KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Stirring the Cauldron: Locavores
Bay Area Bites: culinary rants & raves from bay area foodies and professionals
Previous Posts
Fish Friday at Sea Salt
La Fondue Savoyarde d'Haute Savoie
I'm Just Mad About Saffron CHICKEN
Martin Yan Quick & Easy
Sweet Chenin!
A Tour of Old Oakland
Soupe de Melon Jaune
I'm Just Mad About Saffron
Take 5 with Lillian Maremont
BAB Guidelines

'Bay Area Bites' is part of KQED's Blog Authors Collaborative. Blog contributors and commentators are solely responsible for their content. If you're interested in writing or contributing to a blog on kqed.org, email us with your idea.
Monday, August 08, 2005
The moon is new! We have moved into the lunar phase known as the Wort Moon in 16th Century England. Wort is the old fashioned, Old English word for herb. Late summer was the time of year when medicinal and culinary herbs would be harvested, dried, and stored for the winter. Tinctures would be made, herbal ales would be brewed, and medicinal lozenges, jellies, candies and spirits would be processed. It was a time to refill the medicine chest for the year.

The Wort Moon coincides nicely this year with the month of August, when I am involved in a campaign to encourage people to eat as locally as possible. More than two-hundred people have signed on to take a significant step towards eating within their foodshed. Here in the Bay Area, we've drawn a 100-mile radius around the city of San Francisco, and we're making an effort to eat food grown from within that circle.

Eating locally is nothing new to me. Ever since I returned from cooking school eight years ago, got a job as a chef, began learning about sustainable agriculture, and found myself shopping at the wonderful Bay Area farmers markets, I have been eating more and more foods grown near to where I live. For a few years I have found myself not wanting to buy any produce at the grocery store--even the organic produce at my neighborhood natural grocery store. Part of it is that I am spoiled by buying vegetables and fruits that I know were picked that morning on the farm, and are still filled with all the life-force of the Earth. Another part of it is that I feel a moral obligation to put as much of my money as possible directly into the hands of the farmers who grow the food. Local organic farmers who see themselves as stewards of the land are really local heros--people out there keeping alive an approach to growing food that has been all but obliterated by corporate agribusiness.

The numbers are all against them. Land prices are too high. Labor costs are too high. Food prices are too low. The topsoil has been too depleted of nutrients and needs too much time and energy put into it to rebuild its fertility. The culture is too in love with technological gadgets, big cars, and the idea of wealth without work to really value farming or give farmers the respect and honor they deserve. It is only because people like me go out of our way to shop at the farmers markets, cook at home, and spend our money on food rather than car payments or cable tv that local farmers are surviving at all. But people like me are often characterized in the mainstream society as foodies, snobs, and liberal elitists who can make a fetish of eating organic, seasonal, local food grown by small farmers because we can afford to.

Some people who shop at farmers markets are wealthy--but so are some people who shop at Costco. Many of us aren't wealthy, we're just willing to spend a larger chunk of our income on food and a smaller chunk on other things because we feel food is important enough to do that. Some of us don't spend any more on food at farmers markets than we would do at supermarkets--we economize and bargain hunt and cook at home and are generally frugal, but just make sure that the money we do spend on food goes straight to farmers instead of to large multinational businesses. Some people feel that investing in nutritious food saves them money in other areas. One father I know reduced his family of four's health coverage to catastrophic only, and is investing all the money he's saving in feeding his family a more nutrient-dense diet. In the long run that is probably a prudent financial choice.

There is another factor in this equation: cheap oil. Our entire food system has been built on the premise of a consistent and inexpensive supply of petroleum. Gasoline or diesel fuels power the equipment that we use to plant, water, spray, and harvest our crops. Fertilizers and pesticides are synthesized from petroleum products. We rely on petroleum and its derivatives to transport crops, process them, and package them as products. Plastic, used throughout the entire system, is derived from petroleum. The average plate of food travels 1500 miles to get to our table--every mile is fueled by petroleum. Even cooking at home--whether using natural gas or electricity--depends on petroleum somewhere along the way. In other words, in just the past sixty years--a blink of the eye in human history--we have built a new global food system that is entirely dependent on petroleum. As we begin to run out of oil, the crucial problem facing humanity is not how we will get to work each day, but rather how we will feed ourselves.

