And we line the ingredients up side-by-side and invariably the ingredients from the farmers market, aside from being more nutritious and delicious, are cheaper because we shop seasonally.
All of the cooking takes place with minimal equipment. In the jail we can't use knives. Everything can be done — a salad, a main course, a vegetable — in 25 minutes, and for less than $5 a person. Cooking quickly is all about being organized. We teach them those skills as well.
SFBG How many women have gone through this program?
LB I think it's about 750 now. One of the things that we're moving forward with is finding a way to connect with the women after they leave. One of the new initiatives is working with a postrelease program where there'll be a kitchen so we'll be able to do the classes on an ongoing basis.
SFBG Something that a lot of people don't know is that people who have a felony drug offense can't get food stamps.
LB It was part of that whole clean up drugs thing. It's changed slightly so that now if you have a minor drug offense, you can get food, but if you have a heavier felony offense, it's still not possible. [Assemblymember] Mark Leno is working on fixing it.
SFBG Have you kept in touch with the women from the program?
LB Yeah. We have one woman who found us because we also offer the courses to women who provide day care. She told us, "When I was in jail, I was thinking this was all bullshit. I can't do that. It's going to be too expensive. It's just you white people blowing smoke up our ass. But I got out and now I'm going to the market every week and my kids love it."
SFBG You're also coordinating food service for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area?
LB Yes, coordinating purchasing so the prices are better, but also coordinating so some people can get products that there hasn't been enough demand for. The great thing about McDonald's is that it represents this huge buying power, and if McDonald's says, "We want an alternative to Styrofoam," people say, "OK, we'll do that." So when 17 food services here say, "We really want cornstarch knives or sugar-based packaging material" ... companies will see this opportunity and figure it out.
I started talking to the people in the national park for two reasons. One is that the park feeds a lot of people. Golden Gate Park is 75,000 acres, the largest urban park in the country, and feeds 17 million people a year, whether they're dining at Greens, which is a park partner, or the Cliff House or some little café. The park also sits on a tremendous amount of good agricultural land, some of which is being used up at Point Reyes National Park. Cowgirl Creamery, Strauss Dairy, Hog Island Oyster, Sun Farm — all those are on park land. We want the park to become not only a purchaser of good sustainable, healthy food but also a producer.
SFBG One of the reasons why Nextcourse is interesting is that it addresses the "food divide," actually doing outreach into the community that is not going to show up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. What do you think needs to be done? It feels like the gap is getting wider rather than narrowing.
LB That just represents what's happening in our society. Truly, you can't change the food system without looking at every other aspect of the economic system. You've heard it before, but there's all these wonderful catchphrases like "the high cost of cheap food." People shouldn't be asking why this beautiful piece of fruit is so expensive, they should be asking why this other piece of fruit is so cheap. And the reason it's cheap is because of the way our economy is structured, with lobbies, subsidies, and oil companies having such a strong vested interest. The real problem with food costing "X amount" is that we can't survive just on food. We need housing, we need education, we need health care. The government is no longer in the public service business: they've privatized all of those things, and they're driven by profit.