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weinoo

Tired of the Alice Waters Backlash - Are You?

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Have you had them? They're no big whoop, as we used to say. And a horrendous yield. Come next winter, try the white runners we'll have and you'll be happy. I think I've seen true Tarbais for up to $30 a pound.

I tend to use flagelots (yours) when making cassoulet (and at other times); that's the only occasion I've seen the specifically called for and I have indeed noticed the ungodly prices asked for them, if you can even find them in the U.S.

The backlash against Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and others of their ilk, such as it is, has occurred during the recent recession.

Always ahead of the curve, I found her annoying long ago. (Nice pic).

Wow, I'd like to see some sort of research that shows the organic "movement" started pre-WWII. Not referring, of course, to backyard gardeners, who have always been the backbone of the local, organic movement.

Not organic per se, but in The United States of Arugula, David Kamp traces the larger "movement" back to James Beard, Julia, Clairborn, Olney and a few others whose names I forget -- who preceded Alice -- and also the Dean and DeLuca guys, Moosewood etc who were more or less contemporaneous.

To the extent that fast food restaurants and other institutions are offering "healthier" alternatives, I suspect that's a completely different tributary, far more concerned with arid nutrition and just being thin than any of the larger issues Alice embodies.

****

To Fat Guy's larger point, I've had this discussion here before. There is a certain strain of food person, invariably affluent, who thinks that they're saving the world by eating artisanal cheese and $5 ramps, and that everybody else should follow their enlightened lead. It hugely self-indulgent and wildly arrogant and it turns people off. I don't think Alice is anywhere near the worst I've stumbled across in this regard but I'm sure that, for some people, she embodies this attitude.

It don't really dislike Alice. I agree with much of what she says. I just find her grating.

It's like, as a card-carrying liberal, I agree with Al Gore. But he, too, bug the heck out of me.


Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Wow, I'd like to see some sort of research that shows the organic "movement" started pre-WWII.

From the Wikipedia entry:

  • In Germany Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture, published in 1924, led to the popularization of biodynamic agriculture, probably the first comprehensive organic farming system, that was based on Steiner's spiritual and philosophical teachings.
  • The first use of the term "organic farming" is by Lord Northbourne (aka Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne). The term derives from his concept of "the farm as organism", which he expounded in his book, Look to the Land (1940), and in which he described a holistic, ecologically balanced approach to farming. Northbourne wrote of "chemical farming versus organic farming".
  • Sir Albert Howard's 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, was influential in promoting organic techniques, and his 1947 book "The Soil and Health, A Study of Organic Agriculture" adopted Northbourne's terminology and was the first book to include "organic" agriculture or farming in its title.
  • In 1939, strongly influenced by Sir Howard's work, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment on farmland in England. It was the first, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming. Four years later, she published The Living Soil, based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiment. It was widely read, and lead to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group, the Soil Association.

(Emphasis added for clarity)

Then, in 1962 we have Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. This book turned out to be based on a far amount of junk science, and the subsequent ban on DDT is responsible for literally millions of human deaths from malaria, but this book is largely credited with starting the envirionmental movement in earnest, and was hugels influential on organics in the United States.

Alice Waters, meanwhile, was 18 years old in 1962, and didn't open Chez Panisse until 1971.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements was officially founded in 1972 one year later. Alice must have worked pretty fast.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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The eggs in SF are partly from demand. The few vendors that have them sell out early in the day, week after week. We have 17 chickens and my conclusion is that I don't understand. Maybe there's some weird health department fee or something. It boggles the mind.

re food prices and the Big Picture, according to Pollan, the system is broken and on it's last legs. We're all going to need to pay more to make it work and benefit everyone. At least that's my understanding. He's not telling everyone, rich and poor, to buy $5 ramps.

As a Bay Area native, my recollection is that Waters has been very much in the background until Slow Food. She had some great books and I think she made a canning video but you didn't see or hear her all over the place the way you have in the last 5 years or so. I think she is very sincere and I think she is very human and I wonder if it's hard for some who have made her an icon now hear some of her more human remarks and wonder what the hell she's doing.

I think she needs some media coaching and needs to find a way to adapt her message for our times and really find out what makes people excited and bring it to a real food movement. When she did the egg in the spoon trick, I really think she thought she was going to impress people, not turn them off.


Edited by rancho_gordo (log)

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Amen to everything SL Kinsey just posted regarding the roots of "organic", with the addition of JI Rodale, who first published Organic Gardening magazine in the US in 1942.

