Rough Waters

Dear Alice Waters: Your ideas are ridiculous and P.S., your restaurant sucks. So said readers of Salon in late October, who pelted a rather mild interview with Waters with 104 letters commenting on the food icon, most of them complaining that her philosophies are unworkable at best.

Reacting to Waters’s statement that food is best bought at a farmers’ market, KayWWW opined:

I love to cook, and I’m glad to use fresh, local ingredients when I can. But I think people who live in California (where evidently there are 24 hour farmer’s markets on every corner) are a bit clueless at the state of farmer’s markets in other parts of the country, especially when you get out of a couple of big cities, not to mention the realities of working a job that requires you to be at work at certain times.

I recently moved, and tried to find a local farmer’s market. I found two fairly nearby—one that ran 10-2 on Tuesdays and another that ran 11-3 on Fridays. Hmmm, which one of those is compatible with an 8 to 6 job? I finally found a Saturday farmer’s market that entailed a 40 mile round trip. I got there by 8 am and the place was practically empty—evidently if you aren’t there by six, you can’t get anything decent. I’m not willing to get up at 5 am on a Saturday so I can drive 40 miles to buy a few vegetables. (Maybe you morning people think that’s fun, but not me.)

While Allie says:

The thing about Waters’ assumptions that drives me most crazy is that she assumes food should be a higher priority than anything else. Slow down, she says, enjoy life… as if everyone enjoys cooking, first of all, which I do sometimes but only in spurts, and as if spending forever cooking is the only pleasant thing to do in all of life. Maybe I want to spend Saturday lying in bed with my husband having sex, instead of getting up at 5 am to get to the farmer’s market downtown before all the food is gone and spending 2 hours driving there and back and another hour standing in the hot sun waiting in line. Maybe I could have used that time to write a story, take a photograph, or plant roses. Maybe my work, which she thinks I should want to escape, is actually my pleasure, and actually of value to the world, too.

Breadbaker has a more even-keeled view:

Alice Waters has some nice ideas. It would be good if we ate more good food at the height of its freshness. It would be good if we used more local food, more humanely-raised food, more food directly from farmers we could meet. ... The planet actually cannot support five billion people eating just as Alice Waters wants. The U.S. can’t support 300 million people doing it. There isn’t land for farmers markets for us all to buy at, there aren’t enough farmers who want to spend their time marketing directly to individuals, there isn’t enough land for truck gardening.

And if we were all to slow down our lives and work to her drummer, no one would be able to afford the $65-85 that dinner costs at Chez Panisse.

But commenter Apollonius delivers perhaps the unkindest cut of all, chiding Waters to look to her own kitchen, because “Ms. Waters has long since abandoned any pretense of building a ‘California cuisine,’ and plays no hands-on role in Chez Pannise. The last time we ate there, we were charged a fortune for a meal of lamb shanks and lentils, a homely preparation I can easily surpass at home. ... Waters is so deeply engaged with her own legend that she has no awareness of how mediocre her flagship restaurant has become.”

Oh, ouch. Hey, people, why so pissed? As the Ethicurean puts it, “A Salon writer asks, after a few weeks of shopping locally and cooking from scratch, Alice Waters whether her gastronomic principles are too hard to live by, and readers answer with a level of vitriol sufficient to curdle milk. Jesus, people, she’s an idealist, and it’s just dinner — what are you so angry about?”

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