Anthony Bourdain tells Alice Waters where she can take her local, organic food.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jan 22, 2009
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Update, via New York Magazine:

“I don’t have any burning issue with Alice Waters, a restaurateur and visionary whose accomplishments clearly dwarf my own, so I doubt it. In a perfect, candy-colored world, I’d like to eat most of what she’d like to see us eat. I feed my daughter mostly organic food whenever possible—and greatly admire what Dan Barber is doing. My comments were a heartfelt reaction to her wildly hubristic letter to the (then) president-elect, a document whose tone, timing and content I found distasteful—particularly coming from someone who hadn’t even bothered to vote in the four previous elections.

True, I am suspicious of wealthy suburbanites who preach “back to the soil” philosophies—as if most—or even many—could start digging subsistence gardens in their back yards or afford expensive organic or locavore lifestyles. But Chez Panisse was inarguably a cradle of the food revolution. I respect Alice Waters’ enormous contribution to changing the way we eat and cook today. No one can take that away from her. No one should try.

I intend to treat her with the respect she rightly deserves. She says some stupid shit sometimes—and she is certainly free to call “bullshit” on me when I do the same. I might, in the spirit of good fun, point out that following even my own not particularly distinguished career in kitchens—most of it in view of the “Choking Victim” sign, I DO, at least, know the Heimlich maneuver.”

~~~ Original post ~~~

I was bummed to see this—but not surprised:

Anthony Bourdain: “Alice Waters annoys the living shxt out of me. We’re all in the middle of a recession, like we’re all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There’s something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic … I’m suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth.” [DCist]

I love Bourdain’s show…Bourdain’s belly-first strutting machismo makes for an entertaining, great effing show. He—like Dubya—would be a fun guy to get drunk with. But don’t denigrate our Alice Waters, Tony—she is the real thing, doing good for school children, the cause of Victory Gardens and local food (what’s cheaper!?) and organics (which is, simply, food-minus-chemicals—nothing pretentious about that, rather just old-fashioned as-God-intended-it good for you good tasting food). 



About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


16 Responses to “Anthony Bourdain tells Alice Waters where she can take her local, organic food.”

  1. Rick Gilbert says:

    As much as I respect Alice Waters for all she's done, she reminds me of the people in my neck of the woods who live on Bainbridge Island: well-intentioned, liberal and "green," yet condescending in a way that only entitlement and comfort bring. This may be off-mark, and I know that she's worked a lot in Oakland and other inner-city locales. And yet it still comes up for me.

    Tony's criticism might be a bit harsh, but it might be a good place to start a dialog about bridging the gap between "those who know better" and the fast-food masses.

    "No Reservations" rocks, by the way!

  2. Joana Smith says:

    yeah, I love that show…

  3. beerchick says:

    As someone who is LIVING this recession (my income went from 40k annually to nothing in less than two months) I say “here here” to Bourdain. How am I, an unemployed woman, going to afford organic? I am not an egregious consumer like a lot of elephant journal readers, hanging out at coffee shops, bitching about which $1000 cruiser bike is better. I bought mine for $40 from a neighbor. I no longer have the luxury, yes, LUXURY, of choosing whether to shop at Whole Foods, Ideal or a co-op when I receive my unemployment check. I have to get food stamps because where I live there are NO JOBS. Not for the educated, the uneducated, the skilled or unskilled. Cheers to Waters for helping children. But there are a lot of people like me: 34-yo unemployed, college educated, green living, single, barely making it today, happy on a cheap bike and making food choices based on my available income while my personal beliefs and preferences are set aside during this “economic crisis”.
    I say if Bourdain wants to call Waters bluff on WHO she is preaching to, go for it. She continues to talk to those lost in the clouds (or the wallets) of white, rich, elite San Francisco beliefs as opposed to his gruff, Jersey robustness. Perhaps that’s why I like him so much. He’s less Vic’s and more Village Coffee Shop.

  4. admin says:

    Amen, sister, seriously. As I wish you understood, and would if you read us more perhaps, elephant journal’s staff and writers are all pretty darned poor. In our ‘Commuter Bike-Off’ I linked to craigslist, saying you can often find the best bikes there for $50 and such. My ma and I walked everywhere when I was a kid, bought clothes second hand, and though she worked two jobs yes we used food stamps once in awhile, and I had lunch stamps or whatever they were called at school. Cool! Poor is green, as Todd Mayville pointed out in one of his articles.

    Here’s where I vehemently stop agreeing with you. You’ve been duped by big business into thinking that, longterm or shortterm, conventional foods are cheaper. They’re bad for you, and your health costs. They’re crap, and lead to American obesity. They’re full of chemicals, cause pollution, and are the cause of—get this—farmers being among the unhealthiest people in the US. These are physical folks who live in big wide open green spaces with fresh air. Why? Chemicals.

    Victory Gardens are cheap. Local food is, ultimately, cheaper and better for the economy for which you blame your joblessness. So ride on, sister, on your $50 or $1000 bike–either way you’re saving money big time over car insurance, car maintenance, car parking, and you’re getting health-giving daily exercise.

