Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, busier than heck, but not too busy to welcome Leslie Karst! Leslie and I met when we roomed together at Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California a couple of years ago. We’d only known each other online previously, but in person we learned we both had a taste for a spot of whiskey and good conversation. I am SO thrilled her debut mystery is coming out, and she’s giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter today.The story is set in Santa Cruz, California – where I almost went to college – and when I read an advance copy, I was able to unreservedly give it a glowing endorsement:

“You won’t want to push away this delicious plate of mystery from debut author Leslie Dying for a Taste coverKarst. And you’ll be Dying for a Taste of sleuth Sally Solari’s family’s cooking, both Italian and Polynesian. Don’t read while hungry!”

Here’s what the book’s about: After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California. But managing the front of the house is far from her dream job of being a real cook.

Then her Aunt Letta is found murdered at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place afloat. When the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, however, Sally is forced to delve into the unfamiliar world of organic food, sustainable farming, and animal rights activists—not to mention a few family secrets—to help clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out. 

Take it away, Leslie!

Food Revolution or Food Fad?

Santa Cruz, California—my home town, as well as that of my protagonist, Sally Solari—is probably best known for two quite different things: its historic roller coaster (take a ride on it here !), and its high population of hippies and

The Giant Dipper
The Giant Dipper


The juxtaposition of these contrasting cultures—as played out on the food scene—provides the backdrop for my culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste. Sally, who practically grew up in the kitchen of her family’s old-school Italian eatery, knows little about the “food revolution” that has recently descended upon her sleepy seaside resort town. But when her aunt is found murdered at her trendy restaurant and the sous chef is accused of the crime, she is thrown into the unfamiliar world of organic farming and animal rights activists in her quest to find the true killer.

This plot line stems from beliefs that are dear to my heart. I’ve long been a proponent of sustainable and humane food practices, and do my best to buy pastured meat, sustainable fish, and local produce when I can. But at the same time, I’m well aware that

Santa Cruz Farmers' Market
Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market

aspects of the current food movement could be seen as completely unrealistic, or just another food fad. There are, no doubt, those out there for whom buying local and organic food is merely a status symbol—rather like owning a Versace purse.

And let’s face it: Most folks couldn’t become pure locavores no matter how much they wanted to (try getting “local” citrus or bananas in New England, for example, or “local” coffee or maple syrup in California). And for countless inner-city residents, finding fresh vegetables at all—not to mention organic ones—is a near impossibility.

Hawaiian chameleon blending in
Hawaiian chameleon blending in

That said, I don’t think we should simply dismiss the change that is now occurring around the world in how we look at food. For the last fifty years (I’d date it from the advent of the TV dinner) we, as a society, have become disconnected from what we eat. We haven’t known—or cared—where it came from or how it was produced, being under the thrall of the convenience and cheapness caused by its mass-production. We have no idea what it took to produce that dollar meal cheese-burger, and it would require a chemist to translate the dozens of artificial ingredients that are in that “shake” (they can’t call them milkshakes, because they contain no milk).

But lately people seem to be waking up. Once more they’re starting to see the connection

Egg farm near Santa Cruz
Egg farm near Santa Cruz

between the foods they consume and the health of themselves and the planet. Just five years ago, for instance, I had a hard time finding eggs from pastured hens in Santa Cruz; now Safeway carries them.

And Walmart is selling organic foods, a sure sign that even “middle America” has become concerned with the amount of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides in our food.

Fad or not, I see these as good signs.

Readers: What are your views of the “food movement”? How much is fad and how much is true concern for the health of people and our planet? What do you think of Walmart and other giant corporations jumping on the organic/sustainable food bandwagon? Remember, Leslie is giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter!

karst headshotLeslie Karst is the author of the culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste, the first of the Sally Solari Mystery series (Crooked Lane Books). A former research and appellate attorney, Leslie now spends her days cooking, gardening, reading, cycling, singing alto in the local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife, Robin, and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her at Leslie Karst Author for more.


