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Tired of the Alice Waters Backlash - Are You?


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I'm not sure being bossy and condescending serves anyone particularly well.

i totally agree, but any woman who works will tell you that the standards women are held to are different. even a woman boss shouldn''t be seen as "bossy"... a nurturing rather than condescending is the goal. men can be snakry asses and still be well liked, it;s just not a prvilege women enjoy in their work lives.

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I'm not sure being bossy and condescending serves anyone particularly well.

i totally agree, but any woman who works will tell you that the standards women are held to are different. even a woman boss shouldn''t be seen as "bossy"... a nurturing rather than condescending is the goal. men can be snakry asses and still be well liked, it;s just not a prvilege women enjoy in their work lives.

I think the issue here, with the talk about AW, isn't really so much about how she is as a boss. The double standard of which you speak is certainly alive and well, although it seems to be lessening. I can think of well-known women in very lofty business positions that are not beloved for their personalities, but that are lauded and respected for their competence and successes.

AW might be a shrew to her staff, just like people say Martha Stewart can be.

But is that really the issue here? This entire thread is more about how AW relates to the "little people" that she's trying to influence.

And I repeat that when you're trying to convince somebody, through basically your sheer power of persuasion, that another path is preferable, being bossy and condescending is counterproductive.

Whether you're male or female.

As, again I repeat, any salesperson, male or female, or motivational speaker, or clergy, or teacher, etc., can tell you.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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no need to repeat again and again....and sorry if I confused you w/ my reference to the workplace. i was not talking about what sort of boss she is at all.

just saying any woman who has been given any authority at work knows well what a fine line you walk between seen as a pushover and shrew. as much as things have changed we are no where near held to the same standards as men. men who are demanding, authoritative or self satisfied are just not villified for it. women routinely are.

this thread reminds me of the old school mormon reminder to their women to "keep sweet, no mater what". i don't see a lot of women offended by her manner, and it's telling that this is so. they don't need her to be likable in order to listen to her, some men here admit they do. sad.

while i agree with you that being likable would absolutely help spread her message, i don't agree she should change one bit. I think cultural standards- our expectation that Alice be a sweetheart on top of being a talented giving visionary are what should change.

an example you give of women being lauded at work desoite their personalities is interesting. would we be discussing how nice they are if they were men? i seriously doubt it.

i hope that's clearer.

I'm not sure being bossy and condescending serves anyone particularly well.

i totally agree, but any woman who works will tell you that the standards women are held to are different. even a woman boss shouldn''t be seen as "bossy"... a nurturing rather than condescending is the goal. men can be snakry asses and still be well liked, it;s just not a prvilege women enjoy in their work lives.

I think the issue here, with the talk about AW, isn't really so much about how she is as a boss. The double standard of which you speak is certainly alive and well, although it seems to be lessening. I can think of well-known women in very lofty business positions that are not beloved for their personalities, but that are lauded and respected for their competence and successes.

AW might be a shrew to her staff, just like people say Martha Stewart can be.

But is that really the issue here? This entire thread is more about how AW relates to the "little people" that she's trying to influence.

And I repeat that when you're trying to convince somebody, through basically your sheer power of persuasion, that another path is preferable, being bossy and condescending is counterproductive.

Whether you're male or female.

As, again I repeat, any salesperson, male or female, or motivational speaker, or clergy, or teacher, etc., can tell you.

Edited by butterscotch (log)
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Laura Shapiro has a brief article on Gourmet.com on "The War on Alice Waters" with epigraphs from eGulleters Fat Guy and Rancho Gordo. It seems as though Shapiro has been reading this thread.

A brief excerpt:

What irks people, I think, are the impossibly airy goals she likes to swirl about herself like so many silk scarves. But she isn’t a thinker, she’s a utopian, a relentless radical who just doesn’t care whether the current checks and balances of real life can accommodate her ideas. Where she’s been effective—amassing widespread support for small farms, reinventing school lunch, overhauling our image of luxury dining to put three carrots and a radish at center stage—it’s because she had the power to make her own fantasies come true. But she’s perfectly willing to press on with the fantasies even without the power. I doubt whether she knows any other way to operate.

Perhaps nothing new here but an interesting read nonetheless.

Comiendo pan y morcilla, nadie tiene pesadilla. —Refrán popular español

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. —James Beard

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Laura Shapiro has a brief article on Gourmet.com on "The War on Alice Waters" with epigraphs from eGulleters Fat Guy and Rancho Gordo. It seems as though Shapiro has been reading this thread.

