February 20, 2008
Empty Calories

Cooking Light magazine is smart, lively and helpful, but my confidence in its reporting is rattled. Or maybe it's my confidence in Sacramento that is rattled. I've been convinced that Sacramento is a pretty healthful place to live. We've got all kinds of farmers markets, a long riverside trail to invite year-round exercise, several natural-food stores, supermarkets with large departments devoted to produce and organic foods, a growing network of metropolitan bike lanes, and so on and so forth.

But to celebrate their 20th anniversary, editors of Cooking Light decided to compile a list of the 20 cities in the United States that best fit the magazine's philsophy to eat smart, be fit and live well, and Sacramento didn't make the cut. Seattle tops the list, largely for its "abundance of fresh local foods, walker-friendly streets, and inclusive attitudes." I don't know what "inclusive attitudes" means, or how the editors measured them, but isn't Sacramento reputedly the country's most diverse city?

Other cities rounding out the top 10 are Portland, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Tucson. Even Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Las Vegas made the full list, but not Sacramento.

Cooking Light's editors include with their online report the 15 criteria they used to compile the list, such as relying on the James Beard Foundation to tell them whether a city has any "critically acclaimed food professionals." As someone who has followed the James Beard Awards for years, I can tell you the foundation has trouble recognizing anything west of the Mississippi River. To determine whether a city has any notable restaurants, Cooking Light's editors relied on the Zagat Survey, which doesn't know Sacramento exists.

To determine how many farmers markets a city has, Cooking Light relied on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer's Markets Directory and When I visited the USDA site and punched in a request for farmers markets in Sacramento I got this response: "There were no farmers markets found matching your criteria." In a similar search at the Web site of I was told of farmers markets at Sun City Lincoln Hills, Sutter Creek, Capay Valley and Sonoma, but not a single one in Sacramento.

Something's light at Cooking Light, all right, but it isn't necessarily the cooking.

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