Gardening, Waters, Gunlock

April 22, 2009

I recognize I’m a bit late to the table, but if you look here, you can see Alice Gunlock being asininely critical of Alice Waters and the very idea of organic/local food.  John Schwenkler responds with a rejection of gastronomic subjectivism.  James Poulos sees tensions between dignity and nobility.  I see a bad argument. Consider:

Waters introduced Lesley Stahl to a man that grows organic grapes and sells them for a staggering $4 a pound (to give non-shoppers some perspective on this price, grocery-store grapes usually cost under $2 a pound, and even most meat comes in under $4 a pound). 

While Stahl did seem surprised at the high price, Waters never directly addressed the cost issue; instead, she made an offhand remark that people would simply have to make the choice between expensive grapes and Nike tennis shoes. What she fails to appreciate is that some people can’t buy those tennis shoes either. It is not about making choices between two expensive items, it is about something much more fundamental. Particularly in this economic downturn, when about one in eight adults is currently out of a job and looking for work, many families are not just cutting back on luxuries, but are reassessing their food budgets and trying to save every penny they can. If Waters had been a little more frank, and simply affirmed that $4 a pound for grapes is a steep price that most people can’t afford, fair enough; instead, viewers were treated to a lecture on how we simply need to make better choices.

This is false.  The most local and organic food you’re going to find, namely, that grown in your backyard, is orders of magnitude cheaper than anything you’re going to find at the grocery store.   Growing your own food requires work, patience, maybe even (heaven forbid) some family time, but in terms of actual dollar investments, its quite cheap, provided you know what you’re doing. (Which Ms. Gunlock clearly does not.) Granted, gardening clearly isn’t a solution to America’s food problems, but the notion that people having a practical understanding of where food comes from and how to grow it is somehow elitist or unmanageably expensive is as bizarre as it is historically inaccurate.

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