Travels: Davis, California

October 30, 2022 • 10:30 am

I’m staying with a friend in Davis, California, located in California’s great Central Valley, the great agricultural belt of the state. The town not big (10 square miles) nor populous (about 67,000 inhabitants), but it’s the site of the University of California’s biggest “ag school”: UC Davis, and it’s where I did my postdoc in genetics for three years. (Technically, the school is not within the city of Davis.)

Here’s where the city is, about 15 miles from Sacramento to the east and about an hour’s drive from Berkeley to the southwest.

As it was Saturday yesterday, one of the city’s highlights was open for business: the Davis Farmer’s Market. It’s open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and sells locally grown produce and products made by local artisans and farmers. It’s acquired a roof since I lived here, but the stands are not under it: a protection against covid.

Locally grown Oriental persimmons. I prefer the wild American persimmons, but you need to find a tree and gather the fruit only after it’s fallen and before it rots. Wild persimmions make one of the best puddings I’ve ever eaten.

Davis is an organic, crunchy-granola kind of town, so you’ll find stuff like this there:

And avocado toast, of course:

Anti-war people, though I’m not sure which war they were protesting:

Local peppers:

. . . and homemade cider (best taken home and left to start fermenting):

The sign says, “Do not enter: sensitive habitat area”, probably to keep people from trampling around the oak tree. But people were ignoring the sign!

And, at the end of the market, we found a genuine booth pushing FLAT EARTH THEORY. At first my friend Phil thought it was a joke, but the two nice girls at the adjacent Episcopal Church booth assured us sotto voce that it was for real.

And it was, manned by three loons who knew all the arguments for a flat earth and would argue with all comers. I could not resist!

Their theory is of course that the earth is a disk (this comes from the Bible) and that the ENTIRE PLANET’S GOVERNMENTS are in a giant conspiracy to delude the inhabitants that they’re living on a globe instead of a Frisbee. When I asked them why every photo taken from space shows the earth to be round, implying a sphere, they said this was part of a conspiracy and asked me knowingly, “Why do you suppose they call all those pictures ‘images’ instead of ‘photographs’?” They had two pictures of the earth from space showing the continents with different relative sizes, also proving a conspiracy.

Finally I asked one of them the question I really wanted to pose: “What one observation would change your mind and make you conclude that the Earth is actually spherical?” He started gabbling and I pulled him up short and said, “Please answer in one sentence, as I ask my students to do with scientific issues.” In the end, he truly didn’t understand the question, and didn’t answer me. (I could have answered what would change my mind: photos from space showing that the Earth was, from some angles, a disk.)

These people are exactly like creationists, except that the conspiracy to hide the “truth” is enacted by governments instead of atheistic scientists. In both cases their crazy ideas come straight from interpretating of the Bible.

Artworks are scattered all over town, like this Day of the Dead bench by a bus stop.

The epicenter of hippie-dom in Davis is the Food Coop, which sells stuff that is good for you (with some exceptions). In front of it are sculptures of a giant carrot and a giant tomato. Here I am hugging the big carrot (photo by Phil Ward):

And the giant tomato:

The caption: “Portrait of a plump tomato. Artist: Gerald Heffernon. Funding: City of Davis Civics Art Commission, Davis Food Coop. July 11, 2000.” The agricultural land around Davis is largely dedicated to growing and processing tomatoes, and there’s a giant ketchup and tomato-processing plant north of town. In the summer you can smell the processed tomatoes, and some of the roads are slippery with tomatoes that have fallen off the trucks taking them to the factory.

Inside the Coop. Here they explicitly accept the gender binary: there is no “other” section. But I was too timorous to point out to them that they need a “nonbinary” section.

They sell only sustainable seafood, which is good:

And a variety of non-cow milk:

SUGAR, long demonized in Davis. The waiter wouldn’t serve it to my father (on a family visit) when he asked for it with his coffee in a local organic cafe, now closed. They told him in response, “We don’t carry the White Death”, (seriously!), but added that  “we might be able to find some honey in the kitchen. My father demurred.

Note the product number given to white sugar! I do not think this is an accident (the rectangle is mine):

Like all “good for you” grocery stores, like Whole Foods, they sell useless homeopathic remedies, which I suppose are considered “organic” even though they’re useless and fraudulent:

Homeopathic crap:

More homeopathic crap. Were I a member, I would question them about why they carry this stuff, but it would be useless.

