Tag Archives: local

Food Columnist Karina Alexander navigates the haze of organic food labels and suggests what to splurge on and what’s okay to buy non-organic

Methods of growing produce have expanded from simple backyard cultivation to mass production of fruits and vegetables. In order to meet the high demand for food, producers use unnatural methods of farming, including using high levels of toxic substances on plants. These days, it is difficult to navigate buying produce, and to know what labels on the products are actually saying. What is the difference between organic and certified organic? Is it really worth it to shell out the extra few dollars? Is there a nutritional difference between conventional produce and organic produce?

Conventional Produce:
- Growers use pesticides that contain harsh substances.
- Weeds are removed with chemicals.
- Sprays are used to control insects and pests.
Produce to buy conventionally: Bananas, cabbage, asparagus, kiwis, onions, avocado, melon.

- No pesticides are used.
- Weeds are removed naturally.
- No sprays directly on the plants .
- There still may be traces of chemicals on food if fertilizer is used that contains chemicals.
Produce that should be bought organic: Apple, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherries, kale, lettuce, peaches, strawberries. Anything that you eat the skin of!

Certified Organic:
- Producers must apply and constrain to strict organic standards when growing produce
- Very long process, includes inspection
- Must adhere to rules regarding levels of toxicity in soil
- No pesticides used, no sprays, and no chemicals are allowed in the growing process

So is it even worth it to buy organic produce? There have been many studies done about differences in nutrition-wise in organic and conventional produce. Nutritionally the two are said to be equivalent, but the consumers generally prefer the taste and better flavor of organic produce. The buyer is also helping both the environment and personal health when eating organically. There are less toxic substances that are leached into the body and less health problems that follow. Who wants to have a body full of toxic chemicals that can lead to sickness if they can avoid it?

Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is

Shop in Bulk and Source Locally

Packaging takes up a huge portion of the landfills on our planet and by buying in bulk, you can cut down on unnecessary waste.
Rainbow Market in the Mission has a great selection of bulk products and even gives you ten cents off your total for every bag you reuse or container you bring in to use. Whole Foods also has a great bulk section that offers a variety of organic (and sometimes even local) products.
As far as your produce goes, shopping at local Farmer’s Markets helps to cut down on carbon emissions because your fruit and vegetables don’t have to be shipped from halfway across the world.
Often times, the farms are between 20 and 100 miles away and offer organic and sustainable produce. They offer seasonal produce, and the vendors at the markets are happy to tell you where the produce comes from, how it was grown and whether or not pesticides were used in the farming process.

One Word: Vegan

I’m not telling you to give up your meat and dairy completely, but at least cut back on the amount of animal products and byproducts that you consume. One healthy, adult cow produces, on average, one hundred pounds of waste a day. This is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emission and by cutting back on meat and dairy, you can help to eliminate some of these effects.
If you must eat meat or dairy, make sure that it is organic, free range, and hormone free. Straus Creamery is an excellent local dairy farm and all of their products are sustainable and good for the environment. Also, make sure to get cage-free, hormone free eggs. The couple more dollars you spend on these items will be worth it in the long run.

Help Out in the Community Garden

Did you know that USF has a community garden right next to the ED building? If you come and help out on a Friday workday between 12P- 4P, you can not only walk away with some fresh greens, but you can also learn how to plant, grow, and harvest your own produce based on what is in season.
You can also use these skills to plant a window box with fresh herbs or take it to the next step and start planting your own fresh veggies!

Interested in Learning to Live Off the Land? Take A USF Summer Course

Green Media will be taught this summer by David Silver as a media production course. This year, it is being taught from July 24th- August 7th at Buck Mountain Experimental Station, owned and operated by Professor Melinda Stone.
If you need a cell phone and computer to get through your day, this course isn’t for you. Nestled in Northern California, the station is removed from the hustle of everyday life and perfect for those wanting to have a hands on experience.
In this intensive class, you will walk away knowing how to live off the land and how to produce your own food. While it is a media studies course, it is hosted by USF’s environmental studies department. There are very limited spots so make sure to sign up!

