tomorrow night, john mackey and michael pollan will face off live at zellerbach. in the morning, mackey is coming to our class, to face off with us, i guess, since mp said he's not saying a word in class (he wants to save it for the show).
our assignment was to write five questions for mackey, and send them in to mp to read over. i thought of the most challenging questions i could imagine. mp just wrote back and said that they are tendentious, a word i had to look up in the dictionary. i guess i have to rethink the way i'm gonna ask my questions, but here they are:
In your first letter to Michael Pollan, you proudly assert that the Whole Foods store in Hadley sits amidst many small farms and has the authority to buy directly from them. During the season, you say, Hadley buys local produce from over 25 small farms. I am the buyer for a restaurant here in Berkeley, and we make it a priority to buy from small farms. This morning I sat down and counted how many farmers/ranchers/local artisans I speak with on a weekly basis: in the winter, 47, and in the summer, 70. How is it that our tiny, independent restaurant, with a relatively narrow menu (Californian-Italian food) can manage to buy from nearly three times as many local producers as your shop that sits in the middle of a fertile landscape? We have to turn people away in the summertime. Why isn’t the Berkeley store buying from those same farmers? I know that sometimes quantity is an issue, but don’t quite understand why. If Raye Byrne brings two flats of her mulberries to you, unsure that she’ll have more later, why not buy them and offer your customers the chance to buy something incredible? People are willing to buy these sorts of things, and they will only come to understand seasonality better when they realize that they can’t get whatever they want, whenever they want. Our local produce market, Monterey Market, does just this with almost every small farmer I know—in fact, Monterey is the only place to get the most special Kishu tangerines grown by Jim Churchill in Ojai, and they are only available for a few weeks each year. People get it, though, and they wait, they pay the premium price for them ($3.29/pound this year), and they enjoy this incredible fruit that amazingly, is only grown by this one farmer anymore.
If organizing your purchasing is a main concern, then why not put aside the notion of buying from farmers who show up at your door unexpectedly and create a plan to “spread the wealth” by buying from one farmer one week and another farmer the next?
Walter Robb recently said that ten percent of the organic produce consumed in the US is imported from overseas. What percentage of Whole Foods’ produce comes from China? What percentage of the ingredients used in the processed organics sold at Whole Foods, including both the 365 line and other brands, comes from China or overseas? How can the average consumer distinguish what is grown in the country and what is not? How do you plan to make these sourcing issues transparent to your customers, who deserve to know where their food comes from?
I just went to the Berkeley Whole food store, and noticed the vague signage in the meat section. It’s pretty obvious that most people won’t learn to ask where their food comes from, and instead must be told the truth from the start, so why doesn’t it clear what farms or ranches the chicken and beef come from? Being confused by the vague wording on the price tags in the meats, I had to ask the young butchers where everything comes from, and though they were able to tell me, they weren’t very informed beyond the basic facts. Both Andronico’s and Berkeley Bowl have extensive signs detailing where all of the meat comes from and whether it’s organic, free-range or grass fed. Why doesn’t Whole Foods have the same?