Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Waters Under A Bridge?

"I'll tell you, Alice Waters, annoys the living shit out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic. I mean I'm not crazy about our obsession with corn or ethanol and all that, but I'm a little uncomfortable with legislating good eating habits. I'm suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth. I'm a little reluctant to admit that maybe Americans are too stupid to figure out that the food we're eating is killing us. But I don't know if it's time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald's. My libertarian side is at odds with my revulsion at what we as a country have done to ourselves physically with what we've chosen to eat and our fast food culture. I'm really divided on that issue. It'd be great if he [Obama] served better food at the White House than what I suspect the Bushies were serving. It's gotta be better than Nixon. He liked starting up a roaring fire, turning up the air conditioning, and eating a bowl of cottage cheese with ketchup. Anything above that is a good thing. He's from Chicago, so he knows what good food is."

This little excerpt happens to come courtesy of TV icon Tony Bourdain during a interview with DCist. See link here. This seems to me that this is the second time in the last week that the iconic Alice Waters has been slapped around a little bit. The first time, coming from an interesting little meeting between a former White House chef and Alice, as reported in the NYTimes here. It seems she was quietly and politely put in her place about the issue of sustainable local produce being represented in the White House. All of this comes in addition to the new administration's lack of a reception towards Waters' dream for a sustainable foods cabinet.
Now, I really have no feelings about the intentions and ideals of Alice Waters. In fact, I feel a little bad for her considering how much effort (misplaced or whatnot) goes into her work, but, I have also heard rants and strong negative opinions from industry and chefs regarding her intentions versus her self promotion. This was very evident upon the release of the SF Victory Garden which was a short period landmark for the Slow Food events in the city. While the intention of having a live model for her philosophy was important, many have contended that building a temporary garden that cost the city millions of dollars was not necessary. Especially if the garden grew useless produce that may have been watered and fertilized with the finest of SF's homeless excrement.
I do personally agree that having the best product means being able to find great local produce grown with care, but I can say that this is probably the luxury that I can afford because of my environment and my current situation. I would imagine any chef would naturally agree that a locavore philosophy is the right one. I am also a fan (though probably not personally my style) of simple cooking approaches and letting seasonal food stand for itself (i.e. the Chez Panisse way), but I often wonder if the unnatural byproduct of this movement turns out to be starved creativity in our restaurants? Last spring, I dined out 3 times in 2 weeks at relatively nicer restaurants and found the same vegetable options and three similar shaved asparagus salads. We were just halfway past asparagus season and I was getting sick of seeing them.

I guess what I want to question is this, does this good idea and philosophy need such a face as Alice Waters to be poignant? Is the idea of sustainable really sustainable for regular people in this economy? Is SF cuisine and approach stuck in an Alice Waters' philosophical black hole - especially considering the realities of such an economy don't justify the process/price? Does a local California cuisine philosophy prevent the development and evolution of its food?

Beats me.

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