Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

21 April, 2010

Madison: Sourdough and Poverty

The A.V. Club has a brief review of Madison Sourdough which just opened on Willy Street in the space vacated by Escape Java Joint. The Dulcinea and I stopped by there on Sunday to grab some go-juice and here are some thoughts.

Firstly, I am a Just Coffee fan and am glad to see them carrying it. Secondly, the almond and chocolate croissants that she and I had, respectively, were quite tasty.

Now for the gripes. My first is that, while they had all of their other breads in stock, there was no rye bread. I was told that there was probably some day-old left but it was unclear to me as to whether it had sold out by 9:30AM or whether they just didn't bother to bake any. I mean, everyone knows rye is the superior bread eaten by Slavs everywhere. So where the hell was it? Lastly, their sandwich board advertised an almond butter and jelly sandwich which I was told went for $7. For that kind of money, it had better be made of organic almond butter and the jelly of berries picked by virgins. (Nichole – there's your cue.)

I recently read that the richest 1% of Americans now own more of the country's wealth than ever before and I'm sure that many an Isthmus liberal will recite this when confronting Republicans over one issue or another. But I can't help but think that a $7 AB&J sandwich on Willy Street as well as the seemingly ever-increasing numbers of people who buy organics and Madison's growing poverty rate are indicative of something similar. One moment I read that one out of two students in the Madison schools is having their lunch subsidized and the next I see Kobe beef tenderloins for $45.98/lb. I don't have numbers but it feels like Madison is becoming more balkanized. Perhaps it isn't but it seems that the gap between the poor and not poor is becoming more pronounced. I hear about how it's a scandal that so few Americans own so much wealth but am I alone in feeling that a similar situation is developing here in Madison?

Again, this may all be a problem with my perception but, speaking as a voter, watching Mayor Dave offering up $16 million in TIF money for a public patio and then heading out to bicycle in Europe on lobbyists' dimes while poverty grows just puts a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that he can't address poverty and move on the Edgewater project and learn about Copenhagen's bicycle infrastructure all at the same time, but I see him putting a lot more effort into the latter two than the former. He's the mayor so he can make anything he wants an issue. All he has to do is open his mouth. Perhaps instead of blasting the landmark commission for being undemocratic, he can instead start making poverty in our community an issue.

I offer this not to begrudge those with money but to note how Madison has changed in my eyes. It seems that at one time the Broadway/Simpson and the poor in general was a much more prominent issue than the poor and, say, Allied Drive are today. I think Madison has moved from being a big town to a small city. The poor and marginalized tend to get press only when the middle class don't want to see them panhandling on State Street and when a co-ed gets murdered.

Can the fact that one-half of Madison students are receiving a subsidized lunch simply be attributed to an influx of poor people? Or is it possible that more and more middle class parents are sending their kids elsewhere? I don't know but poverty is increasing here in Madison and as a community I don't think we're making it an issue. I suspect we're seeing the first inkling of white flight now but that remains to be seen. Either Madison addresses poverty now or we're going to become an increasingly divided city with the organic/bike path crowd further distancing itself from the rest.
|| Palmer, 2:49 PM


