Tressa Yellig is the owner of Salt, Fire and Time, and an expert on nutritious foods.
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Recorded Monday, July 8th, 2013, and this is episode number 20. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!
- Hi, Tressa.
- Oh, hey.
- How are you?
- Really good.
- Excellent. Let’s start at the beginning. A lot of people might know you from your current endeavor, Salt, Fire, and Time, but where are you from?
- I am originally from Canton, Ohio, and I’ve passed through a lot of states on the way, but I prefer the West Coast.
- Okay. That’s cool. I’m from Cleveland.
- Get out of town.
- Yes. I can’t picture where Canton is, but I know I’ve heard the …
- It’s right in the middle.
- Okay. Awesome. I know you spent some time apprenticing in Berkeley. Why don’t you tell me a little about that?
- Okay. It is a funny story. I ended up at cooking school in New York at the Natural Gourmet Institute in Chelsea. It was kind of an old world food is medicine program. They really advocate for vegan, macrobiotic, Ayurvedic, that kind of healing therapeutic diet, and it was funny because that program seemed fairly limited.
I realize now I feel like I gained a lot more in networking and resources than I feel like I necessarily got from the curriculum, but they offered a variety of public classes where guest chefs would come in and teach some kind of topic, and I took a lot of those.
- That was probably the most fun for me, and while I was there, I got introduced to traditional foods and ferments and things like that and kind of found myself recognizing a lot of food from my childhood. My grandmother was really into a lot of this old world food technique, but of course, my parents were of the generation of low fat, low protein, low flavor. We really weren’t taught to embrace any of that food, even though we loved it and we gorged ourselves on it.
When I was taking these public classes and reintroducing myself to a lot of these traditions, one of the classes I ended up taking was Jessica Prentice’s Fermented Sodas class. She was on her book tour with Full Moon Feast, and immediately, we fell in. We fell in very fast, and I was totally in love with this idea of food alchemy and ferments and things like that, and so I worked all the cooking demos she had on her book tour in New York and then, finally, she said, “We’ve got this new project going out in Berkeley, and we’re calling it a community-supported kitchen, and if you like this kind of thing, which you obviously do, and we like you, why don’t you come out and work with us for a while?” I was like, “Sweet. Of course. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.”
I totally skipped graduation and drove straight from New York to Berkeley and didn’t realize how new they were. They were less than a month old. That was really fun and fascinating because there were five of them, and it was such a new concept. The idea of creating these old world foods and a changing menu weekly, and we were sourcing from farms.
I was working with a lot of sustainability organizations in the city, and apprenticing with this artisan preserve maker and taking it all in. Within a couple of months, I was managing their whole volunteer staff, because at that time, their entire labor base was volunteers, so it was just a changing group of 15-20 people a day, managing recipes. It was still really just fleshing out the concept as we went, but it was thrilling, and every day, we’d all sit down and we’d have lunch together. People were bringing all kinds of new ideas in, but I remember feeling very self conscious because I’d leave every day smelling like chicken broth. I got really self conscious about that, but funny, then after I left, I started missing that smell.
- That’s funny. I remember when I was working in coffee. I would forget that I had been around coffee all day, and then I’d get in the shower, and I’d be, “Is somebody making coffee in the shower with me? After a couple of weeks, “That’s me that smells like that. That is strong.”
You mentioned the idea of a community-supported kitchen. Besides having a volunteer staff, what does that mean?
- It’s a fairly loose definition. It can mean whatever you want. It’s still a very new concept. Pretty much, the agreed-upon definition of a community-supported kitchen is a community scale model for food production. That’s it. Whatever that means to you. The hard thing is, I think, in their model, what that meant was maximum transparency. Sourcing from the community to offer health-supportive foods to the community in a way that created community and brought other vendors in, and everyone got to participate in the food chain in a very visceral way.
It felt like it completed the system, and a lot of people have tried. That was the original model for my business, and it’s the perfect storm down there in Berkeley. I think it’s a little tricky to find the same set of components.
