Monday, August 14, 2017

Eating the Impossible

By C.J. Hirschfield

A classic dry martini, a retro wedge salad with bleu cheese, and a burger. That’s what I enjoyed for dinner after a tough day last week. Something old, something new. The “new” was that my burger was the highly-touted “Impossible Burger,” the disruptive vegan patty that will soon be manufactured by Impossible Foods in East Oakland, providing up to 80 new jobs. I enjoyed my meal at KronnerBurger on Piedmont Ave.; the burger is also on the menu at Umami Burger in Uptown.

Impossible Burger had been in the news last week. The New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration, which had been asked by Impossible Burger to confirm that the patty’s secret sauce was safe for human consumption, had “expressed concern.” The sauce is made from soy leghemoglobin – “heme” for short – which is found naturally in soybean plant roots and created in the company’s laboratory.

Here’s part of the Impossible Foods response:

“Although there was never a reason to suspect that soy leghemoglobin would pose any more risk than myoglobin, or any of the new proteins we encounter in our diet all the time, we started four years ago to do a deep scientific study of its safety, including any potential for toxicity or allergenicity. The data we collected and our analyses were documented and reviewed by three independent food-safety experts in toxicology, allergenicity and yeast. In 2014, this expert panel unanimously concluded based on all the evidence that the protein is generally recognized as safe (‘GRAS’) for human consumption. This is the approach followed by thousands of food companies to meet the FDA requirement that foods be generally recognized as safe.”

Impossible Foods can still sell its burger despite the FDA’s “concern”; the agency did not, after all, conclude that soy leghemoglobin was unsafe. The company plans to resubmit a petition to the agency.

Which is how I found myself biting into a burger featuring an ingredient produced by a genetically engineered yeast. Why? First of all, I love burgers. Although I was a vegetarian for a few years in my youth, I found that an occasional hit of meat ensured that my energy level remains high.

Impossible Burger at KronnerBurger.

But I recognize the hugely negative impact on the environment that the production of beef entails. It takes a lot of land, water, food and time for cows to turn plants into meat. 

Compared to a burger made from cows, the company claims that making an Impossible Burger uses about one-twentieth as much land and one-quarter the amount of water, and produces one-eighth the greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to the controversial “heme,” the Impossible Burger contains wheat, potatoes for a crunchy exterior, and coconut oil for its fat.

Each burger contains 220 calories, 20 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat.

Cross-section of Impossible Burger (via

More than $250 million has been invested in Impossible Foods, the burger’s creators. The company has joined other pioneering Oakland food manufacturers like OCHO Chocolate and Hodo Soy in choosing Oakland for production.

So what’s my review? Well, the KronnerBurger martini was great, and the wedge salad was most excellent. And the Impossible Burger, I’m pleased to report, was very good.  I’m a regular consumer of veggie burgers, and I can say that the texture most directly mimics that of a beef patty.

One of the biggest draws of the Impossible Burger is said to be its red “blood,” which simulates the real thing. I’ve never cared much for the sight of blood in my burger, so that wasn’t a plus to me. But I like the fact that my Impossible Burger was not large, and with a great bun, sauce, pickles and lettuce, it was quite delightful.  It’s not cheap, though: $19 for the IB, versus $15 for the regular beef burger. 

Impossible Foods' stated goal is to produce 1 million pounds of plant-based "meat" per month  enough to serve 4 million Impossible Burgers   by the end of the year, in their still-under-construction facility near the Oakland Coliseum.

I have a feeling that once the Impossible Burger gets its final, formal OK from the FDA, the Bay Area’s environmentally-savvy and food-obsessed consumers will be more than willing to try “the burger that bleeds.” Ultimately, it will be the big investors like Bill Gates who’ll see if it bleeds money as well.

C.J. Hirschfield has served for 15 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Taking a Movie for a Ride

By C.J. Hirschfield

It was just announced that megastar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will star in a new Disney live-action movie based on Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise ride. A script is currently in the works. The attraction, which has operated since the park’s opening in 1955, and which simulates a riverboat cruise down several major rivers of Asia, Africa, and South America, features jungles filled with “dangerous” Audio-Animatronic animals and reptiles, and a skipper who fires his gun to scare off a rogue hippo. (The original plan for the ride was to use real animals, but the animals would have been sleeping during the day.)

Entrance to Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride.

Monday, July 24, 2017

This Musical Is Underwater!

By C.J. Hirschfield

Twenty-five years ago, a sparkly but selfish fish made its debut in the world of children’s books, and soon captured the hearts of countless kids all around the world.

Rainbow Fish is inordinately proud of his multicolored scales, to the point of putting off all of the fish who would otherwise be his friends. A starfish and a mysterious octopus help him understand that only by sharing the beauty of his scales will he be rewarded with good friends.

