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Nov 18, 2009 02:45 PM

Eric Ripert - A less polarizing version of Alice Waters?

I caught Ripert's interview on Charlie Rose last night and couldn't help but draw some parallels between his whole-hearted insistence on fresh, organic and free range foods and Alice Waters' position on the same thing.

Ripert seemed careful to draw a line at not wishing to sound 'militant' (or a similar word he used), and that may be the distinguishing factor (that he took the trouble to say so). But....................... I really don't see much difference between Ripert and AW on this subject. In fact, AW is actually supporting educational efforts (her schools program)........... not that that should elevate her over Ripert, but it is true.

My question is in reference to the topic and all the heat aimed at AW for being 'elitist'. If you are familiar with both, where would you place Ripert on the scale AW is measured against?

Personally, I think they're both right, and have said AW should make better use of her platform by being more realistic with her message. While Rose seemed to help Ripert with some realism about the cost and difficulty of 'fresh', I just didn't think Ripert was all that tuned into that message. Does he get a pass because there can't be many people on food stamps eating at Le Bernardin? Does AW take more heat because she's more down on the level of the people who can't afford what she advocates? Do they both have something to learn? Are they both just fine? Help me out here.

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  1. This really isn't an answer to your question - I'm not that familiar with Alice Waters, except for her '60 Minutes' interview, along with comments and links posted here. But I caught the interview last night, then went to the 'Avec Eric' website and watched a few episodes of the series. I came away thinking that Chef Ripert, through his show, reminded me very much, both in attitude toward and appreciation of locally produced food (especially seafood), of a UK Chef and tv presenter named Rick Stein. (Like I typed, not really an answer to your question)

    1. Perhaps it's because Eric is so much easier on the eyes ( and ears) than Alice. Total Chowcrush on M. Ripert (Le Woof) adam

      1. First, just a general comment. There is still in our society a tendency to be more accepting of men taking vocal stands on things than we are of women doing the same. Having said that, I don't know to what degree that might be at play here. I'm familiar with the work and message of both ER and AW; however, I'm not familiar with AW's persona. I do watch ER's show, though, if I'm free when it's on. He has a quiet, calm demeanor. I don't know how that compares to hers.

        I think they share a most valuable message and worthy objective, but it's a formidable task they've signed onto--to change the way this society consumes (in both senses--purchasing and ingesting) food. I think what they're trying to do is noble, correct and moral, but they are up against terrific barriers that I believe will take decades to remove.

        Yes, the cost and difficulty that you speak of regarding "fresh" are real, IMO. I've also seen how the food oligarchy has responded in small ways to changing consumer demand. It's a bit of a vicious cycle. Many of us ought here might want to purchase more organic, locally grown and/or fair trade foods, but still in my area the selections are limited and conventional food is *very* expensive here--never mind "responsible" food. I feel like, for me, sometimes it's one step forward, two steps back, as I try to balance budgetary and healthful-food issues. I'm also convinced that suppliers will respond to consumer demand as the demand grows, but it's a slow process for that demand to grow if "responsible" food is limited in supply and too costly for the average consumer that might be trying to feed a family. In terms of what lesson ER and AW might need to learn, it's impossible for me to judge definitively what they do and do not know about the situation the typical citizen finds himself/herself in, but I would venture to say that both of them would probably have easier access than I do to the foods they champion. And in the case of northern climates, when I was growing up, we ate according to our climate, for the most part, with a few exceptions. We were able to get citrus from California and Florida, but many of the things we can now get year round from far away places really didn't travel well "back then". But shipping and transportation have changed. So, whereas, June and July were strawberry months when I was in school, now we can have them year-round. The quality isn't as good as I remember it being when we got them locally, but during a much shorter season, but once people get used to having something, it's difficult to get them to step back and forego things, in order to eat locally and seasonally.

        1. It comes down to something very simple: Eric Ripert seems nice and down to earth. Alice Waters seems patronizing, condescending and totally out of touch with regular people with regular incomes and time schedules.

          This is something that Midwesterners like me recognize in a heartbeat. I'm sure Ms. Waters is a very, very nice person. But she simply comes off as imperious, entitled and just, well, icky. Her every breath exudes "Let them eat cake," in a way I can't put into words precisely.

          Ripert doesn't do that. And I'm a very serious organic skeptic. He still doesn't bug.