- Sure. Yes. Berkeley has a reputation. Did you have experience going to farms to get involved with that yourself?
- Yes. It was definitely a good introduction there. Something I brought into coming up here. I really thought I was going to bring in all these green washing themes. Seasonal, organic, local, sustainable, slow foods, the whole nine, and then you throw on top of that community outreach and education and transparency and food economy and food security. It compounds and compounds and compounds. All of those things are very attractive, but at the end of the day, what I found is it actually ended up diluting the concepts quite a bit.
Really, the thing I needed to do was just pick one. Because I think, in a place like Portland, where people are already so educated about their food and their choices, they expect that a lot of that exists. It’s funny how I found that where you start saying things like vegan, or macrobiotic or Ayurvedic or traditional, people automatically assume that you’re sourcing from farms. That it’s organic, that it’s seasonal, that it’s local, and the funny thing is, most of them don’t ask questions to make sure those things are real.
- Right. They assume like a pyramid or a ladder where the bottom rungs are already there, but yes, that’s interesting.
My biggest impression is the way that people talk about it on the menu. If you go to Old Wives’ Tales, there’s lots of disclaimers. You can get an entirely separate gluten-free menu and all those things, whereas if you go to more of a modern, upscale restaurant, they’re not really specific. They’ll say, “smashed potatoes,” or “crazy water,” and nobody there knows what any of that stuff means. It’s almost like lately, people give more and more of an impression of the kind of things they’re talking about without actually, necessarily … who knows what they’re doing? I don’t know.
- Exactly. It depends on the experience you’re trying to get, right?
- True, yes.
- People that are going for an experience that’s more of an esthetic. It’s more of a performance, that’s that higher art of food, they’re more interested in the experience than they are about the sourcing. Now, in a place like Portland, you start to see more farmers represented. Really, that’s not even as much transparency as I’d like to see. Just because you call it a farm doesn’t mean that it’s a farm or that their practices are great. It’s funny. It’s not just a Portlandia skit, it’s real.
In a place maybe like Old Wives’ Tales or something where people know specifically that they can go for an experience of health, again, there are more questions to that, because just because it’s gluten free or dairy free or soy free, or gosh knows what, it doesn’t mean that it’s organic. It doesn’t mean that it came from somewhere that you wanted it to come from. Yes, it does meet that requirement, so I think there’s a few more questions I wish people would get in the habit of asking.
- Mm-hmm (affirmative). Maybe I’m playing a little bit of a Devil’s advocate here, but why does it even matter?
- Just a little.
- It matters a lot. The reason it matters is that the food that we eat forces the greatest expression of our DNA. In terms of our healthcare and the way that we move through this world, our bodies are constantly adapting to environmental factors. When we bring that external environment in, it’s through eating. It’s not just about relationship. It’s about encouraging our bodies to behave in certain ways, and that is seasonally, rhythmically. We are rhythmic creatures, so eating on a regular basis, how much we eat on a regular basis, where we’re eating. Things like that. There’s this very powerful interaction.
It’s important because say you have a predisposition in your family. I love this when people talk about hereditary causes of disease. They call it epigenetics. You might have this hereditary line of say, breast cancer or something in your family. That gene exists in your body, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever going to turn on if you’re existing in in a certain place of health.
The second your body falls into some kind of dysfunction is where now that genetic expression gets forced in a certain way. That’s what they’re calling epigenetics. It’s the expression, whether or not we’re activating the expression of a predisposition to a certain disease or something like that. It’s not necessarily about identifying the gene as much as it’s controlling the gene through good behavior.
Food being the strongest thing controlling that expression means that we are completely empowered in the food choices we make every day and how we are compounding and creating that expression, whether it’s toward health or disease. That’s why it becomes really important, whether that food was raised in the right way, harvested in the right way, stored in the right way, sprayed with the right things, because all of that compounds to a certain place, especially with animal products.
You see a bioconcentration because, in a vegetable for instance, it’s got a grow cycle of something between like what, 24-48 days or something like that. Still, all it’s really going to be exposed to, other than a few chemicals, is water, soil, sunshine.