Eat At Restaurants That Use Sustainable, Local, and Organic Ingredients

I love eating out, but sometimes it can be discouraging to think about where your food comes from. Many restaurants in the city are now priding themselves on offering sustainable, local, and seasonal ingredients. Try out these sustainable restaurants:

Tataki Sushi
(California between Divisadero and Broderick)
Sorry to break it to my raw fish lovers, but a lot of sushi is extremely unsustainable and is harming the environment. Tataki Sushi is a sustainable sushi restaurant that was introduced to me by a colleague. It is not only delicious, but it makes sure that the dish offered is viable for the planet.
Favorites on the menu: extinguisher roll ($13), sashimi taster- 6 pieces of the chef’s selection ($12), tuna poke ($11)

Plant Cafe Organic
(Various Locations)
The Plant Cafe is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. I find myself here a couple times a month. Not only is their food fresh, but their name says it all. The Plant Cafe prides themselves on using organic and sustainable ingredients and is a great restaurant for vegans. Their poultry and seafood is free of hormones, antibiotics and is oftentimes sources locally.
Favorites on the menu: quinoa bowl ($10.25), fish tacos($12.5), tuscan chicken panini ($10.50), skin refresher juice with cucumber, apple, strawberry and watermelon ($5.75 for 12oz.)

Students Sustaining Students: Campus Farm Stand Brings Organic Produce to the People

Planted in the middle of Harney Plaza, a table surrounded by students and professors with the smell of fresh food wafting through the air drew the attention of curious passersby. “It’s the ultimate university, where students are feeding students real food,” said Professor David Silver, professor of media studies and co-adviser to the Garden Project’s Living Learning Community. He was speaking of the USF farm stand. New this year, the farm stand has started to make a name for itself each Thursday in Harney Plaza. It is staffed by members of the Garden Project, USF’s living learning community focused on cultivating the organic garden and learning how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

The farm stand provides fresh vegetables as well as baked goods and cooked meals, something they added this semester. All foods are provided in return for a suggested donation. “The farm stand is really about making students more aware of where their food comes from. When I would go to the grocery store, I would see just tons and tons of food and it all looked so perfect,” said freshman Garden Project member Carlen Handley. “It just didn’t seem right, which is why I wanted to get involved in the Garden Project and the farm stand. It’s about providing real food.”

Students in the Garden Project live on the same floor and attend classes together on Fridays. The classes teach them how to grow food in an urban environment and how to spread this knowledge. Class time is also spent tending to the garden, located behind the School of Education.

The farm stand was created as a means to spread word about sustainable living and also as an outlet for the excess produce from the garden. Last semester, the stand mainly provided different kinds of vegetables and herbs such as kale and chard, but found a lack of success due to the fact that many students living in dorms don’t have the resources or time to cook their own meals from scratch. To remedy this, the farm stand began serving prepared foods this semester, which they found gained a greater response from students.

Thursday, Feb. 18, found the farm stand dishing out potato-vegetable soup, created by freshman Kristin Castillo, as well as an ‘un-beet-able’ chocolate-beet cake, both made largely with ingredients from the garden. “I like to mainly use things we grow and then just add a few cheap store-bought things,” Castillo said. “The main thing is that I know everything that’s going in there. It’s not like buying a candy bar where you have no idea what most of the ingredients are.”

The garden project and farm stand seek to increase student awareness of the source of their sustenance, and hope that by giving just a little, students will gain a lot and see the benefit of working towards a greener future.

Students can check out the USF farm stand in Harney Plaza on Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Or if you are interested in helping in the garden, stop by on Tuesdays from 1:00-5:00 p.m. for a chance to exercise that green thumb.

Sustainable Food Education, Local and Delicious

Farmers market 1

Heart of the City Farmer’s Market offers a plethora of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and flowers. A woman peruses a variety of citrus fruits with her two daughters. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)

The scent of citrus is in the air as ripe pomelos, oranges and clementines are cut into pieces for customers to try. “It’s like a grapefruit,” said the Asian vendor, nodding her head as she hands a slice of pomelo to a curious elderly woman to taste. “Mmm, it’s so sweet,” the customer, Merdig Rooney, said in satisfaction. A doctor dressed in a white lab coat and stethoscope paid for a small bunch of red beets and walked back into the hospital smiling. While waiting for a Kaiser Permanente shuttle bus to take him back to the BART station, a young man wiped sweet, sticky crumbs from his beard and mustache after taking a bite of a freshly-baked cinnamon bun. “Putting a farmers market in front of a hospital was a very smart thing to do,” said Merdig Rooney as she places a bulky pomelo in her basket.

