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Tired of the Alice Waters Backlash - Are You?


weinoo
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it is important to separate a backlash for the person from the ideas as some seem unable to do.

I'm not sure who has been unable to do that. Most comments I've seen have disagreed with one, the other or both. But the sort of convergence of message and messenger you speak of is to be expected when you have an offensive messenger, no matter what the message is.

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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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.

In an earlier post I mentioned that my daughter took her group of students, who are participating in the Jefferson Awards program, to meet with Ms. Waters and it was on a day when she was quite busy with other commitments but she was extremely generous with her time and not at all condescending to these high school girls, who are not all from affluent families and who certainly can't benefit her business in any appreciable way. The girls all came away from the meeting with an enhanced appreciation of the way support for local producers fits together and promotes increasing participation in sustainable agriculture.

They used what they learned in their presentation in the State of Calif. competition and my daughter feels that is what earned them the right to compete in the national competition in D.C. next month.

When I was still in the food business (in a marginal way) I bought from "local" growers at the few farmers markets then selling. Some had stories of having certain restaurants (this was really prior to the "celebrity chef" incursion) demanding that they reserve most or all of their produce for that restaurant and not sell to others. This was fine as long as they could depend on the restaurant keeping up their end of the bargain but far too many times they would take a delivery in and be told that their produce wasn't needed because they found a "better" supplier. This was at times a severe blow to their bottom line.

Not only does A.W. not make this type of demands on her suppliers, she informs other restaurants when she finds a supplier that has superior products. Her aim is to see them expand and prosper.

The philosophy by which she operates is INclusionary, not EXclusionary. And that is the point in a nutshell that too many of these commentators/journalists/bloggers and so on, have failed to note.

Alice Waters was not in business or spreading her ideas for self-aggrandizement when I first met her in 1974, when the restaurant had already proved to be a resounding success, and she hasn't changed over the years. She is sincere in her beliefs and certainly has put her money where her mouth is with the establishment of her foundation.

I would like her detractors to list the foundations they have established and also list the things they have done to better their communities, their schools and the producers of the foods they eat.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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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.

Let me give you an example from my own life: A good friend of mine is very much an advocate of anticonsumerism and avoiding waste -- especially waste that involves the use of non-degradable plastics, etc. She lived The Compact for a year, etc. She is someone who won't buy anything that comes in plastic. As in, she won't buy cheese at Murray's if they put it in their wrapping paper becuse it is lined with plastic (luckily, you can get them to just give you the cheese). She really did spend a hundred bucks on a hemp shower curtain that is made without plastic.

Now, she could spend a lot of time clucking her tongue at me every time I buy a bottle of San Pellegrino, and saying things such as, "some people spend $100 on Nike shoes and other people choose to spend that $100 on a plastic-free hemp shower curtain." This would, among other things, result in my seeing a lot less of her.

Instead, she exemplifies her ideals in her own life, is happy to talk about her thoughts and ideas with anyone who asks, is never judgmental about other people's choices, is understanding and appreciative of the fact that her lifestyle is not always an easy one and involves some radical rethinking of priorities and preferences, etc. In short, she is much more likely to explain how you can have a reusable metal water bottle and actually have great filtered water for an even lower price than she is to give you any kind of crap about that bottle of Poland Spring you just bought. And if you feel like talking about the commodification of water, she's happy to talk about that too.

The result of all this has been a far greater change in my personal behavior and consumption, and a far greater receptiveness to any future anticonsumerism evangelizing from this friend than could ever have been accomplished had she talked down to me from a position of smug moral superiority.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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The result of all this has been a far greater change in my personal behavior and consumption, and a far greater receptiveness to any future anticonsumerism evangelizing from this friend than could ever have been accomplished had she talked down to me from a position of smug moral superiority.

Very true. And perhaps that's how Alice Waters treats her friends as well.

However, suppose your friend was asked to go on national TV after practicing what she preaches for 30 some-odd years, and really not seeing that much change take place (though I do hope and believe as a society we are making some of the right choices now as opposed to 1972). Maybe your friend's attitude has changed a bit - and perhaps even she might cluck her tongue at all those who fail to see the brilliance in the choices she has made.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

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Actually, my friend has been on TV several times on this subject, and has recently been filmed for part of a French documentary. I think that part of the reason she has had these opportinities is because she seems "normal" to people who don't subscribe to what can seem like a pretty extreme lifestyle, and she's not preachy (both of these things are pitfalls into which many of the other advocates of this cause have fallen).

But, more germane to this discussion, whether or not you can contrive reasons and excuses for why Waters can reasonably appear condescending to people due to the ways she expresses her message is beside the point. The point is that she does.