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I don't have a whole lot to add to what's been said, but there are a few points I'd like to bring up or back up:

First, I find it irritating when Californians (including Waters) insist on everyone eating locally-raised, organic smiley-happy-rainbow food all the time. California is not like the rest of the country, or most of the world. If we in the unfortunate non-California parts of the world want to eat relatively diverse foods, and have a healthy and interesting diet, sometimes we need to look elsewhere. It's easy to preach this sort of thing when you have a world of food at your fingertips. Notice that these high priests of locavorism, almost without exception, are from California. No coincidence.

Second, and although it is hard to comprehend, not everyone cares that much about what they eat. Just like there are people who don't care about fashion, or music, or what kind of car they drive, some people treat food as fuel. It's difficult enough for me to try and eat locally, or organically, and food is close to all I think about. If you just don't care that much, you're not going to pass up the closest Mickey D's for an hour's perusal of what's looking good at the farmer's market. Just not gonna happen.

Third, and most Waters-specific, most of these people are perceived as unbearably condescending by the average person. Say you live in Podunk, Illinois, and all that's local is soybeans and corn, and you feel like a cheeseburger. When Alice Waters and Michael Pollan tell you the cheeseburger didn't come from a locally-raised cow, and the bun was baked in Indiana, and you should really be eating a homemade soy burger and some corn on the cob you bought from the neighboring farmer, you don't smile and see the error of your ways. You say that your Wal-Mart salary and six kids mean you get a damn cheeseburger and you don't have time to make some hippie soy burger. You say it's nice and all to think that way, but in Podunk, Illinois the Garden of Eden is not growing in your backyard, and even if it were, I like McDonald's, thank you very much.

Anyway. That's my piece.


Edited by MikeHartnett (log)

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Okay, so basically what is being said is:

1) the backlash is because she's a condescending, holier-than-thou, preachy, annoying person (like, ummm, maybe a few of us on eG, myself included).

2) The organic movement started way before AW, so she has nothing at all to do with the fact that there are more small farms trying to "do-the-right-thing" now, than say, 20 years ago.

3) We shouldn't be trying to teach kids anything about eating healthy or where their food comes from.

4) Everyone that loves that juicy, delicious pork, grass-fed beef, ramps, heirloom tomatoes, etc. is basically a pompous ass.

What did I miss?


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Okay, so basically what is being said is:

1) the backlash is because she's a condescending, holier-than-thou, preachy, annoying person (like, ummm, maybe a few of us on eG, myself included).

2) The organic movement started way before AW, so she has nothing at all to do with the fact that there are more small farms trying to "do-the-right-thing" now, than say, 20 years ago. 

3) We shouldn't be trying to teach kids anything about eating healthy or where their food comes from.

4) Everyone that loves that juicy, delicious pork, grass-fed beef, ramps, heirloom tomatoes, etc. is basically a pompous ass.

What did I miss?

Nope, you got it all. Makes perfect sense.

(Not understanding how a bunch of egulleters are the ones espousing these positions; kind of expected better.)

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I don't follow Ms. Waters very closely, but I can't help suspecting there's a lot of straw-man arguing going on here. Does she really scold people in inner cities and in northern midwestern states for not eating local organic food? Or is she trying to reform food culture in a way that allows people in these situations to eat local organic food?

There's a big difference. As strident as her tone may seem to some, I have trouble believing she's stupid.

And everyone arguing that she didn't invent the organic food movement .... please. The civil rights movement existed for decades before MLK Jr. was born. Does this make him irrelevant?

It's clear from this thread that her tone rubs a lot of people the wrong way. That's too bad. What's worse is if people dismiss a message purely because the messenger bugs them.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

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Okay, so basically what is being said is:

1) the backlash is because she's a condescending, holier-than-thou, preachy, annoying person (like, ummm, maybe a few of us on eG, myself included).

2) The organic movement started way before AW, so she has nothing at all to do with the fact that there are more small farms trying to "do-the-right-thing" now, than say, 20 years ago. 

3) We shouldn't be trying to teach kids anything about eating healthy or where their food comes from.

4) Everyone that loves that juicy, delicious pork, grass-fed beef, ramps, heirloom tomatoes, etc. is basically a pompous ass.

What did I miss?

Oh, c'monnnnnnnnn. Outside of #1, nobody has said any of those things.

And, as for myself, I merely said that anyone who thinks their enjoyment of expensive (and often quite tasty) enviro-friendly products makes them virtuous paragons for all to follow is a pompous ass. If you just want to eat the stuff and be reasonably pleased about it, that's lovely. I'll be by at seven with something bubbly (and bio-dynamic).

