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weinoo

Tired of the Alice Waters Backlash - Are You?

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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.

Funny how

Anthony Bourdain requested a dish of roasted bone marrow from St. John restaurant in London, spread on French bread with crushed sea salt.

doesn't sound very local to me either. :rolleyes:

ETA -- it's unclear to me why AB gets to go on a wild flight of fancy while AW gets skewered for doing the same. The question wasn't "What would you like for your last meal as espoused by the culinary principles you live by?.

Furthermore, someone upthread mentioned that AB usually tries to relate to people with a common touch, this read to me more like an attack. Quite frankly the Eat Me Daily account is packed with anti-AW tripe that it was difficult for me to take it seriously as a piece of reportage. The bias is so thick you can substitute it for cream cheese on a bagel.


Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)

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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.

So what you're saying is that you've had enough to eat today?


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Funny how
Anthony Bourdain requested a dish of roasted bone marrow from St. John restaurant in London, spread on French bread with crushed sea salt.

doesn't sound very local to me either. :rolleyes:

Um... so what? Last I heard Bourdain wasn't presenting himself as a preaching, living embodiment of slow/local/seasonal/organic/small farm food for everyone. You're saying what, exactly? That Bourdain doesn't practice what Waters preaches? I don't see that he is obliged to do so.

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.

So what you're saying is that you've had enough to eat today?

This seems like a jibe in the face of not having much real ground to stand on. I'm not sure what substantial point you have to make here.

Florida, in effect, is saying that the Federal government should pour money into Waters' idea of giving free organic/local/whatever breakfast, snack and lunch to all 55 million children enrolled in American public schools in the face of the shocking holes in our educational system because, after all, if people in a certain state or community want the local public schools to be better, they can always vote to raise their own taxes. All I'm saying is that the same thing is true for the food program: states can raise taxes to improve their free meal offerings as well, if they want to. So that's a non-argument. The issue is that, if you are going to designate some billions of dollars to go into the school system, is that money better spent on free organic meals for every student, or shoring up the walls of our failing educational system? Hey, I'll be the first person to say the best thing would be to do both, but let's be realistic here.

You want to say that our government should, in general, be providing more of a social safety net for its citizens and should be more actively spending to ensure that we reduce things like childhood malnutrition? I don't disagree with that one bit. Tell it to the voters who are dissatisfied with paying the lowest tax rates among first world nations. But it's absurd to suppose that Waters' proposed program would make any meaningful difference in malnutrition. You want to do something about malnutrition among the public school-attending population in the United States? Allow me to suggest that enacting programs that make sure families have enough to eat at home, that gives mothers and fathers paid paternal leave commensurate with the rest of the nations in the world, that gives poor and working families access to affordable healthcare, that offers family planning education and resources, etc. are the kinds of things that have a chance of meaningfully affecting this problem in a way that putting an organic apple into the hand of every public school student just doesn't. Even simpler than that... let me suggest that plowing that extra $10 billion into WIC would do far, far more towards solving the problem of malnourished schoolchildren than Waters' plan.

Meanwhile, where is Alice Waters saying that a significant goal of this proposal is to meaningfully impact malnutrition in our public school student population?


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Funny how
Anthony Bourdain requested a dish of roasted bone marrow from St. John restaurant in London, spread on French bread with crushed sea salt.

doesn't sound very local to me either. :rolleyes:

Um... so what? Last I heard Bourdain wasn't presenting himself as a preaching, living embodiment of slow/local/seasonal/organic/small farm food for everyone. You're saying what, exactly? That Bourdain doesn't practice what Waters preaches? I don't see that he is obliged to do so.

I'm saying that AW's answer is germane to the question as it was asked and skewering her for a meal that runs contrary to the principles she espouses is a little unfair. Maybe if the question had been phrased differently, she would have answered differently! But we'll never know, will we?

You want to tell me that AB is unpretentious? Explain to me how roasted bone marrow spread on French bread with crushed sea salt comes across as unpretentious, because I don't follow.


Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)

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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."

- I am not alleging all of our educational problems are a result of malnutrition

- I don't believe AW is either

- I seriously doubt AW would be a proponent of cutting teacher salaries or limiting other education funds in order to provide additional meals to children.

- AW is a chef. She is proposing a solution to a specific problem. Again, I seriously doubt she was making a blanket statement regarding the importance of organic food relative to every other educational problem which exists in this country.

My point was, and still is, there are some people who don't like AW who will actively search for, and possibly contrive, reasons why not to like her.

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I'm saying that AW's answer is germane to the question as it was asked and skewering her for a meal that runs contrary to the principles she espouses is a little unfair.

