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Tired of the Alice Waters Backlash - Are You?


weinoo
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Your response answers the question: I think many would read that simile and believe that "like Mr. Rogers" means "like a friendly patriarchal adult talks to children, with an all-knowing, superior tone that guides our behavior and teaches us how to grow up."

Chris Amirault

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As I said a mile up topic, a famous guy chef would have been lauded for the things Alice is doing. Everyone gives Oliver, White, Brown, Ramsey Hugh Whoozit the benefit of the doubt. I believe that if Alice Waters was a man we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Maybe, Maggie. Maybe not. Men that are imperious, arrogant, elitist, condescending are generally not beloved, either, so who knows. I can think of men that fit that description and I'd say that they, too, are less than perfect choices as advocates to the general public for one cause or another. And when they try, they just piss everybody off.

While on the other hand, men that manage to get their message across in a manner more accepting of others are lauded. The oft-mentioned Mr. Rogers is one.

And Carl Sagan is another.

In fact, throughout the entirety of this thread, I've been reminded of him and his "billions and billions" approach. He was a brilliant, well-educated man, in a lofty (in more ways than one) scientific field. But he didn't talk over our heads; he didn't talk down to us. He didn't patronize or lecture. When you watched him on his TV show, "Cosmos," or as a guest on a talk show, you were attracted by his inclusiveness, his enthusiasm. He was discussing a subject that could have been dry and scientific, and one that many folks had a hard time relating to their own personal lives. But he demystified it, made it appealing to everyone, encouraged us to know more.

I understand that women continue to be judged differently.

But I disagree that you can be an arrogant jerk, and that's just fine if you're a guy.

In fact, weren't there a few lines to that effect in a very famous poem about how to become a "man"?

"If you can walk with kings and not lose the common touch."

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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Your response answers the question: I think many would read that simile and believe that "like Mr. Rogers" means "like a friendly patriarchal adult talks to children, with an all-knowing, superior tone that guides our behavior and teaches us how to grow up."

That's one way to look at it. Decidedly negative, if you ask me.

It leads me to believe that there's something else that accounts for the negativity, because she's not advocating something that's inherently bad for anyone, in my opinion.

People will do what they want to do -- and that's fine, but actions do have consequences. This isn't a value judgment, but a statement of fact.

I see her as presenting a way to live better, and if you want to change your life, she opens the door for you.

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Maybe, Maggie.  Maybe not.  Men that are imperious, arrogant, elitist, condescending are generally not beloved, either, so who knows. 

You mean, men other than men like, ummm, Bourdain?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Yes, everyone has to eat to live. So the bigger difference is that if we switched worldwide from pop music to classical music then nobody would be hurt by it. We'd just have better music. Whereas, if we switched worldwide from industrial agriculture to small-scale farming we'd probably have to kill off a significant portion of the world's population to make that work, or at least compel global vegetarianism at gunpoint to prevent widespread famine.

The windmill on a car argument, once again. As if a significant portion of the world's population isn't already hungry.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

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As if a significant portion of the world's population isn't already hungry.

That's a distribution issue, though. The industrial agriculture system is producing more than enough food to feed every person in the world. But due mostly to politics, that food isn't reaching some populations. That's a tragedy.

That is a possibility though certainly not a given. Another possibility is that a failure in large scale monoclonal industrial agriculture could lead to massive famine and starvation.

There are plenty of changes to industrial agriculture that would be welcome from a sustainability perspective, though I'd be reluctant to embrace anything that increases the price of food for poor people unless it's based on a real cost-benefit analysis as opposed to precautionary-principle mumbo jumbo. But let's ask what locavores like Alice Waters are really advocating. I think we should be clear on that, so as not to be setting up any straw men.

My understanding is that the Alice Waters vision for the world involves local, small-scale agriculture providing for 100% (or 90+% if you allow for the chocolate and other probably imported items in use at Chez Panisse) of our food supply. This is simply impossible without large-scale reorganization of society. A substantial percentage of the world's population would need to be compelled to either: 1-labor in the fields, 2-become vegetarian, or 3-die. Or, most likely, a combination of the three.

Today, many parts of the world are already at their carrying capacities. Like most of Europe. These areas can't grow enough food to feed themselves. They need to import it, or they need to not eat. In addition, even the places that potentially can grow enough food to feed themselves may be inefficient at doing it. It may be more environmentally destructive, more fuel consumptive, more carbon intensive, etc., to grow it locally.

