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weinoo

Tired of the Alice Waters Backlash - Are You?

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I would like to see the world fed on organic local food.

It isn't going to happen. Ever. There just isn't enough, nor could enough be produced.

Maybe the solution is just to kill 1/2 the world population, and send 1/2 of what's left back to farming. Yes. That seems like a logical appropriate solution.

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I think there isn't enough Alice Waters backlash.

The more people talk about local, sustainable food, the better.

Alice Waters says a lot of good things. Occasionally, she says something condescending. There's nothing wrong with criticizing her for the latter. She's made herself a public figure.

Personally, I think it is good to call public figures on statements they make that are less-than-wise. In this case, I think it is better than most, as it can potentially jump-start public discourse.

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In one of my first posts here, all those years ago, I was a bit harsh on Ms Waters. (IIRC she had gone to Italy and wanted to prepare something with an ingredient that wasn't in season there, yet insisted that they do it her way anyways. I opined that this seemed hypocritical to her stated ethos. Local, seasonal, yadda yadda. I got slammed here for that opinion.) So, I tried to start the AW backlash. And I failed. As I should have.

Despite that, name me a more influential restauranteur in the last 30 years in the US. She really started the ball rolling on this stuff and has kept at it.

So here's my opportunity to say way to go Alice. (I still think she might've been better off to bend to the good local stuff in Italy those many years ago, but ...). She may come off as preachy or holier than thou - I dunno, but her message is sound, sensible and is guiding literally thousands of restaurants across the US and Canada. For the better, I think. Am I wrong to say she has almost single-handedly upped the provenance/ quality of the ingredients that go into our restaurant meals? And that trickles down to the farmer's markets and even supermarkets (at a cost, yes). Let me know if I'm (grossly) overstating this in your opinion, but. Would this have happened without her?

As for the elitism tag - well, yeah, organic does tend to cost more. But the school initiative, at least partly, counters that. Grow your own - invest some sweat into this and maybe some things aren't so expensive after all.

So, at the end of the day is the backlash more about the presentation than the actual content of her message? I'm in Canada, so I probably here less about her than say the Bay area folks.

Cheers,

geoff

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Check out the Chez Panisse Foundation website; maybe those are are inclined to bash will have their opinions slightly altered.

Here's a tidbit:

Our vision has always been to mirror the lessons of the kitchen and garden classroom in the lunchroom. In 2004, the Chez Panisse Foundation partnered with Berkeley Unified School District to design a model for this vision. With the support of the district, we set about to change what all 10,000 Berkeley public school children eat for lunch in school, and how they learn about food, every day.

After three years of on the ground work in Berkeley, we have transformed the school meal program. The new Dining Commons at King Middle School now serves as the central kitchen for all 16 schools in the district providing 8,000 meals per day, made from scratch, with wholesome, fresh, and seasonal ingredients.

In October 2005, the Chez Panisse Foundation provided a grant to the Berkeley Unified School District to hire Ann Cooper, a chef and former Kellogg Food and Society Fellow, as the Director of Nutrition Services for the district. Through Cooper's persistence, we eliminated nearly all processed foods in the district and introduced fresh and organic foods to the daily menu, while remaining within the district's food service budget.

Now if the school district can provide 8,000 meals a day, and remain within their budget while eliminating almost all processed foods, doesn't it make sense to try and spread that word? And yes, be a little pedantic about it.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the school budget in Berkeley, California (median household income $86,542, median property value $736,200, very education-friendly population) is a tad bit higher than the school budget in, say, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (median household income $43,704, median property value about $135,000, not exactly full of liberal college professors and students).


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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Am I wrong to say she has almost single-handedly upped the provenance/ quality of the ingredients that go into our restaurant meals?

I do think that's an overstatement (Jeremiah Tower would certainly object to the claim that Alice Waters single-handedly did anything). The improvement in restaurant ingredients has been due to a variety of factors, many of which have nothing to do with Alice Waters and many of which she probably opposes (e.g., extensive air-shipping of ingredients is why sushi is so much better now than ever before; it's also why the overwhelming majority of top restaurants, which do not use strictly local, seasonal products and are not run on the Alice Waters model, are so much better now). What we can say about Alice Waters is that she has been an important figure in the California cuisine revolution, and that California cuisine has been influential across a broad spectrum of American restaurants. She is a revered figure in the restaurant world, and is also an important and galvanizing political figure on food issues in general.


