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Apr 19, 2009 05:18 AM

Alice Waters fans the flames


In Maureen Dowd's Op-ed piece in today's NY Times, Alice Waters proves that she is pretty much tone deaf:

  1. her visionary status might well be better-directed at her strength: cooking and innovating with fresh, local foods and serving them. otherwise, who cares?

    ps, i want maureen's photog to do my professional photos.

    1. jfood read the piece and sees no flame-fanning. one of the least caustic op-eds by ms dowd and the whole article was tone-deaf. not sure if lucas was the filler butthe seguey from darth vader to waters was non-sensical.

        1. re: gogolki

          Not that is what jfood calls a scathing article. And it was a GREAT read.

          1. re: jfood

            Finally, a balanced approach to the whole organic farming issue. I absolutely love going to local markets when I travel to California and am amazed at the bounty that this region has. That's not the type of food that most North Americans have access to because of climate and/or financial limits. At my local organic farmer's market, I find that the prices and general ambience is meant to attract the very affluent (not necessarily informed consumer); the most popular vendor is a french fry stand run by a celeb chef!!!! I get dismayed when someone like Waters, who started with a great vision, loses perspective about the life of the average citizen because their own success (professional and monetary) insulates them from reality . Alas, dining might be fashionable and trendy; farming and food security is political. This distinction is not often made by celeb chefs.

            1. re: tuttebene

              The article was misguided & misinformed... organic, locally grown, sustainable stuff is not elitist or a luxury. Much of the produce sold in the populist mercados of Mexico City is grown within a 1 to 8 hour drive, sold & consumed within 48 hours of harvest, and often grown organically (even if the farmers don't have the money to pursue Certification)... and much of it is cheap even when comparing the Cost of Living in both countries (i.e., dead ripe tomatoes for $0.15 a pound that are superior to the vast majority of tomatos offered at Whole Foods etc.,)

              Our food distribution practices are really at fault for a lot of the price ballooning. By insisting on fancy, air conditioned, manicured & very artificial super markets... by insisting that we should only shop once a week (or in the case of the Costco consumer base.. once every couple of weeks)... by insisting only on large, blemish free produce (much to the dismay of the ugly, better tasting produce that ends up at the cheap ethnic markets or in the food processing hell)... I could go on & on.... we have created this ugly monster of a useless & backward produce distribution system that has us harvesting unripened produce from 2500 miles away... trucking & warehousing it for a month (and in many cases longer)... going through many inefficient points of aggregation & disagreggation... all the while wasting electricity on refrigeration and contaminating the planet.

              As crazy as this sounds... this whole inefficient & backward process is designed to deliver the cheapest produce within our narrow, lazy, convenience oriented paradigm... except its one of those things where there are so many hidden costs that the market just can't seem to allocate or factor in adequately.

              Because the ultimate cost of our tasteless, conventionally / industrially grown produce is measure not in $ / lb, $ / each, $ / bunch etc., its measure in the aggregate cost of our deteriorated health... its measured in chemotherapy treatments, hospital bed nights, medicines, chelation treatments.. cardiovascular specialists etc.,

              Hell, I am not even going to include the cost of productivity losses due to all these illnesses... the loss oportunity for greater happiness & fulfillment... that is a little too esoteric & difficult to measure.

              No bubba... we aren't the big spending elitists... its your conventional banana, krispy kreme & double whopper habit that is costing my pocket book, our cost of doing business... and ultimately the viability of this society.

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                I find it interesting "eat nopal" that you talk about America's "krispy kreme & double whopper habit that is costing my pocket book." Do you think the people who can't afford organic produce only eat whoppers and other unhealthy food? People can and do actually purchase non-organic produce...and healthy options. I think one of the important points of the National Review article is that there are ways to eat healthy that do not involve organic food or weeding your own garden...

