Berkeley Bites: Jessica Prentice

Jessica Prentice’s claim to fame comes from coining the term locavore, chosen as the 2007 Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.

The New York City-trained natural chef lives and breathes the locavore lifestyle. She is a co-founder of Three Stone Hearth, a community supported kitchen cooperative on University Avenue, which sells nutrient-dense, prepared foods (think soups and stews in bone broth made from scratch), and co-creator of the Local Foods Wheel, a whimsically illustrated guide to local, seasonal and ecologically-sound eating.

Prentice, 41, is the author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, and one of the women profiled in Temra Costa’s recent book Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat.

She lives in Richmond Annex with her partner, fellow food advocate Jacob Wright who works at the Center for Ecoliteracy, and their 16-month-old son.

We sat down to talk at Three Stone’s communal table. Prentice nursed a large mason jar of reverse-osmosis filtered water spiked with trace mineral drops.

What do you like about running a food business in Berkeley?

We attract open-minded, forward-thinking people who want to eat well.  I love the diversity of our kitchen volunteers and apprentices.

One of our volunteers is a follower of The Hate Man, who espouses oppositional thinking. At first I just thought he was kind of intense and eccentric; he only ever wears a skirt.  He’s worked with us for three years — he sears the meats for us on Tuesday nights. Now I know that I have to just make commands: “go to the walk-in and get whatever”, without saying please or thank you. If I ask him how his day is he’ll say “bad”, and when I introduce him to new volunteers I let them know that they need to say “I hate you” to him as a greeting.

We also have a lot of transgender volunteers. People you call “he” but they’re on their period. We have plenty of only-in-Berkeley moments.

What’s challenging about owning a food co-op in town?

This is an expensive area and our community cooking business wouldn’t work if we had to pay all our kitchen workers. Labor is expensive. But we give people commercial culinary experience cooking high quality food in exchange for labor.

What kind of customers do you attract?

We have a cutting-edge group of customers that fall into several sub-sets. We have a lot of followers of the Weston A. Price diet, a nutrient-dense way of eating. We have people with kids who want their children to eat healthy. And we have people who have been through a major life-changing illness like cancer, come out the other side, and want to take care of their bodies. We get a lot of people who are interested in healing practices, and we get our share of wealthy customers who can afford to eat this way and just think it’s a good idea.

People who come to us know that good food is an investment — our meats are pasture raised, our produce is organic, we even use biodynamic raisins. It’s quality, nutrient-rich food so you need less of it but you pay a bit more for it.

Are there any misperceptions about the food scene here?

Eating locally is elitist — a notion that needs to be questioned.

It comes down to priorities and choices. Think about the amount of money that people — of all races — spend on their hair. You could buy a lot of good food with the money some people spend on hair treatments and products.

Almost every adult now has a cell phone. I ride the bus a lot, presumably a lot of people on the bus are of lesser means, but they’re all talking on their cell phones. What people pay for a cell phone plan could also pay for a lot of good food.

What’s missing in the community, food-wise?

Three very specific things that have everything to do with running the kind of kitchen we have:

I’d like to see a local miller producing sprouted flour. We carry it and it’s very popular. But it comes from the East Coast. It could be a good sustainable business for a local farmer.

We need someone who can can tomatoes for wholesale purchase.  A local farmer could process all those second tomatoes over the summer and jar them and do pretty well here.

There’s no one reliably and consistently cultivating nettles for wholesale in the community. We use them in soups and fritattas and they add great flavor and nutrients. I can sometimes get them at the farmers’ market but we’d use them more often if we had a good local source.

Do you have any local heroes?

The farmers doing cow shares and selling raw milk directly to families like mine.

Who are your favorite food purveyors in town?

Farmers’ market vendors. I buy Morell’s Breads and Brickmaiden loaves. I love naturally leavened, whole grain, wood-fired breads. I frequent the Fatted Calf for liverwurst and sausages, Highland Hills for all kinds of meats, Soul Food Farm for chickens and eggs and RiverDog Farm for produce.

Where do you like to go when you eat out?

I mostly cook at home and I can make California cuisine as well as, if not better, than most fancy restaurants. So I don’t do that kind of dining very often.

I like Tacubaya on 4th Street. It’s authentic, good, the right price, and it’s pleasant to sit outside in the sun and eat fish tacos, shredded pork, and gaucamole.

I also like the Indian restaurant Cafe Raj at the base of Solano Avenue. It’s real food — it’s not organic and I wish it were — but they do a great butter chicken and mater paneer.

Kensington Circus Pub is kid-friendly and good for fish and chips and a beer.

When I eat out I’m after something that’s hard to make — it either takes a long time to prepare or it involves a lot of grease. That’s why it’s an occasional thing.