And, in the spirit of confession, I'll cop to being imperfect myself.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I like Alice Waters and the things she's done. I think her heart is in the right place, and I agree with most of the ideas she espouses.

To the extent that there is backlash against her, I think it's because of Mitch's #1 above: She can come across as preachy, condescending and unconnected to many of the economic and other realities of people who are not wealthy and don't live in California. I agree with rancho_gordo that really what she needs is just some media coaching.


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I have long been appalled at the "trashing" of Alice Waters by people who should know better, but the fact that they say or write these things, shows that they haven't a clue, much less good manners.

Really? It is bad manners to respond to someone who takes a strong line of argument in public?

Rhetorically speaking, it is the easiest thing in the world to point to a "backlash," write up a caricature of the supposed backlashers' points, and pronounce them excessive. Sure, nobody is as bad as some people say they are. You're right-- as far as that goes.

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I'd be willing to wager that Alice Waters has had extensive media coaching. She is a highly sought-after public speaker and television guest. She is represented by a big-deal lecture agent. I believe her speaking fees are quite high. In addition, she is a totally polished, totally on-message public speaker and interviewee. That doesn't come naturally to anyone. You need to learn it, either through formal coaching sessions or through a lot of bits of coaching and advice over time.


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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Everyone has a right to their opinion and can make what they want of any person's avowed passions or even make fun of them if they choose.

My problem is with people who write articles that are not actually informative but are jingoistic patter that is designed to ridicule or trash a person without actually presenting a cohesive argument that illustrates the tack they have taken.

Of course, a purely objective, truthful and positive article probably wouldn't sell as well and that is what these hacks are all about, selling the product.


"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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Caricature? Did you read either Ozersky's or the NY Post's piece?

Is the Ozerski piece the short humorous one you linked to? Yeah, I read that. And the transcript from 60 Minutes. Was the NY Post piece linked in this thread? If so, I missed it. Anyway, I sure did find your 4-point summary of what "people" are saying a caricature.

I think that if you aim to make as strong a statement as AW does, there is something actually wrong if you don't garner strong rebuttals.


Edited by Tess (log)

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Honestly, part of why I think people in the media may be bashing Alice Waters right now is simply due to the fact that they're unconsciously influenced by their peers and that this has built into a kind of "consensus opinion." I think this phenomenon also explains the almost unanimous anti-Ducasse backlash in the media when he first opened in NYC.

Here's how I illustrated it in another thread: There was an interesting study done where they divided up a large (>14k) sample into different "worlds" of internet music consumers downloading from a common set of 48 songs. Members from the same "world" could see what the other members were downloading and which songs had been downloaded most, but not how the songs were doing in the other "worlds." If quality along determined the popularity of a song, then one would expect that the songs would be "ranked" fairly equally among the different "worlds." What they found was exactly the opposite -- rankings diverged widely, such that a song ranked #1 in one "world" was ranked #40 in another. This experiment demonstrated many things, among them the influence of chance events in success or failure. But more pertinent to this discussion, it demonstrated the huge influence of one's peers and perceived "consensus opinion" in determining what are generally held to be individual preferences.

People in the media (and people in general) like to suppose that they make up their minds about this sort of thing independently and all on their own. But that's nonsense, of course.

So, you know... all it takes sometimes is for one or two people to decide that they don't like Alice, and if it's just the right time and just the right person, that can easily snowball into a consensus opinion against her. Eventually, just like they write it up in NY Magazine, there will be "backlash to the backlash" and all will be well.


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Okay, so basically what is being said is:

1) the backlash is because she's a condescending, holier-than-thou, preachy, annoying person (like, ummm, maybe a few of us on eG, myself included).

2) The organic movement started way before AW, so she has nothing at all to do with the fact that there are more small farms trying to "do-the-right-thing" now, than say, 20 years ago. 

3) We shouldn't be trying to teach kids anything about eating healthy or where their food comes from.

4) Everyone that loves that juicy, delicious pork, grass-fed beef, ramps, heirloom tomatoes, etc. is basically a pompous ass.

What did I miss?

This looks like fighting fire with fire. No one said 3 and 4. I said that kids do need to learn how to eat right but that Alice Waters is not the one to teach the very inner-city kids you yourself brought up as an example of the benefits of her ideas. As for everyone that loves good local food being a pompous ass: no one has said that but you.

