I have hit a wall.
The recent Salon.com column on a $1K box of “heirloom” vegetables on auction at Southby’s caused me to completely throw up my hands in consternation and declare, “I’m out”. This fad reverence of foodie-ism has gone as far as I care for it to go.
After I regained my composure I engaged in an email discussion with my friend Debbie about the current wave of “artisan” food products, “farm to table” cooking philosophy and my opinion that the ultimate result of this “temple of foodies” movement just seems to be a higher cost for simple foods.
Debbie and I agreed that this new wave of small-scale producer offerings is, in itself, not THAT new. We’re just going back to the type of food shopping that existed before supermarkets started absorbing everything.
I cited the example of my grandmother Nellie whose stewed green beans with ham and potatoes was artistry in itself. I sighed at the fact that I could never replicate the dish because there were too many variables—the green beans (homegrown), the water they were cooked in, the cast-iron pot (a hundred years old and well seasoned) and the fact that the ham bone she threw in for flavor came from a butcher in her home town who has probably gone to his well-deserved reward by now.
Here in St. Louis we fawn over the artisan food booths at farmer’s markets, find the salumi, cupcake and gelato boutiques charming, we drive across town and refine our urban parking skills to indulge in exotic chocolate mixtures or bacon brittle candy.
Uh…it’s “butcher shop”, “bakery” and “candy store” with hardwood floors and better lighting. It’s not even retro. My gripe is not that so much of the rest of the world has embraced food culture on a wider scale and that we’re getting closer to the source of our sustenance. I’m just tired of it being so expensive!!
It’s as though the new wave of farmers, cheesemakers and bakers got wind of a marketing plan and decided to play “gouge the Yuppie”.
I realize that we live in a world where farmers have traditionally received low profits on their produce. I’m not blind to the fact that every part of the process has an operations or material cost. I’m all for farmers making money. Does it have to pinch me so much?
Now that I’m riled, I recall ranting about this last year to Michael (a past partner in foodie travel) after he confessed to paying $12.00 for one pie’s worth of peaches at a farmer’s market in California. I quote from the text:
"….I have to say, $12.00 for peaches sounds like robbery, even if they were really good. I hope that pie was absolutely delicious! The foodies in St. Louis have embraced the concept of 'locally-grown' produce and locally-made products like salumi and cheeses but it hasn’t necessarily translated into enough of an improvement in quality to justify paying the outrageous prices these local growers are charging for the stuff.
I’ll grudgingly pay $3.00 or so for a dozen 'cage-free' eggs at Whole Foods but my ambivalence at corporate food distribution isn’t enough to justify paying $4.25 for a dozen 'local' eggs at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market just because they come in a recycled paper carton and still have traces of chicken poo on them.
Then there are the fresh herbs. Don’t get me started on how expensive those are…."
Fortunately enough this year’s “deck farm” has given me a bounty of fresh herbs and thanks to a topsy-turvy planter, I had a nice crop of cherry tomatoes. So why am I carping? Last weekend my 7-year-old granddaughter was at my place for a sleepover. She wanted to bake cupcakes but we needed a few things from the grocery store. I took her to Straub’s, which is a reasonably upscale supermarket in St. Louis, and after we grabbed the items we needed for baking, I thought that it would be nice to have a loaf of good bread for the next morning’s breakfast.
I wandered over to the bakery area and the prices blew my hair back. $5.00 for a rustic loaf? Please! I hit the limit of my patience and passed the lovely loaves by as I frowned in derision. When Charlotte and I returned home, we found that the mail had arrived while we were gone. With it was a used copy of the companion book to the Baking with Julia series on PBS. I ordered it the week before and its arrival was a sign from above—I have to get on good terms with yeast.
I’m an enthusiastic home cook who is unafraid to make mistakes in the pursuit of culinary excellence. I’m completely capable of producing an honest loaf of yeasty deliciousness.
Francis Lam—your bread baking lessons inspired me; I’m going to work through some bread recipes and post my results.
FYI…I’ll try making my own puff pastry, too. Might as well go all the way.