Letters for October 14

Readers sound off on Oakland's restaurants, the Altamont wind farm, and AirBART.

“Oakland, America’s Next Great Dining Town,” Dining Guide, 9/30

A Whopper of an Article

The irony of seeing a “Dining Guide” reader eat a Whopper Jr. was
striking. I’ve enjoyed the blossoming of restaurants in my
town. The contradiction that many residents are limited to a
fast-food menu highlights a great strength of Oakland: the city’s
incredible diversity promotes civic pride and a thriving
community. Many thanks to the East Bay Express for helpful
information on local dining choices.

Eric Simmons, Oakland

Dance Explodes in the East Bay,
Too

As a native San Franciscan born in 1945 and primed to take in the
’60s full tilt, it is with some small measure of chagrin that I find
myself chiming in on the observation voiced by Meredith Melville in the
recent Taste insert of the Express, noting the “[t]he East Bay
is so rich in what San Francisco used to have.”

True in so many ways and to identify but one, I’ve been an avid
Latin and ballroom dancer for more than twenty years and the East Bay
is increasingly becoming the destination of choice for spending an
evening out on the floor at Just Dance on the Embarcadero, the Lake
Merritt Dance Center at the Veterans Memorial Building (also the
current hot spot for zydeco), and Emeryville’s Allegro Ballroom, among
other venues.These are all up-and-comers in the dance world and their
successes have been in large part shaped by those qualities also
identified by Ms. Melville: the artistic energy, creativity, and
variety formerly associated with the city that once knew how.

Hal Aigner, San Francisco

Don’t Forget Flora

The recent article on Oakland as a dining destination was
great. It’s about time that Oakland gets the culinary accolades it
deserves. I was disappointed however that there was no mention of
Flora, what many consider to be a jewel of the Uptown district. The
restaurants that you did mention are coming in on the road paved by
Flora, who moved into the Uptown neighborhood when it was predominately
a construction site.  Flora’s owners are busy creating the
Uptown’s next restaurant, Xolo, to be opened early next year —
again not mentioned.

Flora’s mothership, Doña Tomas quietly blazed the trail into
Temescal ten years ago. It’s a shame that none of these fabulous,
homegrown, local restaurants garnered a mention in the article on
Oakland dining. As Flora’s manager, I had to take a minute to
protest their absence.

We are thrilled to have new foodie neighbors and more attention on
the restaurant scene in Oakland. I understand that not everyone
could be mentioned, but to overlook a group of restaurants that have
thrived in Oakland for several years just seems like bad reporting to
me. 

Andee Brown, General Manager, Flora, Oakland

Editor’s Note

The restaurants mentioned in our story all opened in roughly the
past year. Flora opened in late 2007. As far as Xolo, we weren’t aware
of it.

“South by Southeast,” Food, 9/23

Inspirational Curry

“As thick and curry-yellow as the accrued wisdom of eternity” was
quite the inspired choice of words in your review of Burma Superstar.
Just for that, I’d try the place — although thanks to your
heads-up, I think we’ll get take-out instead.

Nate Davis, Oakland

“Shoddy Science,” Eco Watch, 9/16

Stop the Spraying

A coalition of California cities and health and environmental groups
told the state today that the California Department of Food and
Agriculture (CDFA) should abandon its attempt to eradicate the light
brown apple moth in Northern and Central California. The groups said
that eradicating the moth is neither feasible nor necessary, and that
the eradication program threatens public health and the
environment.

“There are such enormous holes in CDFA’s argument for the apple moth
program that the agency has no justification for proceeding with it,”
said Nan Wishner of Stop the Spray East Bay. “We call on CDFA to end
this unsafe, unnecessary, ineffective and costly program now.”

“The CDFA’s determination to spend over ninety million tax dollars
annually on a program without sound scientific merit is unconsionable,”
added Debbie Friedman, Chair of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray,
“particularly now, when schools and vital services are facing drastic
cuts.”

In a 26-page letter criticizing the CDFA’s draft environmental
impact report (DEIR) on the program, the coalition, represented by
Earthjustice, said that the DEIR omits critical information on the
program’s potential public health and environmental effects, the
locations in which pesticides will be used, the complete contents of
those pesticides, and alternatives to eradication.

