Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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An 8th grade English teacher made my week with this letter

My inner cup is flooded with joy and gratitude. What a week it has been. Beginning with the big article on Sunday, the week only got more momentous as it went on, which is hard to believe. Today’s major news is that I have negotiated a deal to expand the footprint of the Mendocino Farmers’ Market into a grassy field adjacent to the market, which will allow many new vendors to join with varied local products and will provide an open lawn where people can park their bikes and children can play and eat fresh strawberries. While at the market today, I got to visit with some of my favorite ladyfriends and felt so lucky to be part of something that is one of the last remaining forms of “the commons.” The farmers’ market is a truly beautiful hub of friendship, commerce and togetherness in a world where much of life can feel separate and fragmented. Also, these women and their squirrely kin are now the official models of the market!

FMladyfriends

Amidst the bustle, over 30 customers and farmers signed our postcards to Harvest Market, and I can’t wait to send all that local food love their way! I talked to a lot of people about the SF Chronicle article and was really moved by so many saying how much they appreciated the article, and to hear that organizations across the country have been sharing it to shine the light on Mendocino County’s outstanding local food efforts. This totally made up for all the late nights and keyboard weary wrists.

The real topper of this week, though, came unexpectedly. We received this message today from an eight grade English teacher in Fort Bragg:

Hi Sarah and Gowan,

I’m an 8th grade English teacher at Fort Bragg Middle School looking for some help. At the beginning of the school year we spend about 7 weeks reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and talking about food in the US. Towards the end of the book, Pollan writes about local, sustainable and do-it-yourself food. I was hoping that one of you, or both, might be interested in coming and speaking to my students toward the end of September-beginning of October.

Also, I plan on having my students complete some sort of multi-media project about farmers in Mendo County, and was wondering if you knew anyone who might be interested in being interviewed, photographed, etc. I have scheduled a few Farmers’ Market field trips so students can get pictures there, but I know when it’s busy, the last thing a farmer wants is to talk to silly 8th graders.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this – I hope we can work something out!

P.S. The recent SF Chronicle article, and your response, have now found their way into my curriculum!

This gave me goosebumps. And then I roasted a chicken to celebrate.

Roasted Free-Range Chicken

We have received a lot of invitations to speak at events or meet with school/community groups, and Gowan works with high school students every day at the Learning Garden in Fort Bragg. We know that education is a profoundly important part of the local food system and the schools are a natural link. But, this letter really got to me. First of all, I wish I had this teacher as an 8th grader. Lucky students. And I know the farmers will be really touched to have the next generation of eaters taking an interest in the farming life. Upon reading this, I could see all these different dots connecting at once and it finally registered that this project has reached new heights in impact and relevance, on an extremely meaningful scale.

The number of blog hits is only so important as to how many people actually give a damn. And, there are so many of you who do. You follow us daily (which is enough to make both of us blush.) You care enough to think in terms of miles when you look at your dinner plate, to ask questions, to talk about where your food comes from with your family or neighbors, to shop at the farmers’ markets even when it’s windy and foggy, to cook from scratch and to grow your own food… And, then there are some that try to make local food relevant (and even cool) to 8th graders – a tough audience at best. It’s totally goosebump-inducing.

To know that we have been able to elevate the discussion around local food, and to motivate others to create new relationships with food isn’t unforeseen, yet it’s still enough to make me take pause. Honestly, I would love to gather around the stove with Michael Pollan and writer from the SF Chronicle and make dinner and talk all night. In a way, that is what we’re doing. With different ingredients in different ways we are all cooking up the future of food.  Our story is making local food real and tangible right now, every day for our neighbors and people all around the country, and world. It’s so fricken’ cool (I am learning the names of new countries through our blog stats). It’s been a good week, and it’s not even over, yet. Now I need to sleep to get ready for a very full day at the Not So Simple Living Fair in Boonville tomorrow.


