Tuesday, September 23, 2008

South Park: My favorite lunch spot and its garden truck

As many of you know, I spend most of my lunches in South Park. It's a wonderful spot, not only for it being a green enclave in cement covered SOMA but for the subtle characters that populate the parks benches every day. In any event, there is pickup truck parked at almost all times on the north side of South Park, right in front of South Park Cafe, whose back section is always filled with plants: flowering, leafy, and fruiting (tomatoes!). I'm not really sure why this truck is there and filled with greenery; the plants don't appear for sale and there is no marking indicating how pedestrians should treat this garden in this public space. I am going to guess, however, that the placement of these potted plants could be using the possibly unused space of the back of a pickup to produce food as well as reducing the trucks CO2 emissions. How sweet. Is this possibly some green art installation/victory garden of sorts? Or is it simply intended to add a view to South Park's already pretty park setting?

I tried to do some research on the internet and found nothing on the truck, but did find a cool historical photograph of my favorite park. In any event, does anyone know the true role of this mini truck garden? Thanks.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Park(ing) Day in San Francisco

This past Friday was national Park(ing) Day, which is an annual, national event centered in San Francisco where artists, land use designers, activists, and citizens collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into "PARK(ing)" spaces, ie. temporary public parks. REBAR, an interdisciplinary collaborative group of artists, designers, and activists in San Francisco has been organizing Park(ing) Day since 2005 and now collaborates with The Trust for Public Land to create this day long event.

The idea of Park(ing) Day comes from a desire to encourage more public land and works through a "loop hole" in the law regarding metered parking spaces. In November 2005, REBAR rolled out grass sod across a downtown San Francisco, metered parking spot and placed a bench for sitting a a tree for shade on the grass, creating a temporary public park. There is not stipulation in the law that specifies what the object must be that "rents" the metered parking spot for the hour, thus allowing sod and parking benches to take up these parking spaces as long as the meter is filled. The artists/activists of REBAR wanted to comment on dichotomy between the amount of outdoor space dedicated to the private vehicle (70%) and the amount of space dedicated to public park spaces (only a fraction of that) in densely populated, downtown areas. Since Park(ing) Day 2005, the event as grown not only in the city of San Francisco to include close to 50 registered park(ing) spaces but across the country to close to 100 cities.

McCall Design Group, the architecture firm where my friend Emily works, designed one of these parking spaces specifically considering water conservation, by using permeable surface materials (substitutes for asphalt) that would allow water to be recycled back into the watershed system. Their parking space specifically exhibited the various permeable surface materials possible, including bricks that hold gravel so as to stop the gravel from leaving your driveway, as well as several types of plants whose roots halt erosion but don't require being watered as they are native plants, thus decreasing the amount of water we use. A lot of other exciting projects took place as well as a "Jay and Michael's Wedding Day" park at Scott and Waller in celebration of the legalization of gay marriage.

In addition, my dad sent me an Economist article yesterday about San Francisco's new plan for managing public parking spaces, which will include sensors to determine where free spots are open as well as the ability to pay meters by credit card and spots whose cost varies with the hour depending for the depand for parking at that time. The idea behind this program is to ease the move of traffic in congested areas by decreasing the number of people havig to circle to find parking rather than simply looking in a database, which will decrease the carbon dioxide emissions in two ways: one, by decresing the amount of time to find a parking spot, and two by decreasing conjestion caused by people looking for parking.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On what Slow Food actually means...

Leading up to Slow Food Nation I was often asked what "Slow Food" actually means. Each time, I found myself answering the question a bit differently depending on to whom I was talking; at first, I thought this was probably due to my not having a clear sense of the movement, but I think now that my various answers were pretty close to the movement's reality. Slow Food has a lot of meanings and origins, which is okay and pretty appropriate, as all these meanings lead to the same resolution of "better" food. The various definitions of what "better" means are why the movement has so many meanings.

Slow Food's motto is good, clean, and fair food. More specifically this mean, that the food we eat should taste good; the this food should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare, nor our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. In a talk that I attended during the Slow Food Nation weekend, aptly called "Slow Food Nation",Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser, and Carlo Petrini discussed what Slow Food meant, each speaker bringing a unique perspective on the matter.