As we left, we noticed that the local animal shelter was giving away FREE KITTENS, and there were many of them on offer, like this adorable gray tabby.  I wanted to take them all, but couldn’t take any. Some people were adopting them, though, which made me happy.

I asked this woman if she was going to adopt this ginger kitten, and, sadly, she said no.


30 thoughts on “Travels: Davis, California

  1. In regard to granular sugar (sucrose) labeled as #6666, many years ago when I was departmental associate chair for advising and curriculum, two of our physiologists wished to offer a graduate level course on adaptations to extreme environments (hot, cold, acidic, alkaline, low oxygen (mountains), etc.) We decided to offer it as BIOS 666. My secretary who was a fundamentalist was not amused.

  2. The “anti-war people” seem to be pro-Russian and anti-Democratic Party. Looking at their signs for specific content, there’s a street-sign style ‘No NATO’ sign, and one attacking Nancy Pelosi.


  3. Of course the world is flat… well, that little bit under my feet (pebbles and cobles excepted).

    Thank you for that photo-safari of Davis. I treasure visits to places that march to the beat of a different drum.

    1. I wonder what the Flatulents say when contemplating Columbus, et al, who knew the earth was curved and globular simply from observing ships at a distance emerging into view. And betting their lives on that. And what was Magellan up to? Did the government conspiracies go back to the 1400s?

      1. Weird, because all educated people since antiquity knew the world was round, thanks to observations like yours, and that shadows at noon on any given day of the year are longer the farther north you go. (And south from the equator but the ancient observers in Egypt and Greece were all north of what would eventually be figured out to be the terrestrial equator.). Someone —Erosthanes?—even worked out a geometrical solution to what its circumference was.

        But to be picky, and to bend over backward to be fair to the Flat-Earthers, I do wonder about how convincing the ship effect would have been before telescopes and ships with large freeboard and tall masts became common. A small boat like a dhow is easily lost in the haze at the horizon without it being obvious that it goes hull down first and then the short sail gradually disappears. And the skippers (and mutinous crews) of small boats didn’t want to sail out of sight of land anyway, not for fear of falling off the edge but for fear of not being able to find their way back if a storm blew up.

        I’m going to guess that Magellan’s expedition requires only that the earth be bounded, not that it must be a sphere. If his surviving sailors somehow went along the edge of the disc, which the Pacific and Indian Ocean crossings almost resemble, they’d still get back to Spain. Logging how far a ship had sailed in those days was pure guesswork, especially when the geographical features in the far regions had not been discovered yet. The Flat-Earth calculation of how far Magellan’s ships had to sail is likely not negative evidence for them.

        Sabine Hossenfelder has a video about disproving the Flat Earth. It’s harder than it looks. Similarly, proving the earth rotates around the sun was difficult before good clocks made it simple.

        When I was in elementary school, we were taught that Columbus proved the earth was round and Copernicus proved it revolved around the sun. Neither is true.

        How we know what we know is always a good exercise. Of course, those who insist all the evidence is manufactured by conspirators will not be budged.

    2. In Simon Edge’s The End of the World is Flat”, Flat Earth ideology takes over. It’s a parody of how the belief that human sex is not a binary is currently growing. It’s a light fun read and the Kindle version was only 99p when I got it this summer.

  4. Should be pretty easy to prove in very practical terms to a flat earther that they’re loopy, … in principle. Just buy a ticket from Santiago, Chile, to Auckland, NZ or Sydney, Australia. If the flight from Santiago to Auckland (or Sydney) takes ca. 10-12 hours, as a spherical globe suggests, then they can enjoy the vacation as a free gift. If it takes ca. 4-6 times that long, as your common flat earth map would suggest, then they have to pay for it themselves.

  5. My dear PCC … to the rest of the world cider IS fermented! My son spent time recently whilst on a holiday in California looking for “proper” cider …

    “Ahhhh you mean HARD cider!”

    Son, who is used to British ciders that can stun a cow at 20 paces, was sort of disappointed at the lack of cider culture !

    1. My corner bodega in San Francisco stocks four varieties of cider (across two local brands); the independent supermarket up the hill has more than double that … hell, even Safeway has a decent selection. Not as wide a section as the micro beers, but hardly invisible. Enjoying a Golden State Brut as I type, actually.

  6. Don’t forget wine. Many of California’s great winemakers and growers attended UC Davis. The state’s wine industry produces something like $90 billion.