Likewise, it's simple math that if a large agribusiness farm grows 100 times as much food as a small family farm, then for each large agribusiness farm you need to add 100 family farms to the world to grow as much food. That means 100 families need to quit whatever they're doing and become farmers. How many limousine locavores are actually willing to do that? It's easy to wax rhapsodic about the joys of farming, but not everybody wants to go out and actually work the fields. Going back to a society where most people are engaged in farming would require an upheaval of unimaginable proportions. And it could not be done without lethal coercion.

That's all assuming small farms are anywhere near as efficient as large industrial farms. If they're less efficient, we may need 200 families to compensate for every lost industrial farm. And more land may need to be used.

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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I'm saying it's what Alice Waters and locavores advocate. Do you have reason to believe they advocate something different from that, or from each other? If so, let's better define her lofty goals so we can realistically appraise just how lofty they are.

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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Some eG threads develop a focus on human behavior. Like this one, those on taking photos in restaurants, servers asking diners about the tip is, etc. I find the wide range of opinions they provoke interesting. I wonder how much of that variation could be explained by a few demographic parameters, like age, sex, income and geographic location.

For example, I am a middle aged woman who lives in California and am blessed with a fair amount of disposable income. I don't find anything odd about Alice Waters. But then, I wouldn't, would I?

Well, maybe. I didn't always live here, and I can imagine that if I had stayed in rural Michigan with its decaying economy I might not see her in quite the same light. Similarly, my opinions on restaurant behavior were changed by the years I lived in Europe. Customs and behavior vary over time and space. Not everything works everywhere you go.

Lastly, I wonder if people would cut Alice more slack if she was 90. Women are often not cherished for being strange and cranky unless they are really old. Fortunately for Alice she lives in Berkeley where weirdness is a birthright.

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I'm saying it's what Alice Waters and locavores advocate. Do you have reason to believe they advocate something different from that, or from each other? If so, let's better define her lofty goals so we can realistically appraise just how lofty they are.

I thought that her entire argument/proposal/vision [use whatever term suits you] is based on making peoples' lives better by improving the quality of food that they eat in addition to the methods by which that food is produced. And I think maybe part of our culture needs to change -- from an outlook where convenience is prized as a means to an end. I recognize though that that's asking for a lot.

In a perfect world, yes, we would be 100% local/organic/sustainable. But that's not how things operate now. And it could be that we might not be able to achieve this vision without the massive socio-politcal/socio-economic upheaval you speak of. Accordingly, I'm not sure how productive it is to talk about what could be when in fact, we don't know for sure that it will be.

So it might be better if we limit the discussion to what people have to work with now. Maybe we can change how the system works without having to reinvent the wheel. The idealist in me is at odds with the pragmatist.

I can't cite studies or numbers or anything like that. As I said, I'm just starting to read about this whole topic.

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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Maybe, Maggie.  Maybe not.  Men that are imperious, arrogant, elitist, condescending are generally not beloved, either, so who knows.

You mean, men other than men like, ummm, Bourdain?

I think that there is a salient difference to be noted here. Bourdain is the sort of guy who will make a bunch of arrogant, elitist and condescending remarks about something, and then follow it up with something like: "But what do I know? At this point I'm a washed-up douchebag former cook who lucked into a career as a douchebag TV personality, and I just had two hot dogs for lunch." This kind of self-effacing humor is a big part of what makes people like him. In saying the things he says and following them up that way, he's not putting himself in the position of being an "elevated personage" whom everyone should aspire to emulate.

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While there are hardcore locavores who advocate eating nothing but locally produced and raised food, I'm not sure that Alice Waters is one of them. That is not to say that she doesn't advocate eating locally grown and raised food when possible nor does it mean that she doesn't not advocate more local food production. She clearly does advocate for both of those things, but I never got a sense of radical exclusivity. Even if she does, that is not what Slow food is all about, though it does support and encourage locavorism when possible.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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I really do love good food, but not to the point where I'm going to cut off all other things in my life that I find enjoyable.

HUH? Who is asking you to?

This would be, e.g., the implication that one should forego $100 shoes in favor of $100 worth of organic food from the farmer's market.