An animal, now we’re talking about a full year, a full season, and what kind of water is going in, what that wate
r was exposed to, whether it was filtered, whether it was tainted. The grass it’s eating is also compounding any kind of chemical or other environmental factors, and all of that’s getting stored in their muscle and fatty tissue, their organs. All of those things are compounding for an entire year, not 24-48 days or something like that. For an entire year, and their bodies are processing it and storing and releasing toxins based on their level of health or disease.
That’s why, I think, if you’re going to make a decision, and people are constantly making this about money and pricing and things like that, the better place to get the more bang for your buck is to make decisions about quality animal products and then, knowing that concentration’s going to be a lot higher there, so it’s more important that that quality exists, not that I have anything against organic vegetables and things like that, but sometimes, for a lot of people, just making the decision to eat a fresh ingredient is a huge improvement. It’s funny to think of those stages.
Here, we live in this promised land, of seasonality, access, growth, the cycle of planting and everything. It’s an agricultural Mecca, and I think we do start to take for granted how much access we have to quality here. It’s almost a sin if you don’t participate in it. Yes.
- A few years back, the CEO of Whole Foods was criticized for drawing a comparison basically saying that the healthcare reforms … and I might be paraphrasing wrong here. Maybe you know, or maybe neither of us does, but basically saying that the healthcare legislation was unnecessary because people just needed to eat better. I’m wondering how you feel about if it’s fair to draw a comparison between what people spend on healthcare and what their food choices are, and if there’s a happy medium there.
- I definitely think there’s a connection there. The joke in my industry in the nutrition world is always, “Well, you pay now or you pay later.” Would you need access to all of this healthcare if you were taking more preventative measures? The thing I’ve always wondered why there isn’t some kind of subsidy for people taking better care of their health, that they got a lower rate on their insurance, or they maybe got a better deductible or something like that, because they were proving that they were invested in not being an expensive problem later.
Yes, I definitely think there’s a connection, and I do think that it’s something people have lost, a sense of consequence, an understanding, an awareness of that consequence.
You hear that paradigm all the time. “Do you eat to live or live to eat?” It’s sort of sad that it can’t be both. The fact that people aren’t budgeting time to eat, and they aren’t budgeting money to eat. There was an interesting figure I read that in the ’50s, people were in the habit of spending at least half of their paycheck on their food. That was understood. Don’t talk about gardening. Don’t talk about sourcing. It was just understood that 50% of your paycheck was going to go into the food you were going to eat.
Now, introduce industrialized food culture, blah blah blah. In our generation, it’s something like we spend less than 10% of our paycheck on the food that we buy, and we get bitter about the fact that now our food is competing with our cable bill.
- Yes. That’s interesting to think of your food choice as factoring into your healthcare. It’s logical if they consider whether or not you smoke. At the same time, I wish there was a comprehensive study on the impacts of food choices. You know how, when you go into some grocery stores, they’ll put little indicators on the type of fish you’re getting, like where it was sourced? If they factored in the healthcare costs of your food choice, so there was a separate line item, like this is going to really impact your healthcare bill. You’re buying all this canned food, or this will reduce your healthcare bill. I’m sure it’ll never happen.
- I’d love to see something, too. Just talking about how much of the cost of this good was spent on the packaging. How much was actually spent on food ingredients.
- Yes, for sure. What part of the puzzle are you trying to solve for now at Salt, Fire, and Time?
- Mostly, it’s trying to recreate a familiarity with a really strong emphasis on rebuilding a trust dynamic between consumer and producer, because people are highly suspicious nowadays, and they should be, about what goes into the food, where it came from, how it was processed, what they’re not being told, how it’s going to affect them later.
You bring up smoking, but other vices that are just as powerful and destructive in our body are things like sugar, vegetable oil, caffeine. These are huge, and not just sugar, but glucose versus fructose versus lactose, etcetera etcetera. They’re all sugars that the body is working on, and the body will always prioritize survival over thrival.
