Our neighbor here in the countryside of France raises organic sheep. I asked him how much extra he earns for the organic label. He said he loses money because of it. The certification costs more than the price increment. Furthermore, only the most elite restaurants will buy French lamb. New Zealand lamb is cheaper. Another farmer who is not in it for the money. Our young neighbor is a first generation farmer from Belgium. His family didn’t farm, but as a child he fell in love with farming. After a university education as an engineer he visited the south of
Busy, Chatty Farmers
You don’t need to charm your customers if you are sold out before the end of every market.
What people are likely to do is what their friends are doing, and this is how the hipster movement has helped countless artisan roasters, brewers, bakers and bicycle-builders to build viable businesses.
A tableful of Italians are congratulating me for microfoam. I try to raise my voice above the clamor to explain that I would have made it before but I just didn’t understand why it would matter when you’re using cheap coffee and UHT milk. I’m learning that pride in appearances is more important than other qualities, including flavor. When I complain about not being able to speak at the table, the host writes to me: “A latte with coffee is different from a cappuccino, even though it is the same milk and the same coffee. Moreover, if it were not
After a month in the kitchen, I am still restricted to setting the table. Once I was allowed to stir something, but apparently that was a special situation. Foreigners are seen as culinary toddlers. If we knew what to do with tomatoes we wouldn’t be taking expensive holidays to Italy, now would we?
The riches of work
Success is a wage. Giving is a wage. And when these are denied, the cash is not enough.
The hidden cost of perfectionism
He doesn’t understand that this quality will look bad in 10 years even if he succeeds in protecting it from signs of life.
Herbes de Provence
I brought zucchini directly from the farm. I had even picked it. Sunshine yellow, striped, and deep emerald. Too abundant in some places I’d lived, too expensive in others. I sliced them lovingly. We discussed the oven, settled on a skillet. I preemptively sloshed it with the good olive oil, then left him to induction jockey and turned to set the table. I appreciate home grown chilis, however hot. And I eat herbs like salad. But the bit of chili and the shower of cannistered herbes de provence displaced the delicate zucchini. My friend Nigel once deconstructed an unconvincing dinner
Suffering is not the price of cooking
She turned from the table and walked back to the kitchen. It looked, as is to be expected at this point in the service, as if a landslide had passed through.
an Italian kitchen
Valentina is 78 and almost always smiling. She is a workaholic. As her daughter takes the first bite of dinner, sitting down for the first time all day after serving 30 guests, Valentina is standing behind her chair and asks “what will we cook tomorrow?”
I’ve always liked whittling but I’m usually more fond of the practice than the outcome. Until recently I used a little pocket knife and sometimes a gouge. This month I’ve taken it to the next level, thanks to a birthday present of two Swedish whittling knives.
And I’ve decided to push through the ‘meh’ barrier*.
Do we have super foods now because most of what we eat isn’t food? I posed this question a few years ago when there were new-to-me exotic fruits around, such as Jaboticaba, labelled as super foods. I was postulating that super foods used to be just everyday food, but they’ve had to be elevated because now we eat other things that we call food and they can’t all exist in the same category.
Are you trying to get out of your kitchen or into it?
I planned an afternoon baking cookies with my friend. I wanted to bake small batches, adjusting the dough each time. By the end of this, she was irate: “It took too long!” “Oh, sorry, did you have something else to do?” “No, but I don’t want to stay in the kitchen any longer than necessary.” “Oh, I thought our plan was to hang out in the kitchen together?” Clearly my idea of “baking cookies” was socio-spatial, and hers was production oriented. We debriefed. She had raised three children. The kitchen had been a space of endless toil. I work long
There is a lot to hate about supermarkets: how they treat farmers, deceptive pricing, seductive processed foods, degrading working conditions, chemical smells, and just plain ugliness. I’ve detailed these points with links to research and a guide to alternatives in my argument to criminalize. In Switzerland a supermarket duopoly dominate not only the food landscape, and sell gas, hardware, liquor, and banking. Riding high on Swiss exceptionalism, the locals have great faith and trust in these two 30Billion corporations. The faith is rooted in a benevolent history, reinforced by saturation advertising and . Both were legally structured as cooperative. Every
Food versus objects
If an ingredient has no context –no story, provenance, maker, conversation, memory– then I’m not inspired to cook with it.