“CDFA’s total disregard for the public’s right to know flies in the
face of California law,” said Erin Tobin of Earthjustice. “We have a
right to know what this misguided program will expose us to, where we
will be exposed, and why.”

“CDFA continues to force a laundry list of bad practices down the
throats of Californians,” said Paul S. Towers, State Director of
Pesticide Watch. “The message from farmers, scientists and elected
officials is clear: splats, goos and sprays don’t belong in
California.”

The eradication program would include aerial spraying and ground
application of moth pheromones, application of the carcinogenic
pesticide permethrin to telephone poles and trees, and ground spraying
of the pesticides Bacillus thuringiensis and Spinosad. The program
would affect the nine Bay Area counties, and Monterey, Santa Cruz, San
Benito and Santa Barbara counties as well.

The Earthjustice letter challenges assertions in the DEIR that the
moth is new to California and that it is spreading and destructive. The
letter says the DEIR fails to address the pesticides’ impact on
honeybees, butterflies, fish and shellfish, as well as the potential
effects of pesticide drift. If CDFA does not abandon the ill-advised
eradication program, the letter concludes, the agency must at least
withdraw the program’s flawed DEIR and submit a revised one that
addresses those flaws. 

Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates, Our Children’s Earth,
Californians for Pesticide Reform, Pesticide Action Network North
America, Pesticide Watch, Play Not Spray, Center for Environmental
Health, Stop the Spray East Bay, Mothers Advocating Against the Spray,
Mothers of Marin Against the Spray, and the City of
Albany.

“The Greenhouse Dilemma,” Eco Watch, 9/23

It’s Not a Dilemma

In “The Greenhouse Dilemma,” Gammon states that Gov.
Schwarzenegger’s decision to allow the use of renewable energy credits
for compliance with a renewable energy standard could lead to “a
resurgence of California’s dependence on coal power.” This is simply
not true.  Gammon asserts that renewable energy credits provide a
loophole to the law (SB 1368) that restricts state utilities from
investing in or entering into long-term contracts with coal-fired power
plants. He gives an example in which California utilities can use
credits to buy coal power from Arizona and call it “renewable.” But the
CPUC Decision implementing SB 1368 clearly states that “each facility
has to pass the emission performance standard on its own
emissions-generating merits, i.e., a high emitting facility would not
be able to use a purchased [renewable energy credits] for the purpose
of … compliance with the [the standard].” Simply put, credits have no
bearing on the enforcement of the emission performance standard.

 Under the current renewable standard statute, utilities must
show that out-of-state renewable energy is delivered to California, and
Gammon seems to object to attempts to loosen this restriction. However,
utilities can enter into short-term contracts from one source and
associate them with renewable energy credits from another source in
order to demonstrate delivery. In that sense, credits can be used to
“green” power from other sources. It is important to keep in mind the
intent of the emission performance standard. SB 1368 was designed to
prevent the long-term financial commitments needed to secure the
capital for construction of new coal plants. Thus, the statute and
the subsequent CPUC Decision do not restrict the utilities’
ability to enter into contracts of less than five years.
Short-term contracts for power from any source are permissible. That is
true whether the energy is associated with renewable energy credits or
not. Allowing the use of more “unbundled” credits would have no
effect on the provisions of the emission performance standard that
govern the procurement of energy under either long-term or short-term
contracts. 

 A final point is that all but one coal-fired plant in the
Western US is utility-owned. These plants provide cheap, baseload power
to the customers of the utilities (including California utilities) that
own them. Utilities rarely have extra coal power to sell to someone
else. A renewable standard, however it is implemented, is more likely
to cause California utilities to use less gas-fired power because it is
considerably more expensive. Cap and trade policies, by making
greenhouse gases expensive for polluters, would be a more
effective incentive to close coal-fired power plants.

Scott Murtishaw, Berkeley

Robert Gammon Responds

According to Matthew Freedman, staff attorney at the Utility Reform
Network, a San Francisco-based consumer-advocacy group that closely
monitors statewide energy issues, utilities will be able to buy
coal-fired electricity using renewable energy credits if they’re part
of “system power” purchases. Under such transactions, a power seller
could include coal-fired electricity or natural-gas-fired electricity
in the overall “system power” sale. In addition, a recent report from
the California Energy Commission showed that a significant portion of
“system power” imported by state utilities from the Pacific Northwest
and Southwest came from coal-fired plants last year. As a result, the
governor’s intention to allow California utilities to meet their entire
greenhouse-gas-reduction requirements by purchasing out-of-state
renewable energy credits (and not the actual wind or solar power
itself) and then use those credits to buy system power could result in
an increased reliance on coal, as the article stated.

