Food, glorious, food. It's that time of year people: Bay Area Bites brings you the best in food news for 2010.
In this two-part package, we look at the national trends and topics that sizzled over the past 12 months and serve up some local flavor on the side.
Feel free to weigh in with your own edible highlights from the year that was. In no particular order:
1. Food Safety
From previous years we've learned that what we eat can make us sick (tainted peanut butter, beef gone bad, and salmonella-laced spinach ring any bells?).
Thankfully, late in the year Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act to protect consumers from food products hiding harmful poisons or pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, a food policy coup that greatly strengthens the Food and Drug Administration's ability to keep unsafe food off supermarket shelves and restaurant plates by expanding the agency's recall abilities and access to records.
Local angle: Bay Area-based media consultant Naomi Starkman kept the spotlight on potentially dangerous foods for sale in reports on Civil Eats and Huffington Post, including a story about a Consumers' Report study that found packaged salad laden with fecal bacteria.
2. D.I.Y. Food
Age-old practices such as canning, jamming, foraging, fermenting, growing and gleaning are suddenly new (and cool) again. Chickens are the au courant backyard animal of choice. And classes in the Domestic Arts all the rage.
The New York Times Magazine traveled west to take pretty pictures of urban homesteaders from the Bay Area, The Washington Post chronicled the canning trend long strong here, and Vogue got down and dirty with city farmer Novella Carpenter, who donned a pink cardigan in a concession to fashion for a photo shoot with the stylish mag's scribe Hamish Bowles. (Carpenter seemed to pop up everywhere last year, including on KQED.)
Local angle: In addition to Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm in Oakland, the Bay Area D.I.Y. brigade created a kind of cottage industry, hawking their homemade wares at venues like SF Underground Market (Underground Market on BAB) and East Bay Underground Market, as well as the Pop-Up General Store.
And they wrote about it too; notable D.I.Y. books this year included Rachel Saunders' tome The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, Napa forager Connie Green's The Wild Table (featured on The California Report), and D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington. Online, San Francisco's Sean Timberlake launched Punk Domestics, a curated space for D.I.Y.-driven cyber self-publishers.
Classes in baking, brewing, beekeeping, bottling, animal husbandry and more were in high demand at venues like 18 Reasons, Urban Kitchen SF, the Institute of Urban Homesteading, and BioFuel Oasis, a worker-owned cooperative begun by Carpenter and friends.
3. Food Politics
In an era of identity politics and culture wars, food fights join the fray. What you eat (and what you choose not to consume) speaks volumes about your political persuasions. First Lady Michelle Obama, dubbed America's foodie-in-chief by The Atlantic, talked about ending obesity and increasing activity with her Let's Move initiative. She also championed growing food and farmers' markets -- and brought to her kitchen top chefs like Sam Kass. On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh mounted a modern-day Twinkie defense (this time citing the fact that a man lost weight on a diet consisting mostly of the infamous junk food as evidence that all nutrition science is bogus). Sarah Palin showed up at a Pennsylvania school bearing cookies and dished up s'mores at a diner in a calculated countermove to a Michelle Obama dessert comment. Professional rager Glenn Beck even weighed in. Sigh...
The task of putting the food wars in context fell to ex-Washington Post writer Jane Black, who has moved to Huntington, West Virginia with new husband editor Brent Cunningham to see what happens to the community's eating habits now that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has skipped town.
Local angle: Taking the happy out of Happy Meals: Outgoing SF Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed a Board of Supervisors ban on plastic toys in fast-food meals. But the supes struck back, ensuring that no child in the city will be tempted to eat junk food simply to get their hands on a cheap trinket that will likely break before you can say Big Mac.
4. School Food
For the majority of schoolchildren around the country school lunch sucks. Big time.
But change is coming. This year, Jamie Oliver brought his Food Revolution to the States, an anonymous teacher chronicled what she ate every day in her school cafeteria in her blog Fed Up With Lunch, and President Obama signed into law the much-anticipated Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The legislation bans some junk food, and gives a small, though historically significant, six-cent increase per child per lunch (the first such boost in the reimbursement rate in 30 years), and there may be more lunch money tucked inside the bill to boot.
Local angle: Veteran school food reformer Alice Waters claimed victory for her Edible Schoolyard model following the results of a study on Berkeley's School Lunch Initiative from University of California at Berkeley researchers.
5. Street Food
Fueled by Twitter feeds, gourmet grub on the go continued to attract a growing following around the country as food trucks hit the streets in increasingly more legitimate ways, boasting inspired names and bright colors, to wit The Best Wurst in Austin, Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in New York City, and Chairman Bao in San Francisco.
Food trucks went a step further in size, too, with the introduction of bustaurants, stripped former public transit buses reconfigured as a mobile kitchen, and, in some cases, even offering eat-in seating. In L.A. the double decker Worldfare dished up ethnic eats, while closer to home Le Truc in San Francisco served up gastro-pub fare, and Diamond Lil debuted to a small crowd and a camera crew.
Local angle: With mild-mannered accountant Matt Cohen at the helm, the mobile food fest Off the Grid launched in Fort Mason and sprouted several neighborhood locations, including Golden Gate Park, McCoppin Hub, Civic Center, and UN Plaza. Officials in San Francisco passed reforms making it easier and cheaper for mobile vendors to serve street eats, while in the East Bay the city of Emeryville saw pushback from local brick-and-mortar businesses and Berkeley residents bemoaned missing out on most of the mobile food fun (for now).
Check BAB tomorrow for the rest of the best of 2010 food news.