No Monster in the Mission :: ¡Basta Ya!
Historic March, Rally, and Festival
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4, 1-6pm
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“One pan. 10 minutes. Countless OOHHs and AHHs,” read the message on one side of the cardboard box. “#DinnerSolved,” proclaimed its other side. The solution it contained was a platoon of individually packaged, par-cooked ingredients for sweet potato and black bean enchiladas. Resting on a bed of ice packs and swaddled by insulated foam panels, it was the meal I’d ordered from Gobble, one of the Bay Area’s burgeoning number of subscription dinner-kit services.
Before trying Gobble, I’d spoken with its founder, Ooshma Garg, who had explained her company’s MO: “We cook just enough so you feel there’s just enough cooking for you to do. You can end up with an exquisite, perfectly made meal that we’ve assured for you.” In other words, it’s the culinary equivalent of assembling an IKEA nightstand. Cooking Gobble’s enchiladas amounted to opening the plastic bags and containers holding the individual components—premade filling, Spanish rice, salsa roja, a few corn tortillas, cotija cheese, and fresh cilantro—spooning the filling into the tortillas, and sticking it all in the oven for a few minutes.
“Exquisite” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the result, which was tasty and inoffensive in the manner of above-average cafeteria food. But that was fitting, I suppose, since I didn’t feel like I’d actually done any cooking. And that, in effect, is the idea at the core of the growing dinner-kit industry, which got its start, tellingly, in Sweden with the 2007 debut of a service called Middagsfrid (which roughly translates to “the calm that you feel when you sit down and have dinner after a long day”). It began gaining traction in this country a few years ago with the launch of companies like Blue Apron and Plated, both of which posed a virtually identical value proposition: Give us your credit card information and we’ll do the grunt work.
What “cooks” get, in effect, is dinner concocted with just enough some-assembly-required exertion to yield a wee frisson of DIY satisfaction. As someone who enjoys cooking, I am inherently skeptical of these companies. But even my somewhat freakish love of grocery store aisles doesn’t fully account for my knee-jerk dubiousness. It’s also a reaction to what George Packer memorably described in the New Yorker as the mission of Silicon Valley’s hottest tech startups: “Solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand.”
The dinner-kit companies may be peddling to time-strapped working people up and down the class ladder, but their real customer base is a cohort with a surfeit of disposable income and an undying need to streamline the crap out of modern life. So it’s no surprise, then, that Silicon Valley investors are funding subscription-dinner kit startups as fast as they can demo their product, each promising a personalized spin on the concept. There’s Gobble, which was founded in 2010 as a sort of dinner matchmaking service for chefs and customers and now delivers precooked components for what Garg calls “Michelin-level meal[s] that you could never have made yourself through your own skills.”
There’s seven-month-old Sun Basket, which employs former Slanted Door chef Justine Kelly and an in-house nutritionist to create lifestyle-specific meals (paleo, gluten-free) that emphasize organic ingredients from local farms and, in founder Adam Zbar’s words, “export California value and bounty” to users. Three-year-old PlateJoy, which has $1.7 million in funding from investors as diverse as SherpaVentures, Foundation Capital, and Jared Leto (!), is likewise focused on healthy cooking. Its founder, Christina Bognet, clarifies, “We are a technology-enabled personalized-ingredient startup that uses algorithms to make you healthy,” which translates to bags of organic ingredients delivered directly from Whole Foods, along with recipes.
Meanwhile, 10-month-old Din uses precooked dinner components, like Gobble, but differentiates itself with mostly organic and locally sourced ingredients and recipes from restaurants like Bar Tartine and Tacolicious. By doing the prep work, explains Din cofounder Emily Olson LaFave, “We’re empowering people who are scared of it not working out.” Fair enough. But there’s something a little contradictory about these elevator pitches, which ostensibly extol the virtues of a home-cooked meal while presenting cooking as a source of stress and unhappiness akin to purchasing a used car. Bognet describes planning and cooking healthy meals as “just too complicated,” while Olson LaFave recalls analyzing cooking’s “pain points” as part of her research.
