The SF Chronicle business section profiled the owner of a small French bakery last week, and I was particularly struck by this quote:
“I don’t depend on anyone else. I don’t depend on bankers. I don’t extend myself financially. I have the good things in life. I don’t need much more.”
As he slides the St. Honore cake into the case, he says, “Let’s face it. I’m a dinosaur. I do most everything from scratch.
“I don’t hire other people to do what I can do. I’d rather do it myself.”
I think in many ways this is the appeal of cooking, and the siren call of the small food business for so many of us (like our dream of a pig business). You do it yourself. There’s a certain clarity to making something edible, and selling it to someone else. Unlike the jobs at which so many of us make our livings, jobs like mine at the Big Corporation, where you’re so often at the mercy of schedules set by other people, and co-workers who may or may not rise to the occasion, and all sorts of other murky circumstances like the economy or the stock price over which we have no control, I think it’s the clarity expressed by this baker that makes small food businesses so appealing to many of us. You make something beautiful. You sell it to someone. And then you make another one.
Now I was in the book business long enough to know that this simplicity is a dream, not a reality, but as a certain presidential candidate keeps telling us, there is nothing false in our dreams of creating a better world for ourselves, our families and our communities. The Jeffersonian ideal of a nation of smallholders, whether farmers or tradesmen, has an ongoing appeal … even to those of us currently shackled by the “golden handcuffs” of 401ks and stock options (and jobs we don’t hate, we just don’t always love).