are running or it's dive season for abalone.
The five coarse menu is typical around here.

Amy said...

Thanks, Redwood. I'm definitely a Slow Food member, and an Alice Waters groupie. Deborah Madison is great, too. What I'm most interested is the policy stuff...getting a good grounding in the mechanics of the system.

The Wrathful Buddha said...

How about a write up on the greatest food dish ever, General Tsou's Chicken?

For a blog that covers random blogs and cultural randomness in general check out: Randos in the Midst

Anonymous said...

On this topic, I highly recommend "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. We are so far removed from our food sources (both in terms of distance and information) that it's easy for all kinds of unsavory (literally) practices to arise. While some of the book is dark, there are real glimmers of hope. For example, when McDonalds unilaterally decided to buy only beef from humane-slaughter suppliers, the entire industry changed overnight.

Right now, there is an interesting dichotomy between the average burger-eater who wants to be super-sized and the slow foodie who wants to know every detail of production and is willing to pay more for Niman Ranch. Will the two worlds grow closer? I can only hope that the Slow Food movement elevates food production standards across the board.

CMW said...

just discovered your blog. How I wish I could be there to eat all the yummies. :D

found out ur link to the online food dictionary doesn't work too... double "http://" tags.

Amy said...

You know, Bredon, I have been a total wimp about reading Fast Food Nation, and you've reminded me that I need to just buckle down and read it. I have another book called Coming Home To Eat that I'll start as well.

Thanks for your input!

Redwood Recluse said...

I shop at Ukiah Natural foods co-op and they have alot of information on the organic labelling process. They hold meetings and just recently pulled a top label from thier stores because there is a discrepancy about what is an acceptable amount of space to graze organic cows on for all the dairy products.
Everything in the organic labelling process is in hot debate. On the top of the list however for me is gmo labelling.
I own 80 acres and want to remain an organic growing area. Even thought about getting certified. We have animals like chickens and goats,eat 80% organic and my husband hunts most of our meat.
We're living the slow foods life in Mendocino county.
I'm learning to da all forms of canning and smoking.
I'm not sure exactly what you're asking for based on your blog.
Can you be more specific?

Amy said...

Good question. I'm not entirely sure myself. But I want to start with books that help explain the economics/mechanics of the larger food system (industry, agribusiness, etc.), and I think Fast Food Nation is a good start. I'll see where that takes me.

BTW, I'm with you on the GMO labeling issue. Just watched "The Future of Food" the other night.

happy consumptive said...

Stumbled across your blog in Blogger's "blogs of note" sidebar... this entry in particular got my attention - knowing folks who work at the Niman distribution facility here in Oakland, and knowing folks who think that Niman doesn't go far enough by half.

If you're not familiar with the work of Michael Pollan --he's a writer at large and professor of journalism at UCB-- I can enthusiastically recommend his NYT Magazine article "This Steer's Life".

The article really got my attention back in 2002, for reasons I describe at the bottom of this post to my blog.

Good luck with your efforts.

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