I think that when you are an evangelizing moralizer who makes statements such as, "some people want to buy Nike shoes -- two pairs, and other people want to eat Bronx grapes" then you open yourself up to be judged in everything you say by the same yardstick you are continually holding up. It's like Ghandi saying that the one thing he wanted to to before he died was "kick the ever-living crap out of a British soldier." Germane to the question? Sure. It just contradicts everything he had been telling people to do. This is the same reason why Rick Bayless deserved criticism for appearing in a Burger King commercial whereas Padma Lakshmi did not for appearing in a Hardee's commercial: because Bayless had loudly and consistently moralized against the sorts of things practiced by Burger King.

You want to tell me that AB is unpretentious?  Explain to me how roasted bone marrow spread on French bread with crushed sea salt comes across as unpretentious, because I don't follow.

I wouldn't necessarily say that Tony Bourdain is unpretentious, but I think this is probably not the word you meant to use. Something that is pretentious is "expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature." I don't get that liking roasted bone marrow fits that definition. I do, however, think that Tony has perhaps a touch of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature about him from time to time. That said, as previously stated, he very effectively mitigates this sort of thing with deliberate and seemingly sincere self-deprecation.

Meanwhile, what does pretension or, as I think you were trying to say, preciousness have to do with making statements that go against one's oft-repeated principles?

My point was, and still is, there are some people who don't like AW who will actively search for, and possibly contrive, reasons why not to like her.

I guess we just disagree as to whether making statements which suggest that she would advocate for free organic meals in the schools as an "incredibly urgent need" over addressing and funding the myriad disfunctions with which our public school system is faced might constitute a reasonable, rather than contrived and prejudiced reason to not like her as well as one might. To me, it's a bit like advocating beautiful foundation plantings in the slums.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I'm saying that AW's answer is germane to the question as it was asked and skewering her for a meal that runs contrary to the principles she espouses is a little unfair.  Maybe if the question had been phrased differently, she would have answered differently!  But we'll never know, will we?

You want to tell me that AB is unpretentious?  Explain to me how roasted bone marrow spread on French bread with crushed sea salt comes across as unpretentious, because I don't follow.

I think the fact of the matter here is that it doesn't make a difference what answer she might have given or that Bourdain is pretentious. The fact is that AW said something that left her open to the same criticism that drive the so-called backlash against her. Face it, some of the things she says are howlers. She had the chance to say something different, but she didn't.

My point was, and still is, there are some people who don't like AW who will actively search for, and possibly contrive, reasons why not to like her.

There have been ample reasons given for criticism against AW. It's not just that people don't like her for some mysterious reason that drives them, beyond reason, to seek out ways to criticize her. The fact is that there's a lot to criticize her for and it's not a secret what these things are.

I'm sure I'll get some responses saying that I'm just nitpicking AW, I just don't like her, or that I don't care about education/nutrition/the environment/local farmers/etc. Even if that were true (which it is not), it still wouldn't matter. The question of this thread is: "what's the deal with people's reactions against AW?" I think that's been pretty well covered and moving the discussion to questions about Bourdain or imputing the "backlash" to some unknown unknown that motivates people to dislike her turns away from the point that AW says some things that some people don't like. It's not her principles, it's her manner--the way she chooses to answer questions or talk about problems.

Ultimately, I think this thread is not about AW but about how to respond to the complex matrix of problems we face in which economy, the environment, education, nutrition, etc ad infinitum, are interconnected and we know something needs to be done but we're unsure what to do about it. We all want someone with a golden touch who can understand these problems, communicate them effectively, and work towards solutions at a grand level. That person, as far as I can see, has not emerged. The criticism of AW may be a symptom of the fact that these problems such a strong leader but don't actually have one. I give AW credit for all the things she's done (mainly as a very influential chef and local community figure), but she isn't a good public figure on a large scale and she's not what we need right now. I think we need somebody who comes off as practical and down to earth to convey the urgent need to fix the problems that have been developing over the last hundred or so years as a result of the rapid growth of our economy and technology that has, I think, far outstripped our understanding of the consequence of this growth. We, as a collective, are I think just coming to realize that the things we've been doing have tremendous consequences. The trendiness of going "green" needs to be taken advantage of by somebody whose more in touch with the people who aren't already on the trolley.


nunc est bibendum...

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Florida, in effect, is saying that the Federal government should pour money into Waters' idea of giving free organic/local/whatever breakfast, snack and lunch to all 55 million children enrolled in American public schools in the face of the shocking holes in our educational system because, after all, if people in a certain state or community want the local public schools to be better, they can always vote to raise their own taxes.