                1. re: gogolki

                  Excellent point. I haven't eaten fast food in years. However, Whole Foods drains my wallet quickly. I don't own a home with property, so I can't have a garden adn grow my own food. I live in the NE, so farmer's markets are only around in the summer (and the ones that are open in the winter import their produce anyway) and I don't always have to time to get to them. There *is* a ceratin elitism to the whole organic/slow food/etc movement. It requires time and money. The most elitist thing about it is the assumption that if you're not eating organic (whose health benefits are questionable anyway) you're a fat, McDonalds-loving, slob.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    How many $.15 a pound tomato growers could afford to live within a hour's drive of San Francisco (or NYC or Butte Montana)?

                    1. re: paulj

                      That is not the point... the point is as follows:

                      1) Throughout the history of mankind most societies have been eating organic, sustainable, locally grown ingredients and in fact many (admittedly Left Leaning) socio economic historians will tell you that the poor in communal farming communities of antiquity had better qualities of life than the poor in many modernizing societies.

                      2) I make the point that in fact our "modern" method of food distribution is the cause for the ridiculous prices on produce.

                      3) Third there are many hidden costs not currently priced in the conventional produce at super market (i.e., the cancer treatments related to all the pesticides in Celery etc.,)

                      So in effect... there is NO reason to see the organic, farmer's market shopping as a bunch of aloof, berkelely-communist, Aston Martin driving, elitists.... that is just another b.s., intellectually dishonest, frankly manipulative, stereotype come up by some worthless (frankly I think the country need's more homegrown terrorits, pedofiles & lawyers than) pundit.

                      And in effect, if we could get the societies priorities aligned correctly than organic produce could increase its market share SUBSTANTIALLY... that may involve a carbon tax on traditional food distribution and/or incentives & subsidies to "organic" farmers.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        LOL! Eat Nopal - you are a hoot!

                        Historically, people (poor and otherwise) have grown their own food for millenia. It takes an Alice Waters to put a palatable face on food for the American public to take notice (just as the Grand Canyon and Mt. McKinley did not exist until a palatable public face discovered them).

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          "at the poor in communal farming communities of antiquity had better qualities of life than the poor in many modernizing societies." I am trying not to laugh.

                          Normal people who garden in their back yard, just call it gardening. Normal people who scout out the farmer's market, just call it hitting the farmers market.

                          Alice Waters did not birth the gentleman farmer's plot. She did, though, perform a miracle - making a poached egg seem something other worldly and - worth $20 dollars for the pleasure of eating it.

                          I have hens. They lay eggs. I eat them. All without a wand or application of pixy dust.

                        2. re: paulj

                          Re: "How many $.15 a pound tomato growers could afford to live within a hour's drive of San Francisco (or NYC or Butte Montana)?"

                          I don't live in New York or Montana, but can speak for the area around San Francisco. Just hop in the car, cross the Bay Bridge, and drive an hour west on I-80, then pull over onto the shoulder. Look out the window and what do you see? Tomato fields!

                          Be careful, though - you don't want to get hit by one of those trucks hauling tandem trailers full of tomatoes to the cannery, where a ton of them will bring about $60 (that's $0.03 per pound) in a typical year.

                          I don't know how many tomato growers there are, but I do know that the Central Valley (parts of which are within an hour's drive, and all of which is within about four hours of San Francisco's Financial District) produces more than ten million tons of tomatoes a year.

                          But even here in Sacramento, aka "The Big Tomato" aka "SacTomato," the tomatoes at the supermarket suck. Something's wrong with this picture.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Very wrong, indeed. Those tomato farms waste so much water. They set out the seedlings in the dead dirt (It's not soil, just something that anchors the plants) and they have to have sprinklers going all the time so they won't burn up. They spray constantly, or use duster plants. And they harvest the plants all at once with the fruit anywhere from green to semi-ripe.

                            When I had a small tomato farm out there, we mulched with salt hay, used (free) manure and compost, watered with drip irrigation and we handpicked. I was so happy when snakes and bees showed up. I even found a toad in the compost. BUT the ground water was so polluted that I didn't really, despite all my efforts, consider the tomatoes "pure." Very sad.