Salt, Fire, and Time, all of these preparations are things that have fallen out of fashion. People don’t really think about food thrift, or think about food choices from a perspective of, “I need to eat this, not only because it tastes good, and I’m hungry, but because this is going to rebuild my gut.” Or, “Oh, I’ve got a headache. I should have a glass of water before I reach for an aspirin.” Giving people those tools, giving them a positive experience of their food, you empower them to have more control over their life. Greater freedom and understanding, what they’re doing and how they get to interact with the world around them and also be more in control of just their general disposition.
Things like bone broth, organ meats, ferments, all of these participate in different ways between the gut and the brain in building immunity but also creating balance. You’re restoring the body’s equilibrium so that it can absorb more nutrition. It can be more efficient in how it’s spending and using its own energy and what amount of that energy it’s going to put into healing and new action.
These foods that Salt, Fire, and Time makes, not only are they old and forgotten about, but most of them take a while, and a certain degree of intuition. It’s not just that they’ve fallen out of fashion from a taste perspective. It’s that they’ve fallen out of fashion from a production perspective, because people don’t spend time in their kitchens. We had a running joke for a while, when the Occupy thing was ongoing. “We need to teach people to occupy their kitchens. Occupy your kitchen.”
Anyhow, the thought was, initially, I thought I’d go in and do a lot more education. Give people the tools. Teach them to feed themselves. Nobody wanted to do that, because it wasn’t just about giving them skills, it was about building an intuition, and what I found is no amount of talking that I did was ever convincing people enough. You have to talk them out of their heads. We’re too intelligent these days. We have too much information.
- Jaded, yes.
- I have to come in and convince them what they already believe to be true is wrong before I get a chance to convince them that what I’m doing is right. I got tired of doing that. It’s like banging your head against a wall. Why not just give them an experience? Because once someone feels good, now they want to know the whys and the hows. Now, they’re onboard of understanding, “What part of this interacted with my physiology? Why did my headache go away? Why do I have more energy? Whoa, I slept really well last night for the first time in a long time. I can’t believe that I didn’t have a digestive upset after that.”
Giving people these foods is my way of A, introducing them. B, getting them onboard, and C, making it really, really efficient so that they don’t have to take time out of their schedules. It’s a baby steps thing. I give them these ingredients that now they can work with in a way that they’re recreating that relationship to the food they’re eating and the way they engage food in their lives.
By taking that time piece out of it for them, it’s like it maximizes the learning curve. They don’t have to take responsibility for that until they’re ready, and then, sure. Don’t buy my products. Make your own at home.
That’s sort of the missing piece is that when people are so desperate, and really, my people aren’t necessarily people I wish they were, more people that are trying to work from an optimal preventative healthcare kind of space, but usually when people come to me, it’s because they’re desperate. It’s not just that they don’t have a relationship to food or they don’t know how to work with this, and they don’t have an intuition, it’s that they physically don’t have the energy or the brain space, or the capacity to put this all together, so they just need someone to hold their hand for a little bit, give them the tools they need until they’re strong enough to take responsibility for that piece themselves. That’s what we do.
- Okay. You mentioned the bone broth as an example. That’s something that’s time consuming to make? I’ve never made it.
- That’s surprising. (Laughter).
- It’s not at all, no.
- Yes, it takes about three days to make a batch.
- Yes, and at least eight hours, but we take three days to make it, and that’s what gives us such a supreme product is that we have the tools, the capacity, the ability to keep something at a consistent temperature for three days, so that we make sure you’re getting as much out of it as you possibly can.
The average person at home doesn’t want to leave their stove on that long. Wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving their stove on that long. Also, probably wouldn’t want to leave it on their stove for that long, because the thing I usually hear people say is, “Man. My whole house smells like bone broth now. How do you roast the bones? Man, that really stinks.”
- You do that for them?
- At least at first.
- Yes. If someone is buying your products to get into like, “This really does make me feel better.” Can you then show them how to make it or train them or give them a recipe, or empower them after that?
