Crab and the Community: Slow Crab and Oyster Fest 2009

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In a neighborhood house designed by Julia Morgan in the early twenties, San Franciscans sat looking out at the night lights of the bridges and buildings below. Well, it wasn’t quite that calm. There was laughter, wine, and crab all set to the music of local band Mighty Mississippi. But every now and then the low-hanging moon would demand attention, seeming to pull the distant city a little closer together. And that was the spirit of the night; the distant made close. Every element of the night had something to say to the other elements. The building itself serves as a multi-generational meeting ground for after-school programs, senior nutrition classes, and a variety of programs geared toward children caught up in the juvenile corrections system. The crab was served by students of the California Culinary Academy. The dessert, provided by the San Francisco Baking Institute. Beverages came from all over the Bay Area from Bodega Del Sur Winery, Magnanimus Wine Group, Thirsty Bear Brewing Company, and Citizen Bean. In between conversations held by the guests, if you listened closely, you could hear a conversation of community. That is to say that without words, the generosity of all those involved made its presence felt.

It was the perfect post-Thanksgiving night of giving thanks. All the things I forgot to be thankful for last week, I now had an opportunity to acknowledge. I am thankful that in a big city far from what I call home, I happen to sit next to a fellow-Midwesterner. I am thankful that there is such a city, such an organization, that can gather people whose interest in food grew out of diverse landscapes. From the farm kids of the Midwest, to the couple who flew in just for the Slow Crab and Oyster Fest from New Jersey, to the San Francisco natives who grew up knowing the start of crab season, Slow Food has a place for everyone. It has a place for the State Senator, the fisherman, the aspiring chef, the college student, the social activist, and the concerned eater.

And what brought us all together? Fresh Dungeness crab from the local Monterey Fish Market and delicious oysters from Drakes Bay Oysters. I am woefully inexperienced in the art of eating crab but I think it must be fun at any experience level. We compared cracking techniques and celebrated the successful removal of a full piece of leg meat. It was a meal whose own consumption involved us in a bit of theater as we waited to see if the latest crunch would be victorious. But the crab took on a new role in a drama laid out as Senator Mark Leno, Zeke Grader from the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and Paul Johnson of Monterey Fish Market spoke to the well-fed crowd.

That crab we enjoyed is in danger. Essentially, the issue is that out-of-town fishermen come to the Bay Area for relatively early season-opening date before moving on to fish elsewhere. Their presence depletes crab for our local fishermen. Many of the out-of-town boats come with hundreds more traps than the local boats use, effectively ending the season early. Mark Leno has introduced legislation,AB749, to limit trap numbers and entry for a two-year trial period to be reviewed by the Department of Fish and Game. Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed it twice. We must write, call, and email his office to let him know that he cannot veto it again. As the PCFFA (or the Fishermen’s Liberation Front for those of you at the Crab and Oyster Fest) notes, this measure, “was intended to: (1) prevent waste (when too much crab hits the market at once); (2) promote safer fishing conditions (avoiding the race for crab); (3) create a stable labor force and keep crab processing in California: (4) assure a supply of fresh, local crab over the course of the season, and; (5) protect the marine environment from lost crab traps on the ocean bottom.” For more information check out to read about crab fishing, aquaculture, salmon, even fishermen’s health care.

And, as we were reminded last night, the fork is also a powerful tool when wielded in collaboration with the policy. If you’re interested in recipes for this season’s seafood, check out I suggest the homemade gefilte fish recipe. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Dungeness crab. It would be the prefect dish to serve at your letter-writing dinner to remind Governor Schwarzenegger why crab is a critical part of San Francisco’s traditions.

I’m sure the couple from New Jersey and all other transplants would share my sentiments in saying, thank you San Francisco for sharing and defending this tradition.

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