Eating the Environment
I am not someone who should be writing about food. I am barely qualified to talk about food. I do, however, eat food. I also notice it.
I have been eating and noticing food in the Tomales Bay region for years now, maybe because it has always seemed to be more than just food. In those years, either the food or something inside me has changed—or maybe we have evolved together.
For instance, these days, when walking through the Saturday Farmers Market in Point Reyes, I have found myself entering a strange, ecstatic state. With the gentle morning light and friendly folk, the baskets filled with herbs and flowers and honey and jam and fresh bread and olive oil, it’s as if I am, for an hour or so, in the presence of all things good on earth.
I can feel the neural synapses straining as I search for the words to describe my culinary awakening by the extraordinary cluster of environmentally conscious food artists who have for years been quietly planting, nurturing, and imagining divine combinations and mixtures—creating the most delectably essential bridge between earth and people, and sustaining both in the process.
While I have stained my fingers picking my share of Inverness blackberries and managed to wrangle those berries into a pie, my experience with getting food from the land to the table is limited. At an early age I think I did a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis and came to the decision that my energies were more effectively spent out of the kitchen.
Which is why I am aware that there would be no good food for people like me without the chain of people who coax it from the earth onto the table. I have come to wonder: Who are these people? Where do they live? What do they think about? I have become curious about all the strange things they have enticed me to eat over the years, things like Axis deer carpaccio and stinging nettle soup.
Where do these things come from?
The fact is, I am both ignorant and a total dependent. Even if I knew where to find stinging nettles, I could not make stinging nettle soup—not if my life depended on it. Nor could I begin to imagine how to get carpaccio from an Axis deer—or a tail off an ox for a winter soup. I could not pry an abalone from the depths, cut it open and poach it into something edible. I would have difficulty even with oysters, or clams, or mussels. I’m not sure where these creatures come from, except that it involves cold, briny water and no small amount of mud. I could not identify greens such as “bull’s blood” and “ancho cress” and “mizuna.” Or edible flowers like borage and nasturtium and pineapple sage and society garlic.
There is a lot that I do not know and will never know. But I can belly up and sing the praises of those who do know—the interconnected web of farmer-epicureans who have thought up and delivered these delicacies. It is a web held together by a productive and profound stewardship to the land—a commitment to sustainability that, from Axis deer to oysters, requires a complete understanding of nature’s cycles and threats.
Recently, I was struck by the philosophy at Marin Sun Farms, which proudly proclaims: “Pasture-based food that is locally produced, invites and inevitably satisfies the desire for a real sense of place, it connects us with the seasons and the natural world, and ultimately, after invigorating the palate, fortifying the body, and stimulating conversation, resonates a genuine appreciation of life.”
Wow. Wow. It gets harder and harder to spend time in this area and think of food as just something we eat. It is philosophy and poetry and responsibility—it is passion and love. It is conversation and appreciation and connection.
The reach of such a sound philosophy and practice is wide. Word travels. How many tiny towns are asked to host Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles and feed the royals Shut-Up Duck? Rumor has it that Camilla isn’t even a fan of duck, but she wanted to taste the dish that had hushed Manka’s dining room with its savory perfection.
It is no coincidence that this high level of environmental consciousness has resulted in multiple national awards and some of the most highly regarded food in the nation—just as there is no question that in West Marin we are in the midst of a new kind of culinary genius—or that I am just one of many lucky eaters of this particularly wonderful, bountiful, tasty environment.
Many talented individuals are featured in the West Marin Review. Please click below for this volume’s contributors.
- Thomas Heinser Jersey Heifer
- David Miller Wallace Stegner, West Marin, and the Geography of Hope
- Claire Peaslee Plunge
- Jules Evens Lightness of Being
- Michael Parmeley Tea Time
- Nancy Kelly Seasons
- Dewey Livingston M.B.Boissevain, Farm Advisor, 1924–1933
- Mark Dowie The Fiction of Wilderness
- Jody Farrell Picnic in the Park
- Doris Ober Owl Out of Heaven
- Sage Van Wing Brothers At Arms
- Steve Heilig Secret Vacation
- Tucker Malarkey Eating the Environment
- Elisabeth Ptak Bishop Pine
- Larry Hampton Untitled (A salmon hears)
- Robert Hass September, Inverness
- Barbara Swift Brauer Changing Forecast
- John Korty The Rules of Composition
- Nancy Bertelsen Graffiti Bridge
- Devi Weisenberg Elders at Shell Beach
- Samonti Smith Advertisement
- Talyha Romo Untitled (I am from the trophies)
- Natalie Goldberg For M.H.; Poem
- Agnes Wolohan Smuda von Burkleo Blackberry Pie II
- Art + Artifact
- Jack Welpott North Coast
- Steve Pring Swimming in Tomales Bay
- Cheryl Higgins Redwing
- Todd Pickering Limantour Beach Sand
- Nancy Stein Wave #8
- Susan Hall Bay Fishing
- Marna Clarke Madrone #29
- Silas Blunk Untitled Works
- Dan McCormick Restorative Art on Olema Creek
- Wendy Schwartz Wood Shop, Route One
- Marty Knapp Blue Oak Group; Hillside Oaks
- Igor Sasevitch Adios Point Reyes Station
- Andrew Romanoff Diving Bird
- Artists in the Schools Program The Watershed Project
- Patrick Gavin Duffy Steep Ravine Cabin #4
- Jack Wellpot Requiem for Wendy
- Inez Storer Highway 101, L.A. Postcard
- Leslie Goldberg Caution
- Joyce Kouffman Winter Reverie