57 Thoughts

  1. I’m putting the book on my t-b-r list now. We are lucky to have a farmer’s market in out town in the summer and a farm with CSA’s that also has a farm stand.

  2. I have a lot of trouble trusting Walmart selling organic food! But I’m delighted people are coming back to cooking locally grown food, and not just because I write a series about just that.

    1. I hear you. But the fact that even they carry it show just how wide-spread the movement has become. And for folks not lucky enough to live in an area with farmers markets, it’s great that Walmart carries at least the corporate organic food.

  3. This looks like a fantastic book! Thank you for the giveaway opportunity!

  4. Congratulations on your book, Leslie! I’ve lived in California a couple of times and love Santa Cruz. Like Sally, I’ve ridden that roller coaster! When I live in Monterey I used to go to a fabulous flea market in Santa Cruz. Sigh, I miss the weather out there!

  5. I Iive in Santa Cruz as a decades long local so excited to read this. The whole food movement is critically important to our world as it guides people to good nutrition thereby good health. I am proud to live in a mainly vegan area where we have access to healthy locally grown foods year around and we participate as a community in promoting healthy eating. Our farmers markets are phenomenal.

    1. Four decades for me now, living in Santa Cruz! And yes, our farmers markets are amazing! But I well remember when the only organic food available was if you were a member of the food co-op and volunteered cutting and packaging cheese several hours a week in order to be able to buy their food.

  6. I’ve never lived in Santa Cruz, but I’ve visited a couple of times.

    I’m not sure how much of the current trends are fads and how much are true changes in perspective. I suspect a little of both. The ideas are good if they are really truly being followed all the way up the chain from farm to store to me.

    1. I guess even if they’re just fads for some folks it’s still a good thing, because the more who buy organic/sustainable food, the bigger the market for it, and the cheaper it becomes for all.

  7. I became a vegetarian as a child — the only one in my family at the time! I was the only vegetarian I knew, and over the years, I learned more and more about why it was the right choice for me. Thinking about my food choices has become second nature. I’m relieved about many of the changes I’ve seen over the years…and concerned about others. Congratulations on your book release!!

  8. Welcome to the Wickeds, Leslie! I love Santa Cruz, though I have only been there as a tourist.

    My husband shops as his Italian father and grandfather did, at small specialty shops and farmers markets. Of course, I admit this is easier for us to do now that it’s just the two of us and we aren’t juggling two kids and two jobs.

    1. Indeed. It’s much harder (and more expensive) to shop and cook in a healthy, sustainable way if you have a large family. But that’s only because of our national subsidies for crops like soy and corn, which benefit corporate ag and fast food restaurants, thereby making fast food cheaper than slow food. But we can change that as a nation, I firmly believe.

  9. One thing I’ve noticed visiting my hometown in rural upstate NY is the number of farmer’s markets that are open year round. Quite a change from when going out with my Dad to purchase local foodstuffs could take up to seven hours (we’d start after church and get home by supper) what with finding the gold-tooth-guy-who-may-or-may-not-have asparagus-and-rhubarb-that-week and the egg guy who sold that and chicken out the back of his wife’s hair salon/trailer it was amazing we managed to get enough for the next few weeks.
    I can’t wait to read the book-although I have to confess that, as an 80’s kid, when I think of Santa Cruz, I think of Lost Boys. Yet another part of the decade to cringe over.

    1. LOL, both about the gold-tooth-guy AND the Lost Boys. I actually love that movie! And I still think of Kiefer Sutherland as a vampire.

  10. I just love this today as I lived in the Bay Area for 49 years and my kids and grandkids still live there. I also love going to farmers markets and have been going for many years. I think buying from local is so much better than buying from the market for many reasons but one big one is that I live now in Iowa. The vegis take so long to get here and most of it is spoiled or sprouted unlike taking out of the gardens that my husband grows or what we don’t grow we go to market and get. It is also a good place to get exercise and help out people that live near you. Now to Santa Cruz wow love that place have stayed at the hotel that is right on the water many times and just sat on the balcony and watched the surfers. Went to school in Half Moon Bay so going out to the ocean is so fun and watching surfers do what they do is remarkable. This book sounds so good and I would love to read a print copy of it and review on a few sites. Now I can’t wait to make another trip to California and visit my kids and grandkids normally my son and i go to the Wharf in SF but the wharf in Santa Cruz is fun and they have great food!