          7 Replies
          1. re: dmd_kc

            Ironically, I did finally get to see Alice Waters "on film" (video, probably) yesterday. She appeared on The Victory Garden, to discuss the public gardening effort in front of SF City Hall. It was really too brief for me to have formed an opinion of her, but timely to see her given this discussion.

            I agree with you ER's demeanor, though. Humble and unassuming.

            Re skepticism re organic--I'm not about all food items, dmd, but one message I don't think is getting out to the public is that some grown items may present a chemical problem, but others do not. Certain produce, from what I've read on multiple occasions from multiple sources, is not treated heavily chemically. I think that's an important distinction that consumers who have to balance the safety and budgetary issues would like to know about. But conventional growers spend their message trying to tell us everything is within safe limits, and alternative-food-proponents don't seem to acknowledge that some conventional produce is safe.

            1. re: dmd_kc

              Wow. dmc_kc. Why don't you just say what you feel? :o)

              I can see your point about AW's demeanor and have agreed that she is a poor communicator. But "patronizing" and "condescending" are perceptions I can't agree with, and are far from what I see as her main problem................... which is that her failure to embrace the reality of "regular people" has obviously hurt her mass-messaging ability.

              There may be something to the sensitivity of MidWesterners, but I grew up in New York and have lived around LA for many years, and I think I also know a fake when I see one. I think Alice Waters is very real................. she just has a way about her that comes across, unfortunately for her message, as one-dimensional and uninspiring. I was only on the fringes of the 60's hippy movement in the Bay Area, but (as some have siggested in other posts here) I would bet that her persona is somehow a function of that 'mellow' background. It's really too bad she has that affect on many people.

              1. re: Midlife

                It seems that one reason she comes across that way is the way she brushes off certain questions. For example, she was asked in the 60 Minutes interview if she ever goes to the regular grocery store. She completely poo-poo'ed the idea and talked about how she wanted something "just picked." Well that's great and all. But it is not the reality for the vast majority of people.

                1. re: mojoeater

                  Kindof my point. Ripert said that he won't eat anything that isn't fresh. Is his supermarket that different from any in Berkeley?

              2. re: dmd_kc

                But Ripert is from France! Isn't that even more elitist than being from California?

                1. re: dmd_kc

                  It seems to me that the real difference you're highlighting is that ripert doesn't actually want you to do something... i.e. change the way you run your life/cook, while aw does. He just wants to say this and that about cooking while aw actually wants to change your perspective about what you are doing and how you choose to live your life. Any individual who challenges others to change their lives is bound to rub some people the wrong way, especially if they are resistant to self-introspection and change. In my opinion it's not a question of being in touch or not in touch with "regular folks" it's simply that some people are unwilling to change their approach to food, although they in their heart of hearts want to, and get mad when someone points this out. The idea that you can't change because you have a regular income and a time schedule is just an excuse for not wanting/or having the desire to try. This is America, we went to the moon... You can do anything if you try.

                  1. re: StheJ

                    I really don't think it *is* easy for some Americans to eat the way that AW recommends and, especially, for many people in the inner city. Cities aren't generally set up the way they once were. Many neighborhoods, especially poorer ones, can't even get a full-range grocery store to open there, never mind local producer vendors. If residents there don't have a car, what do they do? Take three buses to get to a produce co-op? What about elderly citizens who can no longer drive, who can't manage a long (to them) cross-city trip on public transportation, but who *can* still manage walking a block or two to buy some food? If organic isn't present in the stores they can get to, or if they're on Social Security, organic is not really a viable option. Organic produce is expensive. I do not believe that it's affordable, as a normal course, for *all* families. It *could* be more affordable, if the demand were higher, but as I said previously, that's a vicious cycle that needs to be broken somehow, I suppose by those who have more discretionary income to spend on organics now while they are more expensive.

                    I certainly do agree with you that *some* people are unwilling to change their approach to food, even if they know of these alternatives, simply because they might be individuals who are generally resistant to change, or because, as you mentioned, they don't like any suggestion that others might be telling them what choices to make. I just don't believe that that's the situation for everyone.

                    I believe, watching prices, that processed food is more expensive than fresh food. But cost is only part of the equation. Accessibility is another part, and I think for a good number of Americans, accessibility IS an issue. So that's the beauty, to me, of the urban garden movement.

