Last weekend my wife and I had eight friends over for UFC 207. She cooked vegan jambalaya, biscuits & gravy, and our friends brought the beer. Including the cost of the fight, I don’t think we spent more than $200. For ten people in the Bay Area, we couldn’t have eaten out for less than $500 at any place worth mentioning.
The cost of ingredients, labor, added taxes, and whatever doomed-to-failure health care schemes the leftist job killing political scum of this state have cooked up created an environment where a simple gathering of friends ends up costing too much to justify any sort of frequent breaking of bread. More often than not, we avoid these check splitting occasions because the cost can’t be justified and the staff are awful, entitled, and seem to be taking their decision to major in the liberal arts out on us.
When we do eat out, it’s a treat for us and we tend to hit smaller ethnic eateries that serve the kind of food we just don’t really make well at home. The decor is often basic and the staff of press-ganged family members always seems to be pleasant in these spots. You don’t get the impression that you’re helping paying off some blood thirsty decorator who guilt tripped the owner into reducing their carbon footprint through the purchase of a small fortune in reclaimed wood and carefully curated rusty fixtures. Personally, I’ve had about enough of fake farm-to-table spots with shitty waiters and deconstructed comfort food.
The real food experiences you’re seeking in these bullshit Edison bulbed eateries do exist, but they are rare. My buddies at Oakland’s Clove & Hoof crush it on the regular and my great friend Josh is about to open up a legit spot down in Santa Maria called The Liberty. But most of the mission statement menu nonsense out there is overpriced and disconnected from the Wendell Berry dream they allude to on their Instagram pages.
However, for the home cook, the dream is still alive. A family with a menu plan and a sensible food budget can enjoy extravagantly ethical, community connected foods at home for a fraction of the cost of eating out, with better quality. Farmers markets, coops, and even my much maligned employer, Whole Foods, are making it easier than ever to do this affordably. There are more and better ingredients available to the home cook than ever before and that is pretty cool.
I have a rising concern that the failure of these bullshit restaurants backed with tech lottery winnings and the growing field of dietary obsessions justified by fake science are going to turn people off to the aesthetic joys of the small farm movement. As people begin to see through the lies of supplement hawkers and positive thinking cultists with Michelin aspirations keep failing, I hope they can realize that there are still great reasons to seek out and engage with the agrarian communities that believe in land stewardship and progress. One of the main reasons is fellowship.
As much as I hate on the faux-rustic, I do still enjoy my conversations with farmers and ranchers, especially, but not exclusively, the ones with hippy solutions for the omnivore’s eternal dilemmas. While I don’t share many of my comrades’ concerns with GMOs and other modern agriculture technologies, I prefer the idea of organic farming and feel an emotional connection to these places.
I’ve been to huge CAFO operations and tiny grass-fed ranches and the animals do seem to be happier on these smaller, beautiful farms. Though this is likely due to my overactive imagination. Even as I consume less and less meat as the years go on, I think this difference must make some kind of difference, at least in the hearts of the customers. I get the obvious hypocrisy of this and don’t have any sort of defense that works, except a vague appeal to the aesthetic.