Saturday, January 9, 2010

One of those days

This past Thursday was one of the strangest on the bikeable feast so far. Mind you, I learned a lot and ate well, but I can't help marveling at the strange juxtaposition of fine dining and shoveling poop....

7:30am: bike ride across Oakland and Berkeley
9:30am: tour of the Edible Schoolyard
Noon: lunch at Chez Panisse
1:00pm: shoveling horse manure

I'd gotten terribly, frustratingly lost in the Oakland hills the night before -- 2 hours of poorly lit streets and maddeningly steep, leg-numbing inclines -- so Barry offered to bike with me into Berkeley on his way (sort of) to work. (He joked that I was still suffering from PTSD the next morning. I very well might've been. I haven't gotten *that* lost since the episode in Kutztown, PA, back in early June.) We made it without a hitch, and even had time to stop in for egg sandwiches and coffee at the lovely new, biker-friendly Actual Cafe on the way.

I was somewhat giddy touring Alice Waters' original Edible Schoolyard site at Berkeley's MLK Middle School. I'd been reading about the program for a few years now and marveled at the beautiful kitchen and garden spaces. The 14-year-old, foundation-funded program focuses on community building as much as food appreciation, and tries to link math, science, and humanities lessons with hands-on experiences to complement traditional classroom learning. I learned that the 2 chefs and 3 gardeners on staff are in the process of working with the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers to more formally align the Edible Schoolyard lessons with public school standards. I hope this move means that it can be more easily replicated in other schools, and that it doesn't squash the unusual, beautifully organic nature of the program (as standards-based learning tends to do).

Following the tour, I had a chance to chat with my guide, Shaina, about some of the technical aspects of the Schoolyard. When I told her a bit more about my research, she suggested that I take myself to Chez Panisse for lunch. I countered that it wasn't in the budget. "Ibti," she pointed out, "You just biked yourself half way around the country. You're researching sustainable food. You can't pass up a chance to eat at Alice Waters' restaurant. Treat yourself." Twist my arm. I had been scoping out the famous eatery's online menu roughly once a month for the past year, after all. Ollie and I biked over and I got the $25 lunch special: salad, fried oysters with chicory, and the most divine candied orange icecream with caramel sauce. All seasonal and all relatively local. Afterwards, I talked my way into the main kitchen. Alas, the creator of the ice cream was not present or I very well might have kissed her (as I once did a pastry chef in the south of France who supplied me with an indescribably delicious chocolate mousse). It's not like I generally consider myself a dessert person. Or a kisser of cooks. But, oh, that ice cream alone was worth the splurge.

An hour later I found myself shoveling fresh horse manure into the back of a pickup truck with Max and Josh of People's Grocery. As we drove between the horse farm in the hills outside of town and one of their urban farms at 35th & Chestnut, the guys told me a bit about the Oakland-based food justice nonprofit. The program focuses on 3 main areas: small business development, urban agriculture, and education/advocacy. From nutrition and cooking classes to job training to grub boxes (reminiscent of Growing Power's weekly "market baskets"), People's Grocery works with other area groups -- like Food Not Bombs, where we stopped to chat for a few minutes, and other local social justice and greening organizations -- to address West Oakland's food deserts. They are one of many activist groups here in the Bay Area making a real difference in the community. I look forward to helping out at a few more places during my time here, so stay tuned for another posting soon!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. So glad you went to Chez Panisse! And I'm all for kissing the cook!

  2. Haha, my name's not Josh, it's Dan! Keep on blogging! It was great to meet you!

  3. What? Oh. Shoot. You look like a Josh. Good to meet you, too. Hopefully my representation of the Bay Area's amazing programs is more accurate than my recollection of people's names these days....

    And, Beth, next time I visit Chez Panisse -- oh, there will be a next time, but I might have to find myself a sugar daddy to check out a dinner there -- you must come with me! :P

  4. Sounds like your having fun on the west coast! I need to stop reading your blog while hungry though..darn you.


Thanks for your comment! Just making sure this isn't spam.... Thanks for your patience. :)Ibti