Granted, cooking may be this anguishing for some people. And it’s plausible that these services have the potential to help more such kitchen apostates across the country cook dinner. Still, cutting through the varying layers of startup bombast (at one point, Garg described Gobble as “lifesaving”), I was left with the question I have about most of the apps and web-based services supposedly created to simplify our lives: How exhaustively do we need to be spoon-fed (in this case, almost literally)?
And while we’re at it, here’s a riddle: How many ziplock bags does it take to negate a company’s claim that it cares deeply about organic/local/sustainable/environmentally conscious food? At this point, complaining that tech startups are turning us into teething infants incapable of handling surprise or discomfort is about as useful as complaining about the amount of sand on a beach. Although none of the companies I spoke with would disclose their subscriber numbers, the growth of their sector speaks to the fact that a significant number of people will pay for the privilege of having someone else do their planning and precooking for them.
I do like that some of these startups appear to be serious about reducing the amount of trash that typically accompanies dinner kits: PlateJoy delivers its ingredients in a grocery bag and uses a waste-reduction algorithm to cut down on unused food; Din packages its goods in a reusable (and returnable) tote lined with disappearing dry ice; and Sun Basket employs recycled blue jeans as insulation for its boxes, which customers can likewise return. A more compelling question for me, though, is where this is going, or could go. Food, after all, is basically analog, a massive market that hasn’t yet been impacted by tech.
Garg, who believes that we’re moving inexorably toward “a delivery culture around commodities,” goes so far as to predict that “all commodity goods outlets, including takeout restaurants, Walmarts, Targets, Blockbusters, and grocery stores, will cease to exist. The only infrastructure worth existing for the consumer will be built around a unique consumer cultural experience like a movie theater or theme park or Michelin-starred restaurant.” Setting aside the fact that Blockbuster’s demise is a fait accompli, maybe that’s what bugs me: Implicit in Garg’s forecast is the belief that something like buying groceries and planning a meal isn’t a worthy experience, and that a restaurant needs a Michelin star in order to be deserving of existence.
Growing up, I got arguably more quality time with my parents from grocery shopping than from going to the movies or watching TV together; it might not have been the most entertaining endeavor, but it was ours, and it had value. I’m sure plenty of families would readily outsource their meal planning (provided they could afford to), but I’m also sure that delivery culture has about as much chance of making us happier as partially built Nornäs drawers from IKEA do. And that’s not even taking into account the convenience economy’s dark underbelly, with its army of low-paid workers who labor to make life easier for the relatively affluent.
Ultimately, I’d be less skeptical of the dinner-kit industry if #DinnerSolved meant putting healthy, easily prepared food in the hands of the less fortunate. I realize that’s not going to make anyone a billionaire, and that it’s unfair to judge these companies for what they aren’t. A lot of their food is actually pretty good. But those entrées would be easier to swallow if they didn’t often come with a side order of baloney.
San Francisco, Urbanism — June 29, 2012 2:18 pm
They might catch your eye as you hike up the hills near Dolores Park, walk through the Richmond fog, or stroll the quiet streets of Cole Valley: red brick circles are embedded in dozens of San Francisco’s roads throughout the city.
These brick circles might look decorative, but there’s much more to them than what’s on the surface. Underneath each is a concrete tank that holds 75,000 gallons of water. 172 of these underground cisterns exist throughout the city, making up an important component of San Francisco’s Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS).
The AWSS was developed in response to 1906 earthquake, which caused a devastating combination of fires and damage to the major water lines that were needed to fight them. Left with few usable hydrants and a lack of sufficient backup water supply, firefighters were unable to stop the blazes for days.