A brief excerpt:

What irks people, I think, are the impossibly airy goals she likes to swirl about herself like so many silk scarves. But she isn’t a thinker, she’s a utopian, a relentless radical who just doesn’t care whether the current checks and balances of real life can accommodate her ideas. Where she’s been effective—amassing widespread support for small farms, reinventing school lunch, overhauling our image of luxury dining to put three carrots and a radish at center stage—it’s because she had the power to make her own fantasies come true. But she’s perfectly willing to press on with the fantasies even without the power. I doubt whether she knows any other way to operate.

Perhaps nothing new here but an interesting read nonetheless.

She took this thread of out of context. If I ever meet her I'm going to give her such a pinch! Maybe I'm wrong but I think most of us came to the conclusion that it's a very complicated situation. The author reasserts that AW is an icon beyond reproach. I prefer my heroes with capes and tights.

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"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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She took this thread of out of context. If I ever meet her I'm going to give her such a pinch! Maybe I'm wrong but I think most of us came to the conclusion that it's a very complicated situation. The author reasserts that AW is an icon beyond reproach. I prefer my heroes with capes and tights.

I couldn't agree more. I too find the Eat Me piece much more interesting because it reflects this complexity. This concluding paragraph pretty much sums up my reading of the situation:

The issues that Alice Waters espouses are important issues, but leaving them in her hands is a perilous proposition. We truly believe that what people are looking for, what they desperately want, is an authentic and realistic (read: un-elitist) voice to support the very important issues of this movement, from environmentalism to sustainability, health, animal welfare, delicious food, etc. — and no matter how much the old media wants Alice Waters to wear that crown, the evidence is mounting that it no longer fits.

Comiendo pan y morcilla, nadie tiene pesadilla. —Refrán popular español

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. —James Beard

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Changing subjects slightly and focusing on AW's influence, I think more than the localvore, she really was an early pioneer with an aesthetic. Some would call if California Cuisine, but I think that's not right because real Calif cuisine would have to have more Asian and Mexican influences, but it's a sort of anti-"Continental" French food that focused on ingredients instead of dishes. I still think this is where Americans fail. We want "recipes" without having to learn how to cook. I think her influence helped the Silver Palate, which made it even simpler and more practical for everyday cooks.

A lot of times people are disappointed with Chez Pannise but I don't think they "get" it. It's only ambitious in focusing on what makes the ingredients the best they can be. they aren't try to knock your socks off with innovation or dreamy sauces.

But I think the roots of an aesthetic were created at CP and I think this is really where she deserves a lot of credit.

Interesting point. I have several Chez Panisse cookbooks, but I rarely cook directly from them because they're full of recipes I already "know." Because, who these days doesn't go to the market, buy what's fresh and combine ingredients simply and deliciously, with lots of garlic and fresh herbs? Because, that's been one of the two dominant movements in home and restaurant cooking since I've had a place with a stove. Because, (coming full circle) (largely, arguably) of Alice Waters.

No wonder she's become a political activists -- on a culinary level she's made herself obsolete. :laugh:

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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She made that statement about "buying Nike shoes and cellphones" back in 2007, in an audio interview with Salon. There's a link on my blog for anyone who cares to hear it -- and it's a good interview, better than the print version.

The point being that her view isn't new. It's been around for a while. The only reason people are jumping on her case is because of the recent piece on 60 Minutes. Actually her thought process has evolved over the years -- it wasn't a made for television moment as some commenters seem to imply.

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I was reading this short interview with Alice Waters and noticed this variant of the Nikes comment:

So you’re saying it’s more but it’s not prohibitive?

That’s right. You just decide, OK, well, maybe I won’t rent that DVD

I started thinking about why I find that line of argument so offensive. After all, I've made a similar argument many times in the past: whenever somebody says "How can you justify spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy meal?" I argue that plenty of people spend hundreds of dollars on Superbowl tickets. In other words, it's my choice about how to spend my discretionary income.

The difference is, when two middle-class people with enough discretionary income to buy Superbowl tickets or eat at Jean Georges are having that debate it makes sense to frame it in terms of a choice about disposable income, but when you're talking about people of very limited means it's a bit much. Yes, even for poor people there are choices about how to spend money. It would be possible, in the abstract, to reduce all discretionary expenditures -- video rentals, sneakers -- to zero, and to wear only hemp sandals from the Salvation Army and to entertain oneself exclusively by playing kick the can and singing show tunes. But it's a bit much to demand that people live that way. You want to demand that economically comfortable people spend more money on food in order to achieve various lofty goals, that's idealistic. You want to demand that poor people spend more money on food in order to achieve those same goals, that's just wrong.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You want to demand that economically comfortable people spend more money on food in order to achieve various lofty goals, that's idealistic. You want to demand that poor people spend more money on food in order to achieve those same goals, that's just wrong.