Right now it might be more expensive to buy food from local, organic, small farms and humane grass-based ranches than to shop at the supermarket. But as the petroleum costs go up, the cost of factory farming will go up, the cost of shipping will go up, and imported and store-bought foods could once again become the expensive luxuries they once were.

Right now eating foods that were processed on an artisanal or small scale might seem costly. Processing them ourselves at home might seem time-consuming. But these foods may someday soon be far more economical and practical than their petroleum-intensive, factory-produced alternatives. They are already more sustainable. If the ecological crisis becomes really dire, knowing farmers in your area, maintaining a garden, knowing how to kill, pluck and dress a chicken, knowing how to cook, being able to store foods without refrigeration and to make medicinal teas and ales from local plants will once again be critical survival skills.

In the back of my mind, I've been thinking about the exercise of eating local foods for the month of August as a bit of a rehearsal for such an eventuality. What would my diet look like if imported foods were just too expensive? The fact is, it wouldn't look too different from my diet of the past few years, but there are some exceptions. Both coconut products and bananas are a part of my daily diet, and they'd be off the list. But the thing that I'm missing the most is my daily pot of green tea. Last year I managed wean myself off of coffee and onto green tea, which still gives me a lift without all the jitteriness and hyperactivity of coffee. I have found that it is lovely to start the day with a small pot of steaming Genmaicha--a Japanese tea with toasted rice in it--and have become almost as attached to it as I was to my morning cappuccino. While the tea plant--Camellia Sinensis--can be grown locally here in the Bay Area, no one is doing it on a commercial scale. The tea we get here is all imported from Asia. And since I didn't get my act together to buy a plant, put it in the ground, and figure out how to harvest it, I am having to do without for a month.

So I am developing a new morning ritual. Because it is the Wort Moon, my herb garden (wortyard) is in full bloom. The Echinacea is covered with big purple flowers, the Mullein is about eight feet tall and has three spikes dotted with yellow blooms, and the Yarrow is a cacophony of white inflorescences. First thing in the morning, instead of opening a tin of loose tea, I go out to the garden with my scissors and trim a small handful of yarrow flowers, a leaf of stevia, and few leaves of lemon verbena, and put them in my pot. I pour boiling water over them and once it has steeped I taste the slightly green, slightly bitter, gentle lemony sweetness of my homegrown brew.

I find it an interesting fact that in my effort to eat locally for the month of August, I am eating less of the foods that I consider 'bad' for me, and more of those that are healthiest. Caffeine, refined sugar, and many of the carbohydrates I normally consume are off of my plate and out of my cup. The most convenient local foods are eggs, meats, vegetables, fruit, and dairy products. Instead of porridge or toast for breakfast, I am eating hard-cooked eggs. And for a sweet, nighttime treat the other night, I drank a glass of warm frothed milk sweetened with honey and flavored with a few spritzes of rose hydrosol distilled by one of my favorite local farmers--something I may never have tried making if I wasn't keeping vanilla extract and maple syrup off limits for a few weeks.

The plants of the wortyard are really the flavors of home. Before northern dwellers had a steady supply of cinnamon, chocolate, nutmeg, cloves, lemons, vanilla, and cumin, their foods were scented and spiced with what they grew in their gardens. Sorrel, lovage, nettles, savory, and borage all enhanced the dinner table; dandelion blooms, elderflowers, and rose geranium leaves helped to give sweetmeats a delicate fragrance; and Labrador tea, dandelion root, and chicory would be brewed as hot beverages. These old-fashioned plants can hardly compete in today's world with the bold flavored imports from the tropics. But I for one am thoroughly enjoying my wort moon tisane of healing yarrow, as well as those few moments spent in the garden in the morning.