Of the speakers, I thought Vadana Shiva brought the most thoughtful perspective to what slow food meant. She spoke most about the Slow Food movement in the context of the greater world food economy, about places were people do not receive the proper nutrition because of the way food systems are set up. Her most important conclusion was to not encourage developing countries to emulate the US food system but to continue to educate citizens on how to produce their own food so as not to become dependant upon other countries for food and to also continue to produce food locally. In addition, as I stated in an earlier blog post, she made the astute statement that the biggest obstacle to the slow food movement is fashion.

In addition, the statement that the slow food movement is a leaderless movement was made, which I also find very true and very interesting. Slow food is, for obvious reasons, a local movement. Much of what slow food strives for is that food be produced locally, which makes it as clean as possibly, often as good as possible (I mean, has anyone had a Haas avocado from South America taste as good as the ones grown here?), and also easiest to determine if the workers have been treated fairly. It's interesting, however, to consider how a movement without a clear leader has gained such an impressive following via grassroots organization.

Overall, I think that much of how an individual perceives slow food is dependant on where an individual lives. In the Bay Area, for example we mostly focus on good as much of our food is clean and fair (ie local with fairly paid labor). Also, there is a lot of culture developed around food here; from restaurants to farmer's markets to food magazines to underground eating clubs, a lot of time has been spent developing a culture around meals. Since moving to San Francisco, I can't remember having even stepped into a fast food chain restaurant for even a bathroom while I have also developed a digestive reaction to any fried food. In the Bay Area we thus have the luxury to reinstate the culture of eating meals communally as well as redefining what this culture is; in this manner, when I talk to someone from the Bay Area about what Slow Food is, I might focus on the cultural redevelopment of eating that is occurring with the slow food movement, but if I'm talking to a friend from Philadelphia who love cheese steaks I might talk about slow food being the opposite of fast food, and give a general overview of how in a "slow" meal you are more connected with the entire production of your food from seed to plate, thus standing in contrast to a fast food meal where you only really participate in the ordering of a grey meat patty. gross.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Slow Food Taste Pavilions: a Glutonous Display of Food

One of the other events I participated in during Slow Food Nation was the Taste Pavilions. My ticket for this event was a whopping $58 after getting a discount from the original $65 via the Whole Foods discount. When my friend Lora and I arrived at Fort Mason, where the Taste Pavilions were being held, however, we were taken aback by the abundant display of delicious foods and suddenly realized that our $58 was money well spent.

The organizers of Slow Food Nation convinced local architects to create designs to convert one of the Fort Mason warehouses into a series of food specific rooms or "pavilions" where visitors can taste and learn about artisan versions of their favorite foods. Taste wise, my favorite of all of the pavilions was, by far, the ice cream pavilion. There were two "flights" of ice cream scoops, and I chose the Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil, and Fresh Blueberry flight, which was most definitely the best of the flights. The chocolate was creaming and wonderfully flavorful, the olive oil subtlety sweet and extra creamy with the fat of the oil, and the blueberry actually tasted like blueberries--what a concept!

My other favorite pavilions were the Olive Oil, Chocolate, Fish, and Wine, each for different reasons. The Olive Oil pavilion was in my opinion the best designed of the pavilions: the designers used everyday construction materials such as orange netting, raw wood, and crates to create a beautifully lit space that truly transported you away from the rest of the pavilions. More specifically, the front of the pavilion was occupied by a tasting station while the back of the space was equipped with an educational space where trained olive oil experts told about how to properly taste olive oil, which is a process reasonably similar to wine tasting, just involving smaller tastes (I mean, would you really want to drink a glass of olive oil in one sitting?). This pairing of spaces made it nice to go back to the tasting part of the pavilion so that you could taste each olive oil, knowing which undertones to look for. The chocolate pavilion was great because of the variety of tasting they gave you; it was also interesting how the flavors of each chocolate changed as you ate the other pieces, your taste pallet changing with each bite of chocolate. The wine pavilion, while not a wonderfully designed space, was wonderfully fun to go to with my friend Lora who can look at an absurdly long wine list and pick out the most expensive bottles to try, and boy, were some of them amazing. The fish was also a delicious stop for the creativity of each dish and was especially tasty after the disappointing charcuterie pavilion.

And so yes, the charcuterie was very disappointing. While the prosciutto we had was tasty, but it's pretty hard to have prosciutto not be tasty. We were also given beef jerky (really?) and something that resembled pate, but wasn't. Each were fine, but none had any wow factor. Charcuterie truly was a pavilion with so much potential (just off the top of my head, why no lardo?) that was totally not taken advantage of, while also in the midst of other pavilions that were totally pushing the envelop of their respective food products.

