Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tomorrow's Breakfast: Cereal? Or Wood-Fired Egg With Fresh Local Tomatoes Marinated in Tuscan Olive Oil Over Organic Toast? (Alice Waters Speaks)

Here's Lesley Stahl speaking with Alice Waters on "60 Minutes" this weekend. CBS describes Waters as "a world-renowned chef, restaurateur, and sometimes controversial California food activist."

60 Minutes' Article

"We make decisions everyday about what we're going to eat," Waters said. "And some people want to buy Nike shoes - two pairs, and other people want to eat [$4.00-a-pound] Bronx grapes, and nourish themselves."

When asked how she lives without [a microwave], Waters replied, "I don’t know how you can sort of live with one."

Waters told Stahl she rarely goes into a regular supermarket. "I'm looking for food that's just been picked. And so, I know when I go to the farmer's market that, you know, they just brought it in that day."
I think Alice Waters sets a great example, regarding food. But to suggest that anyone who doesn't adopt her lifestyle (buying food from "local ranchers, fishermen, and farmers" instead of at a supermarket, spending hours preparing meals in an open wood-burning fireplace stove) is not "nourishing themselves" seems out of touch.

There's a difference between living your life a certain way and being admired for it, and saying that others should live the same way. The latter comes across as self-centered and unrealistic, especially considering most Americans do not have access (financially, logistically) to fresh, organic, locally-grown foods. (The organic market is less than 3% of the total US food market.)


caulfieldkid said...

It is out of touch. The masses need education and the means to eat with health in mind. Most, I believe, have neither.

I have to say though, we have never had a microwave. I refuse to be able to "cook" in a couple of minutes in some magic box (tongue in cheek). It just seems so mindless and well . . . processed.


Matt said...

Alice certainly presents herself in a manner that attracts those who side with upscale farmer's markets as the solution, and estranges those who do not. I think it has more to do with Alice's experiences (and her desire to advertise her restaurant) and less to do with elitism.

I found it unfortunate that the segment did not capture all of the things kids and adults can learn in a garden. Alice failed to express the idea that everyone can learn and grow the best tasting food in community-style gardens (of course time permitting). A connection to food and nature does not happen through the exchange of money.

Anonymous said...

But she is doing what she can to teach kids how to garden and cook what they grow. Access to suitable urban land is certainly an issue, but not insurmountable in many cities; I've had several plots in community gardens. The larger issue for most people is probably time. For example, I leave the house at 6:45 and don't get home till 7:00 -- when am I supposed to mulch, weed, and harvest, let alone cook?

Angela and Melinda said...

Hard to imagine the lady who rides the bus to get her food being able to reach local ranchers, etc. Still, the Edible Schoolyard program is a great idea, esp. as the kids also learn to cook what they grow. And I love that she wants the Obamas to set an example by having an organic garden on the White House grounds. I hope they do it.

Bix said...

To Anonymous ... That is one long day!

I have to say, here's where Waters is on another planet to me.

There are lots of things people can do to eat well and feel satisfied when time and money are limited.

Example: Waters says food should be fresh, not frozen or canned. I'm 180 degrees on that ... you can get frozen broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, asparagus, spinach, peas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, peaches, etc. that are good quality and often, since they are frozen soon after harvest, better quality that fresh ... fresh which for many people is not as Waters recommends (hours off the vine) but days in transit and on a supermarket shelf. Frozen orange juice has more vitamin C than oranges which have been languishing for days after being picked.

You can buy canned or aseptic boxes of tomato products, broths, juices that are inexpensive and can serve as the base for quick soups and sauces. You can buy canned beans to add to pasta and grain dishes, to make bean spreads. All not recommended by Waters.

You can make grain dishes and soups and stews ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate them for meals during the week. Not recommended by Waters.

I could go on for pages. Anyone can say you can eat a good diet if time and money and accessibility aren't factors. It's more difficult to work within a given person's constraints. This is what a nutritionist does. This is the challenge. Waters fails here for me.

Bix said...

About the microwave: It's not whether using a microwave is healthful or not, it's that Water's could not extend herself, get out of herself enough to imagine how people "live with one" that bothered me.

caulfieldkid said...


About the microwave: I certainly think the choice for us to not have one is a personal one. I don't have a fundamental problem with them, and in many cases it's probably wise to have one. At some point I just decided that if I couldn't spend the 15-30 minutes to make something to eat - I don't need to eat. BUT if someone like anonymous (above) can shave 20 minutes off their day, and still make something healthy, I'm all for it. I didn't mean to come off elitist or out of touch (the problem I think you have with Mrs. Waters).

I'm all about frozen vegetables. How many times have I reached into the fridge to find a forgotten vegetable? Maybe it's just me but I've purchased too much compost fodder in my day.


Bix said...

shaun, I don't think you came off sounding elitist at all. When you said, "The masses need education and the means to eat with health in mind," I was saying, "Yes! Yes!"

The microwave is, as you said, a personal choice. I admire you, I admire anyone in this culture who tries to improve their health, their diet, whatever for them that entails.

In healthcare, there's a term "patient-centered." It means, to me at least, working with that person in front of you at that moment in time, and trying to improve their lot - theirs. You go for compliance. One pack of cigarettes a day is better than 2, 19 cigarettes is better than 20, 5 minutes of walking is better than zero minutes.

If you think someone would benefit from eating, say, more berries, you don't tell them - for pete's sake - to eat freshly picked, locally grown, organic berries if their circumstances aren't conducive. Some berries - frozen, from the Supermarket, whatever - would be better than no berries.

