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August 31, 2009

Let them eat artisanal cake

Much as I love the whole eat-local movement and respect Alice Waters, the opinion piece from the Los Angeles Times that MrRational linked to in a comment had me rolling on the floor. In case you're one of those readers who skips the comments, here's the part of it that pertained to food. It's by Charlotte Allen. EL

Some people might worry about the effect on recession-hit families of a 17% increase in the price of milk, but not Alice Waters, the food-activist owner of Berkeley's Chez Panisse restaurant, who shudders at the thought of sampling so much as a strawberry that hasn't been nourished by organic compost and picked that morning at a nearby farm -- and thinks everyone else in America should shudder too. "Make a sacrifice on the cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes," Waters airily informed the New York Times in April. ...

Echoing Waters was her fellow Berkeley food guru, Michael Pollan, professor of science journalism (a hot field for social critics, obviously) at UC Berkeley. Pollan (no relation to Robert Pollin) is the author of the best-selling "Omnivore's Dilemma" and coiner of the mantra "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" that is on the lips of every foodie from Bainbridge Island to Martha's Vineyard. Pollan, too, rejoiced at the idea of skyrocketing prices for groceries, hoping they might "level the playing field for sustainable food that doesn't rely on fossil fuels."

Pollan also hoped that rising prices might constitute another weapon in his ongoing war against his agribusiness villain of choice: corn. Corn is a plant, of course, and thus should theoretically rank high on Pollan's list of permissible edibles. But it is also the basis of such dubious items as snack chips, Coca-Cola (high-fructose corn syrup, godfather of obesity) and suspiciously plentiful beef (corn-fed).

Pollan is a "locavore," one of those people who believe that in order to be truly ethical, you should eat only foods grown or killed within your line of sight (for me, that would be my neighbor's cat). He once described a meal he made consisting of a wild boar shot by him in the hills near his Bay Area home and laboriously turned into pate, plus bread leavened by yeast spores foraged from his backyard.

Lately, Pollan has set his sights on Häagen-Dazs ice cream, not because it contains corn syrup (it doesn't) but because it's a commercially made product, and if there's one thing Pollan hates, it's commerce. His latest pronunciamento: "Don't buy any food you've ever seen advertised."

Demanding that other people impoverish themselves, especially these days, in the name of your pet cause -- fostering craftsmanship, feeling "connected" to the land, "living more lightly on the planet" or whatever -- goes way beyond Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat cake." It's more like Marie Antoinette dressing up in her shepherdess costume and holding court in a fake rustic cottage at the Petit Trianon.
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 9:55 PM | | Comments (27)


Berkeley. It figures.

Holy corn fed cow!
But then again, Berkeley was in the first paragraph so why would I be suprised?
These fools can do as they darn well please but stay the hell away from me and mine!

I'm confused. Is it still okay to buy unprocessed food at the grocery store and cook it yourself?

Chefs in California with successful restaurants and superstar status in the food world don't have to worry about feeding a family of 3 or more on $5. That doesn't leave room for much fresh or organic let alone food at all.

Fortunately, I'm not at that point yet, but I am trying to stretch my grocery dollar.

I'd have trouble with the "don't buy any food you've seen advertised" thing because I don't watch TV.

It is more important to be thoughtful and to gather facts, sort them and decide what you will and won't eat than it is to follow the trendy foodie guru of the month.

It's a heck of a lot easier to be a locavore in California than it is in places with colder climates.

but aren't we helping (however marginally) banana growers, pineapple growers when we buy their produce?

Also I agree with Hal, how do you have local produce when you are in a semi cold climate?

how do you have local produce when you are in a semi cold climate?

Maybe outside of the growing season, you become exclusively a carnivore and just eat wild boar that you've killed yourself.

As long as it's not the neighbor's cat. :-) EL

Eating local is all well and good. But if I'm at Costco and they've got juicy white nectarines the size of my fist, I'm buying them and consuming them ASAP. Are they organic? Heck, no. But I ain't rich enough to spend twice as much on food that's sometimes half as big and half as tasty. Maybe when I'm old and wealthy like Mr. Berkeley. Not now.

