Summing Up

As my summer winds down, I have to say goodbye to this wonderful journey. What was originally three to five pages double spaced is now nearly two hundred pages of typed interviews, thoughts, and outlines. Colorful photos of vineyards, gardens, and smiles fill my computer. My stories have prompted laughs, arguments, and interest among my friends. I’ve spoken to restaurant owners, farmers, lawyers, shop owners and tour guides and visited cheese factories, vineyards, schools, and butcher shops.  Despite all this information, however, I’m left with more questions than I started with!  All my remaining questions provoked me to change my class schedule in hopes of gaining some insight into the areas that still interest me. What I found most fascinating throughout this summer was Why do we eat what we eat? and Why can fresh, local, organic food be the cheaper option? Because of this, I have signed up for a Biological Anthropology class in hopes of gaining some knowledge about cultures, traditions, and the history of our species. I’ve never taken an anthropology class but it sounds interesting! Also, I signed up for two economics classes. Throughout the summer, the one consistent theme I found was that people’s finances heavily influence their decisions. I would love to do some more research on the government’s role in subsidizing commodities as well as how international trade affects the price of goods sold domestically. I’m finding more and more that although there are some dedicated foodies out there determined to always eat local and fresh produce, the majority of individuals just buy what is cheap, available, and convenient. It would be fascinating to learn more about how all these things numbers take effect in the market. Along with my new classes, my school job consists in increasing Aramark’s procurement of local goods, so I know that this will not be the end of visiting farms and looking into these questions! I truly hope that I will find the support, through friends and teachers, to continue pursing this project that I have come to love. Finally, I’ve included some photos that I took while my mother and I went to visit Benziger Winery, a biodynamic vineyard in northern California. I’ll be showing photos from everywhere that I went when I present my project to William and Mary in the fall. To anyone that read my posts, I hope you enjoyed them and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or are just a mutual lover of food! I also would like to thank William and Mary for providing the support needed to pursue this project. I couldn’t have done it without the donations of generous alumni parents and I am grateful that they made this memorable summer possible.

Wheat Belly

Despite the fact that my love of food brought me to this research, some of my findings are pushing me away from the foods I’ve always loved. During a conversation with some family friends in New Orleans over genetically modified foods, I was begged to read Wheat Belly, a book that our family friends claimed had changed their lives. I borrowed the New York Times Bestseller and took it with me on a beach vacation to New Jersey, hoping that I would have some valuable time on the beach to knock out a few books on my list. Despite the novels emphasis on weight loss, there are some scary truths hidden in these now sand-ridden pages. In Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis details the changes that science has brought to modern wheat over the past fifty years, namely changing the fourteen-chromosome wild grass that our bodies are used to into a forty-two chromosome dwarf-sized excuse for wheat that is unable to survive in the wild without human intervention. This new wheat, he argues, is uniquely responsible for causing harms to our digestive system, blood sugar, pH, skin, heart and brain. This new “wheat” grew out of an effort by Dr. Borlaug in hopes of relieving world hunger by manufacturing a wheat that produced a higher yield (hence the shorter “dwarf” stalk). The scary evidence is that this new genetically modified wheat was introduced to the public market without any human or animal testing. It is only now, as celiac disease is on the rise (fourfold over the past fifty years) that individuals are beginning to question the potential complications that this “wheat” brings. I’m having a difficult time eating all the pasta dishes that I learned how to while in Berkeley! I hope that soon this book will go along with Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, and The Jungle into the category of information that managed to influence my diet but then eventually allowed it to return to normal. Part of research is reading the other side of the argument, even if that means not being able to stomach a hamburger for a few days. What is fascinating though, is the criticism that the author brings to our praised notion of “eat more healthy whole grains”. By claiming that the obesity problem in America is a result of this fake “wheat” that we are eating, Dr. Davis’ assertion mocks the advice of the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Wheat Belly may not be the Bible as moms are praising it to be, but it certainly adds another lens with which to look at the death of the agrarian lifestyle and obesity in America.