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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The Edible Schoolyard is working well here in New Orleans (not exactly a hotbed of wealth or educational boostership). I believe the model focuses more on education, gardening, and cooking classes then on actually replacing the standard food program with organics, but it's still a great program. I think it's a good example of how to get the Waters woo-woo philosophy into a less affluent area.

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the school budget in Berkeley, California (median household income $86,542, median property value $736,200, very education-friendly population) is a tad bit higher than the school budget in, say, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (median household income $43,704, median property value about $135,000, not exactly full of liberal college professors and students).

Snideness aside, take a look at Cedar Rapids elementary school menu for this month and the next couple of months. For example, this sounds pretty good...I hope this comes with ketchup, so they get another veg.

Ham, Egg & Cheese on Biscuit

Tator Tots

Warm Cinnamon Apples

Milk

That's a meal straight out of McDonald's. Think they could do better on the same budget?

And as faine mentions above, the program is working well in New Orleans, where the median household income and median property values are actually lower than those in Cedar Rapids. Both pre and post Katrina, btw.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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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Yes, existing school lunch programs are notoriously stupid, and most any of them could be improved dramatically without spending an extra penny. In most cases, just switching to rice and beans would be a nutritional improvement and a cost cutter. There are many organizations and people working in this space and have been at least since I was a kid. Alice waters and her organization are hardly the sole voice on the school-lunch issue.


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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Yes, existing school lunch programs are notoriously stupid, and most any of them could be improved dramatically without spending an extra penny. In most cases, just switching to rice and beans would be a nutritional improvement and a cost cutter. There are many organizations and people working in this space and have been at least since I was a kid. Alice waters and her organization are hardly the sole voice on the school-lunch issue.

I don't believe that the OP claimed that she was the sole voice on the school-lunch issue. The OP questioned the backlash against her, and we've seen many apparent reasons for that backlash. Are they justified?


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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 Alice Waters is wrong about many things, and condescending about others. I think the backlash overstates her importance. But I think many of the arguments underlying the backlash make sense. Others don't.


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 think Alice Waters is wrong about many things, and condescending about others. I think the backlash overstates her importance. But I think many of the arguments underlying the backlash make sense. Others don't.

Is it really that she's wrong, or that the goals she seeks are perhaps unattainable?

In the food world, it doesn't seem to me that she and she alone is a condescending voice.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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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Is it really that she's wrong, or that the goals she seeks are perhaps unattainable?

If you advocate an unattainable goal as a matter of policy, that may be the same as being wrong. In any event, I think she's wrong about some things, has lofty unattainable goals with respect to some things, and is probably right about some things.

She is not alone in her condescension, but she has a high enough profile that she's getting called on saying things that others are saying every day. That's just how this sort of thing works.


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

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In most cases, just switching to rice and beans would be a nutritional improvement and a cost cutter.

Make that brown rice and Rancho Gordo beans and you'd have some real good eatin'!


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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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gallery_1890_1967_36846.jpg

This is a pic of dinner last night. 12 vegetable ragout modeled after a similar dish [albeit one containing 31 vegetables] at a Michelin-starred restaurant in France.

It's also one that AW might approve of. All of the ingredients used were from USGM [union Square Greenmarket] except for the wine and olive oil. Total was probably under $15 food cost. It took about an hour to make, prep time included.

Many people would object to this: "Vegetables for dinner is too limiting", "I don't have enough time to make dinner let alone an hour in the kitchen", "I don't know how to cook", "$15 is too much to spend on dinner, don't you think?" and so forth. And that's just from statements from nonfoodies.

If AW engenders so much disdain from the foodie set [as can be seen from this thread], think of how much higher she has to climb to conquer the people who need to hear her message.

edited for clarity.


Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)

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1. I think Alice Waters is 100% wanting to do the right thing. I also think her long term goals are great and worthy of striving for. I also think she is a polarizing figure at this point. When she made the comment about the Nike shoes, she was right. Then she goes one step too far; "some of us buy food, to nourish ourselves" and suddenly she goes from a gotcha moment that really makes sense, to a holier than thou fringe element. Someone who pays hundreds for Nike shoes is just as confused about her as she is about them. But if she wants to make a real change, she's going to figure out how to include them in the tent. I don't think it's impossible but I think it may be beyond her talents.

2. Local is not an all or nothing concept. But in winter, if you have a local wild green that's edible, forage it. If you have a local cheesemaker who is stuggling, why not throw him or her a bone and buy a round? Try and eat fewer apples in summer and more local beets in the winter. It's a start and it could make a huge difference. Or don't, if you don't care. But stop using the I DON'T LIVE IN CALIFORNIA excuse.