I see you
I wonder if anyone has measured our responses to face-to-face human acknowledgement and ‘likes’ on social media and compared them. I imagine that the real human acknowledgement would have a longer lasting effect.
“I remember saying to somebody very early on that I just want to make furniture and talk to people about it. And I feel like now I might take the word ‘furniture’ out of it… The customers I’m thinking of can enunciate what they’re looking for in a piece of furniture beyond price. They have an experience in mind or a material connection or an aesthetic. Or they understood the slow movement and they liked the origin story.
One surprise about living in Italy is that although I’m so close, I’m still so far. Many products that I first met in Boston, Los Angeles, Berlin, or Sydney, are not available outside of their region of origin. One of the few cheeses I could find in Berlin that I liked was a Pecorino Canestrato, from Sicily. Cannot get that here in the North. I love pane guttiau from Sardinia, but can only find unoiled pane carasau here (and generally quite low quality and stale at that). Burrata, a specialty of Apulia in the South, having become an international fad,
Around the world is a crisis of modernization in which younger generations do not want to inherit the farming and other artisanal work of their families. When farms and value-added productions are closed, we lose not only the quality, but also the knowledge of ecology, technique, tradition, and sustainable technology carried for generations. According to one study in the US, 2/3 of farms did not have a designated successor. In 2017, 92% of Canadian farms had no successor. At the same time, a subculture is burgeoning of young people and ex-office workers who want to work with land, agriculture, food,
Keep [and electro-retrofit] Your Car!
Retrofuture FRANCE has chosen 15 iconic models and sold 70 in presale in 6 months. In the US, EV West sells kits for 14 cars. In California, Electric GT offers “swap” packages for V8, Straight 6, and 4-cylinder engines, even aestheticized to echo their predecessors. As for things like “impossible” 7-series and their ilk, one only need consult a matrix to balance one’s priorities among speed, range, weight, and price.
Shopping with Grandma
Shopping involved certain gestures, discreetly fingering the fabric, deftly flipping a garment open to see how it was sewn, to examine the quality of the lining. Objects were promptly upended to see the quality of workmanship and to search for manufacturers’ engravings. If she couldn’t lift and turn an object of interest with one hand, she’d give me the nod, and I would turn it upside down for her examination.
How to hunt cheese
Just because I’m finally in Italy doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to get my favorite cheeses from Sicily and Campania (Southern Italy) any easier here in Turin (the Piemonte region is in the NorthWest of Italy) than in Berlin or Paris, because most of what’s on offer is going to be local.
As a philosopher, young Karl Marx learned that work was an aspect of being human. He became an economist in fury that work was being systematically torn from our personhood to serve industries. His intellectual and political inheritors have mostly sought to limit this incursion, to protect the person from the world of work. Which wasn’t quite the point. Meanwhile all around us people bolt because the work is even more important than the money.
Beyond the binary
As a food tourist my strategy was simple: try lots of things and keep track of the names of the ones I like. Faced now with time to explore the diversity of Italy at leisure, I suddenly felt that I should be doing more than trawling for things I like. I should know why I like them.
I marvel at Gorey’s wallpaper, Hopper’s shadows, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s colors, Al Hirschfeld’s space, Saul Steinberg’s simplicity, and Joel Rosenthal’s ability to make diamonds look like dust.
“Bread for us is an emotional product. How do we give it the level of attention it deserves? And how can we present bread in a different way? If we look at conventional bakeries, they stuff the bread on to one shelf. How do we make it a product you really desire, that triggers emotions and also reflect on traditional consumption and connect to bread in a different way?”
