San Francisco is good to eat and good to think: A culinary anthropologist explores the city
“As the city slips by to the bumpedy-bump of streetcars I catch a glimpse of a farmers’ market (and make a mental note to return to scope out the produce and talk to farmers). Heading down Market Street, I can see the Zuni Café, whose cookbook I have long salivated over. In the window there are happy diners with their glasses filled with buttery Chardonnay and plates heaped with the mythical Zuni roasted chicken. My mouth is watering as the tram pushes on; luckily this cable car also stops at the Ferry Building, a bit of foodie heaven. What a brilliant idea: repurpose a historic building and make a monument to California’s food culture! Is this the real thing or just a tourist trap for the affluent few? I am proceeding with caution…” Fieldnotes, San Francisco, November 21, 2008. There is nothing like looking at a city through new eyes; essentially, that is what anthropologists do when they arrive in the field for the first time. For the last 12 years, I have been a rather fortunate practicing anthropologist who has found a way to mix a good dose of food and wine into my professional activities. Originally from Vancouver, Canada and arriving via Italy and France, my latest “fieldwork” brings me to San Francisco and really, there is no better place for a person passionate about food and wine. I hope that you will join me as I explore food culture in San Francisco. A sucker for anything tasty, I am also interested in the social and cultural aspects of food. Wandering through markets, I find myself thinking: “How does food create community and connect us to place?” Squeezing the organic produce at the Bi-Rite, I ponder what the challenges of finding affordable local food are in this city. As I people watch at a taqueria on Valencia, I wonder: “What does good, tasty food mean to Mexicans in the Bay Area?” Most of all, I am curious to know what food defines San Francisco for you?