When I contacted the Secret Eating Society to request an interview, all I knew about them is that whatever they do involves eating and it's secret. The cofounders, Marissa Guggiana and Sarah Domke, unaware of my naiveté, agree to meet with me to discuss . . . whatever it is that they do. As we chat over coffee, Domke and Guggiana seem slightly puzzled by my apparent lack of investigative savoir-faire, but I assure them that they came to me by good recommendation, and that, though I may not know what it is they do, my journalistic hunch is telling me that whatever it is, the Green Zone deserves to know about it.
As it turns out, Domke and Guggiana help to publish a quarterly magazine, The Secret Eating Society. The most recent issue of this adroit little glossy contains such delectable bits as a flower eater's guide, sepia-toned prints of local beekeepers, an essay documenting one man's quest to discover the best brain tacos in San Francisco's Mission District and the fragrant recounting of one woman's love affair with her restaurant in Georgia.
Domke and Guggiana are a little vague when it comes to describing the more interactive aspect of the Secret Eating Society. First of all, their gatherings or parties or whatever you want to call them come at random times, when, as Domke puts it, the "factors" come together. Their last was a cooperative event involving picking, pressing and making cider from some 600 pounds of local apples over a long weekend. Participants camped out, made cider, cooked, ate and shared ideas and enthusiasm with each other. When the hard stuff is ready—it's currently being stored in an undisclosed location—SES members will come together once again for a lamb roast and cider drinking.
Domke and Guggiana have hosted an aphrodisiac dinner, a dinner in which participants were blindfolded and a third of July barbecue. Over the summer, they created a small 10-member CSA from the produce that Domke grew in their own backyard, with the biweekly pickup always including a liquor-drenched Slow Food–informed homemade brunch.
Domke and Guggiana are firm believers in the power of the cooperative, and their next event, they assure, is going to be extra special. Unfortunately, they can't tell me anything about it, because it's a secret. All they can say is that they are collaborating with Scratch and Sniff TV and SFZero, and that it will involve some type of scavenger hunt. Later, when I research Scratch and Sniff TV, I find a video of someone roasting a pig and someone else deep-frying a trout, which doesn't do much to dispel the mystery. SFZero seems to be a fascinating interactive online game, involving real-life adventure challenges, with complex enough rules that I am both flummoxed and intrigued.
A Slow Food Russian River co-leader and a 2008 Roots of Change Fellow, Guggiana also happens to be the co-leader of the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club (in partnership with UC Davis Ag Extension), as well as the president of Sonoma Direct, which provides distribution of fresh, local meats and is also staffed by Domke. Sonoma Direct works predominantly with Sonoma County lamb ranchers. The land in this area is ideal for lamb, Guggiana says. In fact, lamb farms existed for five generations in Sonoma County before the grapes and the developers moved in. While working in her family's local food-distribution service, Guggiana began to recognize a need. With local lamb on the decline, and meat coming from as far away as New Zealand to feed people in California, there was an opportunity.
This is what we can grow here, Guggiana tells me, so why not fashion a distribution company around it? A vital aspect of Guggiana's job is to raise awareness and communicate with ranchers, chefs and club members regarding sustainability. Meat becomes very hard to process when everyone wants the same three cuts, she explains, and we end up killing lambs just for their racks. To this end, Guggiana—who curated the charcuterie tent at the recent Slow Food San Francisco convivial—works with local chefs to create and distribute recipes to CSA members that showcase their disparate cuts of meat.
While some blame the breakdown of the family unit for many of our culture's ills, there are those of us who blame the TV dinner. If you exist within the latter realm, consider becoming a member of Secret Eating Society and, perhaps even more importantly, consider joining the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club. This unusual CSA offers a once a month pick-up, with seven-, 15- or 25-pound boxes of locally grown meat—including beef, pork, chicken and lamb—and a chance to eat the freshest food possible, all carefully selected from within a 25-mile radius of distribution.
Something that great shouldn't be a secret.
For more information on Secret Eating Society, go to www.secreteatingsociety.com. For more information on Sonoma County Meat Buyers Club, go to http:-/groups.ucanr.org-LocalMeatProd. For more information on Sonoma Direct, go to [ http:-/www.sonomadirect.com- ]www.sonomadirect.com.