Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Sunflower Seeds: San Diego’s Ancient Food Comes Home
Beth spits out her mouthful of sunflower seeds. You gotta admire this. From time immemorial you could divide the human race into those who could and those who couldn't...crack off multiple shells in the mouth, eat the meat, and ptooey! Expel those shells dry, like confetti into the ditch.
"We're just a small company," Beth says. "Boulder, Colorado. Sunflower seeds are what we’re all about."
She and Dan are here for Bigs Sunflower Seeds, giving the danged things away, four packets for each of us heading into Mission Brewery's barn (at 1441 L Street, near 12th and Imperial). They’re doing this all over the west, looks like, to promote their product and try to get a leg up against giants like Frito Lay.
The two of them work away under a red plastic canopy, with a pile of different-flavored sunflower seeds: sizzlin’ bacon, dill pickle, buffalo wing, and original salted and roasted.
They are trying to spread the word around all the sporting venues that this little company named Bigs is serious about nutrition one seed at a time — from one of the oldest providers of fat to humanity: the sunflower.
And guess what?
The sunflower is a San Diego native. It came from here.
True! Okay, let’s say the Southwest and Baja. It was the Indians of this region who first started evolving sunflowers to grow seeds in one big flower pod, like, 5000 years ago. Maybe even before corn.
Why? Fat. The deer and other food sources never had enough of it. The were too lean. But the sunflower seed is pure fat. The good kind.
Back then they used to make bread from it, dye clothes purple with it, and even develop a snakebite medicine from it.
Around 1500, Spanish conquistadors took sunflowers back to Europe, and then Peter the Great of Russia imported it, and Russia became one huge sunflower field. They used it for oil and food. Pretty soon everyone thought of sunflowers as a Russian thing. It wasn’t till about 100 years ago that the sunflower came back to the rest of Europe and then, finally, home to North America.
And now, looky here. Missionaries from Colorado, spreading the word about our good seed. Déjà vu all over again.
This gal Mary comes up.
"What's up? Free sunflower seeds? I GOT sunflower seeds, dude."
And — Shock! Horror! — she produces a pack of sunflower seeds by…Frito Lay.
"You know what? Those are the giants," says Dan. "Why are you buying from those big guys?"
You have to appreciate his argument. Especially right here. We're next to Mission Brewery, one of the beer Davids of San Diego facing down the Goliaths like Anheuser-Busch. This is like standing outside with a can of Bud in your hand.
But Mary doesn't go all apologetic. "I'll take one, but we’ll have to see which is better."
Problem is, she heads inside, and I never find her in the crowd to hear who the winner is.
Beth says that among the flavors she has, dill pickle is by far the most popular. But for me the winner is either sizzlin’ bacon or buffalo wing.
Now all I’ve got left to do is to perfect that shell-expel technique.
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