“I do make pants”
“In the last 16 years we measured 5000 women. From that research we found many new results…Why does the body work like this? What does the body do about walking?…The pants show the body. It should be a nice picture and painting. We want to make that possible. That was our purpose. We’ve never been satisfied by anything that is half.”
The FoodTech world is fatally out of touch with the food world. In the food world people consume at least as much food porn as meals, spend their free time closely observing chefs making things by hand, and take an added pleasure in reading about food, cooking, and restaurants. It’s a hot journalistic category. Two crucial sensations in the pop culture passion for food are pleasure and power. The pleasure importantly can be mediated and digital, not only sensory. Food gives us other pleasures than taste.
“Because I always wanted to”
“I never wanted to be in the family business. So I went to London. I was cooking for Barclay’s Bank. But those people were both very demanding and not very appreciative.
Someone hands me a glass of wine. While I stand tasting it, the next vendor plies me with a sardine. I finish the wine and take a few steps, to be offered a scoop of mascarpone (sheepsmilk ricotta with sugar, the filling for cannoli), a few steps more and see a special cheese to try, then onion jam, then panettone, then salami… Each taste the chance of of a lifetime.
Because this grape was difficult to grow and not abundant it fell almost completely of production in favor of more abundant varieties. In the 1990s, winemaker Elvio Cogno rediscovered the wine and got it back into production. This was not easy because they had to actually locate and select the plants. The contemporary interest in autochthonous wines provides the support to bring a difficult grape into commercial viability.
For his father’s generation, value meant to save money on inputs. He was buying milk. Francesco sees value as quality. He’s buying cows.
Down the Battery
Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP) Balsamico to be certified by the “consortium” (and receive its label and €10/ml price) must age for 25 years through a “battery”. Nevertheless no balsamic has an age, because the barrels are never emptied or cleaned. They still contain the sediment of hundreds of years. Giusti produces 250 l/year.
Food with Context
Food is a focal point for the struggle of meaning against machine. Food’s meaning comes from context, the very context which commodificationEconomic philosopher Karl Marx used the term 'commodification' to describe the process by which a product's value is transformed from usefulness to market value. Commodification is the financial premise of middlemen and retailers, who gain their profit by the gap between the costs they pay and the price at which they sell. It is in their interest to increase this gap and to obscure it. destroys or conceals.
“I don’t do something just for money reasons, but also for quality. For the thing itself. I like single components. I never use any kind of mix. I make it all by myself. I don’t like the tendency in business that you can buy everything ready-made.”
If we can have exactly what we want, in the size and color we want, with a small modification, a lot of our retail expenditures will fall away, as will surely some of the ability to manipulate buying preferences, and, hopefully, wasteful overproduction.
“Not a lot of people have this oven”
I grew up in an Indian neighborhood in Canada. I loved the food. When I moved here to Berlin I missed it. So I went to study in India. It took a lot of time to adapt the recipes.
Not by ingredients alone
The passionate serving staff did provide lectures about the commitments to culture, region, and producers. But we were hungry, and unfilled by lectures.
Saving the Almond
It was a massacre. Without the almond, I couldn’t make almond granita. So I put together a plan to save the almond. I needed to make the world understand the difference between a commercialized product and the quality born in this land.
Now I have less than 50,000 Kroner, but I used to have sleep problems and pain in my body in my back, arms. Now I’m on my feet all day, but the physical pain is gone. When I’m working, I feel I’m relaxing.
“Everybody uses boards, but not like these.”
Everybody uses boards, but not like these. Every board should be a combination of art and something to use. Some people put it on the wall or lay it on the table as an object, but for me it’s best if you combine these two things. That you have a place where you can see and touch it, and if it’s needed you use it.
“This is letterpress, this is rare, this is tradition”
We could see West Berlin. We also could see the soldiers. Directly there I could see on the 9th of November, when the wall was falling down. I could see it from the printing shop.