                            And, yes, I've driven behind those trailers full of tomatoes. Splat!

                            1. re: Glencora

                              Hey don't complain about tomatos falling off trucks until you come over here when they are harvesting sugar beets! When one of those suckers hits your car there's a bit more than just a little splat.

                            2. re: alanbarnes

                              Um, I don't want to be picky...but drive EAST from the Bay Bridge. West will put you in the ocean.

                              But you could go someplace even closer, down to Half Moon Bay, where there are pumpkin fields and farm stands galore. Or further south to Harley Farms and other growers.

                    2. re: gogolki

                      The second article was a great read. I just can't jump on the bandwagon that believes if we all buy organic the world will be a better place.
                      I was in my local Whole foods recently and noticed about 90% of their organic produce was from Mexico.......Mexico? I wonder if they have the same idea of "organic" as we do.
                      In the same store were tomato's from Canada that are hydroponically grown being marketed as organic. $3 a pound. At my next stop I noticed they had the exact same tomato's from Canada with the exact same sticker just not being marketed as organic. $1.40 #.
                      For me at least the whole disconnect from Alice Waters is this belief that all organic produce is created equally. Nothing could be further from the truth. I for one would much rather enjoy local seasonal produce than "organic" anything grown out of season and imported.

                      1. re: Fritter

                        Why should the Mexican idea of 'organic' be any different?

                        1. re: paulj

                          "Why should the Mexican idea of 'organic' be any different"

                          Mexico is a second world country where the average citizen would look at you with a blank stare if you asked for "organic". However, my meaning was;
                          Do I really buy in to the idea that produce grown in second and third world countries then shipped thousands of miles is at the root of the organic movement or is this just commercial farming capitalizing on the latest trend?
                          Are there any laws in Mexico about fertilizers, pesticides or fumigation? From what I can find imported "organic" produce is rarely inspected.
                          I wonder what might be in those drainage ditches in Mexico where the water is pumped from to irrigate the fields.
                          The bottom line for me is that some who focus on organic seem to have tunnel vision. I do prefer organic but I will never choose "organic" from half way around the world over local seasonal produce.

                          1. re: Fritter

                            For exported produce, organic certification and inspection is the same in Mexico as in the US. Mexico is a party to the international Conventions that deal with discontinuation of use and manufacture of Persistent Organic Pollutants and of Ozone Depleting Substances. While most marketed Mexican produce is grown with pesticides, Mexico is much less an eco-delinquent than is the US.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              One of the arguments for NAFTA from US farmers was that, pre-NAFTA, Mexican pesticide regulation was much tighter than US so it was much easier to move Mexican produce into the US, where it was compliant with regulations, than to move US produce into Mexico, where it contained far too much.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Yup... even on conventional produce if you look at pesticide residue analysis... you will usually find Mexican grown produce has lower levels for the same items... i.e., Frozen Spinach grown in Mexico has lower pesticide levels than Frozen Spinach grown in the U.S.

                                Farming economics in Mexico still tilt manual labor & non-cash natural solutions (such as planting Corn, Beans & Chiles together... or introducing Predators of Pests etc.) over expensive, imported pesticides. For a while the problem in Mexico was the availability of cheap DDT... but I believe that has been resolved many years & International Treaties ago.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  "Frozen Spinach grown in Mexico has lower pesticide levels than Frozen Spinach grown in the U.S."

                                  Do you have a link to support that or is that just your opinion?
                                  I'm just curious because that's not at all what I have been finding.
                                  Here's an excerpt from one article;

                                  Q: Is imported produce worse (for pesticides) than domestic?

                                  A: Yes. It's more likely to contain illegal residues. And that's a problem, since almost half of the fruits and vegetables we eat during the winter are imported. Half of those come from Mexico, which has no agency responsible for enforcing or monitoring limits on pesticide residues. And it shows.