I'd say that there are plenty of reasons to think that buying $100 of organic food at a farmer's market is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 for a pair of shoes. I'd say that the $100 spent at the farmer's market is good for you, good for the local economy, good for the planet. Can you seriously say the same for a $100 pair of shoes?

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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Sure. A good pair of shoes protects your feet and spine, and will last for six months to a couple of years. If your feet and spine need a $100 pair of shoes, I would say buy your food at the grocery store this week.

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Maybe, Maggie.  Maybe not.  Men that are imperious, arrogant, elitist, condescending are generally not beloved, either, so who knows.

You mean, men other than men like, ummm, Bourdain?

I think that there is a salient difference to be noted here. Bourdain is the sort of guy who will make a bunch of arrogant, elitist and condescending remarks about something, and then follow it up with something like: "But what do I know? At this point I'm a washed-up douchebag former cook who lucked into a career as a douchebag TV personality, and I just had two hot dogs for lunch." This kind of self-effacing humor is a big part of what makes people like him. In saying the things he says and following them up that way, he's not putting himself in the position of being an "elevated personage" whom everyone should aspire to emulate.

Perfect, Sam. Bourdain's backed down on many of his blustering positions -- like Emeril, and fesses up when he's been a douchebag. I'm not sure how he feels about Alice, (and neither am I) but when the smoke clears in ten years, or thirty, I'll be interested to see what effect her views have made on the food zeitgeist.

(Bourdain: Back in the day I and friends had dinner and drinks with him. Perfect intelligent gentleman. He well knows the advantages of being a poseur.)

Margaret McArthur

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That is a possibility though certainly not a given. Another possibility is that a failure in large scale monoclonal industrial agriculture could lead to massive famine and starvation.

There are plenty of changes to industrial agriculture that would be welcome from a sustainability perspective, though I'd be reluctant to embrace anything that increases the price of food for poor people unless it's based on a real cost-benefit analysis as opposed to precautionary-principle mumbo jumbo. But let's ask what locavores like Alice Waters are really advocating. I think we should be clear on that, so as not to be setting up any straw men.

My understanding is that the Alice Waters vision for the world involves local, small-scale agriculture providing for 100% (or 90+% if you allow for the chocolate and other probably imported items in use at Chez Panisse) of our food supply. This is simply impossible without large-scale reorganization of society. A substantial percentage of the world's population would need to be compelled to either: 1-labor in the fields, 2-become vegetarian, or 3-die. Or, most likely, a combination of the three.

Is there anyway of supplying Mexico City or Beijing with enough pork that would fit into this local small scale model (Waters et al) of agriculture? Are there realistic models for this? If not then what is the population cut off for a city to feed itself from local small scale agriculture? Many population centres are not located in areas that are suitable for large scale production of any model, what happens to these?

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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I really do love good food, but not to the point where I'm going to cut off all other things in my life that I find enjoyable.

HUH? Who is asking you to?

This would be, e.g., the implication that one should forego $100 shoes in favor of $100 worth of organic food from the farmer's market.

I'd say that there are plenty of reasons to think that buying $100 of organic food at a farmer's market is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 for a pair of shoes. I'd say that the $100 spent at the farmer's market is good for you, good for the local economy, good for the planet. Can you seriously say the same for a $100 pair of shoes?

The point is that when you tell people that your choices are better than their choices, they can feel like you're talking down to them, etc.

For example, I could tell you that spending that $100 on a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

Or, I could tell you that spending that $100 on a hemp shower curtain that doesn't contain any non-degradable plastic is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

Or I could tell you that spending that $100 to attend a performance of your local symphony orchestra is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

Or I could tell you that spending that $100 on a ticket to the Citymeals on Wheels benefit gala is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

I could go on, and I could give examples of reasons why each of these things would be so. How's that make you feel?

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That is a possibility though certainly not a given. Another possibility is that a failure in large scale monoclonal industrial agriculture could lead to massive famine and starvation.

There are plenty of changes to industrial agriculture that would be welcome from a sustainability perspective, though I'd be reluctant to embrace anything that increases the price of food for poor people unless it's based on a real cost-benefit analysis as opposed to precautionary-principle mumbo jumbo. But let's ask what locavores like Alice Waters are really advocating. I think we should be clear on that, so as not to be setting up any straw men.