Cowgirl Creamery

Today, I was reassured that I found the best topic to research. I borrowed a friend’s car and drove up to Marin County, which is roughly an hour away from where I’ve been staying in Berkeley. I went to tour Cowgirl Creamery, an organic artisanal cheese factory which is known for their potent Red Hawk cheese. Not only did I witness the beauty of cheese making, which is 85% cleaning and 15% cheese making, but I also had the opportunity to try nine varieties of cheese. Since I am always terrified of the cottage cheese my mother eats every morning, this was adventurous for me. I learnt that cheese is thought to predate wine; some believe that a brave soul once put milk into a bladder and traveled across the desert to find this process resulted in cheese! This is possible because the stomach enzymes in the bladders are necessary to separate the curds from the whey and heat allows the bacteria to grow. Today, cheese makers add the enzyme (which is easily purchased from any specialized cheese store) directly to the milk without putting the milk back into a bladder. Our tour guide used a high concentration of the enzyme that allowed my group to witness cheese making in a matter of seconds! Throughout this process he taught us how to make cheese at home from the “mother” cheese that one would typically buy in a grocery store. Although it may not produce award-winning results, if you add a dollop of your desired cheese (try crème fraîche with live active cultures) to cream and let the mixture sit in an oven set at the lowest temperature, the heat will allow the bacteria to spread to the rest of the milk, resulting in another batch of your favorite fresh cheese! Our tour guide also introduced us to MALT, an agricultural land trust founded by the owner of Cowgirl Creamery, Ellen Straus, in the 70’s to combat the development of agricultural land. In a unique and unprecedented manner, Ellen Straus and others bought the easement rights to many of the farms in Marin County, giving the farmers an influx of resources that they used to improve their land. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust helped many farmers get the economic support that they needed to make the change from conventional to organic growing methods. Seems to me like this could be a sustainable business model going forwards, perhaps more individuals, or companies could use this strategy to maintain farmland and provide economic support to struggling farmers. With all this useful information, I am finding that the tape recorder is proving to be a messy means to capture material. On tours, I have to squeeze my way to the front and make sure that the tour guide’s voice is in range of the recorder and with little background noise. If someone can help me think of a less pesky way to capture all my information I would be eternally grateful. Despite that nuisance, I was thrilled that I traveled out here. I took Highway One down the coast, jumped into the Pacific, and drove over the Golden Gate. All this is making me want to move out to California!

Crescent City Farmer’s Market

My first stop was at the Farmer’s Market in New Orleans. Having lived in New Orleans for 19 years, I have grown close to many of the farmers at the market held three blocks away from my house every Tuesday morning. The farmers were incredibly helpful and more than willing to help me with my project! I spoke to a dairy farmer who had worked in his three-generation-family business his whole life, and when I asked him whether we should be eating locally he replied “People should know where there food is coming from. Today, the way that they do things with the bst, the hormones, it can’t be good for you. Buying from someone like us, just a local farmer, what you see on our tables is what we do. We make produce our milk, we grass feed our cows. Not because the government tells us to, but because it’s the right way to do it”. Not surprisingly, I consistently found the farmers adamant that more individuals should be visiting the Farmer’s Market for local and fresh food. I heard many stories of how farming is a difficult and tedious job, especially when many tend to leave the occupation to work for the power plants that came to the city. Every one that I spoke to was enthusiastic about their profession and was disappointed that so many farmers had moved on to other lines of work. One vegetable farmer commented, “That’s why in our area we hardly have any farmer’s left. In the river parish area, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James Parish there is so much industry that the youngers fellows go there. In the last 50 years they have gotten slowly away from farming to go work for the plants. And I know both ends of it, I worked for the plants too and it’s much easier, you get all kinds of benefits you get vacation, hospitalizations whereas farming you are on your own. You have to be willing to work seven days a week”. Overall, it was a wonderful morning. One of the individuals that I interviewed even convinced me to try steamed kale, despite its daunting foot-long leaves. My next stop is interviewing Dickie Brennan, owner of three wonderful restaurants in New Orleans. As I move between individuals and hear such fascinating stories, I’m beginning to see just how many angles my project can take on.

Terroir Research Project

This year, I worked closely with one of my professors to develop a research project centered on terroir and its connections to culture and health. I plan on first delving into the science of terroir, what exactly it is, and in what foods is it best preserved. I am starting this research by reading on the subject, mostly books like Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town and similar titles, as well as studying terroir in cheese, coffee, wine, olive oil, and meat. After that, I will extend my research to broader questions that relate to the industrialization of food, and examine the implications of an increasingly processed food industry. Specifically, I will look into how terroir has become a foreign concept to our generation and how we can regain this insight into our lives. Finally, I will examine the attempts of small farms, restaurants, schools, and the ‘slow food’ movement at revitalizing terroir in our daily lives by providing their communities with education and support.  A part of my project consists in photographing all those that I meet, the farms that I visit, and restaurants that I write about so that I can have a PowerPoint to show my school upon my return.