Last night I watched a "60 Minutes" interview with Alice Waters, the owner of the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California and who some consider to be the mother of the sustainable, organic, ‘slow-food’ movement. (To be contrasted with fast food, naturally.)
While I’ve always thought Alice Waters was fabulous and certainly loved the one meal I had at her restaurant about nine years ago, a lot of what she was saying about trying to eat only local, organic food seemed downright unrealistic. For one thing, during a stroll through a farmer’s market she introduced viewers to one of her favorite grape-growers, who showed off his four-dollars-a-pound grapes.
Are you kidding me? Who can actually afford that? While she countered that everything you choose to spend money on is just that, a choice—and some may allot more money for clothes (she mentioned Nike shoes) than for pesticide-free, earth-friendly foods.
But I think that’s oversimplifying the issue and really just not doing the math. You can decide to funnel as much of your funds as possible into the best food available and still not have enough cash to cover a pound of those grapes. Or if you do, it would seem to me that each family member would be doled out approximately 8 of the delicious orbs. For me, I buy certain things organic—milk, some fruits and vegetables, some meats—but pick and choose based on my budget. If every item I put into my cart was organic, free-range, etc, my grocery bill would just be too big.
While year-round farming in a temperate place like Berkeley, California is a delight and a reality, I have to nod in agreement with some comments by other people who watched the broadcast on Chowhound.com, folks who made the point that in places like Minnesota, the ground is pretty much frozen solid from late Fall to late Spring, so it’s a different game entirely.
Waters’ fundamental philosophy that good food should not be a privilege but it should be a right—and that Americans need to place what we put into our bodies at the very top of our agenda, is admirable and in the face of evidence about how food directly affects health, it’s hard to disagree with. But the realities of our economy are another thing—and for so many Americans, fresh vegetables are hard to find at a good price, fast food remains the cheapest option, and schools don’t have the funding to include an "Edible Schoolyard" in their curriculum.
In the end, I guess I just have to commend Waters on her tireless pursuit of what she believes in; some may call her a dreamer (her latest thing is to convince President and Mrs. Obama to replace the White House Rose Garden with a thriving vegetable patch!) but the dream is definitely one worth having and a discussion to keep having.
How do you deal with the choices at the market? What do you choose to buy organic and what do you pinch pennies on?
Photo from Flickr