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NPR Attacks Alice

January 26, 2009

By Maclovia Quintana

In a recent article on NPR.org (“Alice Waters Was a Foodie Hero. Now She’s the Food Police,” 1/23/2009), food critic Todd Kliman states that the local food movement, and Alice Waters in particular, have had their day and become irrelevant and limiting, “something doctrinaire and even repressive, not liberating and uplifting.” All this on the basis that Waters suggested that the White House cook be someone firmly in favor of sourcing locally.

“Cooking, after all, is not about doing good; it’s about tasting good,” claims Todd Kliman.

Why shouldn’t cooking be about doing good? Why shouldn’t everything we do be about doing good? It isn’t as though “doing good” when cooking (using local, sustainable ingredients, that is) means that you cannot make it taste good as well—just the opposite, in fact. Ask anyone who cooks with local organic ingredients and they will attest to their quality and flavor.

Why should chefs “content” themselves with using largely local, seasonal goods, Kliman asks? Just because we can ship food all over the globe does not mean that we should. This will become even more relevant as we are further forced to reduce our use of fossil fuels. I’m not opposed to international delicacies, but when a local option exists, it should be utilized. At the rate we’re going, we won’t be able to limitlessly import and export forever.

“Do we really need to know the provenance of an egg?” is another question that Kliman poses. Well, yes. Knowing where your food comes from is an important part of enjoying it, a value that has clearly been largely forgotten. Citing producers on menus, as long as it is done honestly, is a good way of heightening consumer awareness of how good local food can be.

I don’t think it’s generally a good idea to be militant about the causes you champion (as Kliman accuses Waters of doing)—it makes people stop listening to you. But the sustainable food movement is one that will never have “seen its day.” It will, by necessity, become a way of life. This doesn’t mean that we will be stuck eating boring food devoid of international influence—“local” does not mean “homely.”

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