Eight Days (16 February 2018)

This week's soapbox, brought to you by the state of California.
- There was an excellent article in California Sunday about the rise and rise of the Resnicks – the couple who own the land of “Wonderful” (actually). It’s the Disneyland of agricultural land, 281 square miles covered with 6 million trees: pistachios, almonds and pomegranates. The couple are farming more than fruit and nuts, with water and even people on their agenda. 
He is the farmer who moved the rain … “He uses more water than any other person in the West. His 15 million trees in the San Joaquin Valley consume more than 400,000 acre-feet of water a year. The city of Los Angeles, by comparison, consumes 587,000 acre-feet … The more water he got, the more crops he planted, and the more crops he planted, the more water he needed to plant more crops, and on and on.”  How? The article suggests it was largely down to the illegal pipeline he ran, with water bought from another agricultural weasel, Vidovich who “… isn’t farming dirt. He’s farming water” and together they created their own kingdom, playing God for all they were worth (literally).
She, on the other hand, is the marketing queen who not only branded their fruits ("cutie" mandarins, "POM" juice), but then turned her branding iron to the community (of largely illegal Mexican workers) to create “… a kind of utopian village set amid orchards.” Some of those visions are good (healthy food provided at cheaper prices than the unhealthy, free fruit and veg, schools), but you can’t shake the feeling that many of them feel a little too contrived, a little bit big brother - and let's not forget the cleverness of spending her philanthropic dollars boosting her own PR.  
Wonderful? I’m not so sure. It's long, but worth reading.
- In equally important, but happier viewing, watch Dan Barber present his lecture at Alice Waters’ Edible Education lecture series (streamed from Berkley, weekly). This lecture focussed on vegetable seed selection and the deplorable lack of interest in breeding for flavour, as opposed to yield or uniformity. “A recipe starts in the field, but this is the story before that.” It wasn’t always this way, with the preamble suggesting that at the turn of last century flavour was the focus (when dishes such as hoppin’ John emerged from Southern agriculture – a culinary celebration of an agricultural truth: they needed the beans in the field to grow the rice). Barber is working with seed selectors to change that, one guy noting: “... in all the years of breeding, no one has ever asked me to select for flavour.” Astounding.
There were also some interesting thoughts about identifying compounds in fruit and veg that people do and don’t like and selecting to remove these. I am developing a fascination for the aversions and sensitivities to tastes: the coriander haters (a compound that some can identify while others are immune) to the mousy wine haters (a sensitivity that, again, not all can identify). We all know tastes are different, but this is not just about palates, it's about physiology …

- Whenever I last sent this missive, I mentioned Chang’s use of fresh veg at Majordomo in LA, a treat he felt he could not access in NYC presumably due to the quality of the produce. It started my mind ticking about the sweeping suggestions that people must buy the best quality produce and do little to it. What if that’s not available? The answer, for some, is to buy the farm.
There were some interesting thoughts on the logistics, finances and some nice ideas and results that came from this chef/farm connection: “… their “Blenheim greens,” a mix of salad greens they created in search of a balance of flavor, texture, and color. Instead of growing each green separately, they mix the seeds in their ideal proportion and then harvest them together — no tossing required.”