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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.

That isn't the question that I asked. I would imagine that the relatively recent phenomenon of industrial agriculture also coincides with more people at different social strata eating meat, not just a lucky minority. What I want to see is a realistic model for feeding a +5 million population city from local small scale farms. Which isn't such a big ask, given the huge amount of press given to eating locally from small scale farmers etc.

Which is not to say that I don't get local and small scale. My family are farmers, so I know exactly what is involved. I personally have bought 25 apple trees (all pre-19th century varieties), 8 different types of quince, 2 medlar varieties, a dozen rare plums, ditto near extinct varieties of figs, 2 types of cardoon, I only grow one variety of zucchini which comes from the area around Florence, 3 types of 18th century melon, dozens of rare citrus, dozens of rare herbs etc etc. But this is my indulgence and it isn't going to feed a city. Which is the point.

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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.

That isn't the question that I asked. I would imagine that the relatively recent phenomenon of industrial agriculture also coincides with more people at different social strata eating meat, not just a lucky minority. What I want to see is a realistic model for feeding a +5 million population city from local small scale farms. Which isn't such a big ask, given the huge amount of press given to eating locally from small scale farmers etc.

Which is not to say that I don't get local and small scale. My family are farmers, so I know exactly what is involved. I personally have bought 25 apple trees (all pre-19th century varieties), 8 different types of quince, 2 medlar varieties, a dozen rare plums, ditto near extinct varieties of figs, 2 types of cardoon, I only grow one variety of zucchini which comes from the area around Florence, 3 types of 18th century melon, dozens of rare citrus, dozens of rare herbs etc etc. But this is my indulgence and it isn't going to feed a city. Which is the point.

To you it may be an indulgence. To many small farmers, especially in less industrialized cultures, it is their livelihood. My point about Mexico City is that it didn't just grow into the world's largest city overnight. They have fed themselves with small scale agriculture for years. Ironically, it is only since NAFTA that large scale industrial ag has made significant inroads into Mexico. So to answer your question, it would appear that they fed themselves for quite some time using small scale, traditional farming techniques and varietals (many, many varietals).

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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Like I said, my family were and are farmers and have been since at least the 16th century as far as we can tell. I think that I have a pretty good idea of farming and poverty in general. Which isn't the point. The point is if small scale and local is such a fantastic model for feeding large modern population centres, giving maximum potential to the inhabitants and minimum environmental impact, then where is it? Where is the actual fact and data?

To date this is the only data I've found on meat consumption in Mexico City. If true even in 2006 meat (specifically pork) consumption was very low (very very low for much of the population), yet the population size means that this is a huge amount of food and associated infrastructure to deal with it. If it is a historical fact that pre-1994 all the food in Mexico City was supplied from small local farmers, then how was this done and how could it realistically be applied now, giving maximum potential to the inhabitants and minimum negative health and environmental impact?

I should say that I would love it to be true that small and local is the solution (or even a solution) as that is were my heart is, but my intellect says otherwise. I heard a few to many personal accounts of the lives of say Contadini in Italy (or my own family in Croatia) to be convinced by third hand stories of how wonderful a small farmers (usually called a "peasant" for some reason) existence is in pre-agrarian reform Europe was.

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I think the claim of "lofty goals" has to be tested against the logic of widespread implementation of said lofty goals. If widespread implementation of those goals would actually make the world a much worse place, they are hardly lofty.

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 quite far from the scene of the action, so I can't say much about the praise/criticism of Waters' stances. But I gotta say, Jamie Oliver's efforts have similarly been criticized (from the Jamie's School Dinners and Jamie's Ministry of Food mini-series) as pompous and unrealistic, and he even meant to cater mostly to the very people who sneer at him (not "preaching to the choir"). The finales of both series paint his progress in a positive light, but there are plenty of instances in each episode where he deals with naysayers. I have similar criticisms but I do see his point-- the efficacy of his method lies somewhere in between. I suspect that's where Waters is right now too.

Gosh, maybe she should have her own television show/documentary as well?

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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I'm quite far from the scene of the action, so I can't say much about the praise/criticism of Waters' stances. But I gotta say, Jamie Oliver's efforts have similarly been criticized (from the Jamie's School Dinners and Jamie's Ministry of Food mini-series) as pompous and unrealistic, and he even meant to cater mostly to the very people who sneer at him (not "preaching to the choir"). The finales of both series paint his progress in a positive light, but there are plenty of instances in each episode where he deals with naysayers. I have similar criticisms but I do see his point-- the efficacy of his method lies somewhere in between. I suspect that's where Waters is right now too.