The mastermind behind the operation is Dr. Preston Maring, obstetrician-gynecologist and administrator at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. What started as one local market has bloomed into thirty farmers markets at various Kaiser Permanente facilities. He founded the first Kaiser market in an attempt to make healthier food choices available for the Oakland community, his staff and patients. “It was clear to me that after over 30 years of practice as a physician, that what people ate probably had more to do with their health than almost anything else,” said Maring. “So I started thinking, ‘If you brought a market to a work site, where thousands of people gather, could it be successful and what would the people’s reactions be?’”

In reaction to concerns about health, climate change and the global economy, food activists of all ages and backgrounds are trying to change the way people eat. Some, like Maring, are putting farmers markets in unlikely places. Others, like the students of the University of San Francisco’s Garden Project, are growing their own food. And some, like Bon Appétit Management Company, are providing local, fresh and organic foods to the University of San Francisco community. All of these people are using the pleasures of food in order to educate people about the connections between farm, table, economy and health.

Small farms are an important food resource that is getting smaller every year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 8,900 farms were lost between 2005 and 2006. Although the number of farms is steadily decreasing, there has been an increase in demand for small-farmed foods. With over 500 markets in California, the USDA reports that there are now 4,653 farmers markets in the country, a 6.8 percent increase from 1994.

“Small farms and their sustainable practices, not just organic agriculture, are the pulse of food sustainability,” says Maring. With the increase in local food demand, more attempts are being made to bring back small farm produce and practice to our tables. “I try to encourage people to eat food that’s good for them, food that’s good for the people that grow it, and food that’s good for the planet,” said Maring.

The bustle of the market is a place where education happens. Customers ask the local farmers how to cook sunchokes. Pamphlets on everything from nutrition facts to vegetarian Christmas recipes are offered. A program called Cookin’ da Market holds live cooking demonstrations. “I’m looking at every way possible to try and connect people with the local food system,” Maring said. “One Friday we brought over high school students from Oakland High. Thirty-three kids came, and we spent about 45 minutes out at the market. Another doctor and I and couple of other colleagues cooked these kids a grilled chicken Caesar lunch with farmers market lettuce.”

Maring is constantly on the prowl for different strategies to help encourage people to realize that cooking at home is a good thing. He’s a physician who doesn’t beat people up about the how-tos of a daily diet. Merely providing fresh food to people is his way of enticing them to give it a try—one person at a time. “If you put a fresh peach in front of somebody in the middle of July and it just so happens that they walk by, might they eat that fresh peach instead of a bag of Doritos?” said Maring

Slow Food Savvy

Sometimes the problem with eating locally is the cost of the fresh produce. “Doing the right thing isn’t cheap,” said Executive Chef Jon Hall of Bon Appétit at USF. In terms of the individual consumer, Maring suggests that such costliness can be balanced out. “Some people look at vegetables and they think it’s expensive compared to hamburgers. At some point that could be true but if you in general, just eat a little less meat one or two days a week and eat more vegetables, the money you save in the long run is enough to offset the cost of buying good, healthy fruits and vegetables,” Maring said.

Carlo Petrini, founder of the worldwide Slow Food movement, which encourages people to slow down and enjoy slow cooked meals from local sources, spoke at the Kaiser Permanente 2007 Saward Lecture in Portland, Ore., about his book ‘Slow Food Nation.’ Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy attended the event and posted the lecture on their local food network Cookin Up a Story—a website that offers a variety of shows and news about sustainable food and living and those working to change our world for the better through agriculture, ecology, and the environment. Petrini touched on what he sees as the misperceptions of the consumption of food in today’s society. “And so publicity has convinced us to eat worse food so we can have more money to consume other things. Now we are at this absurd figure where underwear costs more than food. Say I wear an Armani pair of underwear. If I eat prosciutto, cheese, or good bread, after a few seconds it becomes a part of Carlo Petrini. The Armani underwear is always outside of Carlo Petrini. Let’s give ourselves more value than our clothes.”

Maring has realized a greater role for the medical institution, which has expanded to providing better quality food for the inpatients define inpatient?. Within the 19 Northern California Kaiser hospitals 6,000-7,000 meals are provided to inpatients every day. In the past two years, Kaiser has been providing those meals with produce from local farmers. What began as about a dozen farmers getting their produce into Kaiser hospitals has grown to 97 small farmers providing their goods to institutional buyers. “The institutional support of purchasing small farmer food helps as a foundation for spreading the word to more and more institutions. There is a big role, I think, for institutional buyers in helping support local and regional food systems,” said Maring.