Smoke billowed over San Francisco as the fires of 1906 spread throughout the city with few available firefighting resources. [Source: San Francisco History Center/San Francisco Public Library]
As city engineers developed plans for a better emergency water system, they noted that San Francisco’s 23 cisterns were among the few firefighting resources that had worked in the aftermath of the earthquake. They called for a much larger network of cisterns throughout the city. Over one hundred were constructed in the next few decades, including one cistern every 3 blocks in key downtown areas. Along with cisterns, the AWSS includes a major reservoir on Twin Peaks and pump systems that draw directly from San Francisco Bay. These backup resources were critical in fighting fires that broke out after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Red bricks outline a cistern on Dolores Street at 24th.
Not all cisterns are outlined by the distinctive brick circles, but you can tell there’s one nearby if you spot a fire hydrant with a green top. Different colors and shapes are used to indicate a hydrant’s water source and pressure level.
A green fire hydrant “bonnet” indicates that there’s a cistern nearby. This one is on Castro Street at 14th.
Each cistern is also covered with a manhole that reads CISTERN S.F.F.D., but they’re no longer maintained by the Fire Department. In 2010, the Public Utilities Commission assumed responsibility for the Auxiliary Water Supply System, which has survived several earthquakes but is showing its age with rust and leaks. By the end of this decade, the Public Utilities Commission hopes to have completed major renovations and seismic updates. For more information on these efforts, visit sfearthquakesafety.org.
Cistern maintenance moved to the SF Public Utilities Commission in 2010, but S.F.F.D. labels remain on manhole covers. This cistern is at Douglass and Elizabeth.
No red bricks here: this cistern cover hides in the grass at the edge of Dolores Park.
Explore San Francisco: The Folsom District
We’ll start in the heart of the old SOMA District, “South Of the Slot”. See this blue collar neighborhood as it used to be before re-development. Then we will travel to a former gay entertainment strip, the area is now commonly called, “Crack Alley”. Before it is destroyed forever, see the Hugo Hotel and the world famous art installation known as, “Defenestration”.
Next up, we’ll cruise the 1970’s “Miracle Mile” of the Folsom District. This area was Mecca for the Gay Leather community and withstood re-development until the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s decimated much of the population, leaving the community weakened and vulnerable. The Folsom Street Fair was created out of this crisis, and is the largest leather/fetish event in the world and the third largest, single-day outdoor event in California. We will see the Fairgrounds but we are really here to celebrate the Folsom’s heyday. During that time this area boasted over 30 gay bars and bath houses, as well as lesbian bars, shops, hotels, retail, private sex clubs, eateries and motorcycle clubs. This was called the “Valley of the Kings“, and you will see why.
We will stop at Wicked Grounds ‘kink” coffee shop for refreshments and snacks. Shopping stops and tours are at Mr. S Leather and Good Vibrations. Many more stops and places of interest are included on this one of a kind tour. This tour ticket does not include the Armory. Please see The Folsom District & The Armory listing if you wish to attend both. For further information please call 415.793.1104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To reserve your space for this free event please sign up at: http://www.facebook.com/events/200800926712135/
Copyright Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Creativity and innovation are hallmarks of San Francisco, where a startup mentality continues to define us. We routinely set foot on the hallowed grounds of storied cultural landmarks—unprecedented venues at their inception that remain progressive icons today. Here, insiders reminisce on the impact of four classic SF institutions to remind us why they epitomize the city’s special spirit. In this installment, we start with City Lights and The Fillmore. Next week, we’ll continue with Castro Theatre and Stern Grove.
City Lights Bookstore, est. 1953. By Lawrence Ferlinghetti, cofounder, publisher, and poet
In 1953, San Francisco wasn’t what it is today. At that time, paperbacks were not considered real books in America. Peter Martin, an editor I met in North Beach, had the brilliant idea to open the first paperback bookstore in the U.S. My idea was to make City Lights a literary meeting place. I was used to the literary scene in Paris cafes and wanted to create a public place where people could hang out and read all day.
