By Lauren Sheehan-Clark
In many ways, the history of food is the history of our world. It’s present in all aspects of day-to-day life; it shapes everything from our culture to our consumer habits. Food can inform us about politics and economics, environmentalism and land use — all issues of global importance — or it can reveal intimate stories of family, friendship, and generational strength. Ask someone about what they eat and drink, and you’ll hear their story.
At the UC Berkeley Oral History Center, our historians do just that. Interviews related to the history of food, food systems, and agriculture have long been a mainstay of the OHC’s research agenda, and reading through the Food and Agriculture project makes that abundantly clear. With more than 100 interviews dating back to the 1950s, the collection forms an impressive resource for scholars, students, and members of the general public alike.
Interviews range in scope from studies of the dairy industry to tales of local bakeries, but the heart of this collection is an expansive series on the California wine industry launched in 1969. Discover the rich history of California wine from Prohibition to Y2K as told by the winemakers, marketers, researchers, and countless others who had a direct hand in shaping the industry. And with interviews from famed enology and viticulture professors from UC Berkeley and UC Davis — such as Harold Olmo, Albert Winkler, and Maynard Amerine — the California wine series also reveals a good deal of insight into university history and the connection between academia and industry.
Find these and all the Oral History Center’s interviews from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. You can also find projects, including the Food and Agriculture Individual Interviews project, through the menu on our home page from Oral Histories > Projects.
Here is just a small sampling of interviews related to Food and Agriculture:
Eric Sartenaer: Providing Bread and Pasta to the Bay Area
Former UC Berkeley student Eric Sartenaer was a baker and bread maker who established several eateries in the Berkeley and Kensington area. After working at the famed Cheese Board Collective for more than five years, he established Semifreddi’s bakery and cafe on Colusa Avenue in 1984 and a pasta restaurant named The Phoenix Pastificio in 1993. In his interview, Sartenaer discusses the restaurant scene in Berkeley, the history of Cheese Board and other popular eateries, and bread-making techniques.
André Tchelistcheff: Grapes, Wine, and Ecology
A giant in the California wine industry, André Tchelistcheff was the longtime vice president of Beaulieu Vineyards and a consultant to countless other vintners in Napa Valley. Tchelistcheff’s influence is unmistakable: his name echoes throughout the interviews of other winemakers in our collection, and among the many people who consider him a mentor are Napa Valley leaders such as Robert Mondavi and Louis Martini. In his interview, Tchelistcheff discusses winemaking in Europe and California, technological advancements in viticulture, and his secondary career as a vineyard consultant.
Cecilia Chiang: Chef and Businesswoman
Cecilia Chiang revolutionized Chinese cooking in the United States. A chef and businesswoman born in Wuxi, China, she established the first Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco in 1957 and built on her success to open a second location in Beverly Hills in 1975, all while acting as a consultant to new restaurants and providing cooking classes to Bay Area chefs. In her interview, Chiang discusses her life in China during the Japanese occupation, the importance of food and cooking, and the growth of Mandarin Restaurant into a culinary hotspot.
Harold Olmo: Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties
Harold Olmo was a leading figure in viticulture and enology and a professor at UC Davis, where he worked in the Department of Viticulture for more than forty years. A well-respected expert, Olmo worked with numerous agricultural organizations, including the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In his interview, he discusses the creation of new grape varieties, university-industry relations, and his research abroad in countries such as Afghanistan and Brazil.
Merry Edwards: Meredith Vineyard Estate
Another UC Berkeley alum, Merry Edwards was a vintner and wine consultant who worked with numerous wineries in the Sonoma County region. Edwards worked as a winemaker for Mount Eden Vineyards and Matanzas Creek Winery in addition to producing wines independently, later establishing the Merry Edwards Winery in 2006. In her interview, Edwards speaks frankly on the discrimination against women in the wine industry and discusses her early introduction to wine, experiments with fruit wine in college, and differences between European and American winemaking.
Whether you’re researching changes in American business practices over the twentieth century or are simply curious about the history of a local Berkeley restaurant, our Food and Agriculture collection has you covered. So sit back, grab yourself a bite to eat, and dive into these interviews to learn the story behind your food and drinks.
Lauren Sheehan-Clark is a senior at UC Berkeley studying history and English and is an editorial assistant at the Oral History Center.