National Review’s Julie Gunlock responds with dudgeon to some haute bourgeois foodie condescension from Berkeley, California restauranteur Alice Waters, suggesting that just possibly not everyone can actually afford terroir and that “fresh, local, and organic” may not fully address the difficulties faced by American families in bad economic times.
Alice Waters â€” the organic-food worldâ€™s most active and least humorous spokesperson â€” commented on the new White House vegetable garden: â€œThe most important thing that Michelle Obama did was to say that food comes from the land. . . . People have not known that. They think it comes from the grocery store.â€
Oh, really â€” is that what people think? To whom, exactly, is Ms. Waters referring? Is she referring to the millions of people living in the grain-belt states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri â€” states one cannot drive across without spending hours staring at corn and soybean fields? The millions living along the Pacific Northwest coast and Alaska who are supported by the fishing industry? The fishermen of Gloucester, Mass.? Maybe she is talking about people living in Wisconsin â€” where dairy farms and cow pastures are as ubiquitous as art galleries in New York. Or perhaps she is referring to the thousands of people like me, who â€” in the suburbs of an East Coast metropolis â€” just throw a few Loweâ€™s-purchased plants in the ground, and hope for some rain to support a small backyard garden. Yes, Ms. Waters, even these â€œpeopleâ€ know that the grocery store doesnâ€™t spontaneously produce food.
Her condescension is typical of a food culture that is increasingly withdrawn from mainstream America â€” a food culture that increasingly preaches to the average American consumer that eating non-organic food is bad for you. The truth is, organic food is an expensive luxury item, something bought by those who have the resources. Those who can afford it and want it should have it, but organic food is not a panacea for the worldâ€™s ills.
It may be easier for Ms. Waters and her cadre to simply label Americans stupid and ill-informed than to tackle the real reason people are not eating more organic and locally grown food â€” i.e., most Americans simply are not able to afford it. Even 60 Minutes â€” known for asking tough questions and making interviewees sweat â€” basically punted on this issue. Highlighted on the program earlier this year, Waters introduced Lesley Stahl to a man that grows organic grapes and sells them for a staggering $4 a pound (to give non-shoppers some perspective on this price, grocery-store grapes usually cost under $2 a pound, and even most meat comes in under $4 a pound).
While Stahl did seem surprised at the high price, Waters never directly addressed the cost issue; instead, she made an offhand remark that people would simply have to make the choice between expensive grapes and Nike tennis shoes. What she fails to appreciate is that some people canâ€™t buy those tennis shoes either.