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Alice Waters


mjc
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Did anyone watch Alice Waters on 60 minutes last night? If not here it is. I thought it was an interesting segment, especially following the fascinating piece on Ben Bernanke. The angle on segment about the fed chairman was that the federal reserve was out to help main street not wall street and that Bernanke is himself a very down to earth common guy.

This is the opposite feeling I got from watching the segment on Alice Waters. I like Alice Waters and what she is trying to do. On the show I think that Lesley Stahl portrayed her ideals an unrealistic and impractical. This is the exact opposite message that she and the slow food movement want to convey. Alice said on the show that she wants good clean and fair food as a right for everyone. This is hardly an elitist message, but I think they still managed to make her look like one.

Mike

The Dairy Show

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I enjoyed the segment very much. Look, we kinda know that Alice's ideals are far from attainable for a great percentage of the population...I mean, we all don't live in Berkeley, where gardening is possible year-round, to say nothing of having the whole fireplace thingie to cook on in our kitchens.

But I hate to dismiss it the way some dismiss windmills, because after all, you can't drive your car with a windmill to power it.

I think if anyone is elitist, it's Stahl. And I can't wait to see the victory garden at the White House.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Alice Waters is obviously able to live life in a way that most people aren't. Its cool that she is able to have that amazing kitchen and year round fantastic food.

We can't all be like Alice, but we can try to adopt some of her message and (I agree with you) not just dismiss it, because her particular ideal lifestyle may be unattainable.

Mike

The Dairy Show

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Interesting video. To me the interview looked like two ideologues locked in mortal battle. Two telling moments: when Waters pronounced the idea of using a microwave unthinkable and when Stahl stridently questioned the kids on the value of learning how to garden and cook for school credit. Both of these moments seem out of touch to me, on opposite sides of the problem.

Ultimately, I'm on board with Waters' project. I think the "Edible Schoolyard" idea is self-evidently valuable, but on the other hand it would be difficult to get that into every school program. I like the fact that she's trying though and I really hope this picks up some steam. Charges of elitism against her, seem to be kind of accurate, but that's ok too. On the other hand, that's why I don't really think she's the best spokesperson for her own agenda. The mayor of San Fransisco made his point more succinctly and forcefully.

Stahl's ultra-pragmatic stance, wherein she appears baffled by everything that Waters is about, is not very helpful though. Why is it ok to treat as a journalist to treat your subject like a yes or no question?

nunc est bibendum...

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I thought Stahl's approach was mocking at best, and to my mind missed the point completely. I'm pretty sure that Waters' food philosophies don't include buying big organics from China at WalMart. The conversation about the grapes the farmer was selling could have easily mentioned the importance of supporting local farmers and caring about the impact our food system has on our environment.

While doing *everything* Alice Waters does would be really difficult for most people to attain, I do think that we can each do some of it. The repeated "how are people ever going to be able to afford this?" from Stahl proved that she just didn't get it. Lost a lot of respect for her on this one.

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Alice Waters is obviously able to live life in a way that most people aren't.  Its cool that she is able to have that amazing kitchen and year round fantastic food. 

We can't all be like Alice, but we can try to adopt some of her message and (I agree with you) not just dismiss it, because her particular ideal lifestyle may be unattainable.

Totally agree.

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Interesting video. To me the interview looked like two ideologues locked in mortal battle. Two telling moments: when Waters pronounced the idea of using a microwave unthinkable and when Stahl stridently questioned the kids on the value of learning how to garden and cook for school credit.

That microwave discussion was a great moment for me as I've never had a microwave in my kitchen. Of course, I don't have the damn fireplace either.

Why should gardening and cooking be any different as far as earning credits than home economics and wood shop once were?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I agree with the comments on the black/white, all/nothing nature of the piece. While I'm generally delighted to see coverage of anything like this, I didn't feel real good about it. I spent half of the time challenging what came out of Alice's mouth (and her accepting credit for essentially doing what most Europeans have done all along) and the other half defending her against Stahl's incredulity at the feasability and importance of what she's trying very hard to do. Nice to know I wasn't the only one left with that impression.

And, if you can't wait to see the Victory Garden at 1600 Pennsylvania, there is a Facebook "group" soliciting support for that effort. Not sure how much good it will do but it can't hurt to have numbers on our side.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Interesting video. To me the interview looked like two ideologues locked in mortal battle. Two telling moments: when Waters pronounced the idea of using a microwave unthinkable and when Stahl stridently questioned the kids on the value of learning how to garden and cook for school credit.

That microwave discussion was a great moment for me as I've never had a microwave in my kitchen. Of course, I don't have the damn fireplace either.

Why should gardening and cooking be any different as far as earning credits than home economics and wood shop once were?

Yes I agree that simply because an idea is not perfect, therefore one can dismiss it, is a false argument. When I was a vegetarian, the first question people would ask was, "But do you wear leather?" I think that misses the point just like your comment on people dismissing windmills because they can't power our cars. Maybe not all of what Waters wants is attainable RIGHT NOW, but it seems to me that we should at least aim high. Obviously, a lot of what Waters was preaching decades ago seemed unattainable then, like eating local, or readily available organics; yet today those seemingly impossible goals are part of our day to day lives. I don't see why we can't achieve even more of what Waters is promoting.