Gosh, maybe she should have her own television show/documentary as well?

So what you're actually saying is that maybe it's not the message, maybe it's not even the messenger.

Maybe it's the people who don't want to listen to the message even one bit, because they're so convinced that the path we're currently on is the correct one?

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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So what you're actually saying is that maybe it's not the message, maybe it's not even the messenger.

Maybe it's the people who don't want to listen to the message even one bit, because they're so convinced that the path we're currently on is the correct one?

It's probably the message and the messenger, and the method, and the audience-- a ton of other things I haven't sorted out yet, and probably far beyond the scope of what the topic's supposed to be (the backlash against Waters). (And well beyond my limited comprehension of the issues at hand!) :smile:

I haven't had much exposure to Waters-- only an Iconoclasts episode featuring her and dancer Aleksandr Petrovsky (sp?). She didn't appear overbearing there, so I only know of the backlash from here on eG. Comparing her to a man with a similar message, Jamie Oliver, he isn't exempted from a backlash (quite the contrary-- it's pretty well-publicized in the UK, though it is a much smaller country and he is relatively a bigger celebrity there). However, I believe he does have some protection because

1. He'd already established himself as a boy-next-door-chef for years ("He's cute, so let's listen to him")

2. His television shows show him for the most part winning over his critics (add in the heartstrings factor of "the working-class single mum who found it frustrating at first but is now his ardent supporter!"-- seriously, watch Jamie's Ministry of Food if you can)-- though as we've seen, reality can be different, but it does alter his reception somewhat

2.a. The show has him relating with working-class people.

3. He tried to implement his message on a national level (though Britain is comparatively smaller and his methods sometimes clunky, it does have that "at least he's really trying/he has a plan!" factor to it).

Sorry for the parentheses! I hope my thoughts came through clearly enough. :smile:

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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I'm quite far from the scene of the action, so I can't say much about the praise/criticism of Waters' stances. But I gotta say, Jamie Oliver's efforts have similarly been criticized (from the Jamie's School Dinners and Jamie's Ministry of Food mini-series) as pompous and unrealistic, and he even meant to cater mostly to the very people who sneer at him (not "preaching to the choir"). The finales of both series paint his progress in a positive light, but there are plenty of instances in each episode where he deals with naysayers. I have similar criticisms but I do see his point-- the efficacy of his method lies somewhere in between. I suspect that's where Waters is right now too.

Gosh, maybe she should have her own television show/documentary as well?

So what you're actually saying is that maybe it's not the message, maybe it's not even the messenger.

Maybe it's the people who don't want to listen to the message even one bit, because they're so convinced that the path we're currently on is the correct one?

I find both of these posts interesting. The first because it discusses a backlash against Jamie Oliver, a man.

And the second because of the absolutist conclusion. Apparently there's no middle ground between "Alice is absolutely right in every and all instance and a saint upon this earth who is simply trying to lead us to the promised land if only we'd listen and take her direction"; vs the (obviously flawed and requiring some adjustment) "path we're currently on is the correct one."

Edited by Jaymes (log)

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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So what you're actually saying is that maybe it's not the message, maybe it's not even the messenger.

Maybe it's the people who don't want to listen to the message even one bit, because they're so convinced that the path we're currently on is the correct one?

Just because some of us don't think the future "path" that Alice Waters endorses is viable, it doesn't follow that we think the one we've been following is correct. Those aren't the only two options.

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On the evening of 14 May there was a panel in Hartford that included Waters, Bourdain and Duff the Ace of Cakes guy. I haven't seen a lot of detailed reporting on it, but here's something from the Hartford paper. Did anybody attend, or does anybody have access to a transcript or something?

Found a much more detailed account on Eat Me Daily.

After that she went on and on till Bourdain said – "I put literacy above that as a priority" and everyone clapped.

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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This struck me as odd for someone who preaches Alice Waters' brand of orthodoxy:

When the audience Q&A was answered in the second half, the question of "What would your last meal be?" was asked — Alice Water responded "I'd have Cecilia Chang make me shark fin soup" to which Bourdain responded, "I don't think shark fins are local" — and everyone laughed… at her.

Most shark fins are obtained by "finning" the sharks, which involves cutting the fin off the shark and then dumping the shark back in the ocean where, unable to swim, it sinks to the bottom and dies. Finning also represents an approximately 98% waste of shark meat from the whole shark. Not to mention that sharks are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem, and that the reduction in their numbers by finning and long line commercial fishing, etc. is believed to be responsible for some of the negative changes we see in various fisheries. I, personally, would really have to think twice before I ate some shark fin soup.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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On the evening of 14 May there was a panel in Hartford that included Waters, Bourdain and Duff the Ace of Cakes guy. I haven't seen a lot of detailed reporting on it, but here's something from the Hartford paper. Did anybody attend, or does anybody have access to a transcript or something?