    And if you think Bourdain is giving Waters the bird because he’s the protector of the poor, think again—he’s rich, rich, rich–probably much richer than Waters. He’s just a charming, cool, insecure jerk (like yours truly), and Waters holier-than-thou attitude, as he perceives it, understandably sets him off. Still, it’s never fun being on the frontlines of preaching change…very few, like President Obama, can do so without coming off as superior. Just ask any vegetarian who’s been asked why they’re veggie 100x at 100 dinner tables.

    In any case, Beerchick, great points and I invite you to write something for us about your way of life, or thoughts…let’s keep the convo going, it’s a rich one.

  5. Rick Gilbert says:

    I totally agree that, as much as I like him, Bourdain is a rich insecure guy who makes harsh comments. He has a history of slamming people publicly, only to soften his tone later on (see Emeril). I think he’s refreshing in that he’d probably be the first to admit to being a bag of contradictions, and has become part of the celebrity culture that he’s so long hated.

    Again, this may not be fair, but… so many in the green community don’t seem to have a sense of humor about themselves. They take their cause WAY too seriously. It’s a cause that is serious and noble, true–but you need some playfulness and an understanding that you’re only one person. You seem to get this point, Waylon.

    It’s great that Alice Waters cares so much, and is willing to put herself out there for the cause–but I just want to say “lighten up a little” when I read her writing or see her on t.v. Again, not knowing her, she might prove me totally wrong and be a terrific person with whom to share some wine, etc.

    It’s about bridging the gap–trying to find a link between places like Boulder, Mill Valley, Portland, etc. and “less enlightened” burgs like where I live. I only work a few miles from my house, but the roads have no bike lanes and it’s far too dangerous. I could drive 45 minutes to a place that sells a lot of organic food, or I can drive 10 minutes and get to my local store with more limited selections. The carbon impacts of my vehicle being on the road for that much longer seem to mitigate any perceived benefit.

    I agree with your comments about local food and affordability, Waylon. It needs to be acknowledged that we all have different starting points on this path. Some of us have a lot further to go. Right now I’m just trying to eat more vegetables and fiber period. some of it is organic and some of it isn’t. I’ve managed hazardous chemicals as part of my job for 15 years-so I know about the toxicity of pesticides, believe me.

    It’s an enormous issue, and is tied up with our very complicated lives. I am fascinated with the issues of progressives trying to effect change. I consider myself progressive, but it often pains me to see how we go about it. Some kind of tonglen is probably called for here, as change is hard to bring about when you’re wrapped up in concept.

  6. admin says:

    Great comment, Rick. Any time you want to write something for us, just email article to [email protected] and I’ll post it–love your POV. Would love to share more about issues in your ‘hood, as well.

    As for sense of humor, amen—but it is tough. I’m veggie, and folks always ask me why when I’m at dinner parties…it’s an interesting moment, figuring out how to reply. If I’m direct and honest, it’s not a super-humorous reply. If I’m evasive and modest, it can be funny and more magnetizing.

  7. ndsmith says:

    I guess I don’t get what all the huff about Alice Walker is. She appeals to a certain sensibility. As for me, I much prefer her attitude to the tough-guy mentality of Bourdain.

    What I don’t get is why being in a recession right now should somehow force us to re-think praising organic because organic is expensive. The the main reason why organic is more expensive in America right now is because of conscious decisions by our fearless leaders about subsidies (and tax-cuts) for agri-business. We heavily subsidize farmers who buy large, expensive equipment, including pesticides, etc. This incentivizes industrial farming.

    If you go to France or Germany, for instance, locally grown organic food is abundant and cheap. And that’s not just because of regulation, it’s also because of positive subsidization.

    Now, I’m not arguing for a France/Germany style agricultural economy, but we (as people interested in the green movement) have to recognize that a lot of the things we reject about eating meat, eating conventional, whatever, is systemic.

    Bottom line for most people is the pocket book. It is really hard to say that people ought to spend more money on necessities out of good will. It’s admirable when people do this consciously, but it’s just not practical for a lot of people. The fact is that it just shouldn’t be so cheap to by ground beef or conventional veggies. It should cost more to ship food around the world and to pump petrochemicals into the soil in order to produce it and then feed large beasts tons and tons of vegetables, grains, and other animals (or even some of the same ones) in order to then eat them.

    The response to a system that doesn’t make sense is to get active. Make some noise! Yeah, try to buy organic, ride your bike to work and turn off your lights and appliances when you’re not using them. But it’s way more important to raise your voice and tell the people who can make BIG changes: get with change or go home!

  8. admin says:

    ndsmith…yes. Exactly. What you say—that economic fears ought not to scare us into buying agribusiness processed crap—is lovely. I find when I eat quality food, cheap or pricey, I overeat less, appreciate more, and feel better.

  9. beerchick says:

    Waylon, excellent dialogue. As an avid ej reader, I am well aware of the impecunious nature of your staff. Perhaps I should have been more direct in suggesting some of your readers fall into the elite cateogory of which, thankfully, I am not. $400 wooden eco sunglasses will never be a purchase I care to make. But I digress….
