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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 26, 2011

John Wilcock


Jane Handel

FARMS AND GARDENS are drawing increasing attention these days as people want to know more about their food and where it comes from. In the early days of this country, writes Jane Handel, small farmers and landholders were the backbone of American democracy, considered to be the people best equipped to safeguard democratic ideals. But, she says, “the proponents of agribusiness and factory farming along with their lobbyists in Congress have created a stranglehold on what we eat (leaving us) in thrall to industrial agricultural interests.”

In the forefront of the fight back is Ms. Handel’s alluring magazine, edible Ojai, a recent issue of which covered a report on the inadequate conditions of the region’s 13,000 farm workers picking strawberries and the insufficient provision of shade, rest, and water which are all mandated by law.

Strawberries, wrote Ramona Bajema, are one of the most vulnerable fruits to pesticide exposure. “Consumers should be angry”.

   Edible Ojai was the first in a chain of now more than three-score partners stretching from Hawaii to Toronto, New York to Dallas, all beautiful in appearance, distinctive to their community, and wide-ranging in their content. Who, apart from foodies, could have foreseen that such an everyday subject could be so entertaining?

Apart from their upbeat tone, the magazines are different, dabbling in politics over such issues as farmed fish, plastic water bottles, land preservation. South Carolina’s edible Upcountry features growing pecans, curing pork, stalking mushrooms, and winter gardens; edible San Francisco advises readers to wash their strawberries in champagne; edible Dallas & Fort Worth combined food with fashion; edible Manhattan currently displays The Alcohol Issue; edible Toronto spotlights rooftop gardens, local water buffalo, and a dish intriguingly titled Sex in a Pan. In New York, there’s also a weekly TV show featuring nighttime nosh and chickens in the backyard.

  A joke in one Atlanta issue reads: ‘How do you plant kudzu?’ The answer being: Just throw it and run”. The edible series, commented the New York Times, is “spreading like kudzu only faster.”

In 2002, edible Ojai grew out of a design studio in that delightful Southern California town by Tracey Ryder and photographer Carole Topalian (who takes many of the superb cover pictures). Two years later, after a favorable mention in Saveur magazine, 400 calls came in from foodies eager to start similar magazines in their own communities and Edible Communities now includes 70 licensed partners. “We don’t want to tell people what to do,” says edible Austin’s Marla Camp. We want to give them the ability to act if they care to.”

How many American communities can potentially support such a magazine? “Well, way more than 60,” Tracey forecasts. “Maybe 300, maybe 500. Look at our map; we’re not even in most red states yet. For something like this to work, you need to be in love with your subject matter but it’s really the local perspective and the personal connection readers are able to make with the people profiled in our magazines that makes them important and compelling — they are their neighbors, friends, and community leaders.” There have been expressions of interest from potential publishers in Paris and Australia.

  Very few of the start-ups are run by people with publishing experience, Tracey says. Edible Communities provides some editorial support but there is no “must-run” national content. Some proprietors are retired or have other business interests and are content to break even, but some are netting over $100,000 annually.

Future plans include continuing to launch magazines at a rate of at least 10 per year; expanding programming on Edible Radio, enlarging the online presence; publishing more books, and bringing the Edible stories to television.

  “People have become so much more aware of the importance of eating in season so now I think the next layer will be asking the question: ‘What is native to where I live and why?’ We’ve seen things becoming more available like mesquite flour for making tortillas in the southwest — a tradition that had virtually disappeared and in the Southwest, even though you can’t see it, it’s mind-boggling that the desert is full of edible plants.”

Setting up the successful series obviously involved a lot of travel and exploration. “Carole and I like to say we’ve seen every back road in North America,” Tracey says, “ and we’ve certainly eaten our share of the bounty we’ve found along the way.”

WILLS AND KATE, the young Royal couple are due to marry on April 30 but until then, says Rod Liddle, the world can expect to be inundated with endless rubbish from the tabloid press with their “long sharp noses for filth and discord.” Already, the Spectator columnist reports, there have been criticisms of commoner Kate’s clothes and hairstyle, and will inevitably be “frantic digging for dirt” about her family. The media on these occasions, he charges, “behaves like a deranged dog determined to bite off its hind leg.”