                                  Since 1979, when the FDA began a special program to monitor Mexican produce for pesticides, it has found about twice as many violations as in domestic produce.

                                  1. re: Fritter

                                    Old article... the reference to Mexican Spinach is more recent and came from SEGARPA the Mexican equivalent of the FDA (yes they are responsible for monitoring & enforcing pesticide residues... and have been doing an internationally recognized bang up job)

                                    Are Imported Foods More Contaminated Than U.S. Crops?

                                    No. Eleven of the 12 highest TI scores are for U.S.-grown foods. There are 39 cases with 10 or more samples of a food from a specific other country to compare with U.S. samples; in 26 cases (67 percent), U.S. samples had higher TI's.

                                    Some differences exist between importing countries, as well as between the U.S. and other countries. Cases where imports are worse include Chilean grapes, Canadian and Mexican carrots, Mexican broccoli and tomatoes, Argentine and Hungarian apple juice, and Brazilian orange juice.

                                    U.S. samples are worse than imports for fresh peaches, fresh and frozen winter squash, fresh green beans, apples, and pears. U.S. apple juice has a higher TI than apple juice from Germany or Mexico, and U.S. grapes have higher TI's than those from South Africa and Mexico.

                                    The size of the differences varies from food to food. In two cases with the highest TI's of any foods, U.S. peaches have 10 times the TI of Chilean imports, and U.S. frozen winter squash has a TI 143 times as high as Mexican winter squash has. Only two imported foods, Mexican broccoli and Brazilian orange juice, have TI's more than 10-fold larger than those of U.S. samples, but in each case the higher score is still comparatively low.


                                    As others have alluded there is lots of Politics involved in Food... an Mexico has unfortunately been the subject of many character assassinations by various lobbying groups in the States... Mexican producers have won numerous Suits in the international courts... only to see U.S. Agencies (in the pockets of so many corporate interests) skirt their international obligations and come up with new bogus rules etc.,... Avocados being one of the most debated & public of these battles.

                                    I am not doubting the scientists who study the pesticide levels.. I am casting a shadow on the people who select a particular study, on particular samples ignore the 9 that indicate otherwise... and then preemptively infiltrate the media & people's opinions.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Agreed. A lot of politics involved. It's not much of a stretch to say even both of the articles we quoted are politically motivated.
                                      I did find some studies from the MSU Ag department that showed individual fruits or veggies from Mexico Vs the US could be higher one way or the other. Cantaloupes from Mexico had very high levels of pesticide while cucumbers from the US were just as bad or worse.
                                      In regards to the organic program operating at the same standards in Mexico as the US every thing I can find thus far indicates that's not the case. Mexico started to implement their program in 2006 but they are still not up to speed. In fact they only have one certifying agent for the entire country.
                                      Probably the biggest concern I have about Mexico is that until very recently they used many pesticides and chemicals that are illegal in the US.
                                      That stuff stays in the soil a long time. One study I read found DDT in cucumbers after it had not been utilized in 30 years.
                                      Organic also doesn't account for the water supply.
                                      There is so many biased info out there it's difficult to sort through and there's a huge commercial Ag businesses funding some of that.


                      2. Dowd didn't fan any flames. Gunlock fanned some embers.

                        Waters needs to visit many remote places in developing countries where people only eat organic and local and expensive. No other choice. They would love to have a Safeway with the equivalent of $0.99 lb chicken - cheaper than even their own farmyard birds.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Fantastic author Barbara Kingsolver wrote a book about her family's return to Appalachia where they would eat sustainably, and eat only locally-grown food for a period of time.

                          I have always admired her writing skills and far-reaching knowledge, but here she goes joining Alice in Wonderland, and from what little I read of the book (because it began to piss me off to read more), she comes off sounding disconnected from the hoi polloi, preachy and more than a little smug. You know, she used to live in Tucson, too, but moved back to Appalachia, I expect because it would be easier (a WHOLE lot easier) to succeed in her sustainable-dining experiment than trying to live off the fat of the land in Tucson.