Wow! I said that? It's almost as if someone is putting words in my mouth....

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You want to tell me that AB is unpretentious?  Explain to me how roasted bone marrow spread on French bread with crushed sea salt comes across as unpretentious, because I don't follow.

While I don't necessarily find AB or I unpretentious, what's pretentious about roasted bone marrow or french bread or sea salt? I wouldn't want to waste the marrow, and if I don't want to use it to enhance a dish, why wouldn't I roast it and serve it on bread? In fact I can't think of a better way to eat bone marrow, especially beef marrow.

French bread? Sure, I wouldn't use sliced bread; it could be any bread made in a decent bakery. I pay 30 cents for very decent crusty rolls.

Sea salt? I would use the best sea salt I had for this dish, but $2 per lb sea salt would be good enough for me. How much does table salt cost?

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Brilliantly put, Alcuin.

Agreed.


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.

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My point was, and still is, there are some people who don't like AW who will actively search for, and possibly contrive, reasons why not to like her.

There have been ample reasons given for criticism against AW. It's not just that people don't like her for some mysterious reason that drives them, beyond reason, to seek out ways to criticize her. The fact is that there's a lot to criticize her for and it's not a secret what these things are.

I'm sure I'll get some responses saying that I'm just nitpicking AW, I just don't like her, or that I don't care about education/nutrition/the environment/local farmers/etc. Even if that were true (which it is not), it still wouldn't matter. The question of this thread is: "what's the deal with people's reactions against AW?" I think that's been pretty well covered and moving the discussion to questions about Bourdain or imputing the "backlash" to some unknown unknown that motivates people to dislike her turns away from the point that AW says some things that some people don't like. It's not her principles, it's her manner--the way she chooses to answer questions or talk about problems.

Ultimately, I think this thread is not about AW but about how to respond to the complex matrix of problems we face in which economy, the environment, education, nutrition, etc ad infinitum, are interconnected and we know something needs to be done but we're unsure what to do about it. We all want someone with a golden touch who can understand these problems, communicate them effectively, and work towards solutions at a grand level. That person, as far as I can see, has not emerged. The criticism of AW may be a symptom of the fact that these problems such a strong leader but don't actually have one. I give AW credit for all the things she's done (mainly as a very influential chef and local community figure), but she isn't a good public figure on a large scale and she's not what we need right now. I think we need somebody who comes off as practical and down to earth to convey the urgent need to fix the problems that have been developing over the last hundred or so years as a result of the rapid growth of our economy and technology that has, I think, far outstripped our understanding of the consequence of this growth. We, as a collective, are I think just coming to realize that the things we've been doing have tremendous consequences. The trendiness of going "green" needs to be taken advantage of by somebody whose more in touch with the people who aren't already on the trolley.

Not surprisingly, I’m going to disagree.

I think if you’re looking for something to not like about her it’s pretty easy to find. But so what? And, I'm sorry, but some of the comments here are clearly contrived. As I noted previously, I seriously doubt that AW is the anti-education, pro-organic carrot lover slkinsey has made her to sound like.

AW says shit people don't want to hear. No matter who gets up and says what she says is going to have detractors. Look at Al Gore. That guy does a lot of good work, but there are people who are going to look at every possible thing he does and spin it in a negative fashion. He even has a Nobel Peace Prize, but that’s still not good enough. He'll always be attacked, if not for one thing, than it will be another.

Another example would be Rick Bayless, who has made numerous altruistic contributions, but there are those people who are going to dig out a commercial he did years ago as if this one thing now bars him from making any further contributions.

The same is true with AW. She is a chef, not a politician. She is trying to make the world a better place in ways that are relevant to her profession. She’s not perfect. She will have flaws. She will say stupid shit. But her flaws should not be the focus. Unfortunately, they are; they are because there are people who want them to be.

I also resent the notion that somehow AW represents all of us. She is one voice among many. Maybe a little louder than most, but I've never considered her my leader on this subject or any other.

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She is a chef, not a politician. 

I'd say she's neither. She's a restaurateur, activist, philanthropist, etc., but not really a chef.

By the way, this link to Grub Street leads to some video of the Bourdain-Waters panel discussion.


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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She is a chef, not a politician. 

I'd say she's neither. She's a restaurateur, activist, philanthropist, etc., but not really a chef.

Um, okay then.

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AW says shit people don't want to hear.  No matter who gets up and says what she says is going to have detractors.

Agreed, but I think what we have been seeing in this thread is that even people who agree with much of what she says are turned off by the way she says it. I would be in that camp.