My husband and I talk about this a lot. People seem to be high and mighty in the liberal elitism. Madison has a lot to offer, and we enjoy its perks, but it's not above social and civil issues of today. If people were to take their blinders off, they would look around and see how they can truly contribute to community development: by investing in their neighbors, not in the organic beef. Nice post.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:14 AM  
Hey, fat chance we picked this blog out of the blue. I am Andrew, co-owner of Madison Sourdough and I would kindly like to respond to your gripes. Firstly, the Almond Butter is organic, fresh ground. We just don't find it necessary to advertise it as such. We would like to simply be identified with those kinds of food practices, rather than sending a message. Likewise for much of the produce and meat which is sourced locally, just not advertised as such. Also, the jam is made in house soon to be made with locally grown berries, etc.
Secondly, Sunday was our second day open. We have baked a rye bread or two everyday except that Sunday. Usually pulled from the oven at 7 am. Currently we have caraway rye loaves and our cracked rye made with 80% whole grain rye. We also make a five grain sourdough with a portion of rye on Tuesdays and a Sunflower Rye on Mondays. Hope to see you again soon.
Anonymous Andrew Hutchison, at 8:17 AM  
I'm one of those people you would probably group under that foodie "liberal elite" label here in Madison and have to admit that I adhere to quite a few of the cliches mentioned. I agree with what you say about "doing something" about poverty, but I think that some perspective is in order. First - my mother grew up in Madison during the Vietnam War and issues like poverty and racial divisions are nothing new to this city. When I moved here, my mom didn't even want me to look at living on the east side or "on south park" because of negative connotations from her youth. So, I would disagree that a larger divide is forming - I think it has always been here in some shape or form and is just presenting itself differently now. (plus, Madison has the LOWEST unemployment rate of any city in Wisconsin at 7% right now - take a look at Janesville in comparison at 12%. I know that poverty and unemployment are not the same thing, but it is an indicator...)Second - the reason why the local, sustainable food movement is so important is that it is helping local farmers who would otherwise struggle to produce food in a way that is good for the earth and good for people's bodies. Today, on average, we pay WAY less for food than we did in the 1950s, or even in the 1980s, and that is because many parts of the food industry are subsidized. Those cost reductions are going to come back to bite us someday both in tolls to our environment and our health. In my mind, better to support the move to a more local food economy...in the end it will lower the price of local goods for everyone, making that food accessable to all, not just us bike riding liberals. There ARE some awesome organizations (state government and non-profit) that are trying to making local food affordable to all and to bring in lower income communities. Check out Troy Garden Community Farm, Badger School, and MACSAC. Thanks for the post!
Anonymous Jenna, at 9:08 AM  
Anon - I will add that there are many great, caring people who do recognize these problems. But I think the city at large is distracted. Intra-government squabbles make for better copy than does the unglamorous issue that is poverty, the linked article withstanding.

Mr. Hutchison - thanks for clarifying. I will likely stop in again for a cuppa joe and may well give the bread a go.

I'll leave how you advertise your product to you. And while you may not indicate where your ingredients are sourced and whether they're organic or not, understand that your prices say something. I don't doubt that your food is tasty nor am I trying to cast aspersions on you and your partners. My point is not that your prices say anything bad about you, but rather, along with the $8 omelets I've griped about before, is that as places with these prices continue to open and flourish while poverty grows says something about us - Madison - collectively.

Best of luck.
Blogger Palmer, at 9:36 AM  
Jenna - thanks to you as well for commenting.

I am not trying to deride a faction of "foodie 'liberal elite'". My point was that, when Michael Pollan comes here or "Food Inc" plays, these events generate tons of press and discussion which, by and large, avoid the issue of people who cannot afford to pay $6/lb for asparagus. By contrast, when word gets out that 50% of the students in our school system are having their lunches subsidized and that poverty is growing in our community, it comes and goes. As I indicated in my response to the anonymous commenter, there are certainly people addressing this and there always has been. My point was that, as a community, these issues aren't front and center. Edgewater, bike paths, organic/local food is instead. It's not that any of these issues deserve to be ignored - I'm not against bike paths or organic food or anti-foodie or any such thing - but I feel that the growth of poverty in this city deserves much more prominence.

I understand full well that poverty and racial divisions are nothing new to Madison. Nowhere did I say that they were a recent phenomenon. What I did say, however, is that, from my perspective over the last 20 years, is that these issues have lost prominence. To my recollection, Broadway-Simpson used to be a very big issue in a way that Allied Drive is not. Madison may have the lowest unemployment but that doesn't mean that everyone who is employed can afford to be a foodie. Simply being employed doesn't mean that you aren't living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck and perhaps going hungry.