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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Interesting video. To me the interview looked like two ideologues locked in mortal battle. Two telling moments: when Waters pronounced the idea of using a microwave unthinkable and when Stahl stridently questioned the kids on the value of learning how to garden and cook for school credit.

Why should gardening and cooking be any different as far as earning credits than home economics and wood shop once were?

That is the question. If Stahl is so concerned with efficient use of public money for education, she might consider the fact that cultivation and preparation of food can easily do some of the things that both gym and home ec could do while engaging the students in science, math, reading (recipes and their interpretation), and artistic creativity. That sounds like a mighty efficient use of public money to me, but Stahl didn't seem to be in thinking mode here--she struck me as purely reactionary.

edited for clarity

Edited by Alcuin (log)

nunc est bibendum...

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i see alice waters as (admittedly, i believe, in this very piece?) an idealist. nothing wrong with that, and it keeps folks reaching for the attainable parts of the goal. clearly, she's done a lot of good in the world, globally AND locally.

i see lesley stahl as a journalist. nothing wrong with that, either. it means asking hard questions. i hate it when it's all soft-ball, sycophantic questions. she asked the questions a lot of viewers were asking in their living rooms. i would much rather see a skeptical interview that a kiss-ass one, even with someone i admire.

i enjoyed the piece, and i felt that alice gave as good as she got, and got her message out there in prime time.

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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I assumed that Lesley's approach, like most of her 60 Minutes colleagues, was to try to push back a bit on Alice. I thought that her question "What do you mean you don't have a microwave?!" was pretty contrived.

I've always thought of Alice Waters as an idealist also. I think mjc is exactly right above. What frustrates me about Alice, though, is her inability to recognize that it simply is not feasible for everyone to eat the way she does, for a variety of reasons (climate, cost, time, etc.). She says little to address this, other than "Yes you can! You aren't trying." I've seen any idea or proposal from her that recognizes that people face trade-offs, that this isn't just a matter of buying more from your local farmers market.

Finally, Lesley Stahl could have done a much better job. Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" is an excellent, thoughtful account of the tensions in trying to bring better quality food to "the masses". Lesley didn't attempt to get into any of these issues.

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I am sorry, I thought that piece totally made Alice Waters look elitist. When she was standing front of the farmer that sold the grapes and said, something like just don't buy two pairs to addias. What went threw my mind was "tell that to a welfare mom" it was way unrealistic, between that and the fireplace in the kitchen..her message was lost.

But I do agree that attention needs to be paid to where our food comes from, but I think most people just look for what they can afford these days.

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Now that I'm thinking about it again, an ungenerous reading of the "journalism" in this video would be that 60 Minutes is indulging in a bit of cheap populism here. It's too easy to make Alice Waters look like elitist in many ways (which, to my mind, she does seem to be to an extent) so why not hold up the figure of an elitist who pays quadruple for grapes and seems to think everybody should. In this economic climate, that's a narrative people might be hungry for (sorry for the pun!) and one that does damage to the real message: food matters and is important for environmental as well as cultural reasons even in these tough times. All this segment does is say "no" to problems that can't be shoved under the carpet or ideas (like the Edible Schoolyard) that might be worth considering seriously.

nunc est bibendum...

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I didn't see this program so perhaps I shouldn't say anything, but . . . I read a biography of Alice Waters last year & remember reading that she thought it was fine to fly (by jet) the "best" produce from a farm in Socal for her restaurant. Apparently the produce is organically grown on a family farm. That didn't make much sense to me.

She's also far from the only one pushing for or working on edible schoolyards. The Master Gardeners in my area have been helping kids to have produce gardens at school for years. I think this area, even though it's still a mostly rural & not well off area, does try to buy some local food for its meal programs. In the last few years, some dedicated MGers have also started additional community gardens (one of which, near a lighthouse on BLM land, kids help grow everything) in the past 3 years or so.

That said, it sometimes seems, that some trends or projects flourish more strongly when there's someone, a celebrity or whomever, who people can say, oh, he/she is doing that, maybe I will try it or push for it too. So if Alice Waters encourages more people to buy at farmers' markets, join CSAs, push for/volunteer to help start gardens at local schools or start a veg garden at home or at a community garden, more power to her.

My own "organic/local" heroes are: (1) a friend who's gardened organically for 30+ years at her current home &, at one time, had a veg garden that was about an acre (she sold some of her corn & strawberries then) ,plus a variety of fruit trees, that met all of her then family's veg & fruit needs, and probably those of some of her friends. She also (at one time), grew & cured her own olives, made a variety of her own cheeses from goats she raised & milked herself, has pretty much bred a flint corn variety that's adapted to her climate through years of selection, and who may have serendipitously "bred" a new apple variety just by planting apple seeds from time to time (to see what would happen) or protecting volunteer apple seedlings, just to see how the fruit tastes when the tree eventually bears fruit. (2) the (former) manager of a local natural foods co-op who played a major role in keeping the co-op alive through a difficult period, recruiting new board members, & demonstrating near genius in finding some local growers for some produce so not all of the produce had to be shipped in from the valley or CA and (3) all the Master Gardeners who work with the public & school kids to start & maintain the school and community gardens.

