Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

San Francisco during the Great Food Awakening

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

San Francisco during the Great Food Awakening

Article excerpt

I OFTEN ENCOUNTER A CATEGORY OF WORKERS IN San Francisco rarely found anywhere else: twentysomethings waiting for their stock options to vest. They are part of a wave of top college graduates lured to the Bay Area by the booming tech job market anchored by Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of start-ups partially named for items from a hardware store (Drop-box, You-tube, Live-wire). It seems that if you graduated from an Ivy League school in the last five years, whether you studied chemistry or Celtic literature, you probably work at Google. This influx of the educated, however, has not invigorated the local cultural scene, except in regard to food.

When I talk with Harvard acquaintances working in the tech sector, I hear the same story: They have astonishingly well-paid jobs that they don't like. Some plan to stay only until their options are vested. Then they will move on to their "actual" careers. This population of the possessed waiting to be dispossessed spends an inordinate amount of time comparing the gourmet kitchens of different website headquarters. The top digital companies in the Bay Area are famed for putting on lavish buffets and encouraging employees to invite friends from rival firms to join the feasts. The company cafeteria has arguably become the preeminent battleground in local corporate bragging rights. For many young workers in the internet industry, San Francisco is a salaried vacation between college and their careers, a well-earned break before starting their adult lives. So what do they do with their free time during this purgatory? They eat.

In San Francisco, the most fashionable way to eat is to diet.

IN THE BAY AREA, DIETING IS AN EXISTENTIAL EXERcise. On this point its cuisine fundamentally differs from the Los Angeles diet. In L.A., eating is about the needs of the body; but in San Francisco, it has become an expression of the spirit. Limiting what you eat has become an ideological statement as much as a nutritional choice-a declaration of identity that says more about how you want to be perceived than what you want to weigh. Fad diets flourish everywhere in North America, but nowhere else do they manifest themselves so flamboyantly. This stylish metropolis represents the ideal ecosystem for the extreme; its healthy financial soil and liberal climate tend to breed radical local mutations of national diets.

The Paleo diet-which is based on the alleged diet of cavemen, particularly meat, fish, and nuts-has been co-opted in the Bay Area by a group of mostly male tech workers called "biohackers" who are devoted to optimizing personal improvement. The California biohacking movement was popularized by Dave Asprey, the founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley-based company Bulletproof Executive. The corporate motto is blunt: "Supercharge your body. Upgrade your brain. Be Bulletproof." The archetypes of self-help guru and hypercompetitive entrepreneur collide in the person of Asprey, who states that during a spiritual retreat in Tibet he discovered a butter-churned herbal tea that inspired the recipe for his company's most famous product: Bulletproof Coffee, a concoction made by mixing melted butter and concentrated coconut oil into a morning cup o' Joe. The typical Paleo follower supplements protein-heavy meals by adding saturated fats such as lard or tallow. Asprey rebrands standard upbeat Paleo rhetoric by turning nutritional supplements into cognitive performance enhancers with a product line featuring turbocharged names such as Unfair Advantage, Brain Octane, and the aforementioned Bulletproof Coffee. Biohacking is just one strain of Paleo activity. San Francisco blogger Rachel Ball, who started Grok Grub in 2012 and shares Paleo recipes that she learned from cooking with her mother, who had chronic food allergies, describes Northern California as a "melting pot" of Paleo developments.

Bloggers are the evangelists of new eating trends in the Bay Area. Paleo bloggers, in particular, command huge congregations of dietary disciples who devour a gospel of exercise ethics and specialty foods. …

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