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Alan Richman article in GQ: The Ferry Bldg


PamelaF
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Rancho, you are so right about people talking about the price of eggs. At least with the peach they can eat it on the spot and make a big, sloppy, drooly mess and enjoy it. Eggs, when purchased at the market, become a burden until they get home. The only thing worse than eggs is whole chickens. We’ve done both. Whole chickens become radioactive once a new customer gets their hands on one. Somehow they believe they spoil faster in anything less than a Whole Foods bag.

We’ve had the question more than once “Do I need to put it into the refrigerator now or will it keep until we get home?” If they only knew how long they should age the meat before cooking, they would poop!

It is interesting, even on this forum, how many people have not had true farm eggs or poultry. It’s the egg is an egg mentality. You surely know what it’s like to sell a premium product for a premium price when it’s just a bean.

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Is it off topic if I ask an egg question. Stan, you seem to know your eggs.

What does a particularly thin shell mean? Type of feed?

Our egg man in Italy has the thinest shells on his eggs. The trick is to get them home in one piece, and I've yet to get them ALL home.

Eggs at NYC's greenmarket averaged in the $6.00 range. By the way.

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Rancho, you are so right about people talking about the price of eggs.  At least with the peach they can eat it on the spot and make a big, sloppy, drooly mess and enjoy it.  Eggs, when purchased at the market, become a burden until they get home.  The only thing worse than eggs is whole chickens. We’ve done both.  Whole chickens become radioactive once a new customer gets their hands on one.  Somehow they believe they spoil faster in anything less than a Whole Foods bag.

We’ve had the question more than once “Do I need to put it into the refrigerator now or will it keep until we get home?”  If they only knew how long they should age the meat before cooking, they would poop!

It is interesting, even on this forum, how many people have not had true farm eggs or poultry.  It’s the egg is an egg mentality.  You surely know what it’s like to sell a premium product for a premium price when it’s just a bean.

I trust that you're not referring to me, because I buy "true farm eggs" by the gross. Nonetheless, eight bucks a dozen is a bit absurd. So is $6, but everything's more expensive in Manhattan, I guess. :wink:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I trust that you're not referring to me, because I buy "true farm eggs" by the gross.  Nonetheless, eight bucks a dozen is a bit absurd. So is $6, but everything's more expensive in Manhattan, I guess.  :wink:

No I wasn't.

The cost involved with small scale production really changes by locale. Northern California is about the worst. A typical small scale producer has fewer than 1000 hens. We looked at buying two different Amish poultry operations last year. The larger (Indiana) one had a few thousand hens, but all his labor was under 14 years old. They have 10 kids and live in less than 1000 square feet.

The eggs need to be gathered, washed sorted and packaged. If we replaced his child labor with people who are paid a fair wage the $1/dozen eggs become much more expensive real fast.

Some people think that buying a fattening dinner with a bottle of rotten fruit for hundreds of dollars and paying someone to observe you exercising the ill effects off the next day a tad absurd.

BTW Most people aren't aware that hens on pasture only produce about half as many eggs as production ones during their useful life. They need to be raised and cared for for six months before they start laying.

Edited by StanSherman (log)
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Is it off topic if I ask an egg question. Stan, you seem to know your eggs.

What does a particularly thin shell mean? Type of feed?

Our egg man in Italy has the thinest shells on his eggs. The trick is to get them home in one piece, and I've yet to get them ALL home.

Eggs at NYC's greenmarket averaged in the $6.00 range. By the way.

Thin shells are usually a calcium deficiency. Around here we use an oyster shell supplement while they are laying.

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I trust that you're not referring to me, because I buy "true farm eggs" by the gross.  Nonetheless, eight bucks a dozen is a bit absurd. So is $6, but everything's more expensive in Manhattan, I guess.  :wink:

No I wasn't.

The cost involved with small scale production really changes by locale. Northern California is about the worst. A typical small scale producer has fewer than 1000 hens. We looked at buying two different Amish poultry operations last year. The larger (Indiana) one had a few thousand hens, but all his labor was under 14 years old. They have 10 kids and live in less than 1000 square feet.