“As an officer in India, he showed the quick wit and good sense that would mark his legal career. Once, for instance, his armored vehicles were stopped by eight white-clad maidens lying in the road. Owen instructed the most handsome of his soldiers to drop his trousers. The girls fled.”
— from the obituary of Sir John Owen in The Week


LONDON’S BID FOR the 2012 Olympic Games was strongly criticized by skeptics when it was made (and granted) five years ago, and now all the gloomy predictions are coming true. Specifically, it’s not just what it’s going to cost (at least $18bn) but the outrageous demands of the International Olympics Committee which include 40,000 reserved hotel rooms, 500 air-conditioned limos with uniformed chauffeurs, a $500m Olympic Village for competitors and no spectators allowed to wear anything with a brand for unapproved sponsors (police and customs’ confiscation of unofficial items). Authorities ‘are required to obtain control of all (outdoor) advertising for the duration of the Games’ and billboards must be in French as well as English (French is the IOC’s second language.) These are only a few of the conditions in the “Olympic technical manuals,” reports the Spectator, which have been kept secret from the public for years until repeated Freedom of Information requests finally got them released.


“Vulgarity is now the ruling characteristic of England, of the prosperous as of the poor…vulgarity has its place, as a counterweight to pretension, of course, but as a ruling national characteristic it is charm-less, stupid and without virtue.”
Theodore Dalrymple in the Spectator


THE WILCOCK WEB: If the Republicans go ahead and cut the subsidies to PBS, it can only improve public broadcasting which will be obliged to use more imagination about their programming, to do better with less money….Congressional leaders are still resisting televising their proceedings because they’re aware of how often ESPN’s cameras might reveal that attendance is so meager….A study by something called Neuroscience Letters reports that chewing gum reduces stress and improves subjects’ “postural stability” improving their ability to stand still without wavering……. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad…. Alex Trebek said that Watson, the IBM computer, could neither hear nor talk, but the questions were addressed simultaneously to all three contestants and the answers from Watson were in a human voice. What a ridiculous contest. They stuff a computer with billions of words from every reference book known to man and expect a human to know more?……In the small Spanish hill town of Trevelez, a Muslim child was offended by a mention of ham and reported his teacher to the police for offending his religion….. “People always call it luck,” says novelist Ann Tyler, “when you’ve acted more sensibly than they have”…. According to The Week, Germany’s Andreas Muller, 39, won a $30,000 Mini Cooper car by allowing the firm’s logo to be tattooed on his penis…. Supreme Court Justice Uncle Thomas apparently hasn’t spoken during court arguments for five years. Pity he can’t keep his wife quiet, too….A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memoryNYT critics complain that this year’s Oscar selections were “a white-out” but it surely would have been even more racist to say, “Hey, better get some black names in that line-up or we’ll have Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott on our tails”….The frauds and criminals who run companies such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, and AIG have not been prosecuted for ripping off billions because

Thirty years after Chinese Post began issuing Zodiac stamps, demand has increased so much, that today their value increases 300% per sheet on the second-hand market within days after they first appear. 2011 is the year of the rabbit.

the SEC and so-called regulators are as deeply involved in the crimes themselves suggests Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi in an anarchy-inspiring piece “How Wall Street’s Crooks Evaded Jail”….The spreading worldwide war of the haves versus the have-nots will inevitably reach America sooner or later….“Sidewalk Rage” becomes the latest outdoor hassle pedestrians have to deal with, according to a Wall Street Journal story headed ‘Get Out of My Way, You Jerk’ and compared the speed of different pedestrians (tourists: 3.79ft per second; people heading for work: 4.41)….In a not-too-complimentary interview in Los Angeles, talk show maven Laura Schlessinger talks about surviving frequent criticisms: “Most everyone who has ever attacked me got away with it…I’ve been bitten up one side and down the other and I’m still here.”…A basketball with an internal sensor developed by InfoMotion Sports Technologies transmits an analysis of each shot to your computer …“The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.” — Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55)