When the wall was falling down I lost my first job. They cancelled in 1990 the contracts of the young employees.
Cheese is Made by People
They insisted that I must taste, not just look. And further showing their love for the cheese with annoyance when I wouldn’t eat the rind.
“Many fights, and many kisses”
“We try to keep the distance between the customer and the workshop as short as possible…These are objects that I want to be used. And it should be used hard. That’s what they’re made for…Buying a table takes a long time. It takes months….Most of these people are buying the last table for their life…For me it would be a success if the grandchildren still like the table.
The Future should be Durable
These demonstrations are found by his own research, conversations with product engineers, and through Germany’s network of 300 repair cafés, where participants find the same problems over and over, and take products apart to understand what has gone wrong.
René Talmon L’Armée
… Barricaded for months under a scaffolding, René elevated the humble scaffold bars with gold foil adornments. At Christmas, he leached the romance of the store into the street, bejeweling the sidewalk with a pendant of mistletoe.
The Sound on the Napkin
I have a vision in my head and arrogantly I feel like it’s fully formed, but through mistakes, working with your medium, you move, it reacts, you attack it, it responds. It’s like you’re discovering what the guitar is meant to be, rather than manipulating it to your will. And that is a magical process.
Being around food is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s instinctive to me. I want to talk about it. I enjoy sugar as a material, I can express in lots and lots of different ways.
“I am an Electrician”
His explanation of his strategic capacities is “I am an electrician.” This reminds me of Matthew Crawford’s painstaking work on the “cognitive riches” of trade labour. (Summary here.) Crawford’s point is that trade work is satisfying. Wałȩsa’s point is that it is also a form of analytic training.
“Because we want to work with artisans”
“Because we want to work with artisans. We’re designers. We like to have a process with them, starting from what they do. Each one has a handwriting. But they also have limitations, the way they were trained, usually just one material.”
“Is it going in her eye?”
He explained that he doesn’t try to create something that will sell. “I make what I like.”
He sells at the Berlin artisan market and at some annual artisan markets. “I don’t like selling with shops. First, they take 40% of the money. But also I need to be able to see the people, how they handle it, the questions they ask me. I need to watch. Is it going in her eye?”
In Berlin, the Markthalle IX was developed in the building of one of the city’s former wholesale markets. Unlike most European food halls, the Markthalle has a mission to incubate high-quality bioregional food businesses. The organize the space and events to support showcase local foodlings from their very first public taco. Thursday night is “Street Food Thursday” one of the hottest items on Berlin’s schedule (next to the Markthalle’s monthly Sunday “Breakfast Market”). By 19:00 the aisles are impassably packed with cheerful folks jostling to see what’s new. The mozzarella and truffle stands offer “shots” (one bite, served in a
“You had to make something interesting yourself.”
“I began as a teenager to hand make clothes, because in East Germany there were no shops. You had to make something interesting yourself. So I began with normal clothes. Now for 15 years I work with leather.”
Today my beloved MacBook Pro fried its logic board. This is a common problem with the 2007-2011 MacBooks, to the point that Apple was fixing them for free until 2012, but now it costs $500. Unfortunately, it is not considered rational to invest in such old technology, and in truth, this wasn’t the only problem. The processor can only handle older operating systems, and web-based software is no longer designed to be compatible with old operating systems. Spotify, Zotero and Tweetdeck refused to play with that computer any further. This was my second. I bought the first in 2003, awestruck
Wine is Food
“People see eggs and they ask ‘are these barn raised or free range raised?’ ‘Are they organic or not?’ It baffles me that wine is not the same. Where did it come from? How was it grown? Is it organic? People should be interested in the process and provenance of wine, the same way they are with food.”
“Finally we found what worked on this beautiful land”
The farm was back blocks of the conventional farming area, and it was considered scrub country. It wasn’t valued for any purpose, because it was too steep for cattle and totally vegetated. I jumped at the opportunity because to me it had value.
