Naming Names

Do we have to know the guy behind the guy behind our dinner?

Illustration by Tim Bower

I understand that we live in an every-kid-gets-a-trophy society. I get that in this Monsanto age of factory farming, we should celebrate individuals who grow their crops and raise their animals the hard, right way. I know that, for a great dish, the ingredients are as important as the preparation. Still, I don’t need to know the name of every farmer to make my menu selection. Or see his face (Oh, surprise, a beard!) to choose my rainbow chard at Whole Foods. There’s enough name-dropping in L.A. without supermarkets doing it, too. We are dangerously close to having to watch a Food Network show about four-flap grafting.

First, we idiotically agreed to learn every chef’s name. Then every species of fish, every variety of apple, and every type of heirloom wheat. Now farm names—even those of the specific farmer—are expected cultural knowledge, edging out any chance for poets, painters, and people who rant in magazines about food trends. What will we have to memorize next—the names of the guys who pick our fruit? “Oh, Juan Hernandez picked the strawberries in the sorbet? He’s got a very delicate hand!” Yes, everyone’s work is important, but I don’t have time to give everyone a byline.

If I really like your bacon, I’ll ask who made it, and then I’ll go buy Nueske’s at Trader Joe’s. But your menu is twice as long as it should be because for every meat entrée you have to write “Niman Ranch.” It’s not just restaurants; I’ve had friends at dinner parties tell me that the potatoes in their mash are from Weiser or the beets in the salad are a product of Chino Farm. And I’ve acted impressed because I needed them to know that I’d heard of those places. So, no, I’m not going to be the first brave foodie to stop learning farm names. But there’s no way I’m learning the names of seed companies. Unless they put those on the menu, too.