The Alice Waters Debate: The Gift that Keeps on Giving


Laura Shapiro’s article on, The War on Alice Waters, has inspired even more blog posts about Waters–in turn producing even more back-and-forth in the comments sections on the subject of whether or not it is okay to criticize the high priestess of organic and local food.

Shapiro’s article is a defense of Waters against charges of elitism; the crux of her argument is this:

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.

Eat Me Daily responded that the “old media” sure does like to turn a blind eye to mistakes Waters has made:

We’re not here to dispute Waters’ historical importance or influence, but if she is in fact the “focal point” of the supposed “revolution,” with her incredible access to apparently very pliable old media, it’s our responsibility to acknowledge her ability (and, as it happens, her habit) to utopianly and airily do a hell of a lot of harm. Often, in pursuit of doing good, she makes the movement look bad.

Following up, Serious Eats asks “Why the Hate for Alice Waters?” and gets 61 responses that vary from this comment, from Ed Levine:

Alice Waters is in my view a visionary, someone who has done immeasurable good for our food culture. Visionaries are rarely pragmatic, “let’s get things done” sorts, and Alice certainly isn’t either of those. Can she appear unreasonable and elitist? Absolutely. But all things considered I think all this Alice-bashing is unwarranted. Zealots and ideologues are easy targets.

To which Danny from Food in Mouth responds:

I feel like the “why all the hate?” question is exactly the type of mentality that gets Waters so much hate. Do you guys at SE seriously not have any clue why the hate? I think it’s pretty clear that people who hate do it on the pragmatism of her ideas. How can Waters not understand that?

Meanwhile, in the comments section on the Gourmet article, Steve Sando, from Rancho Gordo is angry that Shapiro quoted him out of context (she did):

Are you nuts? You have taken my comments form a post on eGullet so out of context with the rest of the conversation, you should have your keyboard taken away! Read the whole thread, including my all my words, and you’ll have a very different idea of what was said. I’m shocked to tell you the truth! There is no war against Waters but there are people asking questions and that’s a good thing and it’s a hell of a lot more than you did. Shame on you!

Sando is referring to a truly epic and contentious thread on eGullet on the subject of (again!), Why the Hate for Alice Waters?

My question: Why has this debate become so intractable? It’s caught on more than the swine flu.