To reiterate what I said above, I'm not arguing that the local, sustainable food movement is unimportant. But I do feel that being able to be a foodie is a relatively privileged position. I would also add that, while it is great that there are organizations bringing local food into low income communities, it is more important that people have good-paying jobs. I think Sasha Abramsky's thoughts about poverty and hunger deserve to have a place at the table (ahem) when we discuss poverty/hunger because making organic/locally sourced foods available doesn't address poverty as a financial state nor as a state of mind which Abramsky documents. See this post of mine for some info and a link:


Again, thanks for the comment.
Blogger Palmer, at 10:25 AM  
I agree with you in many respects and think you make some very good points. After some reflection, I would say that part of the reason why Pollan, Food, Inc. and the entire movement takes front and center is because when people get involved and have that inevitable moment of thinking "but what can I do?" there are small incremental steps they can take to feel they are making a difference. Whereas, when the issue of poverty comes up in the news cycle and you ask yourself "what can I do?" the answer is a lot less clear for the everyday joe. Personally, I dont think that lowering the cost of food is the answer, as it only hurts us (and producers) in the end... not saying that that is what you are proposing either. Instead, we need ways to jump start new types of economies, and come up with ways to hold companies responsible for providing fair wages and benefits for those who ARE currently employed. Could Mayor Dave take on the torch for that sort of reform? Yes, he probably could, and should. I just hope that we can keep celebrating local food at the same time! Happy Earth Day!
Anonymous Jenna, at 11:44 AM  
Hello again Jenna - I think you're probably right about the food thing being easier to address in one's life than poverty. But I suspect it also has to do with the fact that the Pollan movement is more oriented towards oneself whereas addressing poverty is about helping others with little or no gustatory benefits.

For more on how I feel about the "Pollan crowd", read this:


The part that really hits home for me is this bit about Pollan:

"However, if you're hunting boar in the upscale hills ringing the San Francisco Bay so as to furnish yourself a "locally grown" boar paté, as does Berkeley professor and simplicity movement guru Michael (The Omnivore's Dilemma) Pollan...you're doing a fine job of returning to the simple life. But if you're a laid-off lumber mill worker bagging possums in Eutaw Springs, S.C., because your main primal connection with food is that you don't have much money to spend on it, you're an unsophisticated redneck."

I have encountered this very attitude amongst some here in Madison. They love the boar-hunting Pollan but come November, these same people mock the hunters going out to "kill Bambies" to "prove their manliness" or some such thing.

Despite loving good food, I am reluctant to identify myself as a foodie or associate with the movement (however it may be) because of hypocrisy such as that above. I tend to think of the movement as being like the first wave of feminism which was very exclusive, i.e. - it was very much about white, middle-class women.

Take care
Blogger Palmer, at 1:47 PM  
You rang?

I utterly agree that "being able to be a foodie is a relatively privileged position," even if you hold the "relatively."

Re: the $7 PBJ: since I think of eating in restaurants as a luxury, I do find it challenging to blame a place for asking whatever price their situation allows.

That said, your points about rising poverty, gentrification, and the relative silence around those issues are well made.

Have you seen http://shutupfoodies.tumblr.com/ ? It, like this post, is kinda snarky but a good reminder to have a conscience when consuming.
Blogger nichole, at 1:53 PM  
You just know when I bitch about restaurant prices that it's the equivalent of the Batsignal against the night sky. :)

Honestly, I think that Madison Sourdough should charge whatever the heck they think they can get away with. More power to 'em. My gripe is not that we celebrate more and more establishments that cater to an exclusive crowd, but rather we seemingly can't talk about those without enough to eat at the same time. Having 50% of children getting subsidized lunches is an absolute scandal that gets a lot less attention than organics and food carts.

Nope, I've never seen that site before. Thanks for the link.

P.S. - When are our privileged adventures at Quaker Steak and Lube going to be published?
Blogger Palmer, at 2:06 PM  
Early next week, if the creek don't rise.

(Batgirl was a librarian, you knew that, right? of course.)
Blogger nichole, at 2:36 PM  
Why, um...of course I, um, knew Batgirl was a librarian. Isn't it common knowledge? ;)
Blogger Palmer, at 3:03 PM  

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