My understanding is that the Alice Waters vision for the world involves local, small-scale agriculture providing for 100% (or 90+% if you allow for the chocolate and other probably imported items in use at Chez Panisse) of our food supply. This is simply impossible without large-scale reorganization of society. A substantial percentage of the world's population would need to be compelled to either: 1-labor in the fields, 2-become vegetarian, or 3-die. Or, most likely, a combination of the three.

Is there anyway of supplying Mexico City or Beijing with enough pork that would fit into this local small scale model (Waters et al) of agriculture? Are there realistic models for this? If not then what is the population cut off for a city to feed itself from local small scale agriculture? Many population centres are not located in areas that are suitable for large scale production of any model, what happens to these?

If Mexico City is relying on industrial pork, that is a relatively recent phenomenon. One of the problems with industrial agriculture is that it is pushing many small farmers out of business in countries like Mexico, further contributing to urban congestion and illegal immigration.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I really do love good food, but not to the point where I'm going to cut off all other things in my life that I find enjoyable.

HUH? Who is asking you to?

This would be, e.g., the implication that one should forego $100 shoes in favor of $100 worth of organic food from the farmer's market.

I'd say that there are plenty of reasons to think that buying $100 of organic food at a farmer's market is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 for a pair of shoes. I'd say that the $100 spent at the farmer's market is good for you, good for the local economy, good for the planet. Can you seriously say the same for a $100 pair of shoes?

The point is that when you tell people that your choices are better than their choices, they can feel like you're talking down to them, etc.

For example, I could tell you that spending that $100 on a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

Or, I could tell you that spending that $100 on a hemp shower curtain that doesn't contain any non-degradable plastic is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

Or I could tell you that spending that $100 to attend a performance of your local symphony orchestra is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

Or I could tell you that spending that $100 on a ticket to the Citymeals on Wheels benefit gala is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

I could go on, and I could give examples of reasons why each of these things would be so. How's that make you feel?

All of these are factual statements.

If you feel they're condescending, then the problem lies with yourself, not with the speaker -- in my opinion.

Does AW need to moderate her tone? Depending on your point of view, maybe she should. But people will do what they want anyway, so why bother?

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All of these are factual statements.

Um... No. Actually, none of them is a factual statement. They are all statements of opinion. And, more to the point, they convey the sense of "my choices and priorities are better than your choices and priorities."

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All of these are factual statements.

Um... No. Actually, none of them is a factual statement. They are all statements of opinion. And, more to the point, they convey the sense of "my choices and priorities are better than your choices and priorities."

Sorry, I didn't read your original statement closely enough. I typed my reply in haste this morning.

Yes, I see they're all statements of opinion.

And to expand on my other point, that if those statements cause you to feel put upon, well, some people might react negatively, while some people might listen to you, and of those that listen, they might choose to use your information as they see fit depending on other factors.

So people perceive AW as condescending. So what? Do they really think she talks like that all the time to everyone she encounters? Even the people who she works with? That's....interesting.

I feel as if her critics want her to be the perfect media figure for the foodie community. Not going to happen.

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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Or I could tell you that spending that $100 on a ticket to the Citymeals on Wheels benefit gala is better - yes, there, I said it - BETTER - than spending $100 of organic food at a farmer's market.

I could go on, and I could give examples of reasons why each of these things would be so.  How's that make you feel?

If I could get a ticket to the Citymeals on Wheels benefit for $100, that would make me feel great!

I think what's missing in a lot of these arguments is that the choices we make really don't have to be all-or-nothing propositions...I mean I bake my own bread, which would probably make Alice happy, yet the flour is grown nowhere near my apartment. I buy corn for popping from a guy at the farmer's market, but I also buy Orville Redenbacher when the corn guy is out - but it's the popcorn you pop on top of the stove, not in the microwave, since I don't own one.

So I make little decisions which if more of us made, our planet might be a little better off. And I think it's within everyone's capacity to make a little decision every now and then - that's the message that I hear.

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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All of these are factual statements.

Um... No. Actually, none of them is a factual statement. They are all statements of opinion. And, more to the point, they convey the sense of "my choices and priorities are better than your choices and priorities."

Sorry, I didn't read your original statement closely enough. I typed my reply in haste this morning.

Yes, I see they're all statements of opinion.

And to expand on my other point, that if those statements cause you to feel put upon, well, some people might react negatively, while some people might listen to you, and of those that listen, they might choose to use your information as they see fit depending on other factors.