    1. Ah, yes–the Dream Inn is the hotel you’re talking about, a classic. Santa Cruz truly is a special place. When I moved there from Southern California to go to college I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

  11. I have fully converted my household to “real” butter, milk, cheese, & eggs. I have a garden and can a huge variety of veggies. Several friends/family share their bounty of deer meat to my freezer. I save my own garden and flower seeds from year to year. Trying to avoid GMO’s, pesticides, preservatives, etc.

  12. Thank you Edith for the great interview! And congratulations Leslie on your book release! Farmer’s Market or chain grocery store? Farmer’s market all the way!

  13. Doing as much as possible within your local constraints is the best way to look at food movements. I find it trivializes any of the positive, sustainable, truly healthy movements in food , for big box stores to put it in a package and sell it in mass. It still keeps it just a word heard on tv. It’s still too removed from the source/grower/maker. Just being aware of what you eat, where it came from, and why is a step in the right direction.

    And I just added your book to my tbr list…

    1. Ay, there’s the rub: Finding the balance between having it be just a catchword or fad, and truly embracing what the food movement really means.

      Thanks for adding me!

  14. Congratulations on your book release, Leslie! I love reading culinary mysteries, and this one is on my TBR list. I have been to California many times but never visited Santa Cruz. I am lucky to live very close to a large farmers market and love buying local produce, meat and dairy products. But I have to wait until it opens in spring (late April). We still have snow and ice here in Ottawa, Ontario!

      1. Yes, it was nice to meet you in person in Phoenix, Leslie. A bit more snow here tonight but hopefully we will have farmers market weather in a couple more weeks!

  15. This would be a great book to add to my cozy challenge list. Thanks for a chance to win a copy. I love the cover.

  16. Leslie,
    Was delighted to see the book highlighted as a Mystery Book of the Month selection. Immediately ordered it. and, my copy arrived the other day. Can’t wait to read it!! Best of luck with it….see you at Malice. Debra

  17. I don’t know how much of the food movement is a fad. I’m not sure if organic food is worth the higher price or if the health benefits have been proven. Will be glad when the farmer’s markets start, it’s nice to get fresh picked fruit and vegetables. Looking forward to reading “Dying for a Taste”.

    1. A lot of it is the farm workers not having to work with the pesticides, even if they aren’t so bad for the ultimate consumer (or we can wash them off). And yes, yay for all the spring farmers markets starting up again!

  18. I love this, Leslie! I’m fanatical about eating organic and locally as much as possible, and it’s nice to see change happening. Congrats on your book!

  19. I do try to buy as much produce from local farms as possible when it’s in season. And we have a vegetable garden and freeze a lot for the winter. But there just isn’t any way to get everything local where I live.

  20. Jotted down name a nd title to add to my wish book.I also live in No California and lots of small farms abound, some organic and some not but so good.In my town the is even a meat market that is raising grass fed beef, a new taste for me. We have a wonderful small chain market (Nugget Market) that has the wonderful food next to where I work and pick your own farms and fruit stands. My Italian papa would have loved it, he always had a small garden esipecially herbs and fixing for pesto..I question organic at Walmart and Safeway and I’m lucky I really have a easy time of getting great food locally. I’m enjoying navel oranges that the farms leaves on tree a little longer and oh so sweet. I’ve had some mystery bags on my doorknob full of Meyers lemons and other goodies.. Your book sounds just perfect read for me.

  21. i love the food movement! i do wonder about the walmart organics… but, if it is truly organic (one thing i wonder about!), i am glad for people to get cheaper organic food. i also love the inner city gardening movement. your book looks like a lot of fun!

  22. I love farmer’s markets and the move towards more organic foods.. Also, the Santa Cruz setting is very attractive. Thanks for the opportunity to win…

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