New Agtivist Q&A with John Scharffenberger: First wine, then chocolate, and now … tofu?
(Bart Nagel Photography)A. They came to us with a crazy amount of money. Robert had health problems. I had about 23% of the stock; I had no control over the outcome. I dragged my feet for as long as I could. Robert wanted to sell, most of the board wanted to sell. At the end of the day, they doubled the price and I would have been an asshole not to say yes.
Q. Do you still eat the chocolate?
A. Oh yeah! They are making some really good single-origin stuff. They don’t know how to market it though.
Q. Who inspires you?
A. [Food system journalist] Michael Pollan, though I don’t agree with everything he says. I love his energy about explaining things. [Kitchen scientist] Harold McGee; I really like him. There are ton of gardeners I think are amazing.
Q. Name a book or two that you return to over and over.
A. McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.
Q. What’s your earliest food memory?
A. My mom was a really good cook. Not fancy, we never had a canned or frozen vegetable — though I hated vegetables. Honestly, my favorite thing was a really good bakery roll with a lot of poppy seeds — a hardroll they call them back East — with fresh butter from my dad’s farm.
Q. Your dad had a farm?
A. Just briefly, then he went bankrupt — took him 20 years to pay it off.
Q. Do you have a junk-food weakness?
A. I like chili dogs. I try to eat Lets Be Frank dogs … but I think all hot dogs are great. I never go to New York without getting a street dog. With sauerkraut.
Q. Company drops by unexpectedly around dinnertime. What do you do?
A. I open a bottle of wine and say sit down, relax, this will take a while. Then I walk straight out to my garden. If it’s winter, they get a lot of kale and leeks. I always have food here. I grow maybe half the food I eat, maybe more. I’m big on omelets and souffles.
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A. I sleep really well. That’s the nice thing about working with people you like and trying to do everything as well as you can.
Q. What? You don’t lie awake thinking about climate change and the oil spill like the rest of us?
A. Oh, the world’s a mess! A total mess! And it’s been a mess since I was a kid. I think you become much more Buddhist as you get older. You shouldn’t complain about things you don’t control. I certainly vote and am involved in the electoral process, but mainly I try to make what I do benefit people.
I speak a lot at business schools, and I ask how many people are there to make money. And then I say why don’t you just quit school and be drug dealers then? Because business school is about making things for people. That’s why you should be here.