                          Nice gig if you can get it, but some of us have to work for a living doing other than chronicling our goings-on.

                          I'm very glad Kinsolver and Waters share the world with us, but it seems like they're unaware of the rareified air they're breathing at this point.

                          1. re: EWSflash

                            I would encourage you to go back and read the rest of Kingsolver's book. The thing I appreciated the most about it was that she acknowledged that her experience was near-ideal, and that 100% local wasn't feasible for most, instead we should focus on doing the best we can with the resources we have as individuals. And yes, she and her family did move to Appalachia in large part to make the experiment easier, and point that she is pretty upfront about IIRC.

                            1. re: mpjmph

                              I hate to say it, but after months of being on my library's wait list for the book, I couldn't finish AVM either. Despite of being a fan of some of Kingsolver's other work, and a supporter of the concept in general, I found the tone of AVM too self-congratulatory and self-righteous. Also, because I was attracted to the book, in part, because I enjoy Kingsolver's writing, I found having to wade through the writings of her teenage daughter and academician husband excrudiantly dull.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I didn't read it as self-righteous at all, but I guess it reads differently to everyone. I read it as an honest description of how difficult it is to live a subsistence lifestyle. In all honesty though, I skipped most of the insets written by her daughter and husband, only read the few that caught my eye....

                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  "ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE - A Year in the Life of Food" Barbara Kingsolver's new book
                                  I posted this thread about two years ago. Like you, I really wanted to LOVE this book and did not.

                                  Keep reading the thread because I made the first posting about fifty pages into my read and had not yet gotten to the "WTF?" stage of disillusionment.

                                    1. re: Sherri

                                      Are you saying the book gets better after the first fifty pages or the book never gets better after the first 50?


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        TDQ, I've pasted the last part of my post below. A quick answer to your Q is, no, it didn't get better, it got preachier.

                                        "I have just finished it [edit: AVM] and must report disillusionment and frustration with this uninspired, disjointed work. It does not live up to my hopes and expectations and maybe that's my problem and not hers. AVM is filled with a lot of discussion without apparent (palpable?) desire. Nothing grabbed me by the throat and said "WOW, this lady is in love with her topic". Yes, there are occasional times when I laughed out loud, but they were fewer than I hoped. Mouth-watering descriptions of the food they grew and subsequently ate, with the exception of her 50th birthday and their Thanksgiving meal, were absent. I wanted passion and got a load of politics instead.

                                        FOOD POLITICS by Marion Nestle and THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan do a better job of politicking than Ms Kingsolver. This manuscript has all the earmarks of being rushed into publication (factual errors being the most noteworthy) and is disappointing."

                                        1. re: Sherri

                                          Oh my! Well, I'm glad I abandoned it early on, then!

                                          I've read Pollan, but not that book you mention by Nestle. I shall put it on my list.



                                  1. re: mpjmph

                                    She did mention that the land was close to their families' origins, as I recall. She was a bit preachy, like she was in all of her books, but she still brings many profound ideas to the fore. I just skim some parts of her writing and revel in the others.

                                    1. re: Claudette

                                      True, but her other writings are obstensibly "fiction". In AVM, which is non-fiction, she makes herself the hero (or, heroine) of her own homily, which any seasoned preacher would tell you is a giant no-no.


                              2. While it might help some if Alice Waters openly admitted the cost and difficulty of eating organic for most people I really doubt that such an admission would necessarily make her for effective in her goals. I personally have never felt that she is talking down to 'real people', but there are obviously many people who do. For me she is an example of something to aspire to in terms of food sourcing and eating. I don't think you have to be exactly like her to get the point or to make an effort. You do what you can to eat fresher foods, local foods, things that are better for you if it makes sense to you. I don't see Waters saying you have to be perfect about it or don't bother. It strikes me that being defensive is not productive. Do people intentionally eat less healthy to spite her? I don't think so.