Part of working with what you’ve got is being alert for opportunities. Yesterday my mother and sister-in-law took advantage of the re-opening of the North Berkeley Safeway Store. Among other things, they scored free French bread, free peanut butter, free soup, free Diet 7 Up (which my brother will drink), organic carrots. Yesterday in the BART station someone put an entire package of chocolate chip cookies in my guitar case where I was collecting tips. Unfortunately, they were “chocolate chip” cookies made with artificial chocolate and artificial vanilla, but I have to keep Sharyn the food snob separate from Sharyn the performer: as a performer, I just smile and thank people for their contributions, while the food snob makes a note to look for someone else who might want the cookies. It turns out that Bryan will take care of those too — he’s not particular.
Busking is going well. I am not getting rich there in the Berkeley BART station, but I am attracting attention, compliments about my voice, my repertoire, even my guitar-playing. I am enjoying watching people and interacting with toddlers: one man handed his small son a dollar bill to put in my guitar case and the boy stood holding the bill and smiling for a minute or two before he let himself drop it into the case. We all smiled. I would have given him a cookie if I had healthy cookies with me. People give me bills, change, BART tickets, nods and smiles. One man tipped his hat to me as he went up the escalator. Occasionally, someone buys one of my “Paris” CDs, which makes me really happy. My playing is getting smoother, surer, my rhythm more solid, my personality more unflappable. I am learning to move on my feet, shift my weight, keep a handkerchief in my pocket and stash my capo there when I am not using it.
Today, after my shift at downtown Berkeley BART I headed up to the University of California for an event in Sproul Plaza, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. Today is Food Day, a day dedicated to good, healthy food. I had heard there are going to be free samples from vendors, which fits my current food budget.
When I got to Sproul Plaza, many Food Day booths were still setting up. I made the rounds of booths that were open, introducing myself as a food blog writer (No, they did not immediately pile packages of food in my arms and encourage me to take it home and cook with it). The first booth open was Healthyout. Healthyout has just released an App for the iPhone that lets you plug in diets, such as “gluten-free” or “Paleo” or “vegan” and then shows you a map of places you can obtain the food of your choice. They were giving away samples of granola. If you tested the app for them and reviewed it you could take home a package of granola. As I have no mobile devices I did not get to bring any granola home.
I then crossed the plaza and chatted with students from the U.C. Berkeley Residential Sustainability Program who are concerned that all students eat sustainable food, Their table featured a bowl of Kashi and bananas and Yoplait yogurt and a bowl of organic strawberries, Straus vanilla yogurt and homemade granola. Straus is a wonderful local dairy in Marin County that produces milk, cream, half and half, yogurt and ice cream from its own cows. You are, of course, encouraged to choose the local dairy item, the strawberries and the granola, rather than the bananas that come from Guatemala. I asked who made the granola and what was in it. The young woman I was talking to made it herself with organic peanut butter, expeller-pressed canola oil, organically grown U.S. oats, apples from Smit Orchards near Lake Tahoe and cinnamon of unknown provenance. According to these students the campus dining facilities now source much of their produce from local farms and get their meat from Nieman Ranch. These same women told me about another project of theirs called The Local. The Local buys produce in bulk on Sundays at the Temescal Farmers’ Market and sells the produce to students at cost, making it easier for them to eat farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.
Next I stopped at Oxfam America’s table and learned about their Grow Campaign and at the Berkeley Student Food Collective which maintains a store stocked with organic produce and healthy food. I also stopped by Bare Abundance, a nonprofit student organization that collects uneaten food from restaurants, hotels and grocery stores and distributes it to organizations helping people eat. A young woman there told me that wasted food was the second largest thing that went into landfills and I remembered Novella Carpenter’s story of feeding her pig on food gleaned from Chinatown dumpsters.
I chatted with two young women from SOGA, the Student Organic Gardening Association, who told me about the organic garden on the corner of Walnut and Virginia Streets and the eight different classes offered there in the spring. SOGA had beautifully designed T-shirts for sale, rich turquoises and purples bearing an elaborate line drawing of a radish.
By then I was getting peckish and crossed back to the other side of the plaza. A San Francisco-based company called Purity Organic was setting up to put out juice samples. Feelgoodworld,com next door procures product donations, makes food out of the products, sells the food from $2.00 to $4.00, whatever people can pay, and then sends the money to choicehumanitarian.
Then I lucked out. The student founder of the Dojo Dogs food cart was getting ready to make and serve sample hot dogs: beef dogs on fresh buns with various Asian seasonings. After watching him make two other dogs I snagged a piece of a hot dog that included pork sung, grilled shredded cabbage and Katsu, a sweet sauce that tasted like it contained molasses, but is made from applesauce and soy. The sample was so good that I walked over to the nearby food truck and bought myself a Wushu dog of my very own, the same filling and delicious combination of ingredients. This has inspired me to fancy up our turkey hot dogs with miscellaneous ingredients from the pantry and fridge — cabbage, plum sauce and chile paste, anyone? My only caution is to watch the salt — I found myself thirsty for hours after I ate the Dojo Dog.
I capped off the day with a packet of fruit snacks from Berkeley’s own Annie’s organic food and a free concert by the local acapella group Decadence. Apparently Decadence sings every Wednesday noon at Sather Gate — I’ll be going back down there another day to hear them for sure. And if I’m flush I might get another Wushu Dojo Dog to eat while I listen.