As soon as we got the doors open—we started off with one little room and slowly expanded—the store attracted people because there was such a void in that space. This was a brand-new scene. Back then, bookstores weren’t open on the weekends or late at night. We changed that. We were the first to introduce a periodicals section and the first to carry gay magazines. There was a lot of demand for this new culture, and we rode the wave. Comedians like Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl stopped in before gigs.
I was one of those New York carpet-bagging poets. I wasn’t really one of the Beats, but I got associated with them because I published them. City Lights, under my direction, was a publisher almost from the beginning, and this was another innovation—bookstores didn’t do that sort of thing. We printed Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956, at the start of the poetry revolution. The Beats articulated what later became the themes of 1960s hippie counterculture, antiwar demonstrations, and ecological consciousness. Kerouac’s On the Road was a sad book, but it turned everybody on because it expressed what his generation was feeling. Sociologists said it articulated the end of American innocence.
In the late 1990s, we restored the City Lights building because of a required retrofit, but the inside remains mostly the same. You’ll still see locals reading in the basement or up in the poetry room. We have so many events there, but the tourists don’t generally know about them—they’re just passing through. We also get a lot of professors and students from all over the country and an enormous amount of foreign visitors. Today, there’s not a literary revolution as there was when City Lights opened. Today, we have the electronic revolution, which is wiping out so many bookstores. We’re benefitting from being among the few that have survived. We could soon be the last man standing.”
—As told to Chris Trenchard and Allison McCarthy
The Fillmore, est. 1966 By Joel Selvin, San Francisco Chronicle music critic, 1972–2009
I saw my first show at the Fillmore in 1967: Chuck Berry and the Grateful Dead. It cost $3 to get in. There were two walls covered with lights. The stage was small. About 1,100 people, absorbed in sound and lights, crammed into the room. The experience was truly authentic.
And to think that bands like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Otis Redding, Howlin’ Wolf, and the Grateful Dead all played on that tiny little stage. Bill Graham started renting the place from promoter Charles Sullivan in the ’60s. The thing was a success right from the word “go.” Bill wasn’t really a fan of rock music—he was originally a mambo dancer from New York. But he had plenty of street smarts. Over time, though, he figured out how to book that room. It became a tribal rite to play there, and that gave the Fillmore this kind of mystique. Groups like Traffic and Cream gave performances that ended up being fundamental to the acceleration of their careers. It became clear that this place was at the center of something very special. At the time, Chet Helms operated the Avalon Ballroom, which was the Fillmore’s primary competitor back then. He had this theory that the Fillmore’s Apollonian stage and proscenium were gateways to the gods. Promoters would leverage this mystique to get bands like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who would normally play at much bigger theaters. Then in the early ’90s, Tom Petty played 20 or 30 shows there over the course of a few months. Petty was definitely building on that mystique. It was quite a different place then. The old stage now lies (almost completely hidden from view) underneath the newer, bigger stage. But the Fillmore is still a space steeped in history and the ghosts of great performers. The guy who does the booking now, Michael Bailey, really knows the thrill of fandom. He’s been shrewd about capitalizing on the legacy of the Fillmore in the ’60s. Bands today are aware of the mystique—who hasn’t heard Cream’s Wheels of Fire: Live at the Fillmore? And it’s still a damn fine place to see a show.”
This article was published in 7×7’s June issue. Click here to subscribe.
Dolores Park, on a nice day. Credit: Greg/dannebrog
The idea that the SFPD might try to remove one of the most charming aspects of Dolores Park — namely the rampant sale of mushroom chocolates, THC-laced candies, and everyones favorite truffle guy — should prompt a battle cry from all those who call the park their warm-afternoon home.
But its already happening! Uptown Almanac and Dolores Park Works report on the SFPDs stepped-up strategy for cleansing the park of everything that makes it marvelous, including the removal of all alcohol and drug sales the sad, emasculated Cold Beer Cold Water guy now only sells cold water.