As long as it's not the neighbor's cat. :-) EL

I figure that, since it's Berkeley, there's a 50-50 chance he was eating a pot-bellied pig that somebody had gotten tired of and released, and he just didn't know the difference.

the article that was excerpted is full of wild exaggeration, selective quoting, and misrepresentation for humor and/or to boost the author's populist credentials. great fodder for those who love to bash those darn east/west coast liberal elitists.

Hey, I'm one of them (East Coast liberal elitists) and I still laughed. :-) EL

oooops...that Anonymous at 10:39 was me.

"We are stardust
We are Golden
And we got to get ourselves
back to the garden"

"but what can a poor boy do
excepty play for a rock and roll band"

Erm..."artisanal" not "artisinal."

The apologetic erm wasn't necessary. I'm very grateful for any corrections because I don't have a copy editor reading behind me. EL

This discussion makes me want to move to California and become an extreme food snob. Yea, you may be a douche bag, but you eat AWESOME food all the time. It's well worth it.

Hey, I'm one of them (East Coast liberal elitists) and I still laughed. :-) EL

El, say it ain't so. Say it ain't so.

You have family in Tennessee after all. This will break their hearts.

Oh hell, Alice Waters probably charges $25 for an heirloom tomato salad; no doubt the rest of her menu is equally pricey. If I had that kind of money, I too could afford $8 loaves of bread or $5-per-pound tomatoes. The fact is, however, that I'm a retiree on a fixed income with mortgage and car and utilities payments, and so on. To keep a roof over our heads and food on our table, I ALWAYS shop sales and get the best quality food for my buck. I do quite well, thank you, so, Alice Waters and Michael Pollan, kindly don't tell me how to live my life until you walk in my shoes! Sheesh...they really teed me off!

To attempt to be fair, at least Alice Waters does more than lecture folks. She runs programs for school kids and teaches how to grow food and how to cook.

Pollan...just a left coast wanker, as far as I can tell.

Interesting discussion, but you all may want to take into account the author and her affiliations before deciding that she's speaking some sort of "truth."

I would guess that there's a well-funded movement by major food corporations against the locavore movement, and Allen's piece is just the latest salvo in that foodie "cutlure war."

....and, I'm not sure if this is allowed, but I actually blogged about Allen's article yesterday. If you're interested:

Absolutely allowed, and good piece! EL

If you listen to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me", on Saturday mornings on WYPR, you would have heard the story of Michael Pollan buying Fruity Pebbles for his, at that time young, son. "A bearded graduate student", Pollan's words, looked over his shoulder and stated that he was watching Michael Pollan shop.

Perhaps Michael Pollan couldn't pick those
Fruity Pebbles from a tree in his California backyard.

Actually, if you've ever read any of his books or heard any of his speaking engagements, he's got a great sense of humor and is a terrific writer. He doesn't actually take himself or what he does too seriously, and actually acknowledges the difficulty in walking the straight and narrow. He's quick to point out that the easiest, cheapest way to maximize caloric content is by buying junk food, not a bag of carrots.

Plus, equating Pollan's observations and recommendations (which are, as I've stated, tempered with a very health dose of reality) with "Demanding that other people impoverish themselves" is knee-jerk, shows a fairly complete lack of familiarity with his work, and comes across as a bit... douchey? Can we use that word here?

I find Pollan's writing to be amusing and thought-provoking; so far, I find Charlotte Allen shallow and whiny.

...AND another thing that Allen completely misses is that Pollan usually advocates for changes in our food delivery system and in the way food is marketed and sold to us. He holds politicians and corporations more to task for the costs and choices we face and recognizes that the consumers are limited to what's actually available to them.

And I'm out.

For those of you living in colder climates - eating locally is easier then you think. I live in Chicago (winter don't get much more miserable then here) and there are plenty of farmers who grow produce (including lettuces)year-round in greenhouses. Plus it takes me an extra 5 minutes a week to freeze any leftover fruits and veggies before they go bad so I have produce year-round.

The complaint of local/organic food being "too expensive" is valid, but overused. It's just a matter of honoring your priorities. If eating local and organic isn't a priority then you won't find a way to do it. fine by me.

I'm no snob - just a currently-unemployed single girl who likes her food organic and local and makes a way to make it happen

sean, we may have to dub you the New Voice of Reason.

There is an article in the Urbanite (September, 2009) which explains the civic Corps new Lake Clifton Park greenhouse project inititative to grow organic food. Very interesting - I hope it is immensely successful..

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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