Promoting local, organic, and sustainable food should not be done while ignoring the reality in which the vast majority of the planet lives. Any true solution must wholeheartedly take into account that reality. Waters's discourse often floats far above reality, occasionally reaching heights of greatness and occasionally crashing down in a storm of condescension.

I say this as an admirer of her many contributions to the culinary world.


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

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

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I'd say she's neither. She's a restaurateur, activist, philanthropist, etc., but not really a chef.

Well, I don't know why she's not a chef just the same as Bourdain is a chef?

She ran a restaurant at one time. Hence, the title chef.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

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

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I think if you’re looking for something to not like about her it’s pretty easy to find.  But so what?  And, I'm sorry, but some of the comments here are clearly contrived.  As I noted previously, I seriously doubt that AW is the anti-education, pro-organic carrot lover slkinsey has made her to sound like.

Another way of stating this would be to say that it's pretty easy for unlikable things about Alice Waters to find their way into one's consciousness.

I, by the way, never said Alice Waters was an "anti-education, pro-organic carrot lover." I simply pointed out how it is that someone could look at her calls for this country to invest billions of dollars in free organic meals for al students and say: "You know what? Let's use that money to get the kids to read first. And when we can do that, then let's talk about getting a free organic meal for every student in the public school system." I haven't been making Waters sound like anything on this subject, except for pointing out the reasonableness of the reaction I detailed above, and then responding to various arguments forwarded by yourself and others (but not Waters) as to why this is not a valid reaction and, in some cases, attempting justifications as to why giving out 100 million free organic meals every day would do more for educating our children than spending that money to hire more teachers.

I also resent the notion that somehow AW represents all of us.  She is one voice among many. Maybe a little louder than most, but I've never considered her my leader on this subject or any other.

To whatever extent you feel as though Waters has been granted notional leadership of "all of you" (whomever that group might represent) you have no one to blame or thank other than Waters herself, who has certainly appointed herself spokesperson and living embodiment of certain ideas and practices, and yourselves for serving as her apologists.

I'd say she's neither. She's a restaurateur, activist, philanthropist, etc., but not really a chef.

Well, I don't know why she's not a chef just the same as Bourdain is a chef?

She ran a restaurant at one time. Hence, the title chef.

The person who runs the restaurant is not the chef. That person is the restaurateur. A chef runs the restaurant's kitchen. Danny Meyer, for example, is a restaurateur because he runs a bunch of restaurants. He is not a chef, however, because he doesn't run any restaurant kitchens.


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"I'm not a chef."

- Alice Waters & Chez Panisse, authorized biography, page 320

You see, she's just trying to be like us commoners.

But I was actually referring to this quote, not hers.

I'd say she's neither. She's a restaurateur, activist, philanthropist, etc., but not really a chef.


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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The person who runs the restaurant is not the chef.  That person is the restaurateur.  A chef runs the restaurant's kitchen.  Danny Meyer, for example, is a restaurateur because he runs a bunch of restaurants.  He is not a chef, however, because he doesn't run any restaurant kitchens.

Thank you for the lesson.

I'm saying she ran that restaurant's kitchen at one time, hence the title

of chef. Same as Bourdain is called all the time. A chef.

Do you see him running any kitchens now?

Same as Rocco de Spirito is called all the time. A chef. Is he

running any kitchens now?

Or is it that only males who aren't running kitchens any more entitled

to be called chefs?


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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When did she run the kitchen at Chez Panisse? Even in the early days, Jeremiah Tower would certainly argue that he was running that kitchen.

Anyway... at least Bourdain and DiSpirto really were the people in charge of running a kitchen and devising all the recipes, etc. Not that I, personally, would call either one of them "chef" in any sense beyond the one in which one might still call Tom Landry "coach."


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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As far as I know she has never run the kitchen at Chez Panisse. I believe the opening chef was Paul Aratow, followed by Jeremiah Tower. I'm sure some clever Googler could find a timeline of all the chefs. The analogy to Danny Meyer is apt. She's no more a chef than he is. That doesn't take anything away from either of them. They're just not chefs. It's a fact, not a judgment.


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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As far as I know she has never run the kitchen at Chez Panisse. I believe the opening chef was Paul Aratow, followed by Jeremiah Tower. I'm sure some clever Googler could find a timeline of all the chefs. The analogy to Danny Meyer is apt. She's no more a chef than he is. That doesn't take anything away from either of them. They're just not chefs. It's a fact, not a judgment.

Agreed, even if she knows a thing or two about food. The title or lack thereof holds no bearing on the merits of her positions or lack thereof as well.


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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