One of the most fun parts of the night, however, was are mistaken crashing of the employee party. After the official ending of the Taste Pavilions at 9, people congregated outside the event in front of the beer pavilion, and Lora and I thought it appropriate to join them. Eventually, it went on past 10 and a lot of people had left, and those remaining started to ask us which pavilion we had worked in. After enough people asked us, we realized we were in fact crashing the staff party, which was more than fine with the good natured foodies. The great part about the party was that all the beer, bread, and opened bottles of wine not used during the event were now being given out for free for all to take, which we might have taken advantage of just a bit.

Relating this back to the Slow Food movement as a whole, Slow Food is often criticized for being an exclusive or bougie movement; due to the expensive price of the ticket for the pavilions, this point is valid. While it was a wonderful experience to taste such delicious food, the polished designs of the pavilions, the high end food products, and the well dressed visitors seemed a little removed from some of the movement's "roots". On the other hand, having such a celebration of food brings delicious food and the necessary steps to obtain this food (good, clean, fair being the moto of the slow food movement) to the attention of a greater public than it would have otherwise. In this manner, it is great that it is more prevelent to be a conscientious food consumer but I would agree with one of the speakers I saw in a panel during the weekend (which will be the subject of my next posting) who said that one of the greatest obstacles to the movement is fashion. As fashions change and flux, we do not want the slow food movement to be a fad that will simply pass with time.

Also, I should mention that Alice Waters was there. She signed my ticket. Swoon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Victory Garden in Civic Center Plaza

I want to devote this post to the Victory Garden in Civic Center Plaza, which I find to be the greatest contribution Slow Food Nation had to San Francisco as a whole. Victory gardens, also known as war gardens or food gardens for defense, first came about during World Wars I and II as a response to the pressure on the food system brought on by the war efforts. These gardens produced food (vegetables, fruits, herbs, and livestock) and were planted at private residents as well as in public spaces-- Eleanor Roosevelt raised sheep on the White House front lawn in 1943. These victory gardens produced up to 40% of the food consumed nationally and helped to lower the cost of produce, thus allowing funds that would have been spent on food to advance the war effort in other areas.

The victory garden planted in front of the San Francisco Civic Center was funded by the City of San Francisco and redefines the "victory"
used in the gardens of WWI and WWII;
this garden, as well as other present victory gardens, was developed to increase urban sustainability. In the context of our food systems being stretched across longer and longer distances, the San Francisco Civic Center Victory Garden encourages SF residents to look increasingly local for their food supply. The resulting garden in Civic Center plaza was also aesthetically pleasing and biologically diverse. The circular beds included many local plants, included some rumored poison oak, as well as plants that have become staples of our California diet. In addition, a compost display could be found at the back, encouraging visitors to continue to reuse their food.

The San Francisco victory garden is also part of a larger movement of victory gardens that are encouraging citizens to look locally for their food. Additionally, there is a petition circulating to encourage the next president of the United States to plant a victory garden on the White House Lawn, hearkening back to Eleanor Roosevelt's time. Coupled with this movement, there is a growing network of people campaigning for the creation of edible landscapes, be it on the White House lawn or in your very own backyard.

In any event, the Victory Garden on City Hall's lawn was by far the most visible and accessible part of Slow Food Nation. San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom was also affected by having the front lawn of his office become an edible landscape and is now working on developing San Francisco's first food policy, to be released in the next several months. While trying to feed the entire city, including public schoolchildren, homeless people, jail inmates, and hospital patients with an all organic, locally grown diet via public funds seems a bit financially unrealistic, the thought to start working towards creating the infrastructure to produce our food locally is a great one.

Also, watch Roger Dorion's "Eat the View" video, his campaign to the next United States President to make the White House lawn a victory garden:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Seagull Eats Pigeon! WHAT?

While this weekend was filled with glutenous consumption of gourmet food, thoughtful considerations of the origins of this food, and brainstorming for solutions, I saw a Seagull tearing apart a pigeon when I was leaving Saturday's events. It seemed a little odd, and my friend Kenneth remarked that he didn't think that it was natural for Seagulls, or all birds for that matter, to eat other birds. Well, sadly, after my Google search revealed that this has happened before, not only with Seagulls but with Pelicans, and instead of a dead Pigeon, it was a live one. Still, however, Kenneth was right: Pigeons are not part of a Seagulls' natural diet. In any event, the video is a little crazy, and I think the location of the occurrence right in front of the Slow Food Victory Garden is sort of entertaining.