    1. I’ve not had the pleasure of tasting Californian wines. Are they any good (well, I hear they are)? Do they have a good price/quality ratio? And what about the New York wines from the finger lakes? Do they still exist?
      I just realise I’ve never tasted any US wine. They are, contrary to NZ, Australian, Chilean, Italian, French, Argentinian or Spanish (and of course South African) wines, not readily available here.
      I think that as far as price/quality goes SAn wines are the best, but the choice in the RSA of RSA wines is by far the largest (obviously), which might -I’m well aware- skew the competition.
      I can get a pleasant SAn wine for about 2 U$D and a great one for less than 8 U$D.

      1. California makes some truly great wines. Nothing under $8 that I would drink. I occasionally find a $12 bottle that’s pretty good, but generally I drink in the $15-50 range. Much higher prices attach to the top wines. California has a lot of Bordeaux varietals on which the state’s reputation mostly rests. California Riesling and Chenin Blanc generally aren’t up to other areas of the world. I’m not a big fan of Chardonnay, but California has some with excellent reputations. They are getting there with Syrah, but well behind the Rhone and Australia.

        California produces some spectacular wines from Zinfandel, Mataro, Carrigan, Petite Syrah, and other less common grapes. To me these are the top values, where a $25 bottle often provides as much pleasure as Cabernets costing twice that.

        Judging by your post and the very reasonable prices I find on Southern Hemisphere wines here, I’d guess American wines are priced out where you are.

        I’ve never seen a Finger Lakes wine either. Washington (Cabernet, Merlot) and Oregon (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) are the other major wine states. They produce some delicious wines as well with price/quality much like California.

  7. Strange how people can be so convinced of their ridiculous and easy to disprove beliefs that they’re willing to look like complete fools in a public space (yet somehow they don’t realize or care that they’re regarded as fools). I could excuse them if they were just trolling for amusement, but it appears they’re “for real”.

    1. Not as much as it used to be: I’m told that the per capita rate of bicycle ownership has dropped, and I didn’t see any bike cops this time, so many people are flouting the traffic laws on bikes (lights at night, signal before turning, stop at stop signs).

      1. Stanford now has a No Bike Wednesday, or something like that, because bikes on campus are a common hazard. Read about it in Stanfoo Daily. Which I also will be reading closely as your confab fires up. Gotta be a great read!

      2. Wow, that’s a very immature, stunted cycling culture then. With cheap rechargeable LED headlights ubiquitous now, only drug dealers ride their bikes without lights at night around here. And not at least yielding—OK not many of us full stop but then motorists rarely do either—to traffic with the right of way at Stop signs is a sign of basic incompetence in road sense and sharing that gets you home safe. Davis used to be held up by urban bicycle advocates and activists as the utopia that all cities should emulate. Seems as if the world of bigger cities has passed it by.

  8. In connection with the flat Earth, how do they explain gravity, the tendency of things falling down?

    1. In the unlikely event that you got a coherent answer to that question, you could go on to point out that a gravitational field as strong as the Earth’s, acting within a disc, would tear it to pieces before you could say ‘woo’.

      But I don’t think there’s much chance of a coherent answer in the first place.

    2. Obviously gravity drops things down! And there is only ONE DOWN!! Which disproves the silly global thing which has gravity working in all directions at once!

  9. For some reason, our orange grove in north Santa Ana had a row of 20 persimmon trees on on side. I agree that there is nothing like a nice ripe persimmon, but I disagree that you wait for it to fall. Ours would be so soft by the time they fell, they likely would smooch when they hit the ground. Best to find one that came off in your hand when you barely touched it. Once a week or so in season, we would pick a couple of flats of just beginning to soften persimmons, and my dad would sell then to the local AlphaBeta. Not the same as a ripe one right off the tree, but I bet they were the best persimmons anyone ever found in a grocery store. And of course, that grove turned into houses about 50 years ago.

  10. ” “What one observation would change your mind and make you conclude that the Earth is actually spherical?”[…] (I could have answered what would change my mind: photos from space showing that the Earth was, from some angles, a disk.)”

    That strikes me as Haldane-style reasoning – now I need to find the source of his “rabbits in the Precambian” quote.


  11. It’s probably worth it to offer a leader of the Flat Earthers on a free ride on one of those space tourist rocket flights. Then they could come back down and share the Good News with their misguided followers.

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