Mark Bittman vs Alice Waters

Shapiro suspects Waters is being accused of elitism. That's Shapiro's supposition. So, Shapiro forgives her for it, and tells us we're wrong. Waters is not an elitist; she's just silly. Shapiro says that Waters is a "utopian, a relentless radical," and expects us to agree. Let's not confuse utopianism with foolishness. Let's not confuse Nelson Mandela with Lady Bountiful. In a world beset by poverty, obesity and hunger, Waters comes off as (...) condescending and ridiculously melodramatic.

This quote comes from the comments posted underneath a Gourmet magazine article about the War on Alice Waters.
While usually I find the comments on most blogs and newspaper sites out there to be way inane - there are a few websites which are exceptions. The comments about articles on Gourmet, Gawker and the Gothamist are sometimes just as amusing as the articles themselves. Apparently, it's all about websites starting with 'G'.

Here's an excerpt from the original article by Ms Shapiro:

What irks people, I think, are the impossibly airy goals she likes to swirl about herself like so many silk scarves. But she isn’t a thinker, she’s a utopian, a relentless radical who just doesn’t care whether the current checks and balances of real life can accommodate her ideas. Where she’s been effective—amassing widespread support for small farms, reinventing school lunch, overhauling our image of luxury dining to put three carrots and a radish at center stage—it’s because she had the power to make her own fantasies come true. (...)
Clearly, Waters is a focal point, whether you think of her as the Gandhi of food or the Britney Spears. And if you’re in the latter camp, just remember that while you don’t have to share her conviction that Satan invented freezers, you do have to give her credit for helping to inspire a genuine turnaround in the way Americans think about food. “Do we really need to know the provenance of an egg?” asks restaurant critic Todd Kliman, who can’t stand what he calls Waters’s “inflexible brand of gastronomical correctness.”

I would argue that anyone who thinks of themselves as a 'locavore' probably has an element of Alice Waters-style blockheaded romanticism to their personality.

Consumers who are not exclusively locavores may be interested in the findings of papers such as this one from Mellon University, which suggests that reducing one's intake of meat a la Mark Bittman is a much more effective way to reduce your impact on the environment, when it comes to food-related production of green house gas emissions.

More and more, it seems to me that everyone simply does what they enjoy doing (or are medically compelled to do), and then looks for a way to calculate some scientific or moral justification for their diet. Whether it's eating small amounts of ethically-farmed pork to support the existence of domestically-farmed animals, or abstaining from animal products altogether due to reasons of hygiene and environmental impact - I get the feeling everybody's still eating how they eat, pretty much just because they like to or have to eat that way. I am sure that Mark Bittman's writing resonates with me in part because I am not addicted to daily portions of red meat anyway - so his general ethos fits with my natural inclinations. It's very convenient.

Still, whether it's omnivores reducing their meat intake or flexi-vegans with a more relaxed attitude running trendy Tom Colicchio-endorsed cupcake eateries in NYC, it seems a new era of moderation is upon us. Food activists like Mark Bittman who preach such moderation will no doubt be much more instrumental in achieving a paradigm shift in our eating habits than starry-eyed polemicists like Alice Waters.


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