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I think a characterization of her as a person is distraction to the good that she has done. We need to look at her ideas In a more broad sense. Sure, Having bio dynamic peaches at the point of highest sugar content is great but these ideals are can be trickled down to the home gardener without much imagination. The scrutiny to have amazing produce is not exactly pretentious. As a culture we beam about iphones and social networking when having a delicious tomato is attainable with just a few bucks and a sunny spot.

Edited by mexigaf (log)

My food and ideas CookDiegoCook

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I adore Alice Waters and all the wonderful things she has done.

The elitism charge rubbed me the way wrong way. Most of us do not look like Martha Stewart when we come in from a couple of hours of turning vegetable beds or pulling weeds. Lesley needs to stop by one afternoon, and we'll see how "elite" she feels when she is drenched in sweat, dirty from head to toe and smelling of composted cow manure. Washing your own vegetables is a habit that Lesley has gotten out of, I imagine.

The only argument I have with Water's message is the implication that growing your own food is "free" - and she has actually used that term.

Trust me, it isn't free. It is much cheaper - and there are several sources out there for free or nearly free seed. However, because many who are planning dooryard vegetable gardens are using soil that has been just lawn for a decade or so, amendments in one form or another have to be added. Then there is the labor.

If one would take the gym membership and apply it to the dooryard garden, however, it is quite cost effective. And the nutritional content blows away anything, even including some market produce.

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From the NY Times article linked above, and entitled Obamas to Plant White House Vegetable Garden:

On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets (the president doesn’t like them) but arugula will make the cut.

One small step, and as Miami Danny stated above:

Maybe not all of what Waters wants is attainable RIGHT NOW, but it seems to me that we should at least aim high. Obviously, a lot of what Waters was preaching decades ago seemed unattainable then, like eating local, or readily available organics; yet today those seemingly impossible goals are part of our day to day lives. I don't see why we can't achieve even more of what Waters is promoting.

And CKatCook said:

I am sorry, I thought that piece totally made Alice Waters look elitist. When she was standing front of the farmer that sold the grapes and said, something like just don't buy two pairs to addias. What went threw my mind was "tell that to a welfare mom" it was way unrealistic, between that and the fireplace in the kitchen..her message was lost.

I happen to live in a neighborhood where lots of people use food stamps. Many have nice looking sneakers, and you know what a lot are buying with their food stamps - trust me, it doesn't come from the produce department; it's giant bottles of Coke, it's cookies, it's chips, it's spareribs and it's assorted other crap. So, while beautiful Star Farms organic produce, or $4 a pound grapes may not be attainable, a little education might go a long way.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I saw the segment and enjoyed it very much. Being a former journalist, maybe I was able to look past Leslie's snarky attitude for the real message in the piece. For me, the real message is that the standard American diet is killing us. A very large percentage of our youth rely almost exclusively on McDonald's and other fast food outlets for their "nutrition".

Anyone who tries to reverse that trend and teach people about eating a healthier diet has my support. Even though I live in one of the most rural areas of the country, I don't have a farmer's market in my neighborhood. Nearest one is 35 miles from here. I guess I need a jet airplane to fly in my organics? :wacko:

Bob

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My fear is that the tone of the piece and making Waters' message look elitist isn't helping anyone. This is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It can't be. We all make choices about our food and what we want to spend money on. Michael Pollan talks in Omnivore's Dilemma about how we spend relatively less money on food than we ever did in the past. Cheap has become desirable, and all over America people spend their money on what weinoo describes above. Presenting eating well as slow cooking your eggs in a fireplace in your kitchen on a long handled spoon is just missing the point entirely. Yes, the message was completely lost. I blame that on Stahl and her producers.

Cheers to Michelle Obama for bringing this issue front and center in just a few short months.

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Waters is a strident advocate of her philosophy. It's certainly not Stahl's responsibility to advance these causes by intercepting it, moderating it and creating a compromise position that's more acceptable to those folks not in a position to follow it the way Waters does.

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Waters is a strident advocate of her philosophy.  It's certainly not Stahl's responsibility to advance these causes by intercepting it, moderating it and creating a compromise position that's more acceptable to those folks not in a position to follow it the way Waters does.

You are correct, it's not, and I'm not saying she shouldn't ask the tough questions. That's not what bothered me. There already is a compromise position, she just chose not to show it. Everything - her tone, questions, voice over commentary, and the editing - made the idea of eating well sound ridiculous. She left out a million things you might mention about slow food, sustainability, farmers, the environment and locavorism. Instead, she chirped "organic" a few dozen times, harped on Waters' lack of a microwave, and entirely mocked the notion that it might be a good thing to care about where our food comes from.

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