Last semester, Lynn Huntsinger, associate professor of environmental science, policy, and management, led 20 freshmen across the Bay Area for a daylong seminar called “Follow Your Food.” The goal of the class, Huntsinger says, is “to not only explore where food comes from, but also examine how it’s connected to our community and environmental well-being.”
The group met on campus at 7 a.m. on a gray late-February Saturday, then made its way to the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco, where they split up to shop for that evening’s meal. Huntsinger charged students with asking the food vendors a series of questions: Where does the food come from? Is it natural? Organic? Why or why not?
With their purchases packed into coolers, the class piled into a chartered bus and headed north. Along for the ride was Professor Sally Fairfax, Huntsinger’s colleague, who is working on a book about the Bay Area’s locally grown, chemical-free, and sustainably-produced foods.
The first stop was Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma, where Sally and Mike Gale raise beef cattle. Three years ago the Gales converted what was once a traditional beef operation to a grass-fed ranch, and they also grow nine varieties of apples in a small orchard.
Next, the group visited pedigreed foodies Sue Conley (a former owner of Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley) and Peggy Smith (who honed her culinary skills at Chez Panisse) at a once-dilapidated hay barn in Point Reyes Station that is now home to their organic market and cheese-production facility, Cowgirl Creamery.
At the third stop, Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, the group got a lesson in oyster cultivation and shucking. Even Huntsinger, who had never sampled a raw oyster before, got swept up in the fervor and downed a Hog Island Sweetwater.
At 6 p.m. the group headed back to Huntsinger’s East Bay home, where they feasted on their bounty. “The argument against this way of eating is that it’s more expensive,” said Huntsinger about the meal that the class finished. “In general we might do better in terms of our health if we chose a little more carefully, paid a little more, and ate a little less.”