For those of you sleeping with your eyes open, an Alice Waters smack down is in full effect and it’s taking place on the INTERNETS. Anthony Bourdain fired the first shot, slamming Alice Waters in our very own DCist. “Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of me,” said Bourdain. You can read all about it here, here, and here. Bourdain’s main complaint is legitimate—sometimes Waters comes across sounding elitist, but the core of her mission is true and honest, something Bourdain humbly admits (while mentioning that even her actions don’t always live up to the standards she sets for others). Bourdain ripping Alice a new head of lettuce was entertaining.
But it wasn’t long before Washingtonian’s Todd Kliman got in the ring, giving Alice a one-two on NPR, of all places. Read the comments; the people's republic of NPR—of which I'm a proud member—is pissed. As a side note, I can see the NPR online editor lapping up Kliman’s “unexpected voice” and then filing it away in the npr “nonpartisan/not so liberal” smoke and mirrors kit. Kliman was ruthless, and, I might say, sloppy in his argument against Waters. You expect Anthony Bourdain to say stupid shit about EVERYONE; it’s his modus operandi. But Todd Kliman? He’s a respectable critic. A James Beard winner. Yet, he makes the argument that we should be eating food from Timbuktu, if we want. His mission: find the most exciting food, no matter what the cost. As one commenter put it: "Mr. Kliman's ire smacks of an entirely different sort of snobbery: food imperialism. I want it, I can afford it, therefore I should have it regardless of the consequences."
Yes, it’s true, as Kliman points out, some chefs go too far with sustainability, using it more as a marketing ploy then a true commitment to the environment, but that doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and ask the waiter to FED EX an ENTIRE baby lamb from New Zealand. I hardly think we can blame Alice for those who adopt the facade of sustainability because it’s fashionable. That would be like blaming Toyota for celebrities who park their hybrid cars on the private jet runway.
I will admit that sometimes Ms. Waters is a little bit over the top, and I don't follow all her rules. I don’t carry vinegar and olive oil in my travel bag. Sometimes I buy meat at Costco (gasp!). I think McDonald’s french fries taste good. I’m not cuckoo for kashi. I’m tempted to eat every single crab out of the Chesapeake Bay. Now that I think about it, I’m her target audience. I need Alice to remind me about the power of lemon juice or the joy of a perfectly ripe peach. That paying a few extra dollars for cage free hen eggs is worth it. That eating grass fed beef—or less meat, for that matter—is worth it for my health and the earth. When it comes to Alice and her self-righteousness, I give her a pass. As my mother would say, a little guilt never hurt anyone.