Theyve been issuing citations, and sending in plain-clothed operators to make purchases from these small businesspeople, and they claim that theyve had to issue tickets for “keggers that get little bit out of control.” Keggers?Anyway, the only solace here is that they say they dont have the resources to actually crack down on all booze consumption right now, but as weve been sensationally proclaiming here at SFist for months now, the war on fun is most certainly stepping up.
There will come a day when cops are wandering around on the regular issuing tickets for your bottle of rosé, and that, dear friends, is an abomination against all things good and holy. What makes San Francisco great if not our laissez-faire attitude toward nudity, sado-masochism, and public drinking?!?
We ask you this.Fight for your rights, people.
[Uptown Almanac]PREVIOUSLY: Etiquette Week: How to Go to the Park
Gay owned and operated,Explore San Francisco is pleased to announce Pride Tours 2012. Want to see the city above and beyond the parade, festival and the clubs? We offer the GLBT community tours and sightseeing within our community but outside of the box. Food tours, walking tours, running tours, 1970s Folsom District walk, or even porn studio tours. We accomodate groups and we offer sightseeing with transport provided by van service, SUV or town car. You may find the perfect choice from our regular itinerary or let us create something special for you. Please call the Pride Desk at 415.793.1104 or email email@example.com
Scenic RunningSan Francisco is the perfect city for running, incomparable scenery, varied terrain and mild temperatures. Take one of our scheduled runs or let us lead you on a custom run.
North Beach & Chinatown at NightThis tour is very social, we have fun and friendships are made. Maybe its the wine or exotic teas, good food, the company or the vibrant area, but if youre looking for a great evening, you cant go wrong with this fun event.This is part of our regular line up, 4 or more and well have a GLBT outing.
Side StreetsSan Francisco, California is one of the most walkable cities in the country. We have walking tours all over the city. Choose from our regular line up of tours, or let us design something for you. 415.793.1104
Folsom DistrictRelive the 1970s Miracle Mile and The Folsom District in all of its glory. See just the Folsom or combine this with a tour of the SF Armory, home of Kink.com. Select tours go to Treasure Island MediaUpon Request
Anniversary or birthday celebration, Pride Party to never forget, personal milestone, marriage proposal, business proposal, romantic evening or just something new and different. Give us your vision and let us expertly and meticulously make your extraordinary event a lifetime memory. 415.793.1104
Shuttle, Van or Town CarANapa, The Russian River, Black Sand Beach, or San Gregorio are all popular GLBT destinations within driving distance. We have transportation for any size group. Please call the Pride Desk for these spots or anywhere else you might like to see! 415.793.110
(Site-specific installation on the corner of 6th and Howard St. in San Francisco)
This multi-disciplinary sculptural mural involves seemingly animated furniture; tables, chairs, lamps, grandfather clocks, a refrigerator, and couches, their bodies bent like centipedes, fastened to the walls and window-sills, their insect-like legs seeming to grasp the surfaces. Against society’s expectations, these everyday objects flood out of windows like escapees, out onto available ledges, up and down the walls, onto the fire escapes and off the roof. “DEFENESTRATION” was created by Brian Goggin with the help of over 100 volunteers.
The concept of “DEFENESTRATION”, a word literally meaning “to throw out of a window,” is embodied by both the site and staging of this installation. Located at the corner of Sixth and Howard Streets in San Francisco in an abandoned four-story tenement building, the site is part of a neighborhood that historically has faced economic challenges and has often endured the stigma of skid row status. Reflecting the harsh experience of many members of the community, the furniture is of the streets, cast-off and unappreciated. The simple, unpretentious beauty and humanity of these downtrodden objects is reawakened through the action of the piece. The act of “throwing out” becomes an uplifting gesture of release, inviting reflection on the spirit of the people we live with, the objects we encounter, and the places in which we live.
The ground level has served as a rotating gallery