3. Food Policy is where I think she needs to sit down. Didn't AW say that the school lunch programs nationwide should be upped by $5 per student per day? That's what I remember. She also said that eating food without pesticides is a right. Does she know that there are organic pesticides? Does she know how many people we need to feed? Does she know what it takes to bring a pesticide to market in California now?

4. Weinoo says, "Make that brown rice and Rancho Gordo beans and you'd have some real good eatin'!" and frankly, wiser words have never been said! I hear tell that Rancho Gordo beans are the Cinderella of the kitchen!!!!!!


Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

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

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stop using the I DON'T LIVE IN CALIFORNIA excuse

It's possible to eat local and survive, or even eat very well, in plenty of places outside of California. There have been several good demonstrations of people eating well for a year, locally, in cold climates. I think I most recently read about a guy who did it in Vermont.

The problem is that the guy in Vermont who eats locally for a year is not a usable model for feeding a nation or a planet. It's mathematically unlikely that everybody in a state with a significant population could, even if motivated, eat from that state's breadbasket. Even were it possible for a state like, for example, Illinois to produce all the food consumed in Chicago, there's no evidence saying that would be a desirable outcome. It would still probably be more energy efficient to produce a lot of it in California and Mexico and ship it in. And in a free society, people in New York have the right to order Rancho Gordo beans from California, which is good for them and for Rancho Gordo. What concerns me about Alice Waters's approach is that the logical end result is a tax that makes it so expensive to send Rancho Gordo beans from California to New York that few if any people will pursue that option.

On top of all that, California's year-round supply of local food -- all that great stuff they serve at Chez Panisse -- is not quite a naturally occurring thing. California's need for water has created what many would call an environmental catastrophe. It might be more environmentally sound to grow food in the Northeast, where there's plenty of water, and send it by train to California than vice-versa. But we probably couldn't grow enough of it for California, no less ourselves, without converting every available bit of land into farmland and forcing half the population back into agriculture, and maybe not even then.


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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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.

Rodale.

ETA: HT to hungryc, sorry I replied before I saw your reply. Rodale was the spur here in the US. My mom subscribed to Organic Gardening in the 60s and 70s, so I grew up with that.


Edited by crinoidgirl (log)

V

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4. Weinoo says, "Make that brown rice and Rancho Gordo beans and you'd have some real good eatin'!" and frankly, wiser words have never been said! I hear tell that Rancho Gordo beans are the Cinderella of the kitchen!!!!!!

Now you're gonna start making me sound like a shill :smile: .

stop using the I DON'T LIVE IN CALIFORNIA excuse

It's possible to eat local and survive, or even eat very well, in plenty of places outside of California. There have been several good demonstrations of people eating well for a year, locally, in cold climates. I think I most recently read about a guy who did it in Vermont.

The problem is that the guy in Vermont who eats locally for a year is not a usable model for feeding a nation or a planet. It's mathematically unlikely that everybody in a state with a significant population could, even if motivated, eat from that state's breadbasket. Even were it possible for a state like, for example, Illinois to produce all the food consumed in Chicago, there's no evidence saying that would be a desirable outcome. It would still probably be more energy efficient to produce a lot of it in California and Mexico and ship it in. And in a free society, people in New York have the right to order Rancho Gordo beans from California, which is good for them and for Rancho Gordo. What concerns me about Alice Waters's approach is that the logical end result is a tax that makes it so expensive to send Rancho Gordo beans from California to New York that few if any people will pursue that option.

On top of all that, California's year-round supply of local food -- all that great stuff they serve at Chez Panisse -- is not quite a naturally occurring thing. California's need for water has created what many would call an environmental catastrophe. It might be more environmentally sound to grow food in the Northeast, where there's plenty of water, and send it by train to California than vice-versa. But we probably couldn't grow enough of it for California, no less ourselves, without converting every available bit of land into farmland and forcing half the population back into agriculture, and maybe not even then.

Not to get too political or too far off-topic here, but some of this argument sounds suspiciously like the argument that we shouldn't invest in alternative energy research, because after all, you can't drive a car with a windmill on top of it.

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.

Rodale.

ETA: HT to hungryc, sorry I replied before I saw your reply. Rodale was the spur here in the US. My mom subscribed to Organic Gardening in the 60s and 70s, so I grew up with that.

