‘You have to think of a different kind of menu,’ says Alice [Waters, owner of Chez Panisse and organic Slow Food guru]. ‘You eat dried fruit and nuts. You make pasta sauces out of canned tomatoes … you’re eating different kinds of grains—farro with root vegetables … Turnips of every color and shape! Carrots that are white and red and orange and pink! … Cabbages!’
Basically, you can eat like a fucking Russian peasant, is what she’s saying. I don’t know if that’s what they want to hear in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or Buffalo. And what about the healthy, pure, wholesome, and organic foods that Alice says I should be buying—particularly if I have children? If I’m making an even average wage as, say, a sole-providing police officer or middle manager? Regular milk is about four bucks a gallon. Organic is about twice that. Supermarket grapes are about four bucks a bunch. Organic are six. More to the point, what if I’m one of the vast numbers of working poor, getting by in the service sector? What should I do? How can I afford that?
Asked this question very directly, Alice advises blithely that one should ‘Make a sacrifice on the cell phone or a third pair of Nike shoes.’ It’s an unfortunate choice of words. And a telling one, I think. You know, those poor people—always with their Nikes and their cell phones. If only they’d listen to Alice. She’d lead them to the promised land for sure.
What else should we be doing? Alice says we should immediately spend 27 billion dollars to ensure every schoolchild in America gets a healthy, organic lunch. More recently she added to this number the suggestion that fresh flowers on every lunchroom table might also be a worthwhile idea. This is, after all, ‘more important than crime in the streets. This is not like homeland security—this is actually the ultimate homeland security. This is more important than anything else.’
Which is where Alice really loses me—because, well, for me, as a New Yorker, however quaint the concept, homeland security is still about keeping suicidal mass murderers from flying planes into our fucking buildings. And organic school lunches might be more important to you than crime in the streets in Berkeley—but in the underfunded school systems of West Baltimore, I suspect they feel differently. A healthy lunch is all fine and good—but no use at all to Little Timmy if he gets shot to death on the way to school. In fact, 27 billion for organic food for Timmy seems a back-assward priority right now—as, so far, we’ve failed miserably to even teach him to read. What kind of dreams can a well-fed boy have if he doesn’t even have the tools to articulate them? How can he build a world for himself if he doesn’t know how to ask for—much less how to get—the things he wants and needs? I, for one, would be very satisfied if Timmy gets a relatively balanced slab of fresh but nonorganic meatloaf with a side of competently frozen broccoli—along with reading skills and a chance at a future. Once literate, well read, and equipped with the tools to actually make his way in the world, he’ll be far better prepared to afford Chez Panisse.
As of this writing, not too far from Berkeley, just across the bridge, in San Francisco’s Mission District, they line up every Tuesday for the $1.99 special at Popeye’s Fried Chicken. They don’t stand in the street waiting for forty-five minutes to an hour because it’s particularly healthy chicken, or organic chicken, or conscientiously raised chicken. They do it because it’s three fucking pieces for a dollar ninety-nine. Unless we respect that reality, Alice? We’re lost.
Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and People Who Cook
Bourdain devotes an entire chapter of his book to decimating Alice Waters, who has been lauded in a 60 Minutes puff piece as “the Mother of Slow Food” (which is a bullshit claim). He admits that he was perhaps overdoing it when he called her “Pol Pot in a muumuu” in an interview — but only barely (he also called saccharine blonde Semi-Homemade host Sandra Lee “the hellspawn of Betty Crocker and Charles Manson” and called her Kwanzaa Cake “a war crime on television”, so Waters is far from alone). Bourdain selects his targets for a reason, and Waters is a highly suitable stand-in for the growing ranks of white, privileged, socially ignorant eco-food ideological stick-wavers whose contempt for communities of color and for the poor ooze out through their self-righteous evangelism.
In a typical move, Waters wrote an open letter to the newly elected president Obama warning that “the purity and wholesomeness of the Obama movement must be accompanied by a parallel effort in food”. She appointed herself onto an advisory committee to help the Obamas select “a person with integrity and devotion” as White House Chef, adding “I cannot forget the vision I have had since 1993 of a beautiful vegetable garden on the White House lawn” — apparently oblivious that they already had a chef of “integrity and devotion” and a vegetable garden. This, from someone who has boasted that she hasn’t voted since 1966. Nevertheless, the Obamas were cool and invited her to the White House to throw a series of dinners and help expand the garden. As an example of her sustainable, locavorian ways, she flew in big-name chefs from all over the country for a five-hundred-dollar-a-plate gala, as though there are no qualified chefs in Washington fucking DC. This is why I appreciate what Tony Bourdain does. His targets usually deserve it. He’s a linguistic assassin, and sometimes that’s just what’s needed. And yeah, it feels good too. Plus, say what you want but I dig Popeye’s.
Bringing this back, because what a quality dude. And it’s a quality chapter in a quality book, too.
Wow. I’m really impressed. He *gets* it.
Bourdain is the most thoughtful, conscious, mindful ‘celebrity’ chef I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I’m pretty sure he’s also a dick (all chefs are dicks, especially on the line), but he’s awesome.