I suppose when I decided to enroll in the course- Eating San Francisco (ESF), I should have known that I was destined to gain a better understanding about the food I eat. But honestly, I never thought that the perspective that I once had about food could change so drastically.
On our last field trip for ESF we travelled to Cole Valley. Considering that it’s so close to the USF campus, I’m surprised I’ve never been there. Like so many other neighborhoods in San Francisco it has its own personality. It just seems so chill. This may seem odd considering the entire city is pretty “chill,” but this so-called “valley” really has a laid back aura.
We dined at Zazie. It has a very warm and welcoming atmosphere with a great beer selection. After all, these are two of the things that one encounters upon entering any restaurant right? We sat around our 18 chair table chatting it up with each other.
Picture taken by Professor David Silver
Our entrees arrived and the chatting quickly died. Everybody was focussed on their delicious meals. So far my opinion about the restaurant was very positive. What were other people’s reactions about Zazie, I wondered?
One week later:
I sit here on my green couch in my living room. I have fond memories about our trip to Zazie, but I still don’t know what the general public thinks about the restaurant. Before the internet I would have to check out reviews from food critics in the newspaper, and this still wouldn’t give me a good idea about what regular people think about it. Now Yelp exists. At this moment it has 842 reviews for Zazie. I won’t read every one, but I think I can get an idea about people’s opinion of the place.
Jennie K., a 27 year old women from San Francisco wrote this on April 18th 2009:
The Niman Ranch burger: clearly the way that dead cow is meant to be cooked and served (on a rather delicious bun with aioli, white cheddar, grilled tomatoes, and arugula, served with potatoes and roasted garlic).
Hello, Zazie, my name is Jennie, and I would like to have ten million of your babies. We have so much in common: you like food, I like food, we both spell our names with an “ie” at the end…
Jennie seems very enthusiastic about Zazie. Let’s check out another review!
On December 16th of 2005, Michael P. said this:
…We were there on a Tuesday night, when they charge no corkage fee, so you can bring your own bottle of wine (we chose a $4.99 Old Moon zinfandel from Trader Joe’s and were very pleased with it, especially for the money), which keeps the check down to a level calling for repeat visits.
Great atmosphere and service — a bistro feel that’s warm and lively as opposed to the old-school bistros that I find to be overly formal and lifeless. An added bonus: the manager (or owner?) followed us to the door and handed us a card to make sure we felt welcome to come back soon. That kind of little personal attention leaves a lasting good impression.
From just two reviews, written years apart from each other, it’s easy to get a good feeling about Zazie, as well as some great information. Today, most people are familiar with Yelp, but I think it’s important to really take into account, the fact that anybody can share their voice with the world, and actually be heard.
The second restaurant that our class visited last Wednesday night was McDonald’s. Perhaps restaurant is the wrong word. It’s a fast-food establishment. I had an oreo Mcflurry, which is basically vanilla ice cream mixed with oreos. There are 5 yelp reviews for this particular McDonald’s, none of which I will re-post for the simple fact that none of them have anything that interesting to say. The only common, positive remark that I noticed is that it has a good parking lot. Now that I think about it, it would seem funny if there were tons of reviews about how delicious the food is, or how the service is exceptional. This simply, is not what the place is about. People come to McDonald’s to either get a quick bite to eat, or just hang out like we did, or like many homeless people do at this location. Having a memorable meal at McD’s is not really in the cards.
As our class comes to an end I can’t help but to look back on our trip to Zazie and McDonalds with a feeling of deep concern. Much of my concern stems directly from the words of Michael Pollan in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’m now much more aware about the foods that I’m eating. Or at least that is what I wish to believe. I now realize how difficult it is to really know where my food is actually coming from when I shop at a Lucky’s, Safeway, or even Trader Joe’s. And even if I do know where it’s coming from, it is even more difficult to know how it was grown, or raised. I used to think I was being a good citizen of the planet when I chose to eat organic food, but Pollan has taught me that this isn’t necessarily the case. The organic industry has been growing so fast that the traditional meaning of “organic” has also changed. An organic company, for instance, may slap a sticker on the chicken they are selling, stating that it is “natural,” but in reality this chicken is most likely one of thousands that lives the majority of its life in a building, inches away from several other chicken, which are surrounded by hundreds more. But since they are being fed organic grains everyday, the company can call their chicken natural. This doesn’t seem too natural to me.
We’re living in an industrial world, and perhaps there is no escaping it. Therefore I think it’s best to do what Pollan has done, and re-focus our minds on who we are. Like many people have said before, “we are what we eat!” A lot of food that we find in the supermarkets, and fast-food establishments like McDonald’s, is processed and consequently unnatural. Humans are omnivorous, and like Pollan explains, this makes it more possible for us to digest many different types of food. This has always had it’s benefits, but at the same time Pollan explains that this is the “dilemma,” and could be a main reason humans have bigger brains than other animals that are not omnivores. Humans have always had to ascertain which foods are edible, and which ones are not and in order to do this we have need more brain power. Thanks to many traditions and the establishment of cuisines around the world, the modern man no longer has to make these vital decisions. We have been able to trust what our ancestors have learned. But now that we live in an industrial society the food that we eat today is much different from what we ate in the past. We are, essentially, confronted again, with “the omnivore’s dilemma.” What we eat today might seem harmless, but how are we to know that it is truly harmless unless we know what it is that we are consuming. Like many other people, I’ve chosen to eat my food in ignorance for most of my life. I now understand why this is a mistake. I think I can change my eating habits if I put my mind to it. Zazie was a great place to start last week. I got to really see the difference between their natural food, and the stuff that McDonald’s serves. My eyes are open.
Thank you for the pictures Ali!