- We offer a lot of classes, too, so, yes. I teach a lot with NCNM. I’m probably going to do a continuing ed series with OCOM. I teach with the Wellspring Nutrition Program. I do their cooking section, and then we do a lot of other public classes, too. It’s all that stuff, nutrition, our cooking techniques, or creative, new sauces this season, whatever. The idea is how to integrate these ingredients, how to use these products, and also how to make them, too.
- Okay. This is a really a nice Website.
- I’m just kidding. I notice that you have a lot of, you mentioned earlier, fermented foods. What is it about fermented foods that’s good for people? I love kimchee. Is that …
- That’s great.
- Okay. That’s a fermented food?
- That’s a good thing, yes.
- Okay. That’s a good … okay. That makes me feel good. It might be because it’s really spicy, and I have allergies. When I was on a raw, vegan diet, I was eating a lot of fermented foods, and that is when I fell in love with pickles. Like Bubbies or whatever. What’s good about fermented foods for people?
- The interesting thing about food is when we eat a food, we think about what are the nutrients in that food, but also the other reason you’re eating it is not just for the vitamins and the minerals. You’re also wanting it for those live enzymes, and those live enzymes are part of what would naturally break that food down.
We’ve got a lot of enzymes in our body that also participate in breaking down nutrients, and that’s how the whole digestive process works. There are some nutrients that are only created in your body by virtue of that process of breaking down the food that you ate. Without the body actually acting on that food, you would never have access to that nutrition.
Raw foods, you have a harder time accessing some of the vitamin mineral content in that food, but you get a lot more of the enzymes. In a cooked food, you’ve broken down the enzymes and a lot of the plant fibers, so you’re getting access to a lot more of the vitamins and minerals, but you’ve killed the enzymes. It’s really important to have a balance of both.
The beautiful thing about fermented foods is that you get both, because what you’ve done is create an environment that’s attracting wild bacteria, building a certain amount of lactic acid, and collectively, all of those bacteria and enzymes are working to break down that food just enough while keeping it alive. You’re basically getting something that’s pre-digested and also adding more enzymatic activity to your gut. In doing that, it’s like you make the whole process a lot more expeditious.
- Okay. Okay. Sort of fast tracking your health.
- You’re fast tracking your digestion.
- There you go.
- Yes. I’ve visited your space before, and I drank something that was very red. Was that beet juice?
- The Beet Kvass.
- Yes. Tell me about that.
Beet kvass from Salt, Fire & Time.
The Beet Kvass is a lacto-fermented beet infusion. It’s actually a traditional Eastern European drink, Kvass, and it was traditionally made with bread crust and rye berries, and it was their version of lemonade. Just pro-biotic, meaning it’s not alcoholic, but it’s one of those very bacterially-rich fermented sodas, and effervesced and sour, really refreshing, full of electrolytes, that kind of thing.
Beet Kvass is a version of that, the same preparation but made with beets so that you get the gluten-free factor because so many people today are sensitive. Because of the beets, it also becomes blood cleansing, blood building, great for your liver, and it’s really, really just fresh and clean.
- I get a lot of people that are very shocked because they’re expecting that Harvard beet, sweet beet, canned beet experience of beets. Tragedy.Then they try it, and it’s just crisp and clean, and the spices in it also help that effect, and it’s a really nice little drink. One of the things that people always are surprised by, again, is the action of watching your body respond to this living food. The first time, you’ll see people often get flushed. They’ll get rosy cheeks, or maybe they’ll get a headache or something like that, because they’ve just dived in so quickly. My only advice would be, “If this is your first time on Beet Kvass, and you don’t want to spend the day on the toilet, start slow.”
- (Laughter). Yes. Yes. Yes. Same advice goes for when you first discover fresh cherries and decide to eat a whole bowl of them, which I’ve done. Terrible.
- It’s cleansing.
- Yes, indeed. How did you end up in Portland? Was this where you came from Berkeley?