“Back to the Microwave,” Feature, 9/23

Don’t Go Bananas

I’d like to ask the author of “Back to the Microwave” if denying
bananas to her kids to please the carbon-footprint police is making her
kids happier, healthier, more loved, and empowered. She can’t alter the
fact that all human life will die. Though ranting against the tide is
easier and more popular than dedicating herself to loving her family
and adding value to the community, the latter is within her
responsibility and power to influence. Personally, I’d prefer a
community of happy kids allowed bananas to young neurotics deprived of
them.

David Altschul, Berkeley

Localvores vs. Gourmands

While reading Sierra Filucci’s article, it struck me that the
localvore movement as conventionally understood conflates two
distinguishable movements — localvorism and gourmandism.

The people in the Guatemalan village where I lived as Peace Corps
Volunteer grew and ate what Michael Pollan would definitely categorize
as food: corn, beans, and potatoes. The women boiled the corn kernels
in lime, mashed them up in a diesel-powered mill, carried the dough
back to their house on their heads, and toasted them into tortillas on
clay griddles suspended over three-stone fires.  The beans were
slow-cooked in lard and the potatoes boiled. There was a dish of
salt you passed around, and usually a boiled chile pepper that you
could tear chunks off of, but the food itself was not seasoned.After a
hard day’s labor, this cuisine was quite appetizing, but it was a long
way from the transcendental culinary experience that Filucci
treasures. Periodically we would eat salted avocado or eggs fried
in oil, but most families cooked meat no more than once per week, and
it was only on market days and festival days that you could get
complex, delicious dishes — dishes like pepian, caldo, fried
chicken, tamales, chuchitos, arroz con leche, and so on. I’m not
much a gourmand myself, but having been raised in a society where we
eat delicious things every day, my mouth would water at the thought of
an upcoming trip to the city, where I would tuck into big portions of
seasoned meat, melted cheese, and fresh vegetables.

All of this is merely to say that the people in my village were
localvores and slow-fooders, but not gourmands. And this, I
suspect, has been the way humans have eaten in most parts of the world
for most of human history.  The French “food culture” so admired
by Pollan and Waters, I can’t help but think, is really a food
subculture that was invented for elites and democratized down to the
masses only after industrialization made it
attainable. Sushi? In the 1970s, a Japanese farmer recalled
to an anthropologist how in pre-industrial Japan they “could never eat
delicious dishes.” Back then a home-sugared sweet potato or an
eggplant from the family garden amounted to a treat. In fact,
given the pace of Japan’s industrialization, the anthropologist could
see the change with his own eyes. In the 1950s, the village store
sold “cigarettes, salt, sugar, and various kinds of sweet and salty
biscuits.” By the 1970s, when the farmers had given up on growing
diverse crops for home consumption in favor of a more profitable rice
monoculture, you could buy “fresh meat and fish,” “[o]ut of season
hot-house vegetables in neat cellophane packaging,” “a profusion of
candies and sweet biscuits,” and “sweetened breads, in packages of
varying hues.” 

For me at least, putting things in this historio-cultural
perspective suggests that Sierra Filucci might be up against challenges
that are even bigger than the gendered ones she (skillfully) identifies
in her article.  She wants to eat like the Sun King while avoiding
the agro-industrial division of labor that has delivered his cuisine to
the masses, and do it without relinquishing her industrious Anglo-Saxon
vision of what it means to *live*.  I’m rooting for her, and for
all of us who are devotees of Pollan’s ideas, but the reason I liked
her piece so much is that it contained hints of something that’s
missing from the Omnivore’s Dilemma: a measured appreciation for
many-splendored wonders with which the industrial food system has
blessed us (a rock covered with cartoon characters!), and, more than
anything, a recognition that a trade-off exists between gourmandism and
localvorism.

Tyler McNish, Oakland

Correction

In our 10/7 restaurant review of Kuwa, we misspelled the name of the
restaurant in the subheadline.

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