Thanks.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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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stop using the I DON'T LIVE IN CALIFORNIA excuse

It's possible to eat local and survive, or even eat very well, in plenty of places outside of California. There have been several good demonstrations of people eating well for a year, locally, in cold climates. I think I most recently read about a guy who did it in Vermont.

The problem is that the guy in Vermont who eats locally for a year is not a usable model for feeding a nation or a planet. It's mathematically unlikely that everybody in a state with a significant population could, even if motivated, eat from that state's breadbasket. Even were it possible for a state like, for example, Illinois to produce all the food consumed in Chicago, there's no evidence saying that would be a desirable outcome. It would still probably be more energy efficient to produce a lot of it in California and Mexico and ship it in. And in a free society, people in New York have the right to order Rancho Gordo beans from California, which is good for them and for Rancho Gordo. What concerns me about Alice Waters's approach is that the logical end result is a tax that makes it so expensive to send Rancho Gordo beans from California to New York that few if any people will pursue that option.

On top of all that, California's year-round supply of local food -- all that great stuff they serve at Chez Panisse -- is not quite a naturally occurring thing. California's need for water has created what many would call an environmental catastrophe. It might be more environmentally sound to grow food in the Northeast, where there's plenty of water, and send it by train to California than vice-versa. But we probably couldn't grow enough of it for California, no less ourselves, without converting every available bit of land into farmland and forcing half the population back into agriculture, and maybe not even then.

This makes zero sense to me. Who is saying that Illinois has to produce all the food consumed in Chicago? Why is the argument that you can't *completely* eat locally? I have never seen the locavore movement as an all-or-nothing proposition and I don't understand why or how you need to reject it on that basis. Eating entirely locally may not be a "model for feeding a planet" (again, I fail to understand why that's the straw man you set up here), but supporting local farmers and sustainable growing practices sure as hell is better for our communities and our planet.

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supporting local farmers and sustainable growing practices sure as hell is better for our communities and our planet.

This is the conventional wisdom but is wrong.

I'd suggest starting by reading some of James McWilliams's writing. I recently sat in on a panel at the IACP conference in Denver that Dave Scantland ("Dave the Cook") was moderating. McWilliams was on the panel and utterly dismantled the local-is-better argument. This is just one of many examples McWilliams cites in his work:

Incorporating these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit.

Just the act of farmers driving pickup trucks to a farmer's market, and consumers making an extra trip to a farmer's market (when they're already going to the regular supermarket anyway) is highly energy inefficient. McWilliams explained, and has the numbers to prove it, that it is more efficient to drive a semi trailer full of food half way across the country than for dozens of farmers to drive their small pickups and vans an hour or two to a given market. He went on and on, wrecking the common assumptions about food miles and locavorism. It was enlightening.


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 sure we can find all sorts of reasons why it's more "energy" efficient to eat lamb flown half-way around the world than it is to eat lamb grown in upstate new York.

How does that help kids who are eating tater tots and ham and cheese biscuits for lunch in Cedar Rapids?

At a recent dinner I attended, rack of lamb from Eggleston Farms in Jasper, NY was served. I've had New Zealand lamb, Austrailian lamb, lamb from Iceland, Colorado lamb and New York state lamb. The NY lamb tasted the best of all.

Back to AW, the Edible Schoolyard project is actually trying to make a difference as to what kids in school are fed. I gotta go put a windmill on my car.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

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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Be that as it may, there's a difference between saying Eggleston Farms lamb is the best and saying everybody in New York should eat Eggleston Farms lamb. How much does it cost per pound versus Costco's lamb from Australia? Is there enough of it to replace all of Costco's lamb from Australia? Would the environmental and energy impacts of producing enough lamb in New York to supply all of New York's lamb demand be greater or less than the impacts of producing it in Australia and shipping it in?


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 really don't know how much of the backlash (when it's substantive at all) is aimed Waters' actual policies or at caricatures of them.

Does she have any core mission statements or manifestos that can be linked to?


Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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I'm not sure it can be said she has policies as such, as she's not in a position to make policy beyond, say, the human resources guidelines at Chez Panisse. But for the basics of what might be called her platform, you can check the introduction to the "Art of Simple Food." It's reprinted on the MSNBC website here. If you scroll down to the end you get to the "planks" of her "platform":

Eat locally and sustainably.

.....

Eat seasonally.

.....

Shop at farmers markets.

.....

Plant a garden.

.....

Conserve, compost, and recycle.

.....

Etc.


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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