I think when you say "wrong", you end the conversation. And the other side has to come out swinging.

I think the real issue, pointed out by your example, is how do you get the non-food obsessed to really care about food. The way to get the foodies excited is maybe by showing them neat tricks like cooking in your hearth, but your average joe would prefer to watch a cake challenge on Food TV. How do you get to him while still entertaining him? That's a challenge.

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Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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I think when you say "wrong", you end the conversation.

Setting aside the reality that the conversation did not end, let's play a game.

Take the statement "Hey, poor person, you shouldn't spend your money on _____. You should instead spend it at the farmers' market."

Please answer for each _____:

"Nikes" right/questionable/wrong

"DVD rentals" right/questionable/wrong

"a new winter coat" right/questionable/wrong

"college" right/questionable/wrong

"root canal instead of just having the tooth pulled" right/questionable/wrong

I hope this exercise makes clear the wrongness of lecturing poor people on how to spend their extra pennies. But if not, we can always continue the conversation.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Can you point out a source where Alice Water's has said that poor people who can't afford the basic necessities of life should spend a lot more of their money on food instead of things like shelter, dentition, or education? I haven't seen that.

Of course I think she wants everyone to eat local fresh healthy food, but in what I read and watch it appears that with these comments about Nikes or DVDs she's primarily advocating a shifting of priorities for people who can afford to make these changes at this time.

Edited by mjc (log)

Mike

The Dairy Show

Special Edition 3-In The Kitchen at Momofuku Milk Bar

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I was reading this short interview with Alice Waters and noticed this variant of the Nikes comment:
So you’re saying it’s more but it’s not prohibitive?

That’s right. You just decide, OK, well, maybe I won’t rent that DVD

I started thinking about why I find that line of argument so offensive. After all, I've made a similar argument many times in the past: whenever somebody says "How can you justify spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy meal?" I argue that plenty of people spend hundreds of dollars on Superbowl tickets. In other words, it's my choice about how to spend my discretionary income.

The difference is, when two middle-class people with enough discretionary income to buy Superbowl tickets or eat at Jean Georges are having that debate it makes sense to frame it in terms of a choice about disposable income, but when you're talking about people of very limited means it's a bit much. Yes, even for poor people there are choices about how to spend money. It would be possible, in the abstract, to reduce all discretionary expenditures -- video rentals, sneakers -- to zero, and to wear only hemp sandals from the Salvation Army and to entertain oneself exclusively by playing kick the can and singing show tunes. But it's a bit much to demand that people live that way. You want to demand that economically comfortable people spend more money on food in order to achieve various lofty goals, that's idealistic. You want to demand that poor people spend more money on food in order to achieve those same goals, that's just wrong.

It always reminds me of Marie Antoinette's reputed response to the news that the poor didn't have any bread.

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Once you go down the path of saying, "DVD rentals aren't necessities of life, therefore you can afford to spend that money at the farmer's market," you're injecting yourself into someone else's determination of what the necessities of life are. The next step is "You don't need an expensive root canal because one more or less tooth isn't a necessity of life, especially when you eat nice soft eggs cooked in the fireplace and don't need to chew much. You can just have the tooth pulled for a few dollars and spend the money you saved at the farmer's market."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In many ways Waters is the culinary equivalent to “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger. When either one of them ponies up the money so that in all households women can stay home and not work in order to raise their kids (her latest diatribe on the morning network news shows), and also buy, grow and cook organic food then I’ll personally build each one a soap box.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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I should add, FG, that in actuality your Super Bowl argument is nothing at all like Alice Waters's Nike/DVD argument. Your argument defends your own spending choices against attacks by others, whereas Ms. Waters is trying to impose her choices on others. Completely different thing.

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Which is why I think she's somewhat of a polarizing figure, playing to the base. But when you say what she said is "wrong", it implies the same moral judgment that she would seem to be using. I'm not saying she is or isn't, but again, this is where I think better media training would help.

But the "wrong" gets "I like her/ I hate her" or "she's a saint/she's Marie Antoinette" responses when the real question is how do we get the average Joe excited about real food.

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Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Not sure she's imposing anything, rather than pointing out that the choices we make influence our lives to a certain degree. Also those choices are shaped by values that you may or may not adhere to.

She leaves it to you to decide for yourself whether you agree or not, and then act accordingly.

It's no secret that shopping at farmers' markets is more expensive than going to the corner grocery store, in addition to being more time-consuming both in and out of the kitchen. So if you're going to follow that lifestyle, something has to give somewhere -- especially if you're already limited in terms of income and schedule.