Just a few feet away from the yarrow we are in the process of putting in a raised-bed vegetable garden. Next year on the Wort Moon I may find that I am able to eat much of my produce from within a 100-foot radius of my house, and look to the 100-mile radius for meat, dairy, and eggs. Each step brings me closer into contact with the Earth, makes me feel more connected to my ancestors, and gives me rays of hope for a future that is grounded in what makes sense and what feels right on a deep level. I can't help feeling that our current society is like a house of cards, and one of the cards near the bottom is petroleum. If we pull out that card--what will happen to the rest of the structure? Isn't it time to begin thinking deeply about how we will live and thrive into the future, and begin building the foundation for a house that can weather the coming storms? I believe it is.

On the Wort Moon, I wish you the blessings of knowing where your food comes from and some of the people who spend their days growing it for you. I wish you delicious meals seasoned with basil, oregano, sage, thyme, lavender and the other fragrant herbs of the wortyard. I pray that we may all be touched by the wisdom of plants, who know the great value of having a little spot of Earth that they can call home.


Anonymous Karletta said...

What a lovely article. Thanks so for explaining to the rest of the world why we 'foodie snobs' are willing to spend a bigger portion of our incomes on good food. I will be trying the frothed warm milk with honey and rose. Sounds very calming.

8/09/2005 2:58 PM


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Locate CP Restaurants:
Check, Please! Google Map
KQED Food Sites
Check, Please! Bay Area
Jacques Pépin Celebrates!
Jacques Pépin:
Fast Food My Way
Jacques Pépin:
The Apprentice
Jacques Pépin:
The Complete Pépin
KQED Wine Club
KQED.org Cooking
Weir Cooking in the City
Tasty Food Sites
Chowhound SF
Eat Local Challenge
Edible San Francisco
Food Network
Food Talk
Group Recipes
Hungry Magazine
Leite's Culinaria
Mighty Foods
NPR: Food
Om Organics
Serious Eats
SFGate: Food
SFGate: Wine
SF Station: Restaurants
Slow Food SF
Top Chef
Wikimedia Commons: Food & Drink
Yahoo! Food
Yelp: Reviews
Tangy Food Blogs
101 Cookbooks
A Full Belly
Accidental Hedonist
An Obsession with Food
Anna's Cool Finds
Becks & Posh
Between Meals
Bunny Foot
Butter Pig
Cellar Rat
Chez Pim
Chocolate & Zucchini
Confessions of a
Restaurant Whore
Cooking For Engineers
Cooking with Amy
Cucina Testa Rossa
Culinary Muse
Denise's Kitchen
Eater SF
Feed & Supply
Food Blog S'cool
Food Musings
Food Porn Watch
I'm Mad and I Eat
In Praise of Sardines
Knife's Edge
Life Begins at 30
Love and Cooking
Mental Masala
Moveable Feast
Organic Day
Passionate Eater
San Francisco Gourmet
SF City Eats
Simply Recipes
The Amateur Gourmet
The Ethicurean
The Food Section
The Grub Report
The Petite Pig
The Wine Makers Wife
Vin Divine
Wandering Spoon
Well Fed Network
Word Eater
World on a Plate
Yummy Chow
Search BAB