- Kind of. What happened was, I was working in Northern California, and long story short, I got really sick and ended up healing myself with a lot of this food stuff and didn’t need to do a lot of what I thought I was going to need to do to recover. I found myself in this place where I didn’t have to spend all this money on the healthcare I was planning, and I didn’t have to spend four months in recovery. I was like, “Well, maybe this is a sign from the Universe that I should just do something I really want to do.” I had come out to the Pacific Northwest when I was 18 and really fell in love with it and had always wanted to come back. I was like, “That’s it. I’m going to go to the Pacific Northwest. I’m going to start the CSK of my dreams, and I’m going to make it happen.” I flew out here for about 10 days, and I did a lot of informational interviews with folks between Seattle and Portland. That was the decision, because in the Bay, everybody talks about Portland as this like hush, hush, what do I want to say, promised land. “They don’t have taxes.” “You can spend so much money on food.”
I wanted to check it out, although it was funny because I remember my friend saying to me, “Tressa, there’s a lot of hipsters there.” I’m like, “What’s a hipster?” I don’t even understand what I’m getting myself into.
- We have hippies here, too.
- I came up, and I really thought I was going to go to Seattle, and then, it’s this funny little story. I’d gone to cooking school with a woman who was now editing for Edible Portland, and she’d given me a copy when we were visiting, and I was reading it in my hotel room, and in it, I saw this ad for another woman who had a company at the time called “Folklore Foods,” and it’s a community-supported kitchen, kitchen theater. I thought, “No. How can there already be one in Portland? This is ridiculous.” I immediately called her, and I said, “Look. There’s got to be a way we can collaborate. I don’t want to compete with the vision you already have, but I know I’ve got to do this.”
She said, “It doesn’t exist. I just put the ad in there for bait. Why don’t you come over?”
I went over to her house, and I ended up staying the night there, which was great. That’s where I met her and two other ladies who ended up saying that they really wanted to partner with me on the biz, and that was the difference. I was like, “Well, I could go to Seattle and do this by myself, or I could come to Portland and have three partners.” It seemed like a no brainer.
It was right before Christmas, so I went home, Christmas, New Year’s, drove out on the second, and we started, and that was pretty much how Portland happened.
- Okay. How long ago was this?
- January 2009.
- That’s great. I’m going to ask you some personal questions. Do you have a favorite fermented food?
- That’s so hard. No. It’s really hard to say that.
- Okay. I already said kimchee, so you can’t can’t say that.
- The hard thing is, I’m deeply attached to cabbages, but I’m kind of spent on eating them. You can imagine. Being in this fermented zone all the time. Everybody knows cabbages with sauerkraut, and I love kraut. I feel like I identify with kraut, but I can’t eat it anymore – at least not right now. We’re seeing other people.
- Are you part German? Is it German in your blood?
- Yes. I’m German.
- I had a grandmother who would like … I don’t know if I ever went over there for dinner, and she didn’t make something fermented and so, I always have very fond memories of that. Sometimes, Candice will make that for dinner. That’s very nice. Usually like a pot roast and a sauerkraut or something. Yes.
Doing this for a living, are there restaurants that you like, or do you not get to go out much? Do you have a favorite restaurant in Portland?
- Oh, I go out all the time.
- Okay. Good.
- I love to eat out. Yes, it’s funny. I find myself a lot at Kir. I know it’s not really known for its food, but it should be, because …
- Is it right off Burnside?
- The sweet little wine bar, all the lowered blinds.
- I love that place.
- An amazing palate. Her small plates, and I seriously think they’ve got the best mussel plate in town. I can’t get enough of it.
- Okay. I’ll have to go back there and do that. Yes, I think I’ve just had wine there.
- Yes, I love that spot. Of course, I’m always really picky looking at people’s menus and where they’re sourcing, if they’re pulling that farm trick that’s really just a packing house. I’m trying to think where else I end up going a lot. I really love the Bollywood Theater. I think he’s doing a beautiful job.
- That place is a lot of fun for sure.
- Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ned Ludd. I think that place is amazing.
- I still haven’t been there, but yes. Okay. Do you not drink caffeine?
- No, I absolutely do.
