I'm cranky for several reasons today, the primary ones being that I am sick and that I just got back from vacation. So please excuse me if this comes off as overly cantankerous.
Alice Waters bugs the flipping crap out of me.
I've long thought that Waters, while well-intentioned, has completely ludicrous standards for local and organic ingredients. Nice for her to preach on and on about when and where and how we acquire our fruits and vegetable from her affluent, Northern Californian pedestal, but how are poor Midwesterners (even poor Texans, for that matter) supposed to acquire local organic avocados? Shrimp? Lemons? Probably we're supposed to do without and appreciate our own local fare, and also possibly eat half as much as we'd like in order to fit The Cause into our budget. Yawn, snore, ok Momma Alice. I'll do whatever you say and also I definitely did not shove that whole mess under my bed and I didn't feed the broccoli to the dog. Can I go play with my friends now?
What stirred me to write the tirade you are currently reading is two articles I came across today, both of which not only present Waters in a manner that apparently she is not at all embarrassed to perpetuate but also reveal a somewhat ridiculous bias on the part of the authors. First, this article about Waters' book tour/lecture stint in the Chicago. Here, Midwesterners are backwaters doofs who've never heard of Waters and don't have the good sense to turn out in droves to hear her speak. Midwesterners who see obstacles in Waters' theories, like, oh, say, winter, are ludicrously advised to "plan ahead. Can tomatoes, pickle vegetables, preserve fruit. Enjoy nuts, dried fruits and grains. Start a greenhouse. It's all possible." According to the article, Waters doesn't care that these fly-over state nutjobs don't know who she is as long as the quit their jobs every August to spend two months canning and shut down all those McDonald's things she keeps seeing. Didn't we used to have those in Berkeley? Ah, yes, that must've been back before '68. (I will send a copy of my cookbook to anyone who sends me a picture of a McDonald's in Berkeley.)
Then, Adam Roberts at "The Amateur Gourmet," who I usually like quite a bit, writes up a piece on Waters on The View. Again, he was surprised that most people don't know who she is and also that Joy Behar would dare to make "irreverent" comments (Waters is someone we're supposed to revere? This point seems to be taken for granted in everything I've ever read about her that wasn't written by Jeremiah Towers.) about buying vegetables at budget grocery stores. The show made him realize "how far removed this whole food world is from the 'real world.'" This mirrors my problem with Waters, actually. People in "the food world" are seen as elitist pricks, fetishists who would insult their own grandmothers for not using Modena Balsamico instead of the crap you get at HEB. I've never understood this, mostly because I "grew up" in the culinary sense in Grinnell, Iowa, and while we had access to some amazing, amazing ingredients (Mariposa Herbs, I'm looking at you), it was never about snobbery because it couldn't be. It just couldn't. It surprises me that the gap between the food world and the real world shocked Roberts as much as it did because I always assumed "foodies" sheepishly clung to their fancy grocery stores in the name of their art. Apparently they weren't aware there was a problem to be sheepish about.
In the long run, Waters reminds me of a lot of the older women I grew up with in Madison, Wisconsin: aging hippies who don't know what to do with their money and don't know when to quit it and admit that they are privileged. Maybe that's why she bugs me. Maybe this ignorance of elitism amongst self-proclaimed foodies is what makes me shudder at the sound of the word, and what makes me doubt myself when I tell other, "more serious" academics what I want to study in grad school. There's no excuse for all of this. I know because I lived the poor, temperate-climed gourmet life and I've seen others do it too, with skill and panache, even. Alice Waters? Please, please admit that people and also your theories have limitations. Please laugh and smile at jokes. You wonder at how slow your crusade is proceeding in middle America? Maybe it's because your theories don't work here, your minions insult us, and you come across as cold and unyielding.
Just a thought.