Now that story, originally written in German by Marcus Pfister and later translated into English by J. Alison James – has been transformed into a shimmering, song-filled live entertainment. And the only place you can see it right now is at Children’s Fairyland, in our Aesop’s Playhouse.

Neal Pascua as Rainbow Fish.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Twelfth Dragon

By C.J. Hirschfield

Interactive play is what Fairyland is all about. Everywhere they go, kids can engage in a hands-on way with the park and its attractions. With a playful adult by their side, kids can stimulate their imaginations and even learn. An extra plus — it’s fun!

For years, Fairyland has invited kids to discover Fairyland’s 11 dragons, who live all over our park. Some of our dragons are big, some small, and some are over your head—one is even covered all over with leaves. (We’re coming up with rhyming clues to help kids find them – stay tuned!) But none of our dragons was alive. Until now.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Home Is Where the Heat Is

By C.J. Hirschfield
The decision to locate Children’s Fairyland in downtown Oakland was made long before my time here – in 1948, to be exact. Ever since we opened in 1950, being in the heart of the city has had its up and downsides. It certainly is never dull.

Last Friday was one of those not-dull days.

Early in the morning I was awakened by the sound of helicopters over my Adams Point neighborhood – the same neighborhood in which Fairyland lives. There was a fire a few blocks away from the park, at the site of a building that was to include market-rate apartments and retail shops.

The Valdez fire as seen from across Lake Merritt early on the morning of July 7.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Voice of Love

By C.J. Hirschfield

In the 15 years that I’ve run Children’s Fairyland, we’ve presented more than 100 puppet shows. My absolute favorite is “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which we premiered last year in honor of our Storybook Puppet Theater’s 60th anniversary.

Casting the voices to be recorded for the show was not easy. Although Puff is not the main character – he doesn’t cause things to happen; he merely advises and guides – his voice was critical. It had to be a voice that was warm and soothing yet conveyed enough credibility and love so that you really wanted to listen to and believe in him.

It was abundantly clear to Fairyland puppet master Randal Metz whose voice it had to be. Ron Zeno, Fairyland’s Santa for two decades, was the only person he ever considered for the role.

Monday, May 29, 2017

In My Fashion

By C.J. Hirschfield

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was a women’s clothing store called Petite Sophisticate. I used to joke that this was one store that I would never visit, because I was neither petite nor sophisticated. The chain went out of business in 2010, perhaps because there were too many like me.

I thought of that store when I was recently approached to be a model in a “Movers and Shakers” fashion show for a fundraiser being put on by the good people at Family Bridges. While I have been known to move and shake, I am definitely neither a fashionista nor a model, despite having watched many seasons of “Project Runway.” 

Invitation to Family Bridges' dinner and "Movers and Shakers" fashion show.

But how do you say no to an organization that serves Oakland’s Asian community with everything from child day care to senior health care to immigration services? I couldn’t, and didn’t.

That’s how I found myself last week journeying to the San Mateo studio of the delightful and talented designer Jessie Liu. Here’s how she describes her work: “In an artistically expressive yet sophisticated [that word again!] and elegant approach each season, the Jessie Liu Collection captivates its wearers and the purveyors of style.” In my own words: Jessie’s clothes are beautiful—luscious fabrics, bold designs, all very wearable.

Selections from Jessie Liu's Fall 2017 collection. 

Jessie suggested a number of pieces, and I obligingly tried them on. We settled on a black silk long-sleeve shirtdress with a “flounce hemline featuring dramatic draping back with double layers,” along with striped silk pants with a hand-painted effect.

After the fitting we chatted. Jessie has two young children, and I convinced her that she has to bring them to Children’s Fairyland.

Then, on the same day, I ventured into downtown San Francisco, where Victor Tung Couture is located. KQED has described Victor as “San Francisco’s Own Haute Couture Master.” (“Haute couture” – high fashion – is one of those labels, like “Petite Sophisticate,” that I thought would never apply to me. I was about to be proven wrong.)

Victor Tung (center) with pieces from his collection.

Victor’s creative designs are literally unique: There were more than 200 one-of-a-kind pieces on display at his store, made from fabric he’d hand-dyed or hand-drawn. I read about one of Victor’s dresses, described as the designer’s masterpiece: It had been constructed from the cocoons of silkworms, and it took him more than four months to complete. For me, however, Victor chose a vibrant blue jacket that I’d be wearing with black leggings and heels.

At least I wouldn’t be alone on the runway. Other models included Oakland City councilmember Abel Guillen and my very own husband/mover/shaker David Stein.

C.J. Hirschfield and Abel Guillen practicing their duck faces before making their runway debuts.

I was a little nervous about modeling for the Family Bridges Gala, which honored Suzan Bateson and the work of the Alameda County Community Food Bank and Andrea Ho, super volunteer and regional vice president of Cathay Bank. But then I reflected on the evening’s theme: “Yes, We Can!”

And yes, I thought: I will.


C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park.