- Oh, okay. Maybe in moderation?
- Everybody’s allowed to have a few vices, right?
- Sure. Absolutely. That makes me feel better. Yes, it’s funny, the biggest thing that bothers me is when you’ll hear this rave about a restaurant and they’ll talk about their sourcing and all this stuff, and then you’ll go by there one day, and there’s like a Cisco truck delivering. You try to give them the benefit of the doubt, like maybe they just get, I don’t know, their to-go cups from Cisco. I don’t know, but probably not, you know.
- It’s a little heartbreaking for sure.
- If you’re doing food service, you’ll get a score and everything. They’ll check your kitchen, but it’s not like they’re checking where it’s sourced from.
- Do you sometimes find that restaurants just flat out lie?
- Not intentionally.
- Just use creative wording to get around that, kind of weasel words?
- The expression at a lot of the bottom of menus, “We source organic whenever possible.”
- I totally know that phrase, yes. Whenever possible, yes.
- Or as much as we can, and I get it. There are real, real food costs involved. It’s very hard. It’s not just the restaurant’s fault. I can’t put all the fault on the restaurant. It’s also the consumer’s fault because they’re not demanding it, and they’re not manning up to pay for it. That’s the hard thing.
For instance, if a farm is really raising a beautiful pastured bird, and this bird is allowed to forage. They’re making sure the feed has no GMO. It’s been given enough time and water and sunshine to grow appropriately, and they’re slaughtering on farm, and that farmer’s making an effort to get that into a restaurant, their production is a lot smaller. Those birds, per each, are going to be a lot more expensive.
Then, if they’re coming to this chef who’s saying, “All right. On our restaurant menu, we need to set up entrees somewhere between $15 and $30. If it’s any more than that, we really can’t ask people to pay, or it takes us into a whole other ball game,” and for something like chicken, there’s a psychology around what people want to pay.
People can put a lot of specificity into what they’re sourcing for when they’re going home, but when they go out, people are really looking more for an experience than they are for that quality ingredient, and that’s why restaurants will make allowances. For instance, Draper Valley Farms. This is a local company. Maybe not the most sustainable. Maybe not necessarily completely organic, but you’re supporting them as a local business, and I think that means a lot.
Or Carlton Farms. Carlton Farms is not a farm. It’s Carlton Meat and Packing.
- Yes. Right. Right.
- It sounds so much more romantic with Carlton Farms.
- Free branded, yes.
- Again, people feel good about that because again, they feel like they’re supporting local. It’s finding that balance, I think, as a chef, where you’re finding a price point that works in a framework that people feel comfortable with, because if you were actually saying to them, “In order for us to source exactly what you want, that means you have to take a $10 entree and charge $30 for it,” for the turnaround, to cover waste, etcetera, etcetera. There are a lot of folks that will not follow through on that, and I really appreciate that that’s real.
I remember hearing a story how one of the provisions that had that problem. They work with different sources, and they had tried to work with Square Peg Farm, I think it was. It was small batch salami, and it was one dollar more. One dollar more for salami, and people wouldn’t pay. It was that one dollar difference made all the different in the world.
- They should have put a gold sticker on it. I’m kidding you.
- Special wrapping. It’s hard, and that’s where I feel like, in a place like Portland, there’s a lot of high-faluting ideas, but follow through. Everybody makes compromises. I know that’s just life. Nobody’s going to be that perfect, but that’s what I say you make decisions about what dollars are going to vote where. If you had to make that decision, it might not be that consistently across the board everything’s beautifully organic, but you do the best you can. As long as people are trying to include some organic, they’re still ahead of the curve.
- I feel like you have a pretty reasonable and mature view of that, probably because you deal with that. It would be hard to do everything absolutely perfectly right for everyone, certainly with seven billion people.