Found a much more detailed account on Eat Me Daily.

After that she went on and on till Bourdain said – "I put literacy above that as a priority" and everyone clapped.

Are they mutually exclusive?

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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This struck me as odd for someone who preaches Alice Waters' brand of orthodoxy:
When the audience Q&A was answered in the second half, the question of "What would your last meal be?" was asked — Alice Water responded "I'd have Cecilia Chang make me shark fin soup" to which Bourdain responded, "I don't think shark fins are local" — and everyone laughed… at her.

Most shark fins are obtained by "finning" the sharks, which involves cutting the fin off the shark and then dumping the shark back in the ocean where, unable to swim, it sinks to the bottom and dies. Finning also represents an approximately 98% waste of shark meat from the whole shark. Not to mention that sharks are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem, and that the reduction in their numbers by finning and long line commercial fishing, etc. is believed to be responsible for some of the negative changes we see in various fisheries. I, personally, would really have to think twice before I ate some shark fin soup.

That is odd, but she did only offer it as a last meal choice, which doesn't make it any better a practice or any more consistent with her ideals, locavorism aside.

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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Found a much more detailed account on Eat Me Daily.
After that she went on and on till Bourdain said – "I put literacy above that as a priority" and everyone clapped.

Are they mutually exclusive?

No. But, come on! Let's be realistic for a moment here. At some point we're getting into rank apology for some of the things she's proposing. Here is what she said:

According to Alice, we should "provide breakfast, lunch and a snack FOR FREE to every child in America," even if it cost billions. "How could it not be worth it?" she defended, "these children are our future."

Now, I grew up in a family of academics. My father has been at major research universities for his entire career. My mother has worked both as a teacher in public schools and at research universities. My paternal grandparents were both educators. My mother-in-law has spend her entire career in public education. I have at least a half-dozen friends who are making their careers in public education.

All of which I provide as an indication that I have some basis to know whereof I speak when I say that the educational system of this country is scandalously underfunded and perhaps the worst in the world among "first world" industrialized nations. So, when Bourdain suggests that taking those billions of dollars and putting them into the educational system that we have more children in this country who can read, write, do basic arithmetic, have a reasonable understanding of history, politics, science and the arts before we start talking about spending some of that money on free organic apples in the lunchroom, I am with him 100%.

No, they are not mutually exclusive. But, please. Let's get our priorities in order. Reading before free organic food. Given the difficulties we're having in simply getting enough money into the school system to have decent facilities and materials, student-to-teacher ratios below 20:1, compensating teachers well enough to get the best, brightest and most talented educators, etc. -- Waters' vision is pretty far down on my list, and amounts fundamentally to painting gold leaf on the top of the dam while there's water spilling through cracks down at the bottom.

This, again, is an example of the ways that Waters and her message can turn people off. I can't imagine what my mother-in-law would think of Alice were she told that they should be rounding up money to serve free farmer's market food in the Junction City, Kansas public schools when there is such a desparate need for more books and teachers and, frankly, all the kinds of things that will simply help them keep the kids in school instead of turning tricks with soldiers from the Army base at age 15.

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Found a much more detailed account on Eat Me Daily.
After that she went on and on till Bourdain said – "I put literacy above that as a priority" and everyone clapped.

Are they mutually exclusive?

No. But, come on! Let's be realistic for a moment here. At some point we're getting into rank apology for some of the things she's proposing. Here is what she said:

According to Alice, we should "provide breakfast, lunch and a snack FOR FREE to every child in America," even if it cost billions. "How could it not be worth it?" she defended, "these children are our future."

Now, I grew up in a family of academics. My father has been at major research universities for his entire career. My mother has worked both as a teacher in public schools and at research universities. My paternal grandparents were both educators. My mother-in-law has spend her entire career in public education. I have at least a half-dozen friends who are making their careers in public education.

All of which I provide as an indication that I have some basis to know whereof I speak when I say that the educational system of this country is scandalously underfunded and perhaps the worst in the world among "first world" industrialized nations. So, when Bourdain suggests that taking those billions of dollars and putting them into the educational system that we have more children in this country who can read, write, do basic arithmetic, have a reasonable understanding of history, politics, science and the arts before we start talking about spending some of that money on free organic apples in the lunchroom, I am with him 100%.

