The Playful Plateful: Claremont Restaurant "Presses" for Food Sustainability

By Kate Pluth '12, Copy Editor

What characterizes The Press, that cozy restaurant and bar on Harvard Avenue in the Village? Trivia night, good wine. Healthful entrées, addictive garlic fries. But what you may not know about The Press is that it commits itself to food sustainability.

About 30 to 50 percent of The Press’s ingredients are sustainably sourced, and about 10 to 15 percent of ingredients come from within 100 miles of the restaurant. Owner Steve Rudicel is also one of the founders of Mariposa Creamery in Alta Dena—the “micro-creamery” produces milk and cheese, owns around 16 goats and offers a range of cheese-making, goat-keeping and cooking classes.

Rudicel shared with me one particularly salient back-story about the eggs The Press uses. Sugarhouse Farms of Alta Dena—essentially a neighbor of Rudicel’s Mariposa Creamery—raises chickens for organic, soy-free eggs. In an email, Rudicel wrote that the owner of Sugarhouse Farms “was sick of people complaining about $5 a dozen for eggs and was going to quit this incredible and inspiring project he started. Anyway, I asked him where it made sense to continue, break even, make a little money, feel good about what he was doing. [He replied the cost would be] eight dollars per dozen [eggs]. So we started buying every egg his girls could lay for The Press at eight dollars.” To put this in perspective, the average cost for a dozen eggs produced through large industries is around two dollars. This marks a pretty solid dedication to the type of establishment The Press hopes to be—one that supports community efforts and humane practices that can be sustained over time.

It wasn’t always that way at The Press. When Rudicel started the restaurant 16 years ago with two partners, he saw the need to have vegetarian options with a home-cooked vibe, but wasn’t yet concerned about food sustainability in the business. And with their present sourcing configuration, there are certain sacrifices involved; Rudicel admits that they “make less profit than other restaurants [that] are buying all conventional ingredients.”

Yet he also emphasizes how those sacrifices are worth it, and how food produced conventionally as opposed to sustainably, though it may be cheaper at check- out, has other environmental and health costs not included in the price tag. Speaking of the eggs again, “Eggs are only cheap because of subsidies and inhumane animal husbandry... If subsidies, say the soy subsidies that make soybeans the number one ingredient in almost all animal feed despite that that is not what animals should be eating, became subsidies and help for small farmers, great eggs

would be cheaper,” Rudicel wrote, “But if you’ve ever raised a chicken, you know that eggs can’t cost 99 cents a dozen without some shortcuts, shenanigans, and, in all seriousness, suffering.” Rudicel also described his belief that sustainable food is healthier food—for those who produce it and the plants and animals involved, as well as the consumer who eats it—so paying more for food now helps hedge healthcare costs later.

These ideas may seem radical, and when you take into account so many of the obstacles facing people of lower socioeconomic status, they may not be feasible for everyone, at least at this point in time.

Yet it’s difficult not to appreciate The Press’s efforts, since the restaurant does have the ability to support smaller local or environmentally sustainable businesses. Advocacy for food sustainability and food justice, though on the rise, still consists mostly of grassroots organizations and individuals like Rudicel.

So the next time you go to The Press, be your drink alcoholic or no, give a toast to the approaching summer and to the improved quality of the fare you eat there.