Jarheads and Sex Slaves 

Grass-fed beef and organic veggies in a jar: This culinary revolution doesn't come cheap. Local Korean Americans take issue with the Chronicle's recent sex-slave series.

Sustainable Convenience : Revolution will have to wait as Jessica Prentice figures out how to stick labels onto wet Mason jars.

It's late on a Wednesday afternoon and Prentice, along with her four partners in the Berkeley food collective Three Stone Hearth, is frantically preparing for the weekly subscriber food pickup.

Three Stone's cavernous commercial kitchen in West Berkeley hums with the crazed energy of any restaurant a half-hour before opening. But every bit of food here, like these jars of pickled wax beans and stir-fry veggies from local organic growers, will leave through the back door. It's a model Three Stone launched in June. "We call it a CSK, or community-supported kitchen," says Larry Wisch, one of the partners. "You know, like CSA."

He means community-supported agriculture, in which people sign up to receive weekly boxes of farm produce. Wisch is wearing a T-shirt that reads "Stop bitching, start a revolution." But Three Stone's particular revolution — supporting small-scale farming by turning local crops into pre-made convenience foods — is a tangle of unforeseen obstacles. Such as figuring out how to get labels to stick. And creating dishes that aren't so expensive that only the fabulously wealthy can afford them.

Prentice, former education director for the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market and author of Full Moon Feast, says the biggest challenge is selling people on the cost. "When you pay for the true cost of food, it's expensive," she says, repeating the mantra of Bay Area food activism: that a food system based on factory farming and global distribution is artificially cheap. She admits that a few subscribers have cancelled, complaining about steep prices.

But pure ingredients, such as genuinely free-range chickens from Clark Summit Farm in West Marin, don't come cheap. "We've been out to see them," Prentice says. "They're pastured." And they have a wholesale price of $4.75 a pound, which means Three Stone has to charge $15 a quart for chicken stew. "But we're keeping the land in agriculture," she says. "That's only doable if people value all of that."

Some of the company's 170 or so subscribers, a mix of the health-conscious and the food-savvy, begin to trickle in to its now-open kitchen. Prentice, still having problems with the labels, instructs a Rockridge mom how to turn jars of marinated grass-fed beef, veggies, and cloudy-looking liquid into stir-fry. "Make sure you shake the tamari-mirin sauce," she patiently tells the woman, whose young daughters are fidgeting in pink footed pajamas. "You can see all the arrowroot is sinking to the bottom."

If Prentice and her partners do manage to spark a revolution, she acknowledges with a laugh, it'll be an incremental one. One Full Belly Farm Cherokee Purple tomato at a time. — John Birdsall

'How Can We Hold Our Heads Up?' : The San Francisco Chronicle received hundreds of responses to its titillating recent four-part series, "Diary of a Sex Slave." Everyone from parents concerned about the bold A-1 headlines to sex workers, johns, and everyday folks lauded and/or lambasted the report, which focused on the plight of You Mi Kim, a South Korean woman trafficked to San Francisco as a sex worker.

Nowhere did it cause more consternation than among local Korean Americans. Korean-language dailies — The Korea Times, which has offices in Oakland, and Korea Daily in Union City — each ran several articles in response. And more than twenty local Korean-American organizations have signed a petition demanding that the Chronicle apologize for what the petition calls "lurid" and "one-sided" coverage.

One front-page piece in The Korea Daily October 9 took issue with generalizations by Chron reporter Meredith May, especially the contention that being a golf caddy in South Korea is "one of the few legal women's jobs that bring hefty tips from rich men" and that "the idea that college is a place for women to meet eligible husbands is still widely held in a country where it's rare to see a female politician, judge, or professor."

"The mainstream article really implied some linkage between the Korean community and prostitution," Korea Daily reporter Daniel Lee says in an interview. "The Korean community, people worry about some wrong impression."

Korea Times managing editor Tae Soo Jeong said his paper got many phone calls about the Chron series, and published five stories in response. "You Mi's case is the fact, but You Mi is not all of the world," he says. "That's why we are very deeply concerned about the aftermath of the articles. Some say, 'How can we hold our heads up?'"

Times reporter Young Joo Shin wanted to know why the Chron focused solely on a Korean victim. To be fair, the first installment, published October 6, noted that women trafficked to the United States are predominantly from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, and South America.

Ann Menzie of Richmond, whom Shin interviewed, said she didn't think the articles focused unfairly on Korean culture. But she had other concerns. "I have to give the writer credit for digging this out and putting it to the community's light so that people will have to read and be aware of this going on," Menzie says. "But again, it's gotten sensationalized. How many full pages every day?"

The author expected some criticism. "If you read the story closely, you will see it's not just a South Korean problem," May says. "But if you are South Korean and sensitive, you'll skip over those things." The writer says she's received more than two hundred e-mails about her articles, and gets more every day. Overall, she estimates, about 70 percent were positive, and only about fifteen to twenty came from Korean Americans.

"Just having traveled in Korea, I can understand where some of the criticism is coming from," May says, "because the way my interpreter told it to me, and the people that I met and interviewed, the Korean culture is very quiet about sex in general and especially sex for sale. So it's a taboo topic."

The Chronicle also heard from its blog readers. "The choice of 'smoky' seductively lit photos of asian women for starters, with the caption 'diary of a sex slave'. That's something that could easily be on the cover of a porn rag," commented one reader who identified herself as Korean American.

That's something May herself might have changed. She expressed some regret about the large, somewhat sexy photos, which You Mi had approved. "I think that we are a little bit culpable of showing her in a way that could be exploitative," the reporter says, "that I wish we had thought that through a little bit more."

May has her own issues with The Korea Times, which retold large portions of the story and republished the photos without permission. She said the Chron's legal team is now looking into whether it can be considered plagiarism. — Kathleen Richards


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