Bon Appétit Management Company, the food service provider at USF, receives most all of its produce from a company that buys from small farms, primarily in the Central Valley. Bon Appétit has over 400 locations nationwide and provides good service in three market segments: corporate, higher education and specialty venues. Bon Appétit’s standards are causing buyers to purchase certain sustainable foods. “The company is aware of our standards, so in turn they purchase what they will sell, which is local and sustainable foods. It also works well because otherwise we would cause a lot of traffic from every farmer trying to deliver their personal truckloads to us,” said Hall.
Students Take Action Through Garden Project

There is also an aspect that USF Professor Melinda Stone is challenging her Garden Project students to explore on campus. Stone said, “I am constantly telling my students that Bon Appétit is where you can make a difference. You can really shift the policies of Bon Appétit. And guess what, they continue to buy bananas because you guys eat them. There’s such a great potential to create a shift here.” These words come from a banana lover who hasn’t eaten a banana in two years. “As soon as I really reconciled this fact that it’s a huge deal, I stopped. Not to say that my one person not eating a banana for two years has made a difference at all in the consumption of oil, but if everyone did that, think of the impact it could have,” she said.

Stone is an assistant professor of media studies and an advisor for the Garden Project. The Garden Project was established with the simple intention of growing food and growing community. Among the vegetation, Garden Project members have painted wooden signs labeling the various fruits and vegetables, a small, decorated tool shed, and a large backdrop of a bicycle among table and chairs. Currently, the pungent scent of fertilizer permeates the garden from recently planted lettuces. A large broccoli bush stands next to a spiraling medley of herbs. And a barren apple tree awaits the fall season to bear its fruits.

Two years ago, under the guidance of Stone and architecture professor Seth Wachtel, a group of freshman students resurrected a lot on campus full of unwanted theater props into a growing garden. “We were 11 female freshmen…farmers. We did it all. When we were out here we had to work together to get it done.” said Leigh Cuen, one of the original students in the Garden Project.

Stone has challenged her students to only eat food that is produced within 150 miles of San Francisco. “We have it pretty easy here since we are close enough to the Central Valley. But it is as hard as you could imagine doing that. That was the assignment, for one week, to eat within 150 miles, and they complained like you wouldn’t believe.” This was also a challenge posed to the United States by Slow Food USA in October of 2008 called the Local Food Challenge.

“If people just tried that for a week, they could really track down where their food comes from,” said Stone. “They would realize to themselves, ‘Wow, that thing that I eat everyday, that banana, that’s coming from Ecuador. What does that mean to eat a banana everyday?’ It’s healthy and you feel good about it, but ultimately there are food miles involved, and that’s petroleum. Also, how are the people growing those bananas treated by Chiquita Banana?” On the other hand, Holly Winslow, District Manager of Bon Appétit at USF, has had a hard time with this issue in her dining halls. “ Once I stopped providing bananas in the cafeteria and put out pomelos, which was a local and seasonal fruit at the time. But students started complaining that they wanted their bananas. That didn’t work. We still have to cater to the students,” said Winslow. However, Stone explains how the realization has to come first. “All those kinds of things are hard to realize because they are conceptual. You’re eating the banana, which is reality, but the story of that banana is outside of your personal interaction. Trying to make that real is difficult but something that is important for us to realize,” said Stone.
Bon Appetit: USF’s Local Food Source

This year Bon Appétit has tripled the number of small farmers’ food served on campus. “Last week a local farmer came into the cafe with tons of his oranges and squeezed fresh orange juice for about eight hours,” said Winslow. Bon Appétit’s educational signage is everywhere in the dining halls and cafés on the University of San Francisco campus: color coded food labels, recipes and food bar descriptions. The Bon Appétit website includes all the information one needs—from the meanings of the food labels in the dining halls to the problems with the current food system. “This year I’ve given more presentations on our practices to the student body than ever before,” said Winslow.

