Eating the Environment

Tucker Malarkey

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.

Thomas Heinser, Jersey Heifer


Many talented individuals are featured in the West Marin Review. Please click below for this volume’s contributors.

  • Cover
    • Thomas Heinser   Jersey Heifer
  • Prose
    • 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
  • Poetry
    • 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
  • Music
    • Joyce Kouffman   Winter Reverie