In The Reaping, Hillary Swank goes to a swampy town in the South to investigate some weird paranormal-type happenings. It's what she does. She's a professional certified scientific debunker.
Gets there. Snoops around. Sees some pretty plagueish occurrences of unclear scientific basis, including a river that has run red with goop and coughed up all manner of dead frogs and livestock. Even Swank and her team of rubber-booted scientists are gagging on the stench, but they gather their samples like pros and send them to the lab for analysis. Check for blood, boys. Let's see what's makin' this thing all red.
Now, the movie has lots of jolts and gross-outs up to this point, but for me it's not yet scary. However, it will be. After gathering their samples, the team retires for the evening at an old house near the river. Crickets chirp. Or cicadas. Whatever. Some Southern bug. The scientists shoot the breeze. They fire up the grill for some dinner and relaxation, and a local guy throws some grub over the coals. Plague or no plague, a team of debunkers has gotta eat. "What's cooking?" they ask the griller. And he says, "Fish."
Gulp. The team pauses. The film pauses. Its heart skips a beat. Reaction shot. Reaction shot. Reaction shot. F-f-f-fish?
Don't worry, the local guy says, it's from the grocery store. Ohhhhhhhh. Laughs all around. Ohhhhhhh. The debunkers relax. The audience relaxes. That fish is from the grocery store, see, not jerked out of that mucky river. Ease up. Calm down. Let's eat!
For me, this is where the movie turned from stupid to creepy. Our food supply in this country is barely understood by the adults who partake of it daily. All we know is that fish can be drawn from rivers, but they're more safely drawn from grocery stores. Up north our stores don't raise fish, and I spect it's the same down south, so the store in question had to get that fish from somewhere. But these scientists are certain that the local grocery store absolutely does not pull fish from any body of water that might be in its vicinity. That would be madness!
The assumption is that no matter where you are in America, the food in your grocery store is from Elsewhere. Trucked across the country, probably. Shipped across the ocean, maybe. Raised in some farm where it's fed corn, I kid you not, the earth's own golden kernels, which were naturally meant to be fish munch. But the important thing is not where the fish comes from but that, no matter where you live, it comes from Not Here. The movie's implicit acceptance of this fish-based Ponzi scheme sent shivers up my freakin' spine. I got home that night and crept around my dark house expecting our national eating disorder to boo from behind every creaking door. Slept with the lights on, you know I did.
Since I was so rattled by the fish-grilling scene, my memory of the remainder of the film is hazy. But if I recall, Hilary Swank ended up explaining the red river by rediscovering her faith. So perhaps the scene in which she accepts the fact of fishes-from-nowhere is a Biblical allusion planted as foreshadowing. Yes, perhaps.
This summer I've arrived in Chicago. My wife, daughter, and I spent a couple of weeks living on take-out food as our accumulation of household junk wound its way from San Francisco to our new home in the windy city. The first thing we did after we unpacked our kitchen implements is cook ourselves a fresh, local meal. We went to the Green City Market (a farmer's market recommended by Alice Waters) and got loads of veggies, greens, and a chicken breast, and I cooked soup and kale and potatoes and whatnot to flush the fast food from our systems. Everything was grown and raised in the fields around Chicago except the salt, pepper, oil, and butter; I'll get local butter as soon as I use up these sticks.
One of the many things I'll miss about living in San Francisco is the year-round bounty of great local food, but we landed here in Illinois at the perfect time. Spring weather kicked in, the Green City market started up for the year, and our truck full of junk arrived. We even had time to sign up for a box of weekly vegetables from a local farm (in Wisconsin), so a steady stream of goodness will sustain us until the snow sends us back to the grocery store for produce that was trucked in from Mexico, Chile, and California. If I get on the ball, maybe I'll learn some canning and pickling tricks to help keep our foot in the farmer's door.
I can tell that it won't take long for me to have a list of favorite things about Chicago. The summer weather is one of them. Even though the often heard quote about San Francisco's summers has been misattributed to Mark Twain, it's still true. The city by the bay is chilly until about about September.
I don't have the rest of my Chicago list, yet, but here are a few of the food-related things that I'll miss -- already do miss -- about San Francisco:
I've never figured out why it's hard to find good tea and good bread in this country. Tea requires hot water and good tea leaves, but most restaurants can't manage to scrounge up either. Bread can be made with four or five ingredients, but your average supermarket loaf has about 20; they rob it of flavor and chewability but give it a longer shelf life. Priorities, man.
Therefore, I'll greatly miss Samovar Tea Lounge and Acme Bread. I'd love to find somewhere in Chicago that will serve me a pot of pu-erh or tie guan yin, but for now I'll brew it at home, which is easy enough. But a good daily baguette requires a bakery. I'm on the prowl. Fox and Obel in downtown Chicago has a decent loaf made with only water, salt, yeast, and flour. Nice. There's also a little grocery store in Wicker Park called Olivia's Market (which reminds me of Harvest in San Francisco) that carries a petite baguette from Labriola that has a nice texture. The produce market in Hyde Park has a good selection from several local bakeries, and Pastoral downtown sells bread from Bennison's Bakery, for those of us who don't often get to Evanston where Bennison is based. I don't know of anything in my neighborhood, but as these satellites pass me by, I'll reach out to snag a loaf.
- Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco's Mission district is the tiniest grocery store that could sustain you for the rest of your life. Smaller than a two-bedroom apartment in the city, it's packed with good stuff, and they tell you where everything is from -- which country, which farm. They carry meat and eggs (in season) from Marin Sun Farms which is the nearest thing the Bay Area has to Joel Salatin, the farmer profiled by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma (a must-read, if you care about your food). Between the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market and Bi-Rite, I could find everything I regularly ate. For miscellaneous sundries (dish washer detergent, etc) we'd hit Whole Foods or Safeway, and in that arena there's nothing lost in the move to Chicago: we're now closer to Whole Foods, and Peapod delivery is better than Safeway's. But those were fallbacks in San Francisco; I'm still on the prowl for a little local market in Chicago. (The aforementioned Olivia's is nice, but it reminds me more of Harvest in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood than Bi-Rite.)
- Just around the corner from Bi-Rite in San Francisco is Tartine which makes some outstanding morning buns. But the folks at a local Chicago bakery named Floriole, who sell their goods at the Green City market, say they trained at Tartine in San Francisco! What are the odds?
Someone-who-isn't-Mark-Twain may have complained about the cool summers in San Francisco, but I hear far more grumbling about the winters in Chicago. From a food perspective, I have some footwork to do. Maybe next year, I'll report on my progress.
And maybe by then I'll be sleeping with the lights off again. Lets hope, for many reasons, that there's no Reaping, Too.
Update: I recalled the name of Chicago's Floriole Bakery and inserted it above.