Truffles Save

Legacy Chocolates, the newest of the St. Paul chocolatiers, proposes that great taste can heal us all

Maybe not, though, if they could get some of Roberts's grass-fed beef. Which just might happen. When I spent a morning in Legacy Chocolates talking with Micheal Roberts, he conceived an idea of selling his beef at the chocolate store. If this works, it will be the best thing to happen to one-stop shopping since they put chips in gas stations. Roberts raises Highlander cattle, which are long-horned, longhaired, smart Scottish cows that can live outside all winter.

"They might have horns four feet across," Roberts told me. "One time we found a coyote crushed to death; we didn't kill it. Everyone complains about wolves: They're gonna eat my livestock! I'll tell you what, they're not going to eat my livestock."

These Highlander cattle live on the pasture all summer, moving from field to field on Roberts's farm. This action mimics the behavior of bison, which used to move from field to field themselves. Many prairie plants require big animals to distribute their seeds in manure, or to plant them by piercing the prairie crust with their hooves and trampling seeds into the ground. Roberts has been raising pasture-fed beef in an effort to avoiding tilling his soil for the last 15 years. This experience in perennial agriculture, coupled with his long-ago experiences as a pastry chef, is what led him to start making his chocolates in Menomonie. In Wisconsin, the chocolates are part of a coffee shop, but Roberts had doubts about his ability to manage a coffee shop long-distance, so he decided to make his Twin Cities outpost retail only.

"There's about 500 people in Wisconsin that keep me alive," Roberts told me that one morning in his store. We chatted for two hours, and a single pair of women came in the door but ultimately decided against buying anything. (Legacy truffles cost $1.50 each.) "I just hope I can find another 500 people here who want to make choices that matter."

"Choices," considered Roberts, turning the word over, as if it was an agate he kept on his desk. "It all goes back to the word "legacy," which is the idea this whole place is based on. There's a Lakota proverb: 'You are known by the footprints you leave.' Choice matters, is what that means. Every choice you make while you're on this earth, that is your legacy. If you, by your stupid, arrogant insistence on chemical and material agriculture make choices that leave the earth barren, that's your legacy. When you go eat fast food from the drive-up, your choices impact what the countryside looks like. It's your choice that creates 10 miles of stinking feedlots in Wyoming. It drives me crazy--we eat without concern for our grandchildren. What are they going to eat when our soil is all in the Gulf of Mexico?

"There are some people who think: 'It's our duty to destroy the earth so that we can be saved. We are instruments of God's will when we go through the drive-through, to make the world uninhabitable so that He will return.'" Hearing himself say this, Roberts shakes his head, as if to dispute it. He has the weathered tan of a farmer, the rangy stance of someone used to finding irregular terrain. "If we would eat with our grandchildren in mind we would eat very differently. Well, you got it out of me. I was told not to bring this up, but it's why I'm here. Walker Percy says: 'Sometimes you just feel like you have one eye in the land of the blind.' That's how I feel sometimes.

"Corn is the big killer of this continent, and soybeans right behind it. Why are we depleting the fertility of this wonderful, wonderful country for these tiny short-term gains? I don't think it's any coincidence that we have the cheapest food in the world and the most expensive health care. Everybody wants a pill to cure heart disease, but they don't want to talk about where the heart disease is coming from. My friends say, 'You'll never change what people eat.' I say, I'm not trying to change what you eat. I'm here saying, Eat steaks and chocolate! I'm not trying to change what you eat, just the way it's produced."

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