A less extreme version of AW's position might be -- if one were to make dinner from scratch every night of the week. You do what you can, when you can, and perhaps sacrifice some time somewhere else. You do it because you derive some enjoyment or pleasure from it. And the benefits are obvious, and go far beyond aesthetics.

But if you're already biased against AW, well, there's nothing more to be said.

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But the "wrong" gets "I like her/ I hate her" or "she's a saint/she's Marie Antoinette" responses when the real question is how do we get the average Joe excited about real food.

This is the question that people should be focusing on imho, not on whether AW is "elitist".

She says as much in the audio interview (requires Windows Media Player or similar software) -- but somehow that got passed over in favor of criticism with respect to her remarks on Nikes and cell phones. :rolleyes:

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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But the "wrong" gets "I like her/ I hate her" or "she's a saint/she's Marie Antoinette" responses when the real question is how do we get the average Joe excited about real food.

This is the question that people should be focusing on imho, not on whether AW is "elitist".

She says as much in the audio interview (requires Windows Media Player or similar software) -- but somehow that got passed over in favor of criticism with respect to her remarks on Nikes and cell phones. :rolleyes:

The fact that she is an elitist, or at the very least, comes across that way is at variance with getting the "average Joe excited about real food."

If she were as approachable as Rachel Ray we'd be having a different discussion altogether, perhaps that she is dumbing down the benefits of organic food. But the message would be more widely accepted. Don't you think it's interesting that of all places, here on eGullet, AW is rubbing so many people the wrong way. You'd think she'd be preaching to the choir. My perception is that she is trying to impose her bubble-world onto everyone else who doesn't live in her bubble.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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But the "wrong" gets "I like her/ I hate her" or "she's a saint/she's Marie Antoinette" responses when the real question is how do we get the average Joe excited about real food.

This is the question that people should be focusing on imho, not on whether AW is "elitist".

She says as much in the audio interview (requires Windows Media Player or similar software) -- but somehow that got passed over in favor of criticism with respect to her remarks on Nikes and cell phones. :rolleyes:

The fact that she is an elitist, or at the very least, comes across that way is at variance with getting the "average Joe excited about real food."

If she were as approachable as Rachel Ray we'd be having a different discussion altogether, perhaps that she is dumbing down the benefits of organic food. But the message would be more widely accepted. Don't you think it's interesting that of all places, here on eGullet, AW is rubbing so many people the wrong way. You'd think she'd be preaching to the choir. My perception is that she is trying to impose her bubble-world onto everyone else who doesn't live in her bubble.

I of course don't think that way at all. It could be that I'm someone who has no need of conversion.

It's very easy to dismiss someone like AW because of whatever disagreements you might have with her way of handling herself. It's like talking without listening. If you perceive that she's 'elitist' [and consequently a turn-off], that pretty much seals the deal. Forget snark comments about cooking eggs in a spoon and think about what she's really saying -- that cooking is something people don't do very much anymore and that if people are able to rediscover for themselves the pleasure that comes with preparing food, that would go a long way towards reversing some of society's present ills.

But it's easy to dismiss that and instead say "what was she thinking?"

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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that cooking is something people don't do very much anymore and that if people are able to rediscover for themselves the pleasure that comes with preparing food, that would go a long way towards reversing some of society's present ills.

This sounds compelling, but here's an analogy. I love medieval literature and I think that if people were able to rediscover its pleasure and I think it might give people essential critical thinking skills and historical perspective that may go a long way to reversing some of society's ills. If I told you that, as a person who thinks and talks, you should be reading medieval literature because it's good for you and would solve some problems, despite the great deal of time and patience you have to devote to it, you might think I was some kind of elitist and you might be turned off to medieval literature.

Instead, it's better to meet people where they're at and tell them some cool stories from the lit to pique their interest, then if they're willing, you hook them up with a book. This works much better than telling people that they should do it because it's good for them.

It's very easy to dismiss someone like AW because of whatever disagreements you might have with her way of handling herself. It's like talking without listening. If you perceive that she's 'elitist' [and consequently a turn-off], that pretty much seals the deal.

This is a red herring. Nobody here is shutting their ears to the problems that AW is talking about. In fact, I think the problem might be that were all actually aware of everything she's talking about (it is, after all, old news to many of us I think). That's what gives us some critical distance: I for one am not attacking the message but the messager, as I think many on this thread are.

Now some do shut their ears up because of her perceived elitism. In the context of conveying a message, isn't this the problem of the person who's trying to communicate something and not the person their trying to persuade? Persuasion is about gently bringing people over to your side, not imperiously assuming they should already be there. This is the heart of the offense that people might take: AW seems to look down on people who aren't already on board. Obviously this is not her goal; I just think she can't do it any other way, hence my argument against her as a spokesperson for these issues.

nunc est bibendum...

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