You don't tell someone from Mali to eat a low-carb, high-protein, meat-centered diet. You don't tell someone from Greenland to eat a raw foods, vegan diet. Okay, those last examples are extreme. But for me, they're in the same vein. Waters does not operate on the concepts of patient-centeredness and compliance.

Anonymous said...

Alice Waters wasn’t holding her chef’s knife properly. Odd for someone who is so enthusiastic about cooking.

“she has done more to change how we Americans eat, cook and think about food than anyone since Julia Child” –- 60 Minutes
Um. No. Not really. Attributing organic food in Wal-Mart to her is overreaching a bit. She probably doesn’t want it attributed to herself anyway.
Very good points Bix. I think that’s my issue with slow food advocates. It has its merits for sure, who doesn’t like eating fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables? I’m glad the slow food movement exists, it is important.

However, at this point, it would take a massive upheaval in our infrastructure and culture to enable such a food system as envisioned by many slow food proponents to exist beyond serving a privileged few. When I read Michael Pollan’s food address to the new president in the New York Times I realized then that I wouldn’t be comfortable with slow foodie types making policy. It gets a bit utopian, in a narrow single vision sort of way.

The thing is that Pollan is probably a more moderate voice on these matters, but he went on and on with these niche food program ideas that required all this government backing and imposing cultural transformation when it seems to me that the biggest problem with food at the moment is the government support in the form of massive subsidies, catering to special interests, and relaxed regulation. Take that away, and the alternative food scene would have a level playing field; it’s growing regardless of the tilted scales and government handouts. You don’t have to be a hard-nosed conservative not want to throw tax money at the food problem, government programs are what created the current food debacle in the first place and we’ve learned that once we’ve set up such a government programs it’s very difficult to dismantle them, and even with best intentions, things may not turn out how we envisioned.

“The way we have been eating is making us sick.” -- Waters
Healthiest population in the United States according to The Blue Zones is in Loma Linda, California. While there are many factors besides diet that play into health, chronic disease resistance, and longevity, the Seventh Day Adventists living there are mostly vegetarian and they do eat foods (heck, they produce them) like cold breakfast cereals, soy milk, and seitan (vegetarian mock meat) and if you interact with the slow food crowd they vilify these food as toxic and unhealthy.

A microwave is a tool, a food technology, like agriculture, indoor plumbing and just like the Sub-Zero refrigerator in Alice Waters’s kitchen. Such home refrigeration units didn’t exist a hundred years ago and there’s no doubt that the home refrigerator changed the industrial world’s eating habits and lifestyle. But food traditionalists aren’t calling for us to unplug our refrigerators; they use them for the same reason people use microwaves. (Hint: convenience. Personally, I do find microwaves somewhat superfluous though.)

I just get this anti-science vibe from the slow food types, even moderates like Pollan tell us to rely on great grandma’s intuition and suggest that the vast body of scientific research shouldn’t be trusted (unless it confirms their beliefs of course). It’s something to keep in mind, not to rush into diet fads, but slow food advocates seem to make it a fetish and it becomes impossible to have a rational conversation or present any contradictory data. I think that’s why there is so much woo, superstition and remarkable claims that creeps into slow food -- like raw milk is a magical health elixir but pasteurized milk is liquid death incarnate. That’s just one example of many questionable ideas that are touted as indisputable fact because “that’s what we did yesterday” but really they are picking and choosing all the time based on peculiar biases.

Slow, Real and Traditional food has this religious quality that really hurts some of the beneficial attributes of the movement.

Bix said...

A pleasure reading that, Ben. You said many things I think about but have difficulty articulating.

This was good:
"the biggest problem with food at the moment is the government support in the form of massive subsidies, catering to special interests, and relaxed regulation."

"Take that away, and the alternative food scene would have a level playing field;"

"it’s growing regardless of the tilted scales and government handouts."

I want to say more but I'll let those words do it for now.

Sunshine said...

Water's pot-shot at NIKE shoes demonstrates an old and out-of-touch bias. Study the history of press fiasco and get the facts.

Anrosh said...

every nation was an agricultural nation once upon a time --as it became industrialized the affluent ones left agriculture as a means of living behind and left that for the farmers. as the land started being used for living than farming more productive methods of farming were used. farmers became less and the production increased and then the chemical agriculture started.

my point is generations and in all movements the people with affluence and wealth have got the resources to spend more. the poor people can get them when it becomes more accessible -- growing organic foods as good as it sounds does not allow a farmer to get its bread and butter through farming "idealistically' says in the book Organic.

if the chef in discussion want to plant her own - good for her - she has the land -- in india the poor grow their food because they cannot afford to buy from the supermarkets and they do it all organic because they cannot afford to buy expensive pesticides -- they eat seasonally and live off the land with their supplemental income (sometimes )

can we start homesteads ? -- not all of us can. agriculture is painstaking ( my grandfathers were farmers but they could not make ends meet) but it was supplmented by their elder children's income from the cities. however romantic growing their own fruits and vegetables sound i cannot do it living in an apartment and having a job to go. Moreover at this point my knowledge of growing vegetables is limited. i would sure like to learn.

i love to eat organic food - extrememly expensive - my friends love to eat them too - some have two kids -- they say we cannot make it all organic for a family of 4

the solution is to eat in proportion. eating in order to live -- however rude or crude i may sound -- this is a reality - a bitter truth to accept. -- and that is what organic food and sustainable living is all about.

we cannot force our principles on anyone - they can lead by example.

wheather to choose to follow them is a choice and it is not worth to follow when one does not have the money to pay bills and eat organic.

Bix said...

Anrosh, thank you for weighing in. Love your perspective.