The eggs need to be gathered, washed sorted and packaged. If we replaced his child labor with people who are paid a fair wage the $1/dozen eggs become much more expensive real fast.

Some people think that buying a fattening dinner with a bottle of rotten fruit for hundreds of dollars and paying someone to observe you exercising the ill effects off the next day a tad absurd.

(Where do you farm?)

I realize that the costs involved in non-industrial farming are much higher, and happily pay two or three times grocery store prices for eggs at the farmers markets around DC (I think eggs top out at about $4.99/dozen here, I usually find something cheaper). And I absolutely think farmers should be able to clothe their kids, send them to college, afford decent liquor, etc. Some of my best friends....

Nonetheless, when you have to get $8 for a dozen eggs just to break even, it's possible that the economy is telling you to get into a different line of work. Although, if you can get that kind of money for eggs, go for it. Worse, though, from my perspective, is that when you start selling $8 eggs and $20 pancake breakfasts, you've taken something important -- sustainable farming -- and turned it into a hobby that only the extremely affluent can afford.

Somehow we've got to figure how we can get farmers to make a decent living, and still get good, wholesome food into the gullets of people who are not well off. I don't think the Ferry Building is the answer, and I think Richman was right in taking a few pokes at people who think they've saved the world because they buy heirloom tomatoes (whom, let me clear are not limited to left coasters and may even include me :laugh: ). But the Ferry Building may be an important stop along the way to this better world/economy/dinner. And I think Richman recognized that, as well, which is why I found the piece persuasive.

I've spent too little time in California to know how y'all make out, but here on the East Coast, the article feels a lot like a big sloppy wet kiss. :wub: Anyway, I know where I'm headed next time I hit San Francisco.

cheers.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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My 66 cents on 8 dollar eggs.

Before discovering the Ferry Building and the aforementioned very expensive eggs, I never understood why people actually ate eggs. I found the yolks repulsive and the whites very blah. When I purchased eggs, usually from my local Safeway, I would use 2 for a batch of cookies and the rest would languish in my refrigerator until I threw them out months later during regular cleanouts.

After finally tasting a delcious egg, I understand what the fuss is about. Now days, I buy my $8 eggs and eat ever single one of them. By my math, that's .66 each. Safeway lists eggs today on their online grocery service at $2.79 dozen. Using my older egg-eating method, that's $1.40 each.

In a similar vein, most people (myself included) regularly pay $7-10 egg dishes when eating breakfast or brunch out in a restaurant. In my household, breakfast for 2 at a restaurant sets us back in the realm of $20. Figure 3 eggs per person and we're now talking $3.30 per egg. Wtth that math, we'd rather spend $8 for a dozen eggs and get multiple meals.

That's how I justify my egg expenditures. And my weekly trips to the SF Ferry Plaza market.

Erin Andersen

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I realize that the costs involved in non-industrial farming are much higher, and happily pay two or three times grocery store prices for eggs at the farmers markets around DC ... Nonetheless, when you have to get $8 for a dozen eggs just to break even, it's possible that the economy is telling you to get into a different line of work.

Busboy's post raises an interestisng point. Strictly speaking economically, of course, an object's value is determined solely by what a buyer is willing to pay for it. Hence, $20 million paintings made from $15 worth of canvas and $2.50 worth of paint.

But when it comes to food, in the name of justice, we expect to have some direct correlation between price and actual cost of production, totally divorced from demand. Are there any non-food examples of this?

The value of metal in cars is roughly similar whether you're talking about a ford or a ferrari. And I don't think there's $1800 difference in the price of the material between a suit from Sears and one from Armani.

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The article pointed out that a farm had sold-out 60 dozen eggs at $8. $480 gross. Their cost delivered to the Ferry Building is surely over $4 so gross profit is somewhere less than $240, with the cost of the person to deal with the customers. If a hairdresser in San Francisco goes to work on a Saturday and bills $500 for the day, and shares half the revenue with the salon, would any of us be discussing how much money that hairdresser was pulling in?

