Working for Good, Clean, Fair Food for All - Slow Food Urban San Diego Convivium of Slow Food International

A Depression-Era Reflection of the San Diego Fishing Industry

In observation of the upcoming Sustainable Seafood Week, how about a little (art) history lesson? This is the story of a recently discovered mural depicting the San Diego fishing industry of the 1930s.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Back in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal agency developed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the US Congress to give employment to the many Americans who were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. Known as one of the largest job-creation programs in the history of the US, the WPA commissioned millions of Americans–many unskilled laborers, but also musicians, writers, actors, directors, and artists–to carry out projects designed to help pull the country out of economic decline. Bridges, parks, and schools were built, and numerous literary, musical, and arts projects were developed.

As part of the WPA, the Federal Art Project (FAP) employed hundreds of artists who created in total more than 100,000 paintings and murals, as well as more than 18,000 sculptures. You may have heard of some of the artists that were employed by this project: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Stuart Davis, and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few. And you may have seen some of the great murals that have resulted from these WPA efforts, as many have been preserved in post offices, courthouses, and schools across the nation. Typically, the murals tell us a great deal about society during the Great Depression, because Social Realism was the popular style at the time. Depicted are everyday scenes of the working class and the poor as critical commentaries about the institutions that perpetuate their plights.

Many FAP projects were commissioned right here in San Diego, and some excellent murals have been preserved throughout the county, such as the “Progress of Man” at the Balboa Park Club, “The Transportation of the Mail” at the downtown post office, and the “Scenic View of the Village” at the La Jolla Post Office.

Several murals were also commissioned for the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus for the iconic Hardy Tower. Surprisingly, these murals, assumed to be destroyed long ago when Hardy Tower was renovated in the 1950s, were only recently rediscovered during ceiling repairs. Seth Mallios, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at SDSU, has worked extensively on efforts to document, recover, restore, and preserve these important aspects of San Diego and SDSU history.

One mural at SDSU has been of particular interest. The 25-foot long “San Diego Industry” was completed in 1936 by SDSU student George Sorenson, and provides an excellent snapshot of the tuna fish industry in San Diego at the time. This restored mural, and others, are now displayed prominently in the SDSU Library Dome, and this video provides an excellent full view of the mural along with an informative discussion by Mallios.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Each step of the industry is depicted in the mural, though not all of it has survived the years of neglect. On the left-hand side of the mural we see men fishing, weighing the fish, and then gutting them. In the middle we see women in assembly lines, and to the far right, Asian men are working in front of bins of cylindrical cans. Mallios assumes that Sorenson used as his model for the mural the Van Camp Seafood Company, which had the first commercial tuna canneries, one of which was located in San Diego.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry" featuring Asian men separated from other workers

One interesting aspect of “San Diego Industry” is that it features the diversity of people who worked in the tuna fish industry at the time: men and women, Asians, and African Americans; though, as Mallios observes, not everyone worked side-by-side. Sorenson’s placement of figures within the scene says a lot about American society in the 1930s.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry" featuring women on assembly lines. Per Mallios, women were "an essential part of the industrial process".

Additional murals continue to be discovered in SDSU’s more historic buildings, and a dedicated webpage has been created to document efforts to preserve these important pieces of SDSU history. You can also read more about the WPA murals and Mallios’ work to restore them in The SOAP.



The Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef

Are you planning to attend Slow Food URBAN San Diego’s mixer on February 26th? We’re having it at the Gaslamp Burger Lounge, one of a chain of Certified Green Restaurants known for their grass-fed beef. So what’s the big deal about grass-fed beef? Why is it important?

Pasture-fed cow

Photo courtesy of The Stone Blog

Well, aside from having a better quality of life by being able to graze for their food, grass-fed or “pasture-fed” cows are fed a diet that is made up of mostly grass and other types of forage, as opposed to the grain-fed cattle who may be fed a diet consisting of corn, soy, and supplements in more confined feedlots.

A cow’s digestive system is designed for grass, and it does not handle a diet of corn or soy very well. Because of this, cows fed on corn and soy often experience digestive problems that warrant the use of antibiotics to resolve those ailments – ailments that wouldn’t occur if the cows hadn’t been fed such a diet in the first place. The extra acid that builds in their stomachs increases flatulence (and associated polluting methane gas in the atmosphere), and also appears to encourage growth of E.coli. Grass-fed cattle have up to 80% less of the E.coli strain in their guts compared to grain-fed cattle, per a study by James Russell of Cornell University (see Rumen Microbiology and Its Role in Ruminant Nutrition).

Some have speculated that the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” is attributed in part to this regular use of antibiotics in raising grain-fed cattle. Grass-fed cows, on the other hand, have the diet their bodies are designed for, and are healthier for it, as they don’t require this added antibiotic regimen.

Michael Pollan gives a nice detailed explanation about the use of antibiotics in cattle in This Steer’s Life, if you want to read more. Or you can get the same story in his fascinating book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

If the reasons above aren’t enough for you to want to choose grass-fed over grain-fed beef, there are other reasons. Pasture-based farming also has environmental benefits: less soil erosion, greater soil fertility, and less pollution. Grass-fed beef is leaner, which translates to fewer grams of fat and fewer calories in your diet. It is also higher in certain omega-3s as well as conjugated linoleic acid, which is theorized to have anticancer benefits. For more information, you can refer to the Union of Concerned Citizens’ detailed report, Greener Pastures: How Grass-Fed Beef and Milk Contribute to Healthy Eating, which details the nutritional benefits of grass-fed beef. These benefits, in addition to a clearer conscience about how what you eat impacts the animals and the environment, are all good reasons to show your support for grass-fed beef!