No, they are not mutually exclusive. But, please. Let's get our priorities in order. Reading before free organic food. Given the difficulties we're having in simply getting enough money into the school system to have decent facilities and materials, student-to-teacher ratios below 20:1, compensating teachers well enough to get the best, brightest and most talented educators, etc. -- Waters' vision is pretty far down on my list, and amounts fundamentally to painting gold leaf on the top of the dam while there's water spilling through cracks down at the bottom.

This, again, is an example of the ways that Waters and her message can turn people off. I can't imagine what my mother-in-law would think of Alice were she told that they should be rounding up money to serve free farmer's market food in the Junction City, Kansas public schools when there is such a desparate need for more books and teachers and, frankly, all the kinds of things that will simply help them keep the kids in school instead of turning tricks with soldiers from the Army base at age 15.

I don't believe AW was saying "Organic food is more of a priority than reading" and I think this is one of the primary reasons why people have a problem with her. She says one thing and people begin twisting and turning her comments into something she never said. I get her point: proper nutrition is conducive to a proper education. There are numerous studies indicating proper nutrition aids in learning. A wonderful new book doesn't do a damn thing for a kid who is malnurished.

Currently AW is proposing breakfast, lunch, and a snack. However, the Kansas school system already has a way to resolve any issue with their funding. It's called taxes. If Kansas has a problem with their school system, they have the means, but not the will, to fix it.

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Putting literacy above nutrition is laudable. However, as has been undeniably proved in both urban schools and in particular, rural Appalachia schools, not to mention the extensive studies done in third world countries. Children who are poorly fed and are truly hungry, cannot learn. A hungry child is distracted by feelings they often cannot express.

They don't necessarily need "farmers market" foods, but they do need their basic nutritional needs supplied when their parents are unable to do so.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Ahh, but Sam, surely you know that being fed properly, if at all, is vital to a child's ability to learn.

I think it is a mistake to suppose that a significantly large proportion of our public school population is experiencing learning deficits due to malnutrition that can be meaningfully addressed from within the school system.

Meanwhile, we have had a National School Lunch Program providing free and reduced-price meals to income-eligable students in need for longer than I've been alive. In fiscal 1997, this amounted to $8.7 billion and benefitted more than 30.5 million children each day (which is more than 50% of children enrolled in out public school system). The kids who don't qualify for this assistance shouldn't be suffering any effects of malnutrition, and whatever extent some of these kids enrolled in the program may be getting horrible nutrition in their homes when they are not at school is outside of the scope and financial reach of any such program. What Alice Waters is suggesting is (i) that we radically increase the budgeted dollars per student, and (ii) that we radically increase the students serviced by this system to include all 55 million children enrolled in our public schools. What do you figure that might cost? An additional $12 billion, at least? Meanwhile, the average starting salary for a public school teacher in the United States is $32K.

I don't believe AW was saying "Organic food is more of a priority than reading" and I think this is one of the primary reasons why people have a problem with her.  She says one thing and people begin twisting and turning her comments into something she never said.  I get her point: proper nutrition is conducive to a proper education. There are numerous studies indicating proper nutrition aids in learning.  A wonderful new book doesn't do a damn thing for a kid who is malnurished.

As I pointed out, we already have a Federal program in place to provide a free or subsidized school lunch (and usually also breakfast and snack) to more than 30 million children in the United States, To the extent that this may not be enough for some small percentage of students to mitigate any significant malnutrition-related learning deficits, there are other Federal programs in place to provide assistance to families in need. Do I believe that these programs can and should be expanded? Of course. Tell that to the millions of people in this country who vote for politicians on the basis of promises to not increase their taxation rates. This isn't a problem in, say, Sweden. But I think it is a false argument to suggest that the educational problems and learning deficits in our public school system are meaninfgully caused or contributed to by malnutrition -- and also top suggest that, even if this were the case, that Alice Waters' proposal would have any meaningful effect, never mind an effect anywhere near as meaningful as, say, mandating that elementary school classrooms can not have a student-to-teacher ration higher than 15:1 and providing the financial assistance to make that happen.

The point is, I think, that if we're going to radically increase federal assistance to the public school system -- something I generally support -- there are a lot of incredibly pressing needs in line before "free organic breakfast, snack and lunch for every student."

Currently AW is proposing breakfast, lunch, and a snack.  However, the Kansas school system already has a way to resolve any issue with their funding. It's called taxes.  If Kansas has a problem with their school system, they have the means, but not the will, to fix it.

I won't get into the economic apartheid we have in this country that says that local public schools are funded largely by local property taxes, except to say that you could make the exact same argument about giving every child in school a free breakfast, snack and lunch from a local organic farm.

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