Monday, March 16, 2009

Incensed about 60 Minutes!

Hi everyone. I'm totally freaking pissed. I just watched the 60-minutes segment on Alice Waters and slow food. It was the worst reporting I've ever seen. The piece focused on Alice Waters herself and different aspects of what she's done in the Bay Area -- and, sadly, Waters came off as an effete airheaded aesthete. But there are gross misrepresentations of the slow food and local food movement.
  1. First, the slow food movement is an international movement, begun in 1986, then really gotten underway in 1989 in Europe. Perhaps Alice Waters was a part of that original group, but it is certainly a movement that has grown far beyond just her and the Bay Area. I am part of a local foods convivium/slow foods chapter and get emails all the time for various events, from presentations to farmers markets to research projects.
  2. Supporting one's local small farmers is increasingly important in our struggling economy. The small family farmer has been eaten up by large corporations. Rather than shopping at a grocery store, one can go to a farmers' market, where I don't find the prices to be that expensive at all. Most big farmers aren't organic, putting pesticides and herbicides (poisons) on our food, and don't pay living wages to their workers.
  3. Part of the reason for eating local food has nothing to do with its taste or even supporting local farmers; it has to do with foreign oil. If we eat more locally, instead of eating food from halfway around the world or country, it takes far less gas and resources to get to us. This makes our economy less dependent on foreign oil.
  4. It is vitally important that our foods don't contain poisons in them, whether antibiotics in our meat or pesticides on our vegetables or artificial hormones in our milk. It's just not rocket science to suppose that antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides harm people. They barely even mentioned this in the 60 Minutes piece!
  5. The 60 Minutes piece compares Alice Waters' elegant breakfast with what a working mother has time to prepare. Local and/or organic food does not mean that it has to be difficult to prepare. In fact, unless one demands the convenience of a pop-tart, making a healthy quick breakfast means no extra outlay of time; cage-free eggs, BST-free milk, and organic oatmeal does not take any longer to cook than the cheapest versions of these at Wal-Mart. This made local foods look like it was only possible for the rich and leisurely, and not for the harried working moms of the world. I am a harried working mom who came home from the farmer's market this morning with cauliflower, peanuts, salad, oranges, garlic, asparagus, and potatoes. I sent out my boyfriend this evening to go get some organic butter at the local grocery store. Eating healthy, organic, and local food is not incompatible with being a busy mother -- in fact, I consider it my duty as a mom and family member to make sure that we get the best food, the best fuel with which to grow, possible on our budget.
  6. The ultimate in local foods is growing your own. How on earth is that an expensive proposition? Not all of us can do it or have time to do it? But how is this an effete upper-crust pasttime -- gardening, the most popular pasttime in the United States and historically the foundation of our economy, an actual survival skill brought back in times of stress with the Victory Garden and current community garden movement.
  7. There are growing foods programs in schools across the country, not just in the Bay Area. This is not to turn everyone into Chez Panisse chefs, but for people to develop a relationship with a resource that we must take into ourselves every few hours. Developing a relationship with how food is produced simply makes good sense. Farming is one of the basics of any society, any gathering of people. Cultivating food in one way or another is vital to our very lives. Moreover, students learn a great deal from these kinds of projects, biology, zoology, metereology, soil sceince, horticulture in addition to finally cooking. Don't we want projects where students can learn about their world? Educational theorists agree that hands-on learning is better for retention than rote memorization.
Absurdist Lover watched the 60 Minutes piece with me and said that it lacked anything of substance about why a person would focus on local and healthy foods. But he said that no one listens to 60 Minutes anymore and that no one would ever think that the movement was characterized correctly. I was hoping he was right. Then I looked at the comments to the segment online. Oh boy. Clearly many people think that Alice Waters represents the elite of America and that "her movement" is some idiocy that only people with more dollars than sense would dream up. I'm considering leading (or joining) a petition to 60 Minutes to object to this characterization of the movement. It seemed to put a whole movement at Alice Waters's feet. Actually, many people have been talking about local food from all sorts of different vantage points. I would like to send 60 Minutes a list!

What I would like to tell people is that if you're interested in these issues, there are better representations of the concerns, such as Barbara Kingsolver, et al's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Slow Food International, and Local Harvest.

1 comment:

Marcia Feitel said...

I happen to be in NYC and saw most of that segment on my mom's TV. I'd like to compare the carbon footprint of her 'hearth' breakfast (they showed a shot lots of flaming logs, which can also make the neighbors downwind sick) to that used by a demonized microwave.

I found her incredibly irritating while I find Michael Pollan perfectly sensible--she seemed to approach the issue from smug, enlightened superiority. If anything makes me want to eat a poptart...

(those who know me know that I don't eat very many).

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