My point is; $8/dozen for farm bug-fed eggs is an appropriate price. It is a just price. I can get you the same quality eggs for $1, only you may need to drive a bit further, like to Iowa. There they are hand-collected and washed by adorable Amish school girls who make Golden Retriever puppies seem evil.

If we could get these girls to the Ferry Plaza with their eggs you could be seeing $20/dozen.

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Eggs at NYC's greenmarket averaged in the $6.00 range. By the way.

I think you went to the wrong vendors, Judith!! Tello's eggs (what Momo's fabulous chawan mushi is made from) are $3.25/dozen for large and Knollwood's are $2.85 for the same size! Some of the smaller egg seller's prices are indeed higher, because I think the eggs are not their main products.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Charles, We currently live just north of the Napa Valley. We are moving so we are not formally farming now. We are growing for family and friends. Besides a dozen hens and 100 meat birds we keep about ½ acre in vegetables and about 50 fruit trees.

I don’t believe we’ll save the world through Farmers’ Markets, but they have made some impact. I doubt garden centers would have nearly the variety of tomatoes like brandywine available if people had not been exposed to them at the markets.

Look what has happened to hogs in the past few years. Companies like Niman have come along and featured cuts of meat with great flavor. Ten years ago I knew nobody who ordered whole hogs except for a luau. Now, in an emergency, I could probably round up a couple thousand pounds of premium pork within the neighborhood.

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I realize that the costs involved in non-industrial farming are much higher, and happily pay two or three times grocery store prices for eggs at the farmers markets around DC ... Nonetheless, when you have to get $8 for a dozen eggs just to break even, it's possible that the economy is telling you to get into a different line of work.

Busboy's post raises an interestisng point. Strictly speaking economically, of course, an object's value is determined solely by what a buyer is willing to pay for it. Hence, $20 million paintings made from $15 worth of canvas and $2.50 worth of paint.

But when it comes to food, in the name of justice, we expect to have some direct correlation between price and actual cost of production, totally divorced from demand. Are there any non-food examples of this?

The value of metal in cars is roughly similar whether you're talking about a ford or a ferrari. And I don't think there's $1800 difference in the price of the material between a suit from Sears and one from Armani.

I buy my Armani on sale. And my Ferraris used. :wink:

There's actually a couple different issues here, and if I could articulate them better than I think I'm just about to, I's probably break it into a better thread.

The first issue is basic supply and demand and, as they touch us all in Econ 101 (the class so nice I took it twice), cost does not determine price, demand does, and if you can get $8 for a dozen eggs, the economist in me says: go for it. Though, I've never heard a farmer of any type explain why they sell sell their premium product at a premium price with the same lightly disguised snobbery that an Armani or Mercedes salesman would use ("you deserve it, you're a success, you're better than other people"). Rather, they talk about cost.

Second, though, there's a whole level of political discourse around food that you don't find around other luxury brands. No one claims that they're trying to change the world by buying a $200 necktie. On the other hand, a lot of people claim that they're trying to change the world by buying or selling (let's pick on someone else besides the egg man) $12 free-range chickens and potatoes priced at about the same per ounce as foie gras. And not without reason.

But, this attempt to change the world through dinner often comes wrapped in a kind of anti-corporate, neo-populist rhetoric that implies a certain solidarity with the masses. This is good, too. Unfortunately, when you're trying to change the world and the result becomes produce so expensive that poor and working class people can't afford to join the club ("why can't we change the world, too, mommy?" "Shut up and eat your monocultural corn-fed pork.") you've created a disconnect between the ideals of the movement and the result.

If we could have the farmers without the politics then you wouldn't get cynics like Richman and aging lefties like me snickering at that disconnect. Of course, farmers and politics go together like Chablis and Brie, so the debate will continue.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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There's actually a couple different issues here, and if I could articulate them better than I think I'm just about to, I's probably break it into a better thread.