- I see enormous lifestyle change. I don’t think it’s impossible. In fact, I think it’s very doable, but it’s one thing at a time. If, for instance, you drink coffee, right? I drink coffee. If you’re going to drink coffee, drink a good quality coffee. To make that a cheap thing when it’s something that makes that big a difference, I think, “Why not just go for the quality thing? If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
I’m not necessarily going to be very particular about where I buy toilet paper or hand soap or something like that, but I am going to be very particular about where I source my animal proteins. It’s things like that where maybe I have a Costco membership for some of this stuff, but I would probably never buy dairy from a place like Costco, but I can get all the Q-Tips there I ever wanted.
- Yes. Yes. (Laughs). Sage advice.
- It’s funny, I made this comment, and I think I rattled a lot of feathers. It was another interview where I said something about, “I can’t wait for a day where grocery stores are just places we go for paper products.” (Laughter).
Again, like I said, it’s a lifestyle choice. For a lot of people, just having enough forks to feed everyone in their house is a big step, or making time to cook something rather than just buying prepared foods. Even buying prepared foods is still better to me than people having to eat out three meals a day. I’m amazing how many people really don’t use their kitchens, and I don’t blame them. We don’t budget time to eat, to digest, to source your food. It is another part-time job, so I think you make little goals, and as people start seeing results and seeing the benefit of that action, it builds a lot more momentum to do the next action. It’s better to start small with consistent successes than for someone to take on too much massive failure. They feel totally flawed and imperfect, and they go back to doing exactly what they were doing before.
The thing I hate seeing people do all the time is encourage apathy because of failure because there are a lot of enthusiasts and bless their heart, their enthusiasm knocks everybody out of the water.
Like all the fear mongering that went on with Food, Inc. Those movies would come out, and they’d terrify you, because the problem is, they come in and they’re like, “Yes. There are all these problems with industrial food manufacturing.” Duh. Then they offer no creative solutions. People are terrified. “I don’t know what to eat. I don’t know what to do. I know I can’t participate in that, because that’s terrible, but I don’t know where to go to make a better decision. That just got really complicated. Well, I guess I’m just one person, and what does it matter, anyway?’
- It’s like it never happened.
- Yes, it reminds me of when there’s a lot of protests, I always hear the phrase, “compassion fatigue,” where people feel like there’s just so much wrong and so much to protest that, you know what, screw it. I’ll just forget that. It also runs, a phrase I use talking about design, like, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Like, don’t try to be perfect.
With what you’re talking about, it’s like, if you just take control of breakfast consistently …
- Yes. Then you’ll start to feel like you have a foothold on every day. On a recent Tedx in Portland, Katy Bingaman-Burt was talking, and she’s a designer, and she was talking about how she had credit card debt, and it was overwhelming for her. She didn’t know what to do, so she just started drawing every day. Every invoice, every bill that would come, she would just draw it, and it would force her to take some time and just think consciously about it.
I feel like that’s maybe what people can do with food is don’t abandon eating out completely, just maybe stop eating them for breakfast on the way to work in your car. Just get up a half hour earlier. After having a couple of kids, the mornings get crazy. It’s like, “Why don’t we just set the alarm a little earlier, and we can still make breakfast?” You can still have some eggs and stuff. Something with a little protein rather than just microwaving a bowl of oatmeal or something, which is probably not the worst thing, either. Yes.
I just went on a little tangent there.
- That’s okay. Breakfast is very important.
- In summary, do you have one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s just feeling frustrated and having headaches and is overwhelmed, for making one step in the right direction, food wise?
- I really feel like if you were going to do three things …
- Okay. Three. Better.
- … that would make a massive impact on your health, really simple, it would be improving your water intake and making sure that that’s clean water. Trying to eliminate as much sugar as possible from your diet and eliminating vegetable oils, and I really feel like if you can do those three things, you’ve exponentially improved your health.
- Yes. Yes. That is all good advice.
- It really doesn’t have to be complex.
- Great. All right. People can find you at saltfireandtime.com. Is there anywhere else that people should be following you on social media or anything?
- Twitter, Facebook, those things all exist. Yes.
- Yes. They could find that on your site, and thank you so much for chatting with me today.
- Yes. Thanks. It was fun.
- I appreciate it.
- Yes. Nice …