So people perceive AW as condescending. So what? Do they really think she talks like that all the time to everyone she encounters? Even the people who she works with? That's....interesting.

I feel as if her critics want her to be the perfect media figure for the foodie community. Not going to happen.

Look... I don't find Alice particularly condescending, because I agree with many of the things she says.

However, the fact of the matter is that when she makes a statement that other people can reasonably interpret as saying that her ideas and priorities are more important and correct than their ideas and priorities, and when the statement conveys the flavor of "if only you would just improve yourself, you would be more like me and see that I'm right and you're wrong" . . . well, people are going to find that condescending. And you know what? That is pretty much the dictionary definition of condescending to someone.

Whether or not you think it's....interesting that some people may find Alice Waters condescending is really not germane. Neither is it germane how she speaks to her colleagues, co-workers and peers. Indeed, part of "talking down to people" is that you don't condescend to the people you consider equals. Members of the peerage don't condescend to one another, they condescend to the peasants -- to their "lessers." Who cares how Alice Waters is perceived by the staff at Chez Panisse? So, what is germane is exactly how Alice Waters message is reasonably perceived by someone who owns a $100 pair of running shoes but doesn't spend $6 a bunch on heirloom grapes.

Yes... some people might listen to her and some people might not be turned off by the way she expresses her message. I'm just explaining how it is also reasonable for some other people to find it condescending as a way of explaining what some are calling a "backlash," and also suggesting that she might reach more people if she changed her modes of expression a bit.

I think of Alice Waters a bit like a kind of "sustainable/slocal/organic Martha Stewart" -- which is to say that, like Martha, she's holding herself up as an example of a person that everyone should strive to be emulate, like a kind of quasi-messianic foodie. And as Martha and others have found out, when circumstances -- be they economics, publicity, whatever -- go against this sort of public figure, so can public opinion. And the next thing you know, they're calling for Barabbas.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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All of these are factual statements.

Um... No. Actually, none of them is a factual statement. They are all statements of opinion. And, more to the point, they convey the sense of "my choices and priorities are better than your choices and priorities."

Sorry, I didn't read your original statement closely enough. I typed my reply in haste this morning.

Yes, I see they're all statements of opinion.

And to expand on my other point, that if those statements cause you to feel put upon, well, some people might react negatively, while some people might listen to you, and of those that listen, they might choose to use your information as they see fit depending on other factors.

So people perceive AW as condescending. So what? Do they really think she talks like that all the time to everyone she encounters? Even the people who she works with? That's....interesting.

I feel as if her critics want her to be the perfect media figure for the foodie community. Not going to happen.

Look... I don't find Alice particularly condescending, because I agree with many of the things she says.

However, the fact of the matter is that when she makes a statement that other people can reasonably interpret as saying that her ideas and priorities are more important and correct than their ideas and priorities, and when the statement conveys the flavor of "if only you would just improve yourself, you would be more like me and see that I'm right and you're wrong" . . . well, people are going to find that condescending. And you know what? That is pretty much the dictionary definition of condescending to someone.

Whether or not you think it's....interesting that some people may find Alice Waters condescending is really not germane. Neither is it germane how she speaks to her colleagues, co-workers and peers. Indeed, part of "talking down to people" is that you don't condescend to the people you consider equals. Members of the peerage don't condescend to one another, they condescend to the peasants -- to their "lessers." Who cares how Alice Waters is perceived by the staff at Chez Panisse? So, what is germane is exactly how Alice Waters message is reasonably perceived by someone who owns a $100 pair of running shoes but doesn't spend $6 a bunch on heirloom grapes.

Yes... some people might listen to her and some people might not be turned off by the way she expresses her message. I'm just explaining how it is also reasonable for some other people to find it condescending as a way of explaining what some are calling a "backlash," and also suggesting that she might reach more people if she changed her modes of expression a bit.

I think of Alice Waters a bit like a kind of "sustainable/slocal/organic Martha Stewart" -- which is to say that, like Martha, she's holding herself up as an example of a person that everyone should strive to be emulate, like a kind of quasi-messianic foodie. And as Martha and others have found out, when circumstances -- be they economics, publicity, whatever -- go against this sort of public figure, so can public opinion. And the next thing you know, they're calling for Barabbas.

Well stated, Sam, nevertheless, it is important to separate a backlash for the person from the ideas as some seem unable to do.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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