It can be difficult to keep up with the hottest, trendiest food trends. One week we’re apparently paying $ 10 for an avocado on toast and the next week we’re signing up for ad hoc meals made from ingested ingredients.
However, it is no coincidence that the food scene in the Bay Area is constantly changing. That’s because it is. Ever since the gold diggers came west, the area has been a mixture of demand for good quality land and fresh produce, and a density of people looking for innovative solutions to feed the population. Many of these solutions, which at first glance might have seemed like a fad, would soon go to new standards for dining and eating. These American food trends in particular found their mass appeal here in and around the bay and changed our eating habits.
Slow Food USA
The slow food movement may have officially started in Italy as an alternative to fast food. But the larger goals of promoting local, sustainable food systems and returning to a tradition of spending our time in the kitchen gained national appeal and attention when San Francisco hosted the first American Slow Food Nation event in 2008. It was the country’s biggest slow food event to that point. It is no coincidence that Bay Area food pioneers like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters sponsored the workshops and conferences and drove the movement in the United States. You have already been at the forefront of campaigning for local food and a reformed agricultural system.
As a formal entity, Slow Food may never quite have achieved its most ambitious goal: to change the way we eat. But the growth of farmers’ markets and the urge for consumers to take the time to appreciate the food in front of them is felt across the Bay Area – and has now permeated much of US food culture.
In panic | Flickr / jpellgen
Local California cuisine
While we are delving into the subject, it is difficult to separate the slow food movement from the changes that came from the Bay Area as early as the early 2000s. In large part, it was Alice Waters and then her students who developed the concept of local California cuisine – a mix of seafood, Mexican and Mediterranean influences, all made with fresh produce. She opened her central restaurant, Chez Panisse, in 1971, but only after years of sub-chefs coming through her kitchen and the news spreading among fans – along with the start of advocacy through her foundation and books – this was it what we’re considering classic local California food has become a staple. Let’s just say you know when you see it – even if you see it far from here.
Today all you can find seems to be local, seasonal, organic food, but that hasn’t always been the case. A 2014 study by the USDA found that the number of farmers’ markets has more than quadrupled in the past 20 years. Multiple surveys show that buying local food is paramount, even more important than organic food. And in the same USDA study, the number of farms selling direct to retailers or restaurants is higher here than practically anywhere in the country, which essentially means that we really like to “know our farmer, know our food.”
JI Rodale, the founder of Rodale, Inc. and advocate of sustainable agriculture, is widely recognized as the historic father of organic farming in the United States. He started his experimental farm in Pennsylvania in the 1940s to test organic gardening methods. When organic farming became mainstream in the 1970s, and standards were required to regulate and determine what that meant, it was California that paved the way.
California Certified Organic Farmers was founded in 1973 and no longer has a home in Santa Cruz. Their ecological standards, which in the first newsletter consisted of only 13 rules, such as the lack of pesticide use, were some of the first standards that established what constitutes organic farming in the young movement. These rules, and the state laws that California later passed in the 1990s, formed the basis for the USDA’s later national organic program, which is far more detailed and complex. According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, California is now home to just over 2,800 certified organic farms – the most farms, acres, and sales of any state in the state.
Fat calf sausages
Butcher for whole animals
The slaughter of whole animals, also known as “nose-to-tail” food, is another trend that dates back to the annals of food history. There was a time when this type of butcher shop wasn’t trendy. It was just normal to use every part of the animal from nose to tail. In mass production, this largely went out of style – until some dedicated butchers and chefs began bringing it back.
Using every part of the animal means innovating with broths, sausages, and lesser-known cuts. It also requires a certain talent as a butcher to get all the meat from the animal. Founded by locals Marissa Guggiana and Tia Harrison, the Butchers Guild has become a go-to place for consumers looking for sustainable butchers and butchers looking for information and training. After one of the first books on the subject came out of the UK in 1999 and republished in the US in 2004, it quickly caught on with Bay Area food advocates – especially those who were already doing the business themselves. Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, for example, bought whole animals in the late 1990s and helped spread the word. Today there are four or five dozen restaurants and butchers in the Bay Area that run some sort of whole animal butchery, including local favorites like Fatted Calf and Avedano’s.
Flickr / Katherine Lim
The $ 4 toast (and, to be honest, it can cost as much as $ 10 now) has almost become a cartoon of food in San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious – or that it and his Impacts do not spread beyond the Bay area boundaries.
Whether unusual toast at Trouble Coffee, The Mill or elsewhere, thick and expensive crispbread has become a symbol of the gentrification of our region, but also a symbol that old staple foods are being taken back and made a lot more. At first everyone made fun of our fancy toast, but since it can be found in cities all over the world, who’s laughing now?
100% whole grain products
Most high-end bakers only sell white flour, not wholemeal flour, which is often considered too coarse for top-quality bread. But that’s starting to change – as is our understanding of what exactly whole grains are – and you can imagine where that change is coming from.
It turns out that what we consider whole grains isn’t quite whole. Roller mills separate the different parts of the grain, and when you buy whole wheat flour, you buy those parts back together. Some Bay Area proponents, like award-winning baker Craig Ponsford and Oliveto owner Bob Klein, have argued that many of the benefits of the original whole wheat are not preserved and we don’t really know what’s in our recomposed whole wheat flour. Now, they say, it’s time for grain to have its own revolution. No, this actually isn’t as at odds with the gluten-free trends as it seems. When the pieces are put back together, gluten is often added, and many who have problems with gluten do not do so with whole flour grains.
Ponsford, Klein, and others have started adding fully ground 100% whole wheat flour to their breads and pasta. Community Grains, founded by Klein, has drawn other notable Bay Area foodies, like Chad Robertson of Tartine. It could be the next big thing to come out of the bay.
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Kelly O’Mara has written about vegan delis, cancer-sniffing dogs, and Olympic athletes. Follow her to find out more about triathlon and food than you ever want to know on @kellydomara.