I agree with many of the things AW has said. I share her position on many things. I support local famers. But, she is a polarizing figure: look at what has happened with this group of like-minded people. That's evidence enough that this Waters backlash or what have you is not productive for her own project.

Does the media create straw-men (and -women)? Of course they do. But that didn't end up being the issue in this thread. Why? Because Waters touches a nerve with many people. She divides: people rose stridently against her and others to defend her. Is this really the sign of an uncontroversial figure that is simply being singled out for no reason? Methinks not. Is this the figure you want to hold up as the origin and figurehead of a vitally important movement that affects everyone?


nunc est bibendum...

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Caricature? Did you read either Ozersky's or the NY Post's piece?

Is the Ozerski piece the short humorous one you linked to? Yeah, I read that. And the transcript from 60 Minutes. Was the NY Post piece linked in this thread? If so, I missed it. Anyway, I sure did find your 4-point summary of what "people" are saying a caricature.

I think that if you aim to make as strong a statement as AW does, there is something actually wrong if you don't garner strong rebuttals.

people are focusing too much on the egg in a spoon trick.

it's apparent she put a lot of thought into it. she's not the delusional old biddy that many people seem to think she is. :rolleyes:

its easy to deride/dismiss the vision by ridiculing the visionary. funny how that works sometimes. i'm not saying you've done this Tess, just that i've noticed this trend on this thread and elsewhere.

also in one of the vids on the 60 minutes website, she does state you can cook eggs the usual method [i.e. on a stove] instead of in a spoon in a fireplace. but this particular video was one of the "exclusive" media pieces and i'd be willing to wager that many people haven't seen it.

perception in this case is 90% editing and 10% reality.


Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)

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That's bs.  The Greenmarket eggs I buy are $3.75 a dozen.  In my "supermarket," eggs are from $2.25 - $2.50 a dozen, and even when they get a delivery, are already at least 7 days old.  That makes the Greenmarket eggs about .$15 more a piece.  Now, I don't know how many eggs you eat a day, but it's not adding up to that much more a year.  And the taste is incomparable.

We eat somewhere over 500 eggs a year. At $0.15 more per egg, that's $75 more on eggs alone.

Although a fresh egg is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, one of the great things about eggs is their staying power. In wet sand, they're good for weeks. In the fridge? Very nearly forever.

On an income of $20,000 per year, takehome being ~15K, that $75 is an extra half a percent of the total, spent on ONE food stuff.

Hamburger aka ground beef is cheaper than steak, etc.

Dont knock eating nutriously while poor.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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A more apples-to-apples comparison is that if you order conventional eggs from FreshDirect, you'll pay $1.99 a dozen for New England Fresh Grade A Large Brown Eggs and $3.69 a dozen for Alderfer's Grade A Large Organic Brown Eggs. Close to double or, rather, $1.70 more per dozen. Greenmarket eggs, which may or may not be organic (I don't know if they are; I know they're not required to be), are a few cents more than that. As I said before, this isn't so much more for one product but then you have to start going down the whole line: Farmland 2% Reduced Fat Milk 1/2 gallon $2.49; Horizon Organic 2% Milk 1/2 gallon $4.39. And so on. If you start extrapolating that to the whole shopping cart, and to 52 weeks a year, you can be talking about a couple of thousand dollars a year easily. For a household with a $20,000 annual income, that's an unacceptable differential.


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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A more apples-to-apples comparison is that if you order conventional eggs from FreshDirect, you'll pay $1.99 a dozen for New England Fresh Grade A Large Brown Eggs and $3.69 a dozen for Alderfer's Grade A Large Organic Brown Eggs. Close to double or, rather, $1.70 more per dozen. Greenmarket eggs, which may or may not be organic (I don't know if they are; I know they're not required to be), are a few cents more than that. As I said before, this isn't so much more for one product but then you have to start going down the whole line:  Farmland 2% Reduced Fat Milk 1/2 gallon $2.49;  Horizon Organic 2% Milk 1/2 gallon $4.39. And so on. If you start extrapolating that to the whole shopping cart, and to 52 weeks a year, you can be talking about a couple of thousand dollars a year easily. For a household with a $20,000 annual income, that's an unacceptable differential.

Here's some number crunching for Alice Water's neck o' the woods (SF Bay Area). Prices are the "not on sale" prices from the Safeway website.

1 dozen Grade A Large conventional eggs is $2.99

1 dozen Grade A Large cage free eggs is $3.99

1 dozen Grade A Large Organic eggs (store brand) is $4.49

1 dozen Grade A Large Organic Eggs (name brand) is $5.19

Keep in mind that conventional eggs frequently go on sale, whereas organic eggs rarely do.