Each Friday in this space food writer Sarah Henry asks a well-known, up-and-coming, or under-the-radar food aficionado about their favorite tastes in town, preferred food purveyors and other local culinary gems worth sharing.

Henry is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post and San Francisco Magazine. A contributor to the food policy blog Civil Eats, she muses about food matters on her blog Lettuce Eat Kale. Follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.

If you have an idea for a Berkeley Bites interview, send your suggestion to sarahhenry0509@gmail.com or leave a comment here.

To read previous Berkeley Bites profiles click here.

[Photo: Anja Weber]

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  • http://jdtangney.com John Tangney

    That’s nice. Local is good. But the most SIGNIFICANT green choice we can make is to stop eating meat. I am a little surprised that serious foodie wouldn’t even mention that.

  • tizzielish

    I have a comment in response to Ms. Prentice’s suggestion that poor people on the bus with cell phones could go without those cell phones and have more money for good food.

    People need to have phones these days and many people have given up their landlines for cell phones. There are actually cell phone plans that cost less than landlines.

    I have a pay-as-you-go cell phone that I almost never use and a landline that is inexpensive through a program for low-income people. I resisted a cell phone for a long time. And I admit that I almost never use the one I have. I have to put $20 cash into this cell phone every three months, which comes to less than seven dollars a month. I have never gone over this amount so basically, the occasional convenience of having a cell phone, to accommodate friends, costs me seven bucks a month, which would not buy a lot of food, corporate farmed or organic & local.

    A basic landline phone runs about forty dollars. And there are cell phone plans with unlimited local minutes for forty bucks.

    People need phones. It’s not like they can, or should, give up phones so they can afford a little more expensive, local, organic food.

    I think Ms. Prentice was speaking defensively, I think, when she made her comment that presumably most folks on the bus are poor but have the luxury of cell phones, as she ‘defended’ the idea that eating local is elitism. Suggesting that she could possibly know that folks with cell phones on the bus are poor sounds elitist to me. And suggesting that she could possibly evaluate the spending choices of putatively poor people is even more elitist.

    The pricing at the Berkeley Farmers Market seems to be based on the principle of ‘whatever the market will bear’.

    I wish Ms. Prentice had not chosen poor people with cell phones to defend the idea, that she injected into the interview, that eating local is elitist. Eating local can be expensive, yes.

    And guess what, Ms. Prentice?! You are riding on that bus and you don’t see yourself as poor. It is quite possible that others on the bus, such as the ones with cell phones, are like you AND on the bus. Do you own a cell phone? Is your choice to own one more justifiable than a poor person on the bus?

    Gosh, Prentice began by defending the locavore movement as being non-elitist by making a condescending, infantilizing, judgmental and elitst comment about poor people, people on the bus and choose cell phones over land lines or ‘good’ food.

  • tizzielish

    John Tangney . . I like your comment.

    I guess Prentice’s nutrient dense food gets some of its nutrient density from animal meat?!

    I think it takes about ten pounds of grain to grow one pound of beef. If we stopped raising those ten pounds of grain to feed cattle to grow beef, we could grow ten pounds of grain to feed people. And this overlooks the issue of methane.

  • tizzielish

    I think Ms. Prentice could more make more strategic comments when addressing the fact that local, good, organic food tends to cost more than cheap, corporate-farmed food. I wish she had talked about why ‘good’ food costs more. I wish she had talked about how we have become a bit unbalanced about how we choose to spend our money. We have all been polluted with corporate marketing that has drilled into us that buying the cheapest possible food, which feeds corporate profit, is ‘better’. And the same corporate marketing machinery has inundated us with the belief that having a lot of corporate produced ‘stuff’ is a better way to spend our money than to spend it feeding and nurturing ourselves and our loved ones.

    We need, as a society, to reorient how we see ourselves in relation to the economy, we need to stop paying attention to messages, funded by marketers interested in making money, and take back some control and ownership of the choices we make.

    Investing in good food should be considered, by everyone, more important than having iPods, the right/latest fashions, the latest music.

    Food and shelter, good food and good shelter, should be the priority focus of any economy rooted in human need, rooted in caring for one another.

    There are many ways Prentice can address the growing perception that local eating is elitist without picking on poor folk. Asking ‘poor folk on the bus’ to give up their cell phones so they can buy more expensive local food sucked.

  • http://francesdinkelspiel.com/ Frances Dinkelspiel

    Tizzielish, I see that the cell phone comment struck a nerve. I am sure Ms. Prentice did not mean to condescend. She probably assumed that cell phones are discretionary and was trying to show that people make choices about where they spend their discretionary money. She wishes it was on a certain type of food. Now that you have pointed out her faux pas, I hope you can understand the spirit of what she is trying to say about her business. I for one had never heard of Three Stone Hearth, the Weston Price diet and a lot of other things she mentioned. I thought this was a very interesting interview although I can see that she unintentionally put down some people.