Yet in the dining halls, people usually just come for the obvious: to eat. Although there are still attempts to educate, Bon Appétit is creating community in a socially responsible manner through food. “The last thing they want me to do is preach to them about yesterday’s healthy lunch that was less than 500 calories or how our Low Carbon Diet days are benefiting the environment,” Winslow said. “It’s like, ‘listen you guys! We did a great action station yesterday.’ And they’ll say, ‘You know it really smells good to us so we’re going to stand here in line and talk about the election and not care about the nutritional content.’ It’s almost an expectation these days, and that’s okay.”

However, there are some students that are going beyond these expectations. The students of the Garden Project are not only being educated about food, they are growing it. There are 20 students in the Garden Project this year that are growing food and plants. Stone said, “Almost all of them, I think with the exception of maybe one or two, had no gardening experience at all, they just had a keen interest to learn more, and they’ve all grown food. This is not something that you have to go to for 10 years of school; it’s not a rarified profession either. It’s something that everyone can do.”

Bocce Café is an Italian Hit

If one were to wander off the main path in North Beach-the main “path” being the long stretch of Columbus Street-he or she would find him or herself faced with dauntingly steep hills, quirky boutiques and a few delicious restaurants that might otherwise go unnoticed by tourists or unadventurous locals. Among these restaurants is Bocce Café, an Italian eatery that seems small and modest from the outside. Once through its entrance, however, one realizes that there is more to Bocce than there appears to be.

Last Friday evening I dined at Bocce Café with a group of friends and acquaintances for the 21st birthday celebration of a friend and his roommate. Though our large party of about 16 people was almost 45 minutes late for our 7:30 p.m. reservation, the cafe held our table, albeit with slight irritation, judging by the face of our waiter. We were promptly given steaming baskets of bread that tasted savory and absolutely delicious. Everyone in my party was freezing and famished, so we quickly gobbled down the fluffy and satisfying appetizer, complemented with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

As we filled up on bread and waited for our drinks, I looked around for the “live jazz band” that was promised on the sign in front of the café. Hidden in a corner was a group of four or five musicians. Soon after they began to play some jazz and Frank Sinatra tunes. Later in the night, after catching on to the birthday festivities of our party, the musicians broke out in a resounding rendition of “Happy Birthday,” much to the delight of our party and the other restaurant patrons.

The live music aspect and the setup of the restaurant seemed to make it a good place for special occasions and birthday dinners. The main floor was spacious yet cozy and dimly lit. It felt classy and romantic, but it wasn’t so dark that you couldn’t read your menu. There was a beautiful outdoor patio, decorated with white twinkle lights. It was empty through the entirety of our dinner.
Besides the group I was with, there were two other large parties of people celebrating birthdays, both consisting of 30-somethings who mingled by the bar before being seated. These people were dressed up as if Bocce Café was just a stop on the way to an evening of bar and club hopping. The way that bottles of wine were being ordered-I counted five at a table of 12-led me to believe that Bocce’s clientele is definitely of a certain income bracket, which in turn left me dreading our table’s bill.

However, poor college students that we are, everyone seemed to order carefully and simply. I shared a Margherita pizza with a friend of mine, which came to a very reasonable price of $9, for eight small but filling slices. As basic as pizza is, sometimes a restaurant can mess it up-not enough sauce, too much sauce, etc. However, this pie was delicious, very cheesy and somewhat greasy. In my opinion, that’s how pizza should be. My friend, the birthday boy, ordered a three-pasta platter, which came with small portions of fettuccine alfredo, gnocchi (small potatoes) covered in a creamy tomato sauce and cheese ravioli. He said that all three pastas were equally appetizing, and the price-$14.95-was just right for what he ordered. The evening ended with complementary tiramisu and a giant piece of chocolate cake, which all members of our party passed around and nibbled on as we waited for our bill.

Unfortunately, our waiter refused to split our bill into separate checks. As a former waitress, I know that the restaurant’s computer system is probably perfectly capable of doing this, but also as a former waitress, I definitely don’t blame the waiter for not wanting to deal with 16 different credit cards. We all paid with cash and our bill was paid quickly and easily.

Overall the experience was wonderful, and worth the long trek by bus. The next time I’m in North Beach and actually have some money to spend, I will definitely be taking my friends to Bocce Café.

Bocce Café
478 Green St. (At Grant Ave.)
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 981-2044

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Sun.-Thu. 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.

Take Out: Yes
Full Bar: Yes

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