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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - May 2016


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - May 2016

I was standing on at the hot table at Sonoma Market, trying to choose something reasonable for my dinner when I spied the tilapia coated with breadcrumbs and bits of dried fruit at $13.99 a pound, perhaps the highest item in the selection. Tilapia at $14 a pound! Fish farmed in Vietnam? 

“The price of food is impossible,” I muttered to a very thin woman, about my age, who was standing next to me. “What to do?”

She shrugged. “Eat less,” she offered. She was holding one of those plastic containers the store provides, containing a vegetable side dish at $5.99 a pound, half full.

“Yep, that’s about it.”

Judging from the contents of my refrigerator, I’m already eating less, not a bad thing; I am not nearly as thin as the woman next to me at the hot table. Buying less means cooking less, which means sometimes I can’t figure out what to eat (there’s always cold cereal, a favorite resort of old people, “no fuss no muss,” as my mother used to say), which is why I’m here tonight, trying to spend $5 or less on dinner.

I used to cook for myself on a regular basis but as I grow older, the inspiration to do so is less; and besides, halfway through the month I’m just about out of money, and we all know what happens when you start buying groceries on your credit card.

We’re all in debt, writes Claudia von Werhof in an excellent analysis of the early trade deals that set the tone for the globalized economy that we are now all living in; and one its major thrusts has been to acquire control of the food supply by a small number of very very large agribusiness, among them Monsanto, ConAgra, Syngenta. Control the food supply, Henry Kissinger famously said, and you control the people. 

These companies now own the DNA for the genetically modified foods (GMOs) they have created, hence the seed, hence the crop. 

They acquire ownership of the farmers. Chicken farmers, compelled to grow hundreds of thousands of chickens in those big stinking chicken houses by the companies that supply the feed and provide the slaughterhouses, have started calling themselves “serfs.” I don’t know if that’s true of the local chicken farmers in nearby Petaluma, once the chicken capitol of the west (don’t quote me on that); I like to think that organic Sonoma County hosts only small chicken farms with range free or organic chickens clucking about.

At the Sonoma Garden Park, where everything is grown biodynamically, the chickens have lovely accommodations in a sweet little yard and henhouse and dine on all of the healthful leftovers of the gardening and weeding process. They produce the loveliest eggs. You can buy them there at the Saturday Market if you get there earlier (and sometimes not then, sorry to say) – the Park does not specialize in mass production. The price is $6.50 a dozen as I recall. I volunteer at the market and also try to do a little farming.

I’m committed to localizing our food supply as much as possible, and our economy with it. In Sonoma Valley so many people have abundant vegetable gardens or else go to the Farmers Markets, but do you know what percent of our produce is locally produced? For Sonoma County it’s no more than three percent. Isn’t that shocking? We actually import zucchinis from Mexico, and they’re a heck of a lot cheaper (organic, Whole Foods for $1.29) than our organic farmers can sell them for.

Now we have the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and two other trade treaties on the table. TPP has been fast-tracked, which means the Congress is not allowed to debate or amend the 6,000 page law; just vote yes or no. No one knows when the vote will be taken but it appears it may be done during that lame duck session after the election, which for many people is going to be a time of mourning. What if we get Trump? What if we have evangelical Cruz (and his name means cross!). Even Hillary Clinton, whom I so want to love, scares me. Bernie? He’s like a dream, a vision. Could this really be true? Can he really deliver the revolution he’s promising? And look how many people, young people, are embracing it?

Well, I’ve run out of space before telling you what the TPP will mean for our young farmers here in the Valley and beyond – so I’ll have to save that for next month. There’s a group of activists led by Leslie Christianser in Sebastopol who are spreading the word about its dangers. They meet at the Peace & Justice Center in Santa Rosa on the second Saturday morning of the month.

The tilapia, by the way, was delicious.