Food for Thought

For decades, our region has struggled to find its national identity. But actually, it’s been here all along. Who knew that dirt would be so much more valuable than gold?

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A 1926 State Fair poster touting the city as the heart of the “Garden Valley of the World”

image Courtesy of the California State Library, California History Room


In 2006, Michael Pollan, the celebrated author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, spoke at a fundraiser near Putah Creek in Winters and recounted his early efforts to convince his New York editors to let him cover a subject he was passionate about: agriculture.

The response, he explained, was decidedly unenthusiastic.

But after multiple attempts, he finally realized his mistake. It wasn’t the subject that was uninspiring. It was the word—agriculture. He simply needed to reframe his pitch. So he returned to the editors and—with the same type of stories in mind—told them that he wanted to write about food.

They happily obliged.

It’s a fun anecdote, but it should also serve as an aha moment for those of us who live here. It’s well documented that we live in the center of one of the most fertile and productive agricultural regions in the country, nestled amongst the verdant Central, San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys. That may have been a hot commodity in the 19th century, but in 21st-century California, being the Agricultural Capital of America doesn’t exactly inspire an abundance of regional pride or make for a catchy civic tagline. We all know it’s important, but it’s hardly sexy.Courtesy of Rubicon Partners

So let’s reframe our pitch, too.

Welcome to the Food Capital of America.

After all, in May of this year, the California Travel & Tourism Commission proudly proclaimed our state, “The Wine and Food Capital of America.” Sure, it’s a PR title, but it’s also not hard to make the case that it’s true. Let’s not forget that Michael Jackson wasn’t anointed the “King of Pop” by the media. It was a self-prescribed moniker that stuck.

And Sacramento has more than enough ammunition to make its case. After all, the Central Valley produces over half of all fruits and vegetables grown in the United States. Almonds are California’s No. 1 agricultural export, and thanks to Blue Diamond Growers, Sacramento is known as the “Almond Capital of America” (it was even a question on Jeopardy). Rice is California’s No. 2 agricultural export, and the Sacramento Valley produces 97 percent of it. The list goes on.

Our region’s claim to the “Food Capital” title was furthered earlier this year when the $93 million state-of-the-art Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science (note the absence of the word “agriculture”) was completed at UC Davis, priming us to produce even more of the top food experts in the world.

But we won’t get there without a bit of a push.