I would enjoy a discussion that most consumers are unaware of. The USDA NAIS program or as I like to call it "No Chicken left behind". Where would be an appropriate place to put it?

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There's actually a couple different issues here, and if I could articulate them better than I think I'm just about to, I's probably break it into a better thread.

I would enjoy a discussion that most consumers are unaware of. The USDA NAIS program or as I like to call it "No Chicken left behind". Where would be an appropriate place to put it?

I'd think Food Traditions and Culture, if no one else wants to weigh in.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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hmm, i really doubt that food is the only economic product that surrounds itself with congratulatory humbuggery (let's go back to art for a sec, huh?).

i think it has to do with a couple of more things.

1) food is more than enjoyment, it is sustenance. so there is an assumption that depriving ANYone of ANY foodstuff is somehow depriving them of what they need to live (and yes, i know $8 a dozen eggs, if they're great, certainly qualify as an affordable luxury for just about anyone--make a frittata with those and it'll be better than most people's foie gras).

2) food is cheap enough that it is in reach of everyone. pricing art (or mercedes or armani) so the poor can share them is never even a consideration.

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hmm, i really doubt that food is the only economic product that surrounds itself with congratulatory humbuggery (let's go back to art for a sec, huh?).

Wine? Last month we overheard a waiter describing a wine pairing as "A bold Pinot from the Russian River section of Napa." bla bla bla. He was pouring basically two buck Chuck with a mock kobe beef dish.

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I drive a moderately expensive plastic car that seems to have been assembled by drunkards, the price of the pieces that go into it don't factor into the retail price. Food, wine, travel (does it cost 10x as much to fly someone from airport to airport if they get a bigger seat and a rubbery chicken breast instead of over-salted peanuts and a bit less legroom?). To the point Russ was making earlier, it doesn't cost 10 times as much to fry and egg and deliver it to your hotel room than it does to fry an egg and bring it to your table at a truck stop. There's not much outrage over room service prices or for that matter hotels charging $45/day for parking.

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Read this thread.  Then I read the article.  Huh??? Can't see why folks are so upset. 

Enjoyed the article; enjoyed Richman's writing.  Alan Richman is relating his impressions and doing so respectfully and humorously.  The reader is seeing The Ferry Building through his eyes.  Richman's goal seems to be whetting the appetite of those not familiar with the Ferry Building, not reinforcing the beliefs of those who know the place well. 

I have never been there.  Now I want to.  Didn't know much about the place.  Now I do.  Can't ask for much more than that.

Having been to the Ferry Building (though not on a market day, alas) before reading Richman's article, I was ready for what he had to say, and I have to agree with Rancho Gordo (who gets a plug in the article): His article is actually a love letter.

But it's a love letter from an Easterner who enjoys a pastime also commonly practiced in farm country, sacred cow-tipping. I only got a few paragraphs into his rant on New Orleans before I knew I wasn't going to think of it as highly as I did this piece, or his article on the best burgers in America, where he does manage to honor Calvin Trillin's maxim ("Anyone who doesn't believe the world's best hamburger is served in their hometown has no soul.") to an extent. But that's in part because I don't think he appreciates what is distinctive about New Orleans. The French Quarter may be a caricature of itself, but I'd hardly call its residential structures soulless.

This article is as far from that New Orleans hit job as Kansas City is from either coast.

And, frankly, San Francisco does set itself up for that kind of ribbing. IMO San Franciscans share with Bostonians a conviction that they live in God's Chosen City, but it expresses itself differently: Bostonians are arrogant, San Franciscans self-satisfied. I included that San Francisco Chronicle article in my trip report for a reason: You have a big city where everyone goes on about how diverse and tolerant they are, and yet all the blacks (including a cousin of mine) are over there, in Oakland. (Which, it appears, gets about as much respect as Kansas City, Kansas, does.)

Nonetheless, when you have to get $8 for a dozen eggs just to break even, it's possible that the economy is telling you to get into a different line of work. Although, if you can get that kind of money for eggs, go for it.  Worse, though, from my perspective, is that when you start selling $8 eggs and $20 pancake breakfasts, you've taken something important -- sustainable farming -- and turned it into a hobby that only the extremely affluent can afford. 

