Who Says That You Are An Expert?

I’m not sure when it became reasonable for utter ignoramuses to pontificate about subjects that are normally reserved for experts. And I have no particular affinity for “experts.” I am not impressed by the pedigrees of most “experts,” and I am more than willing to point at them and laugh like a hyena. In fact, I enjoy doing that. What I mean by the word “expert” is someone who has a reasonable foundation in the facts necessary to understand a topic and who has spent some non-trivial amount of time thinking about those facts and how they mesh with the popular and unpopular explanations for those facts.

So when people like Alice Waters or Mark Bitten or the newest “super chef” babble new-age platitudes about eating locally grown produce and only using organic olive oil and humanely harvested arugula, I tend to get irritated. It is effortless to follow the guidelines of the most politically correct, progressive, anti-capitalist pro-animal guru when you have lots of money and most of the purveyors of these goods are more than willing to give them to you just so they can crow about how they are a part of your delusional world. But it is an altogether different thing when you have to consider the trade-off between eating in a sustainable, zero carbon footprint way (SAVE THE BROCCOLI!) and paying your mortgage or heating bill.

It is very easy to criticize corporate farming, and if you feel like reading, I’ll cheerfully rant and rave about the inequities of our current farm subsidy policy. And don’t get me started on the ridiculous way our Government has mandated how foods are defined. Let’s face it: Organic? Natural? Farm-raised? Free-range? Hormone-free? (And about 50 others.) What the hell is the difference?

Sorry, back to my point. We are extraordinarily lucky in this country that our food and transportation industries are incredibly efficient. If one cares to, or has to, one can eat healthy for very little money. Does that mean that you get first-press olive oil and night-harvested organic arugula? Nope. But you will get clean, fresh food that is available with just a bit of effort.

The problem is not the availability of good-quality ingredients; the problem is the other stuff that many Americans eat instead of a healthy diet. But Capitalism has created this cornucopia; it is up to the individual to take advantage of it. And if many Americans don’t want to cook good stuff for themselves and their families and would rather buy packaged food or eat fast-food? You can’t have one without the option of the other.

7 Replies to “Who Says That You Are An Expert?”

  1. I’m afraid that you , self proclaimed non-expert are perhaps mistaken about the cost and availability of food.
    Fact is, the cheapest way to feed your family, $/kcal is to troll the inner aisles of what we call food stores.
    The subsidies given to grow corn, sugar and soy have resulted in products that offer lots of calories from too many of the wrong sources. When you need to fill bellies you look for calories.
    So without straying into too much politics… the lower income folks can fill themselves and their children on bad fat, corn syrup etc. because off artificially low subsidized prices. Check out what Pollan sp? has to say.
    It’s funny that so many are howling about socialism now; our subsidies have promoted big agri-biz over small family farms aand has created many problems on the global market for small family farmers around the world. What is right about American commodities, sold at artificially low prices through subsidies, being sold in countries where it price under cuts the local farmers?
    I don’t for a second buy your last point. It is sadly typical of not really looking at a problem unfiltered by a particular ideology. Oops, politics and ideology on your food blog. Sorry.
    Loved Otto the other night. Lucky to sit and eat at the bar. Also enjoy Belcourt 2nd Ave at 4th St. Kind of a gastro-pub/bistro.
    Interesting wines and generous pours in fine glassware. Worth a look.

  2. I am not suggesting that inexpensive, high-quality food is effortless. All I am saying is that it is available. Whether someone chooses to buy HFCS foods and fatty foods is entirely a personal choice, as it should be. But good stuff is available at reasonable prices.

    And you are correct that the subsidies paid to farmers and certain food industries are ridiculous, distort the market, and contribute to our bad diets by making crappy food less expensive than the market would price it. But once again, the answer is not to buy overpriced food at local farmers markets, just because it seems healthy. The cost of transporting that food dwarfs that of the cost of mass-produced food, and the health benefits of organic/natural are debatable. So Alice is doing America a disservice by touting this stuff. A much more affordable alternative is available — but only if chosen!

    Otto is the real deal. I have never had a bad dish, or bad service, or a bad drink or glass of wine.

    Belcourt, based on your track record of recomendations, will be on my short list!

  3. I love reading about Alice Waters. Everything she says is pompous and stupid, and it brightens my day with a chuckle! Pollan is something else entirely. He is not stupid.

  4. You mean like my old friend?
    He used to be nervous and jerky, now he takes meds for his nerves.

    You paint Waters with a pretty big brush. She has played a great part in bringing about a fundamental shift in how cooks approach food. Yes, as with any “movement” things get nutty, appellations for salt, radishes with their own websites etc., but there has been a marked elevation in awareness concerning food production since she and her friends showed up. And I agree, she can be pompous and annoying, but who isn’t?

  5. I use Alice Waters as the most egregious example of what is happening to food. Can she cook? Absolutely. Is she an expert on moving a local effort to provide excellent quality ingredients (at huge cost), for a way of cooking and eating that may be more healthy, into the mainstream? Absolutely not. She has no concept of even the most basic economic principles, has no understanding of the complexity of expanding a local effort to an entire nation, and she does real damage because of her inability to understand that the law of unintended consequences cannot be repealed, no matter how earnest she is.

    There was a recent article and recipe in the New York Times for mac & cheese. But the author used a cheese that is more than $25/lb. And she called for about 1.5 lbs. I think that in these days of economic turmoil and uncertainty, suggesting that people spend in excess of $40 to make a pot of mac & cheese is obscene.

    It is that kind of obtuseness in the face of reality that irritates and frustrates me. I would take Alice Waters much more seriously if she used her bully pulpit to guide people to a more healthy way of eating and cooking without relying on access to the spectacular stuff that she, and very few others, can get because of the unique Bay Area ecology and food culture.

    And her restaurants are not quite as good as their reputations would suggest. She has been passed by many excellent chefs.

  6. “Not quite as good as their reputations suggest,” is an understatement. I have dined at Chez Panisse both in the formal and informal dining rooms. All I can say was both meals were a huge disappointment. I certainly will never return. Can Alice Waters cook? Yes, but not well.

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