Eye Candy: Food Photos
BAB on flickr.com
Join Flickr for free and share your photos with the Bay Area Bites and Beyond group pool.
Food Books
The Moosewood Cookbook
by Mollie Katzen
Baking: From My Home to Yours
by Dorie Greenspan
Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries
by Alain Ducasse, Frederic Robertmison
The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking and Entertaining
by Cheryl Alters Jamison, Bill Jamison
Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day
by Roy Finamore
Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way
by Lorna Sass
The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa
by Marcus Samuelsson
Michael Mina: The Cookbook
by Michael Mina, Photographer: Karl Petzktle
What to Eat
by Marion Nestle
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate
by John Scharffenberger, Robert Steinberg
Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo
by Alan Tardi
What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea -- Even Water -- Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers
by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page, Michael Sofronski
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners
by Matt Lee, Ted Lee
Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own
by Andrew Whitley
Coloring the Seasons: A Cook's Guide
by Allegra McEvedy
All-new Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
by Anne C. Cain
Modern Garde Manger
by Robert B. Garlough
The Spice and Herb Bible
by Ian Hemphill, Kate Hemphill
The Improvisational Cook
by Sally Schneider
Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
by Ann Cooper, Lisa M. Holmes
Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia
by James Oseland
My Life in France
by Julia Child, Alex Prud'Homme
A Passion for Ice Cream: 95 Recipes for Fabulous Desserts
by Emily Luchett, Sheri Giblin (photographer)
Au Pied De Cochon -- The Album
by Martin Picard
Memories of Philippine Kitchens
by Amy Besa, Romy Dorotan
Simple Chinese Cooking
by Kylie Kwong
An Invitation to Indian Cooking
by Madhur Jaffrey
Hungry Planet
by Peter Menzel, Faith D'Aluisio
Sunday Suppers at Lucques : Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table
by Suzanne Goin, Teri Gelber
Simple Soirees: Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties
by Peggy Knickerbocker, Christopher Hirsheimer (Photographer)
The Cook's Book
by Jill Norman
Molto Italiano : 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home
by Mario Batali
Nobu Now
by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa
Cheese : A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best
by Max Mccalman, David Gibbons
Bones : Recipes, History, and Lore
by Jennifer McLagan
Whiskey : The Definitive World Guide
by Michael Jackson
The New American Cooking
by Joan Nathan
by Lisa Yockelson
Easy Entertaining: Everything You Need to Know About Having Parties at Home
by Darina Allen
Cooking at De Gustibus: Celebrating 25 Years of Culinary Innovation
by Arlene Feltman Sailhac
Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads
by Richard Bertinet
Chocolate Obsession: Confections and Treats to Create and Savor
by Michael Recchiuti, Fran Gage, Maren Caruso
The Food Substitutions Bible: More Than 5,000 Substitutions for Ingredients, Equipment And Techniques
by David Joachim
Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook
by Susan Spungen
Spices of Life: Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health
by Nina Simonds
Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
by Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light
by Mort Rosenblum
Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks
by Barbara Kafka, Christopher Styler
A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present
by Thomas Pinney
Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years Of Food And Art
by Tom Gilliland, Miguel Ravago, Virginia B. Wood
Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South
by Marcie Cohen Ferris
Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen
by Elizabeth Andoh, Leigh Beisch
Weir Cooking in the City: More than 125 Recipes and Inspiring Ideas for Relaxed Entertaining
by Joanne Weir
Rick Stein's Complete Seafood
by Rick Stein
The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
by Beatrice A. Ojakangas
Serena, Food & Stories: Feeding Friends Every Hour of the Day
by Serena Bass
John Ash: Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher
by John Ash
The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook: Eating Well for Better Health
by Donald Hensrud, M.D., Jennifer Nelson, R.D. & Mayo Clinic Staff
Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions
by Fernando and Marlene Divina
The Provence Cookbook
by Patricia Wells
Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World
by Gil Marks
Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World
by Gina Mallet
by Thomas Keller
A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World
by Maggie Glezer
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
by Molly Stevens
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
by Harold McGee
Entertaining: Inspired Menus For Cooking with Family and Friends
by George Dolese
The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore
by Grace Young, Alan Richardson
Cooking New American: How to Cook the Food You Love to Eat
by Fine Cooking Magazine
The Japanese Kitchen: A Book of Essential Ingredients with 200 Authentic Recipes
by Kimiko Barber
Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes
by Arthur Schwartz
Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher
by Joan Reardon
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes
by Jeffrey Hamelman
Everyday Dining with Wine
by Andrea Immer
Copyright © 2005-2008 KQED. All rights reserved.