Somehow we've got to figure how we can get farmers to make a decent living, and still get good, wholesome food into the gullets of people who are not well off. I don't think the Ferry Building is the answer, and I think Richman was right in taking a few pokes  at people who think they've saved the world because they buy heirloom tomatoes (whom, let me clear are not limited to left coasters and may even include me  :laugh: ).  But the Ferry Building may be an important stop along the way to this better world/economy/dinner. And I think Richman recognized that, as well, which is why I found the piece persuasive. 

I've spent too little time in California to know how y'all make out, but here on the East Coast, the article feels a lot like a big sloppy wet kiss.  :wub:  Anyway, I know where I'm headed next time I hit San Francisco. 

cheers.

But, this attempt to change the world through dinner often comes wrapped in a kind of anti-corporate, neo-populist rhetoric that implies a certain solidarity with the masses. This is good, too.  Unfortunately, when you're trying to change the world and the result becomes produce so expensive that poor and working class people can't afford to join the club ("why can't we change the world, too, mommy?"  "Shut up and eat your monocultural corn-fed pork.") you've created a disconnect between the ideals of the movement and the result.

If we could have the farmers without the politics then you wouldn't get cynics like Richman and aging lefties like me snickering at that disconnect. Of course, farmers and politics go together like Chablis and Brie, so the debate will continue.

(emphasis added)

Hear, hear! This is the challenge that all the food-for-a-better-world people face, IMO. Some people are trying to tackle this head-on; one of these Wednesdays, I plan on taking off early from work to see what the Food Trust's farmers' market is offering the good folk of Chester. (It's set up right in the middle of Edgmont Avenue -- there's no traffic on that street, so it's no problem -- right by Chester train station.) Yes, I will report back to the group, on the Pennsylvania board.

And when next I'm in San Francisco, I intend to do two things: spend more time exploring Oakland, and visit the Ferry Building when the farmers' stalls are set up.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

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And I don't think there's $1800 difference in the price of the material between a suit from Sears and one from Armani.

I try to talk only about things that I know a little about. There actually could be $1800 difference in the fabric. You throw in some of that top grade cashmere and you blow a bundle very quickly! Not to mention real estate overhead, marketing and Mr. Armani's life style. :laugh:

But, you certainly raise a valid point. Farming IS a business. Perceived value IS in the eye of the beholder. Commerce is created when you combine the two. Economies run on commerce.

I do NOT understand the value my son places on his sneaker collection, or kicks or whatever he calls them. Someone else may not get $8 eggs, but there is room for everyone, right?

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If enough people weren't willing to spend $8 for those eggs, they wouldn't be $8. Whether they are that much (or any) better than other eggs is impossible for me to say as I haven't had them. I think that it is unlikely that they are better enough than the eggs I buy at $3/dozen at my farmer's market to make them worth it to me, but that isn't really the point. The point is that obviously, for whatever reason(s) they are clearly worth it to somebody. I think that is great both for the producer as well as for those willing and happy to shell out the money for them. The Ferry Market is a wonderful place. I am glad that it exists and gets the attention and prices that it does. People have laughed at me when I spent the equivalent of $4 for a Frog Hollow peach after shipping. They may not be the cheapest or best value peaches available, but I do not know of better! People will pay for quality. The good part is that as more people are willing to pay for quality and more farmers are willing to make the investment to achieve that quality (because they are able to get a return) the more likely that markets for the the equipment and other components necessary to achieve that quality will become more widely available and cheaper, thereby making the quality produce more economical to grow and raise and ultimately cheaper for all.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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The good part is that as more people are willing to pay for quality and more farmers are willing to make the investment to achieve that quality (because they are able to get a return) the more likely that markets for the the equipment and other components necessary to achieve that quality will become more widely available and cheaper, thereby making the quality produce more economical to grow and raise and ultimately cheaper for all.
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