                2. I'm pretty sure that the main difference between them is that Alice Waters has been propounding this viewpoint for more than 30 years, and in fact her influence is one of the main reasons that it's not exactly a radical attitude any more: many chefs of Ripert's generation emphasize fresh/local/seasonal/sustainable.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: jlafler

                    It's hard for me to think of Alice Waters as "radical" and I don't think it was ever a "radical" issue. It was more like something "revisited".

                    What I mean is--I'm not exactly *old*--middle aged--and up until the time I was a young adult, I think local/fresh/seasonal and, therefore, by definition, "sustainable", was basically how everybody ate. At least in my area of the country.

                    The mid-Sixties began to bring in more types of packaged foods, and as time went on through the Seventies and Eighties, especially in times of affluence, more ways of packaging food, transportation and technology advances, and interest in many international cuisines, but still not enough to change the way our parents cooked and ate or the way they taught my generation to cook and eat.

                    I really think that's it really only been about one generation time-wise (25, 30 years) in which so many Americans have eaten so much packaged/not-local/not fresh food. On a wholesale scale, I mean.

                    So I don't think of the message or work of folks like Alice Waters to be "radical", at all, although I do appreciate her efforts and those of others to get us back to those habits. But she didn't think it up and she's not a pioneer. It's how most of us have eaten in this country until, comparatively speaking, a short time ago. She's exercising, IMO, common sense in trying to get us back to that.

                    1. re: Normandie

                      I didn't mean to suggest that she thought up the idea of eating locally and seasonally, since that's the way humans have eaten throughout most of our history. And she was certainly inspired by the time she spent in France during the 60's. (I do think that she and other proponents of this idea tend to overlook food preservation traditions, but that's another matter.)

                      But yes, I think she's a radical, in that she was (and still is) bucking the trend of her time. Also, there's a big difference between actively promoting this type of eating (and resisting commercialization, monoculture, etc.,) and eating this way because it's the only way to eat. If all Alice Waters is doing is exercising common sense, then why do so many people think that she's unreasonable, and that what she's promoting is simply too much to ask of people?

                      It's certainly true that the transition to mass-produced processed foods accelerated during the 70's and 80's, but it was in motion long before then. And "minimally processed" is not the same as "local/seasonal." Fruit importing and exporting was a big business by the end of the 19th century (insert obligatory reference to the United Fruit Company). California fruit agriculture boomed in the early 1900s, and most of it was for export. Commercially canned food is a 19th century invention. When I was a kid (and I suspect we're around the same age), there was little discussion of where the food we ate was grown, though since I grew up in California, most of the produce probably was local. But it really wasn't something most people thought about.

                      1. re: jlafler

                        Thanks for the response. Points taken.

                        I *do* know that when I was growing up, most of the produce we ate was local. I know this because 1) every single family on our road had gardens ;-) and 2) whatever we didn't grow we bought at local farm markets. The obvious exception for this Northeasterner would be citrus. Californian strawberries or Pacific Northwest raspberries. When it was at season at home, we ate it. When it wasn't, we didn't, and we dreamt about those months when it would be in season.

                        <<If all Alice Waters is doing is exercising common sense, then why do so many people think that she's unreasonable, and that what she's promoting is simply too much to ask of people?>>

                        This is a really interesting question you've asked. I don't know the answer, but I've been intrigued thinking about it. Why do *you* think some people respond negatively to her?

                        1. re: Normandie

                          <<If all Alice Waters is doing is exercising common sense, then why do so many people think that she's unreasonable, and that what she's promoting is simply too much to ask of people?>>

                          jlafler's question is really why I started this topic and why I took part in the one about Alice Waters. I've stated my thoughts above. In short, she has a very unengaging persona (at least on this subject) and appears to not understand the reality of most people, especially those in our inner cities. I really thinks he does herself a disservice and don't think she's oblivious that that reality. She just employs the technique where you don't give your audience an 'out'........ you just present the ideal and hope they'll do 'something'/'anything' (each in their own way) toward that ideal. If she gets one kid to order the chicken and apples at Mickey D's, instead of a burger, or eat an apple instead of a cupcake, she makes a difference. I'm not sure whether letting her audience know she 'get's their reality' would make a difference.......... it might.

                          1. re: Midlife

                            I agree, Midlife. Any child making a better choice is progress.

