Melissa's Produce on #LAFoodCulture - Guest Blog
Intro: Food Tribe is taking a deeper dive into #LAFoodCulture, by featuring the chefs, restauranteurs, and foodies that make LA's food scene what it is. We want to hear from various perspectives about LA's food culture, and are excited to share those voices with you!
This week, we’re featuring Elizabeth Weinstein, who works in the marketing department for Melissa’s Produce. While Melissa’s sources produce from all over the world and distributes all over the USA, Elizabeth talks about what farming looks like in Southern California and how tastes have changed, even at classic LA events like a Dodger’s game!
Guest Blog: Melissa's World Variety Produce on #LAFoodCulture
By: Elizabeth Weinstein
In 1991, when I was four years old, the Hollywood Farmers' Market opened. A five-minute jaunt down the hill from my house, the market was at Sunset & Vine, in the center of Hollywood and, as I would later realize, my life.
My parents worked as journalists for the L.A. Times, and both covered labor issues and immigration. They weren't hippy-granola-wheatgrass people, but they knew firsthand what life was like for underpaid, illegal farm workers; an opportunity to shorten the supply chain and get to know the farmers who grew their food appealed to them deeply.
I grew up knowing that it made sense to eat citrus in the winter; that cucumbers in different shapes and colors came from Armenia and Japan and Persia; that eggplants got their name because originally, they were white and shaped like an egg.
I loved these things, but it never occurred to me that I myself would sell them. As it turned out, in 2013 I ended up talking with some folks from Melissa's, a specialty produce distributor whose reach ended up being much farther than my local Gelson's, where I'd seen their logo with the cute carrot replacing the letter "i".
The Sunday before my first interview, I asked Tony Thacher, the farmer from Ojai whose Pixie tangerines and fresh-squeezed orange juice had been a lifelong staple, if he had ever heard of Melissa's. "They're my biggest customer," he said. The answer surprised me. I liked the idea that people across the country enjoyed Tony's Pixies. And now, I really like working for Melissa's, where I do marketing.
It's gratifying to make fruits and vegetables available to more people, whether that be at a grocery store in New York or Iowa or at sporting venues like Staples, Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. When I was younger, nachos and hot dogs were more or less it for Dodger games. Now, you can get all kinds of things, including fresh fruit from Melissa's, at the stadiums. I love that Angelenos no longer need to pack ahead to make sure they can eat healthy at the game—they can just pick up an apple or tangerine or veggie sticks at the stadium.
I've now been working for Melissa's for four years, and I've found it to be a veritable wonderland, a continually delicious education. New delights have included pink lemons, tamarillos, mangosteens, soursop...and just when I get big headed enough to think I've seen almost everything, a heatless habanero lands or bubblegum-pink Rosa di Veneto radicchio lands on my desk. And the fascination begins again.
I still see Tony almost every Sunday, and although more farmers' markets are popping up across the country, most Americans still don't have access to the kind of bounty Southern California provides. However, many people can now find some of the world's best produce in their own grocery stores. What should they search out? "Just look for the carrot," I like to say.
Thank you so much to Elizabeth for writing about her perspective #LAFoodCulture for the Food Tribe blog!
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