1/2 gallon 2% reduced fat milk, Lucerne (store brand) $2.49

1/2 gallon 2% reduced fat milk, Horizon Organic $4.49

1 gallon 2% reduced fat milk, Lucerne $3.99

1 gallon 2% reduced fat milk, Horizon Organic $6.99

Safeway generally offers a sale price on their Lucerne gallons... 2 for $3.99/$4.98 or something like that. My kids go through 6 gallons of milk a month. What normally costs us $12-$15/ month would end up costing us $42/month if we went organic.

I have 4 kids, 2 of whom have food allergies so we do have dietary restrictions. Buying organic everything is definitely not doable unless I want malnourished kids. The only things that I consistently buy organic is my daughter's soymilk and non-dairy "ice cream".

Farmers Markets around here are not cheap sources of organic veggies either, nor would I consider much of it locally grown. Many of the farmers at the markets in my area are coming from 2-3 hours away.


Cheryl

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The last time I bought eggs, about a week and a half ago, I paid $1.49 for a dozen eggs at a Food Lion down south (the organic ones, same size, on the same rack were $3.99). I thought they were superb eggs, and obviously very fresh. I found that out by poaching some, but it's also possible to use the Julian date codes on egg cartons to see when they were packed. I've found supermarket eggs at large, high-volume supermarkets to be quite fresh. The incentive from an inventory/economic perspective for producers, distributors and retailers alike is to get them to market and sell them as quickly as possible.

Where I usually buy my eggs they're a little more than $1.49. I think they're $1.89 or something. The organic ones are still nearly $4.

When I get the chance, I pick up some eggs at Costco, where they sell them in larger boxes than a dozen but the per-egg price works out nicely.

Anyway, the point is not that I can't afford a carton of $3.99 eggs over a carton of $1.50 eggs. The point is that a person with very limited income can't make that purchasing decision every week for 30 different items -- it starts to run into the thousands of dollars.

Even if Pollan is right about everything (and I suspect he is only right about some things), and even if we were to eliminate all subsidies and internalize all external costs, conventional eggs would still most likely be substantially cheaper than organic.

At least with farmer's market eggs (which are not necessarily organic), you get something for your money that tastes a little better. With organic supermarket eggs, you don't even get that, I've found. But it's still an expensive way to shop, not only because the prices are higher than in supermarkets (unless you happen to live in an urban area with bad supermarkets and a great farmer's market) but also because you're getting into multiple stops for purchasing and all the resulting consumption of time and (especially if you're driving) energy. And it's not clear to me that farmer's market eggs could meet even a fraction of the demand for eggs out there in the world. The $7 price tag at the Ferry Market demonstrates that, I think.


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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Second, and although it is hard to comprehend, not everyone cares that much about what they eat. Just like there are people who don't care about fashion, or music, or what kind of car they drive, some people treat food as fuel. It's difficult enough for me to try and eat locally, or organically, and food is close to all I think about. If you just don't care that much, you're not going to pass up the closest Mickey D's for an hour's perusal of what's looking good at the farmer's market. Just not gonna happen.

Yes, this. I'm always amazed at how little most people care about what and how they eat. Like most of us, food consumption and prep takes up roughly 95% of my brain space - and people who are mostly ambivalent to food think I am completely insane. I suspect the way organic/sustainable food is going to be sold to most people is by advertising health and fitness benefits, not just excellent flavor. Excellent, subtle flavor seems to be a secondary concern for a good percentage of people, far behind value and quantity. (Not necessarily saying they're all philistines either, but that's the way of the world).

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At least with farmer's market eggs (which are not necessarily organic), you get something for your money that tastes a little better. With organic supermarket eggs, you don't even get that, I've found.

Just to bring this back to Alice Waters (sort of), I doubt you would find her eating supermarket organic eggs. For the most part these are going to be an "industrial organic" product and I agree that they aren't really that much different than a conventional egg. Catherine Price wrote a great little piece in the NYT about the labels on eggs here.

Farmer's market eggs or "local eggs" which is what I'm sure Alice would have us eat, are different because the chickens live on pasture instead of cages. This allows them to eat a differnt diet, and gives the eggs a different character--but really only in the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter farmer's market eggs aren't going to taste or look that much different than supermarket eggs. The difference though is that the chickens are still living in better conditions than those on an "industrial" farm.


Edited by mjc (log)

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