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The domesticity debate: Feminism & going “back” to the kitchen

Between bowls of chicken soup, I read three things today while resting in bed. The first was a book about the iconic artist Frida Kahlo, the second a Time magazine article about Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and her mission to “reboot” feminism, and the third a Mother Jones article titled, “How Michael Pollan Romanticizes Dinner.”  I was trying to rest as my immune system is in overdrive, but all this reading turned me into a bedroom philosopher and got me thinking about my own feministy tendencies. Yes, that is a word; it is my own modification of an -ism that has never quite felt entirely comfortable, but also one I’m unwilling to abandon entirely.

So, I spent the afternoon thinking about what it means to be an ambitious woman in today’s world and also be going “back to the kitchen.” I am not going to make any grandiose statements on the issue, because my head still hurts and I got a little distracted by a visit from Gowan and the famous baby goat, Apple. And, I really wanted to make shortbread cookies tonight. If I write, will someone bake me local cookies? Thanks.

The discussion of domesticity comes down to the fact that a certain number of basic things have to be done to sustain life such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and pets. This is usually called housework, but it is really survival-work. Because what is more fundamental to life than the preparation of food? These tasks have often been considered “women’s work.” Michael Pollan’s newest book, Cooked, explores the history of women in the kitchen and what drove them out – citing feminism and entering the workforce as causes. I am less interested in what specifically drove women out of the kitchen at this point, and more interested in how i’m going to eat in the next week. This is where it gets interesting and particularly unnerving for me. Now, we don’t even have to wonder who’s going to cook. As Pollan says:

 “For the necessary and challenging questions about who should be in the kitchen, posed so sharply by Betty Friedan in the Feminist Mystique, ultimately got answered by the food industry: No one! Let us do it all!”

I have never been more domestic than I have during the past five months. I have also never been less dependent on a globalized corporate industrial food system that has tried to replace food with ingredients that you cannot pronounce. All of the cooking and dishwashing does not make me feel like I am fulfilling some genetic calling; it makes me feel like I am taking responsibility for my life. Ideally, it has made me aware that it is totally unsustainable to live alone as a single woman if we want to transform the broken systems that support life as we know it. We need neighbors to join together in the growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparation of food. We need sister-wives we can call on when we are lonely, hungry or tired so they can bring us foodstuffs and baby goats to cuddle. We need shared resources such as tools, equipment, and skills. We need a community of people with knowledge that spans many generations and geographies to solve all the problems we face. We need the humility to ask for help and the courage to try to do something we’ve never done before. We need to be willing to swing hammers and bake bread, regardless of whether or not we have a Y chromosome.

In short, reconnecting the dots for a sustainable, fulfilling economy will require the whole damn village – men and women alike. No one should be forced to cook, or do anything they don’t want to. If we all do some of the work some of the time, there is enough for everyone. I am not suggesting that these problems are simple to solve. Neither is overturning patriarchy. Oppression, racism, classism and sexism exist, and they are all reflected in a food system that is built on injustice.

Gowan and I decided to take one giant step toward a better food future in our own lives, to show that it is possible. And, that it is fun, and challenging, too. We are both exhausted from working triple time. The “joy” of cooking is real, and it’s also hard work! As Tom Philpott points out in the Mother Jones article:

So even Julia Child, born in 1912, grew up with servants in the kitchen and scant memories of her mother whipping up dinner—although, to the 1960s-era audience of her television show, live-in cooks were likely much less common than they were during Child’s 1920s childhood, because the cost of labor had risen over the decades. But the point stands: People with sufficient means have long been able to opt out of cooking. What I wrote back in 2009 still sums up my thoughts today:

Pollan was right: people do need to revalue the craft of cooking, to embrace it as a quotidian pleasure, not a mere chore. But if we manage convince them of that, we’ll have achieved something new, not returned to a lost past.

There is no going “back.” No going back to the land. No going back to the kitchen. There is no perfect past where gender relations and domestic duties lie in perfect balance. Our relationship with food has been structured by social movements, political will, economic shifts and cultural norms. Now, it is largely being decided by corporations. So, as we move forward into a new food future, I think the biggest battle is getting Betty Crocker out of the kitchen and getting Monsanto out of the White House. In the meantime, let’s make dinner together. (Seriously, if anyone wants to have us over for a local dinner, let us know! We’d love a break.) And we think men in aprons are sexy.