What’s green, high tech & full of taquerias? San Francisco!

If you missed part one of Road Trip USA, catch up here.

Landing in San Francisco always makes me feel like I’m emerging from the Australian Stone Age as suddenly we are encompassed by a proliferation of high tech, and even more so as I wonder in slack-jawed awe at the hilly city’s incredible green consciousness.

This year’s arrival included a slightly negative carbon offset thanks to the sleek black limo my darling brother sent to pick us up. Nine-year-old Antigone, grinning madly next to me, exclaimed, “I never thought I’d be in one of these before I’m even famous!” A very luxurious ride to Noe Valley, although unusual, was welcome after 20 hours travel, especially facing the TSA (shoeless) at LAX alone with the brood.

In the new Terminal 2, we passed a Napa Farms Market, where commuters can pick up their Acme sourdough and a variety of preserves and fresh produce before they even leave the airport.

Fresh, local, organic food is in abundance in the Bay Area, and the meteoric rise of Whole Foods in the past decade has seen its availability spread steadily. Although I quite like Whole Foods for its cornucopia aesthetic and real variety, I dearly hope it doesn’t herald the end of small, independent organic grocers the way Coles and Woolies have in the conventional grocery sector in Australia.

When we lived in Santa Cruz in the early noughties, we did all our grocery shopping at New Leaf, a local organic grocer with a stunning array on offer — and our grocery bills were only about 10% higher than had we shopped at the local Safeway. The first few return visits after we’d moved back to Australia always commenced with a drive straight from the airport to New Leaf, where I’d wander the aisles stroking local stone fruit and stocking up on luscious organic milk, butter and cheese.

The other most likely first destination upon disembarking is one of California’s endless little taquerías — quesadillas for Oscar, probably tacos for Antigone, who desires whatever has the most fresh ingredients, Atticus loves nachos, and I vary between nachos and a ‘proper’ burrito, something you will not find in Melbourne. Though Trippy Taco, Los Amates and Mamasita in Melbourne make some good food, my endless quest for a big, fat vegie burrito full of beans, rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa verde, lettuce, cilantro and lime juice remains elusive in Oz.

This time we headed down to Casa Mexicana, where we made a party of 10 — three adults and seven children aged 3 to 11. What a pleasure to watch the women making fresh corn chips and then selecting from the colourful variety at the salsa bar of pico de gallo, salsas roja and verde, in both mild and spicy optionFresh lemonade or watermelon juice scooped from enormous glass jars completes the happy experience, and best of all, enough food for 10 of us came to just $62. Take that, McDonalds!

Brother Rhett was trying to help me sort out our internet connection for the vintage motorhome we’ll be driving across America over the next three months, and we settled on getting an AT&T sim card to tether our laptops wirelessly from my Australian iPhone 4. The charming young man who served us in the shop realised we needed to ‘unlock’ the phone in order for the new sim to work, so he sent us to Hugo, two doors down, who specialises in ‘iPhone unlock and jailbreak’, as his sign testifies. Amazingly, 4Gb of data and unlimited calls and texts to cell phones is just $45 per month. Telstra, are you listening?

In 2009, San Francisco passed an ordinance making it illegal to put organic waste in your household rubbish and provided all homes with a compost bin that is collected just as rubbish and recycling are. The impact of the ordinance comes into its own back at the airport. As we waited for our flight to Washington, DC we discovered that the food court area only has composting and recycling – all the containers your food comes in are either compostable or recyclable!

Plus there are tall taps to refill water bottles with signs encouraging everyone to do so rather than wastefully purchasing more bottles. You’re doing it right, San Francisco.

The new Terminal 2 is also fitted out with a diverse selection of comfortable chairs in different configurations for different purposes, and there are laptop stations — high benches with outlets — dotted everywhere. There are even power outlets between banks of seats in every waiting area. And Virgin America (presumably other airlines as well) offers in-flight wifi for $9.95 — in fact I’m emailing this post in from 37,000 feet, somewhere over Ohio…

So while I know America may be the one in the Stone Age when it comes to affordable health care, quality public education, or excessive defence expenditure, San Francisco’s populace are vanguards in actively combating climate change while being some of the most connected citizens in the world. With those qualities and the ubiquitous taquerias, is it any wonder so many hearts are lost to San Francisco?

Tammi Jonas blogs at Tammi Tasting Terrior on all things food and community. You can follow #RoadTripUSA on Twitter, where she’s @tammois and Stuart is @solarvox. Expect her to become a regular.

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Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community.

2 thoughts on “What’s green, high tech & full of taquerias? San Francisco!”

  1. Tammi, you have wrecked my day! I am going to spend the rest of today in rueful nostalgia and regret. I lived in SF for an all-too brief period (about 3 months) almost two decades ago–on Parnassus opposite UCSF where I was working–and naturally just came to love the city. Or: love the city even more, since I had loved it since my first visit in 1979. Of course California has all kinds of awful problems, too expensive, too many people, dysfunctional politics (which I wrote about in Crikey: (crikey.com.au/2009/06/03/down-and-out-in-beverly-hills-richest-place-on-the-planet-out-of-money/)) but your update affirms the positive vibe one has always picked up in this city.

  2. Oh, and you did not mention the huge Farmers market on Saturdays on the Embarcadero wharf (in front of the ferry building which has been redeveloped as a food hall). In fact I it occupies space where the hideous elevated double-deck Embarcadero freeway used to stand but which was demolished in an astounding civic*, almost un-American, move to rejuvenate the wharf area and downtown. As usual SF leads and, eventually, hopefully, America follows.
    *Refreshing my memory I see that, although there had been popular moves to demolish it in the early 80s, in the end it was the Loma Prieto earthquake that finally won the argument. Nevertheless, the shrieks of the road-lobby who said it would cause traffic chaos (the freeway took traffic off the Bay Bridge) were proven totally wrong and the treed boulevard and rejuvenation of this end of town is a lesson for civic planners everywhere.

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