Breaking news: Boulder is not new. Full disclosure, dear readers: I’ve just returned from a visit to Denver, where I was born and spent the first half of my life. So, I may still be a little too steeped in Colorado cannabis-and-craft beer culture to have read Stephanie Strom’s Saturday story for the New York Times with the distance it seems was required to write it.
In case you missed it, here’s the headline: “Foodies know: Boulder Has Become a Hub for New Producers.” Let me start there. One of the challenges we face in writing about food for curious eaters lies in making meaningful distinctions between the mere existence of new, food-related entrepreneurial ventures and the ways they’re actually changing the food system (if, in fact, they actually are). Leaving aside for the moment my strong desire to retire the term “foodie” from the “locavore” lexicon (“locavore” could go, too), and the height my hackles have reached on reading quotes from yet another “Forbes 30 under 30 food entrepreneurs” A-lister, the truth is that Boulder has been a hub for new producers for a very, very long time.
Case in point: Strom mentions the networking nights for small food and drink producers that local organization Naturally Boulder holds every month. She then goes on to say how buoyed those nights are by the presence of “luminaries” like Steve Demos, whom Strom calls “the founder of Silk” soymilk—though that’s not totally accurate. Demos is the former CEO of White Wave, which makes Silk, and has been acquired by an ever-larger succession of parent companies: first Dean Foods in 1998, then Suiza Foods, and now French food conglomerate, Danone—a sale that’s been delayed until sometime in the first quarter of this year.
But the piece neglects to mention a key detail—why Demos is a luminary. And that detail matters because it’s evidence for the case I’m building on why Boulder really isn’t “becoming” but rather, “has been” (and the broader case I’m building that food journalists should skip the celebratory in favor of the sagacious): Before White Wave made Silk, it made tofu. Demos founded the company on a $500 loan, in a small kitchen, stirring tofu by hand in an iron cauldron and taking it by the wagonful to local stores. Where? Boulder. When? 40 years ago.
In other words, Demos was doing in the late 1970s what the article claims is newly happening now. And Strom omits entirely the later history of the company—a sequence of corporate acquisitions that tells us way more about how the food system is changing than the fact that the latest wave of fancy snackmakers has moved in down the block.
For more on that humble Demos origin story, Colorado Public Radio host Ryan Warner interviewed Demos back in August. You can listen to it here. And, for what it’s worth, Warner also missed an opportunity to provide listeners with context when he neglected to ask Demos for insight into why Boulder has continuously been a hub for the natural foods movement for all these years (early adoption of the organic ethos, a supportive public, pioneering environmental legislation). Come on, we really can do better.
But here’s another reason this was the wrong story to tell about new food entrepreneurs—and the wrong city in which to set it. Boulder, frankly, is a certain kind of city for a certain kind of entrepreneur. And by that I mean, if we’re going to deem it a “hub” just because a bunch of wide-eyed, comfortable white people, who are putting down roots in a roots-and-juice kinda town so that they can commune with other wide-eyed, comfortable white people, let’s at least be honest about the fact that such a “hub” is an enclave-within-an-enclave; the outer shell being a city in which the average household income is, according to realty website Point2Homes, $93,106.
All that is to say, Boulder, and its hub of friends-and-family-seeded entrepreneurs, doesn’t need the press. Merriam-Webster defines the word “become” this way: “to undergo change or development.” A headline including that word would imply…well, development. Devoting coverage to an already-thriving industry in an already-thriving town sorta defeats the point of covering what’s becoming.
If we must laud a “hub”, might we at least consider lauding one in a city where an independent, community-loving, yoga-hosting, local-producer-supporting grocery like Alfalfa’s Market (also mentioned in Strom’s story) has not already been in operation for more than thirty years?