The food world may have no more polarizing figure than Alice Waters. On the one hand, her acclaimed restaurant Chez Panisse hasn’t fallen out of favor for nearly four decades, her Edible Schoolyard has taught decades of schoolchildren the importance of fresh foods, and her work for the Slow Foods Movement has been impassioned and tireless.
Yet, as Laura Shapiro points out in this month’s Gourmet, Waters has become a figure of endless censure, attracting criticism like a magnet does iron shavings. And in recent months, these digs have morphed into outright insults. She’s often called arrogant, self-righteous, and out of touch… or, perhaps even more damning, downright irrelevant.
Here at Serious Eats, we’ve seen our own share of Alice-bashing. Every post that mentions Alice Waters inevitably sparks a heated debate. Some are willing to cut her some slack: "Ms. Waters does come across as a bit pretentious... But I feel her heart is in the right place."
Others, however, have gotten pretty vicious. "She can't fathom why a single mom on welfare can't bake an egg on an iron spoon using a recipe out of a Dungeon and Dragons cookbook."
Why all the anger? Shapiro concludes that Alice Waters sees herself as a revolutionary, hell-bent on advancing an agenda, without a consistent regard for its real-world implications. “What irks people,” she writes, “are the impossibly airy goals she likes to swirl about herself like so many silk scarves. But she isn’t a thinker, she’s a utopian, a relentless radical who just doesn’t care whether the current checks and balances of real life can accommodate her ideas.”
What do you think? Does Alice Waters deserve this maelstrom of ill will—or is she a well-intentioned activist who’s been made an unfair target? Is she really “out of touch”? And does it matter if she is?