    As for the battle of Bourdain v. Waters, I admit he can be a smug son of a bitch, preaching from his own pulpit while Waters composts hers. They both have valid points, and you and I agree on more points than you originally thought. I also wonder if the nameless who created subsidized big agri-business and ergo the food stamp system which fails miserably in providing adequate nutrients to our underprivileged (Yes, I CAN provide evidence) ought to be blamed more vehemently. If I could name said individuals, I would pass his/her email to everyone I know. At a certain level, blaming the system gets me and you nowhere. I find it disheartening to discover supporting my local CSA here in Central Oregon costs much more than a trip a Costco. I try to shop with my conscious but on a limited income, I have to make sacrifices. Instead, like our new Fearless Leader, I am a community organizer. I am planting a garden in this high, arid desert of volcanic soil this summer to supplement the organic purchases I can’t afford from WF any longer for a house of four. We, collectively, compost in our house and notice the difference. All four of us are huge bike advocates (as are our friends) and try to lead my example. Is it enough? Does that settle the dispute? Whether my tiny effort to change the world actually changes the world, I can’t say right now. What I know is the only life I have the power to change is my own. The only life I have direct, immediate influence on is my own. So, yes, I try to shop consciously and ecologically, but I have also dramatically scaled back my consumption as a result of our recession/depression. Perhaps others will do the same- and THAT would be a victory.

    p.s. I would love to write for you. Have wanted to for years!

  10. anthony bourdain is shoot first, apologize later. he’s being stupid and mouthing off, which is why his show is great. he does make an interesting point about being green and being wealthy, which we at elephant can easily disprove, ha!

  11. Rick Gilbert says:'s website has a commentary on Alice Waters–it's their "monkey see" section. I would provide a link if I weren't so e-lame. it's easy enough to find, however.

    the fact that the dialogue has come this far about local food, organic food, and the possible brittleness (or not) of a pioneer is encouraging, at any rate.

    here's a totally random recommendation for a great, fairly reasonable restaurant in Pacific Grove, CA (next door to Monterey): Passionfish. they try hard to be sustainable, their food is tasty, and their wine list is varied and not 200x retail. If you find yourself on the Monterey Peninsula (congrats, if you do), you can do much worse than to go there…

  12. ndsmith says:

    Beerchick–I’m totally with you. At first, the only world you can change is your own. Then, maybe, it might catch on….

  13. sunjoy says:

    I think the part that people are missing here is the fact that Anthony was specifically addressing Water’s choice of timing of the letter to Obama, not the message itself. He says several times how much he respects her and her contribution to food, but that he thinks we have more pressing issues to deal with at the moment than creating a “kitchen cabinet” in the White House. From his blog:

    “The new guy in the White House has a lot on his plate – as a recent trip through America’s Rust Belt had just brought rather poignantly home. So I found the allegedly chronic non-voter Waters’ offer to head up a ‘kitchen cabinet’ – an advisory board guiding the new administration to a new, organic, locavorean foodie Valhalla – well …presumptuous. Particularly in light of the Normandy invasion of chefs, logistics and ingredients for the series of benefit meals which followed. I had a hard time visualizing all these guys foraging for vegetables in D.C. in January. The combined carbon imprints of these talented interlopers – alone …seemed at odds with the high minded sentiments in the letter.”

    I am all in favor of organic locally sourced food, and buy this whenever I can realistically afford it. But I believe Anthony has a point.

    As for the issue of wealth, elitism, and organic food… I used to live in SF, CA. I used to shop at the Civic Ctr farmer’s market, where all sorts of fresh foods from a variety of cuisines were available for CHEAP. This was completely unlike the fancy/foodie market at the Embarcadero, which I hated, because I could never afford to buy anything there. I assumed that most farmer’s markets would be more like civic center–you’re buying directly from the people growing, and so the food is more affordable. Now I live in Boulder, CO and am so disappointed to discover that no, in fact, our “farmer’s market” is like the snob fest at the Embarcadero, where specialty food items reign supreme and everything costs MORE than at Whole Foods. Healthy food should not be a privilege, it should not be a specialty item, and it should not be prohibitively expensive.

  14. Via a slow food chef friend of mine:

    “It’s just sensationalism, it is sad for somebody to knock the work Alice Waters etc do, sadly many people do think with their wallet first.

    I am out there on the foie gras issue—I have watched something on a farm in Spain where the birds run free through the orchards and at a certain point of the year they do gorge themselves and their livers grow, they are ten killed of their livers. This to me seem like nature being left to run its course.

    I watch what Bourdain uses to justify the commercial process and there really is not much on his side, they are messing with the birds’ cycle and they certainly are not in their natural environment.

    It really is complicated world in which we live.

  15. Y says:


  16. Neetza says:

    When someone says the poor can avoid buying a second pair of Nike shoes and thereby afford organic food, she deserves whatever criticism she gets.