  • http://chezsven.blogspot.com Alexandra

    I don’t live on the West Coast and wish we had a similar food scene here on Cape Cod. I have to travel 20 minutes to reach a farmer’s market, either in Orleans, or Provincetown, and there is only one per week mid-May to October. We do have a woman who writes about local food options, though, thank God, and I hope to learn from her. It was really interesting to read your interview with Jessica Prentice. Oh, and regarding cell phones. I do not have one, nor do I want one. My ex worked in the cell phone industry in France and apparently studies prove holding a cell phone to one’s head causes brain cancer, only these studies have been suppressed by the industry.

  • http://frugalkiwi.co.nz Frugal Kiwi

    Evidently, I’ve been moving towards a Weston A. Price diet but didn’t know it. I’m pleased to have a new resource to consult. Three Stone Hearth sounds like a fascinating social and food experiment in progress. I enjoyed this interview, thanks!

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/ClaudineMJ Claudine Jalajas

    Interesting article!! I wish we had more farmer’s markets here on Long Island. We have farms (a few left that didn’t sell out their land to local condo developers) but it’s hard to find them and a long drive. When you factor in the gas that you’re burning to go get the local food it becomes a question of what’s better–create more pollution with my car or get it from the closest market?

  • http://lettuceeatkale.wordpress.com/ Sarah Henry

    I agree with Frances, I think Ms. Prentice was striving for an analogy regarding discretionary income and, perhaps, cable TV might have been a better example than cell phones, which some people now use as their only communication tool (having given up on a landline.)

    Regardless, it seems we can agree that the notion that food should be cheap serves big ag, industrial food companies, and the fast food corporations, but does little to benefit our health and well-being.

  • Sheryl

    Quality, nutrient-rich food…there’s definitely not enough of that available. Thanks for the informative and eye-opening interview. (I won’t get into the cell phone debate right now. That’s another subject entirely.)

  • http://www.liberationdietblog.com Motherhen

    Great article; I love what Jessica is doing out there on the west coast!
    For John & Tizzielish, industrial meat production *is* very destructive to the environment and to animal & human health. However, the kind of meats that are being used and espoused at Three Stone Hearth and in all of Jessica’s work is *not* the industrial model. It is all pasture-raised, grain-free. This is natural, ecologically sound, and nourishing to the human body. One simply can not receive these very important nutrients from plants, but you must also remember that going back to this traditional model of animal husbandry is actually good for the earth! All those old arguments about eating meat being destructive to the environment are true *only* with the industrial model, absolutely not with a beautiful, gentle, and natural pasture-based system!

  • http://myitchytravelfeet.com Donna Hull

    An informative article, thanks. I agree with Sheryl, there’s definitely not enough nutrient-rich food available. Oh to live in California with its long growing season. It makes finding those quality products so much easier.

  • http://jdtangney.com John Tangney

    Thanks for the info, Motherhen. Using sustainably produced meats makes a HUGE difference. However, I must call you on your comment that “one simply can not receive these very important nutrients from plants”. That’s a commonly held myth about vegetarianism, but Like Sheryl, I won’t get into that right now. It is indeed another subject entirely.

  • http://www.kristenjgough.com Kristen

    I’d love to see video, along with the interview, to sneak a peek at Prentice’s business–it sounds like an interesting place to work and frequent. The Hate Man sounds like something right out of Seinfeld.

  • http://www.jesakalong.com Jesaka Long

    Very interesting Q&A. Thanks for the opportunity to read Jessica’s perspective on prioritizing good food and how she runs Three Stone Hearth. Her analogy regarding money spent on hair and hair products is a good one. I choose to spend less on my hair (no more foils) when I need to start eating gluten-free. I think of my food choices and the money spent on them as healthcare dollars.

    The responses in the comments to Jessica’s about the bus is fascinating. I didn’t own a car for 8 of the years I lived in Seattle. It was an environmental choice, not dictated by income. Yet, people I worked with often assumed I mismanaged my money and treated me as less mature than my car-owning colleagues. Isn’t it more mature to consider the impacts your decisions made on the world around you? :)

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    This is natural, ecologically sound, and nourishing to the human body. One simply can not receive these very important nutrients from plants, but you must also remember that going back to this traditional model of animal husbandry is actually good for the earth!

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    I have never gone over this amount so basically, the occasional convenience of having a cell phone, to accommodate friends, costs me seven bucks a month, which would not buy a lot of food, corporate farmed or organic & local.