Brown Bag Monday: What is Your Food Culture?


In just over sixty years, America has lost its food culture. In this great essay “The New American Food Culture” John Ikerd of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri writes that currently, “the characteristics of America’s dominant food culture are cost, convenience, and appearance.” How did we get here?

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver explains that historical food cultures developed in local regions from “the ancient synergies between what their land can give and what their bodies need.” At the end of World War II our explosives factories began producing fertilizer to be used to grow our food. The heavy use of all this new fertilizer produced unprecedented yields for farmers. Our food system quickly invented new ways of converting these massive yields into processed foods derived mostly from corn and soy derivatives.

At the same time, as our crop production skyrocketed, advances in transportation and preservation meant that virtually any ingredient we desired could be purchased year round from supermarkets. In a 2001 publication “Food, Fuel, and Freeways” the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture calculated that the average number of miles a food product had traveled to enter the conventional Iowa food distribution system was 1,518 miles. Their study also found that the number of commodities produced by 1% or more of Iowa farms had dropped from 34 in 1920 to 10 in 1997 (Corn, Soybeans, Hay, Cattle, Hogs, Oats, Horses, Sheep, Chicken and Goats). For those trying to eat locally in Iowa, if you aren’t hooked up with a small local farmer, the only fresh local ingredients you can get are corn, soy, and meat (unless you like to eat hay and oats).

These advances meant that the majority of Americans could leave farming behind, urbanize and focus on ‘more important’ things like engineering transistors. With farming no longer in our minds fewer of us understand how food grows or appreciate the miracle of plants producing food for us to eat. 


A local farmer highlighted this new world order for me at our Slow Foods Book club last week. She mentioned that the only time the public really reaches out to her is when their favorite ingredient is no longer available at the supermarkets. Of course if the supermarket doesn’t have something then it’s really out of season!

Luckily books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and documentaries like “Food, Inc” are starting to turn the tide and make us think about locality and sustainability as key elements to our new food culture. It sounds like we are coming full circle and I’m very happy about that. So what is your region’s traditional food culture? How many generations do you have to go back to find traditional, local food prep and recipes in your family? Do you and your parents still cook and eat this way?  How do you think we should go about learning our food culture again?

One great resource I came across with my garden bed project was “What to Plant Now” from Mother Earth News. Here are some Brussels sprouts that make me happy.


Lolo’s Dad


Foothill Farmers’ Market

Dad and Lolo

Yesterday morning was Lolo’s first Farmers Market adventure. Lolo is 11 weeks old today.  Auburn has a year round Farmers’ Market on Saturday’s from 8 AM to 12:00 PM, which is a quick drive up Interstate 80 from our home in Rocklin.  The market is part of the Foothill Farmers’ Market Association, which runs several other markets in  Placer County.

Broccoli from Salle Orchards

Their winter market set up was two rows of vendors selling mostly green winter vegetables, winter citrus,  some squashes and specialty items. The market is set up in the Old Court House parking lot in Old Town Auburn.   We found beautiful broccoli from Salle Orchards in Wheatland, fresh halibut out of Bodega Bay from The Little Fish Company (the crab looked great too!), Swiss chard and collard greens from Vue Farms, crimini mushrooms by Mushroom Adventures in Marysville, plenty of great sausage and kielbasa from Smokey Ridge Charcuterie in Apple Hill, eggs from The Natural Trading Company in Newcastle, and Pine Mountain coffee located right in Auburn. As a coffee fanatic I am excited to brew it and see if it rivals Peet’s!

Shitake's from Mushroom Adventures

Crab from The Little Fish Company

After returning home it was time for lunch so we fried up the kielbasa.  As great as the kielbasa was the apple sausage we cooked for dinner was even better.  Hands down some of the best sausage I have ever tried.  Loved the ingredients too: Pork Shoulder, Smokey Ridge Apples, onion, apple cider, sea salt, brandy, spices, and garlic.


Mom and Dad both agree that Lolo’s first Farmers Market excursion was a smashing success.  We are also sure we will revisit some of these ingredients and farms in future posts!  Have any favorite recipes that come to mind from any of the ingredients we picked up today?  If so share them, we would love to try them!

Lolo’s Dad