Local Objects exhibit at Gaffa
Local Objects, the exhibit, is a small collection of opportunities to find sensuality and relationship in artisan objects through touch and artisans’ stories. It is designed to create a deeper level of meaning with these objects and the desire to bring these experiences into your own transactions.
“Reclaiming the souls of trees”
I was a contractor. I bought a hobby lathe on sale. I burned out the motor in 6 months, so I knew I had found my calling. I call it “reclaiming the souls of trees”.
“For a long time I’ve called it a compulsion rather than a business because there are things that I can’t leave on the footpath. Obviously I don’t need any more chairs. You see the potential in something and you know you can make it something that other people will value again, and you can’t pass it up because you know that not everyone can do that or see it until you’ve had your way with it.”
“I am figuring out how to make that difference between obsolete and desirable. What makes desire last a long time? Some of the things I have found are considered to be ‘good design’, even ‘classic’. How do they become unwanted? What gives objects a staying power in desire? What imparts longevity?”
Interview with Melinda Dimitriades. At the time of this interview in 2013 her company was called Farmgate. It’s now Chop Shop Carnivorium. I got into food by mistake because I got kicked out of my house for being queer. So I walked up and down Oxford Street, my new neighborhood, and found a job making coffee – what I now know to be really bad coffee. I already had an interest in cookery. I watched all the badly produced cooking shows of the day, 1991. As an adolescent I used to talk to the wall of my Grandmother’s house in an
Building an artisan economics movement
It means choosing re-upholstery at a local shop, although you might be able to get a new chair cheaper. Look for tradesmen in your area and broken stuff in your house that could be repaired.
Digital object: Music Box
Musicians, hackers, and writers and assorted creatives love making stuff and they want to share it, but the internet makes everything free, or below the wages that anyone could possibly live on. These days you can use Spotify to listen to any song you want, for almost no money. Creatives are struggling for ways to make a living. Here are some of the options: Private sites with paywalls or subscription fees. (Journalism is moving in this direction. An example is Saturday Paper.) Marketplaces where creators keep most of the money. (Bandcamp.com for musicians.) Donations and ongoing patronage. Patreon.com is popular
Terminology of Materialism
New perspectives on materialism have generated lots of different words… SLOW (Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Life…) is “seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything…” Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slow (2005). LOCAL is about loyalty to nearby producers and appreciation to the specificity of each place: its culture, style, ecosystem, “terroir”. Local also suggests a physical base (and limit) for economics and ecologics (“bioregionalism“) sustainably controlled by the people
The Integrity Economy
They’re diluting the olive oil with canola to save money. I paid $14 for the feta and now I’m furious. Charge me more, but don’t cut corners.
What kind of economist are you?
This is a story is about falling in love with food. It’s about working for something because it’s beautiful, and hoping the money will be enough to keep doing it – a story that I keep running into while distractedly turning a corner. It’s about a search for meaning in the money, connection in the contract.
Yet Mogannam insists that he’s not in it for the money. “I like to feed people,” he says. “I like to have fun. I like to do things that make a difference. Money is secondary. It’s always been secondary, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to do so well.”
“I want to work with my hands”
Chad Robertson is the bread baker at Tartine, San Francisco. He makes the most beautiful bread he can, because he wants to. He doesn’t try to make too much of it. (Just 175 loaves a day, which sell out in an hour.) He’s analytical, thoughtful, directed, probably brilliant. But he “wants to work with my hands”. Reprint of article from San Francisco Magazine (defunct).
The cognitive riches of artisanship and craft labor
If the regard that many people now have for the wider ramifications of their food choices could be brought to our relationships to our own automobiles, it could sustain pockets of mindful labor
The professions maintain the status quo through the work they define and permit. In the social sciences it is publishing highly specialized articles in elite journals. In medicine it is “patching people up…never to take a stand against the social inequities that generate so much stress and disease.”