                            I think it *always* helps, when one is trying to effect some sort of change, no matter how big or small, to work hard to understand one's audience's reality and to work consciously to demonstrate to the audience that one does. However, easier said than done, I know... It's a natural human tendency to get wrapped up in one's own reality and AW's universe would become even further separated from those of some people she's trying to reach. By that I mean, because of her career and her life, it must be even more easy and natural for her to access the type of food and way of eating and cooking that she espouses, so that could have widened even further the gulf between her and some of the folks she'd like to reach.

                          2. re: Normandie

                            It sounds like you grew up in a small town or rural area -- so it may have been a part of the country that was incorporated wholesale into the industrial food system relatively late. I grew up in a large metropolitan area and despite the fact that we were close to the source of much of the produce sold in the U.S., I didn't know many people who grew vegetables themselves -- nobody in our neighborhood that I can think of, and none of the kids I grew up with. Shopping at the supermarket was the norm -- my mom was a bit of a foodie, so she shopped at specialized produce markets, but she did a lot of things that were weird at the time, like buying whole bean coffee and grinding it fresh every morning! I grew up thinking of farming and growing food in a nostalgic kind of way, possibly quite similar to the way that Alice Waters did -- an urban romantic view which I realize is nowhere close to the reality of rural life.

                            It's also worth noting that it's not just produce that figures into the local eating issue. Little if any wheat is grown within 100 miles of where I live, for example, but of course wheat bread and wheat flour are staples.

                            As for the question of why people are so irked by Alice Waters, I do think that she often comes off as insensitive and elitist -- I remember reading an article in which she was a minor character, and she really did come off as a prima donna. But I also wonder how much of that is her and how much is the selective portrait of her that's become fashionable in the food world -- and it's certainly become very fashionable to diss her. Some discussion of that here:

                            1. re: jlafler

                              Well, you're *half* right, j. ;-) I did grow up in a rural area, and we still had plenty of family farms in all the towns surrounding us, and their produce, dairy products, eggs and poultry made their ways to our local markets. Note, we didn't have "supermarkets" or even big chain stores in our area's little towns. We had full-service markets, but they were independents, and, like the farms, family-owned. (Wait, there was one little A&P about ten miles away, but I do mean "little", and it didn't even have all the products our independent grocers offered.)

                              But, simultaneously, our quiet bucolic corner was part of greater's exurbs, I think you could say accurately (now its suburbs). Trips into the City were regular, if not weekly, so the folks I knew took advantage of the more exotic treats we could access there, but they weren't part of our daily dietary fabric. I think in some ways we had the best of both worlds--locally produced food, but enough proximity to the City to have restaurants and inns nearby, established by refugee chefs from the City, etc., that opened a window onto fine cuisine. (They benefitted, too, though, from the local produce in the late summer and early autumn months.) My father was a foodie, too, though we wouldn't have called him that in those days, so he was always sending away via mail order for various treats and goodies and special meats that he enjoyed having my mother turn into some big production or another. Your pioneering mother must have been a woman after my own heart, though--to think of all the years I wasted with my mom's Martinson coffee, before I moved to the big city (DC) and discovered the magic of coffee grinders... :-)

                              Interesting re your point about AW and the article. You know, I had mentioned watching this particle episode of The Victory Garden, which spent most of its time talking with two men (sorry, I don't recall their names) who were behind the public garden at SF's municipal government complex. One gentleman was--well, I think he was more a landscape architect and he helped design into reality the other gentleman's plan for this urban garden prototype, which they'd like to take throughout SF's neighborhoods, if the concept works, and then take it national. Anyway, short story long, at the very end of the episode, AW appears and has about a 30-second sound clip, and manages to sound as though this project were all her dream and doing. Perhaps it was, but I think, having watched The Victory Garden in earlier years, that the show's producers would have been more careful about introducing her as such (versus giving so much of the show to the two gentlemen, neither of whom had mentioned her or given her credit). But you're so right, IMHO, to ask about her, or any public person for that matter, how much of her are we allowed to see, and *who* is doing the editing of her persona--is it she, or is it the media?

                              I think there's also something to be said, regardless, for StheJ's point that some of us out here can be resistant to change, no matter how appealing or unappealing the message deliverer may be. And at the same time, I agree with Midlife's opinion that if AW has gotten even one child to eat better, or one parent to feed its child better, than she has contributed something worthwhile.