Monday, November 07, 2005

The short answer

What is it about the ethics of eating that is so confusing for everyone? Daniel Patterson is right about one thing:

I'm troubled by the possibility that, as the Bay Area has become increasingly wealthy and more ideologically self-selecting, the Chez Panisse ethos has become a touchstone for the tastefully furnished stone houses and rolling, lavender-covered hills of an elite preindustrial agrarian fantasy. I worry that we have begun to reflexively equate an aesthetically beautiful lifestyle with a morally good life, and that the way we cook and eat has become bound up in that mix.

But it is a wonder to behold how he gets from this unassailable proposition to his "solution": more sous vide. The poor guy's logic may even be more torturous than Julie Powell. Here's a tip for future commentators who have something really, really important to share with the world: do not wrap yourself in the mantle of defensor pauperum if your goal is to make twee tapioca foams for the vulgarly rich. Also, move to Chicago.


Patterson does, inadvertently, bring up an interesting question: Is it logically possible to challenge this orthdoxy of sustainability? One would undertake such a project not because it cramps your "creativity", or because the people at the farmers market are irritating (although they certainly are), but because of its insiduous equation of aesthetic beauty with moral good.

Patterson deserves credit for identifying the equation, though the purely aesthetic conception of sustainability indicates the chef's limited grasp of the question better than anything I could write. We can capture more of the real issue by rewriting the equation: is it a moral good to spend more money than strictly necessary to make yourself feel better about your lifestyle?

The answer depends on another question: how sustainable is what we are calling sustainable agriculture? If it's not really sustainable, than we have something to argue about (because the yuppies are just making themselves feel better instead of doing anything real). But if "organic," local, seasonal produce really is better for the planet and those who produce and consume it, the only possible resistance is that cheapness is better than goodness -- or rather that cheapness is the greatest good. Not an indefensible position, though it hardly puts you on the side of the angels.

But somehow I doubt that's the argument of the chef whose "creativity" is so cruelly crushed by his inability to invent anything that tastes better than a Zuni hamburger.


Blogger la depressionada said...

remember the last time people indulged in agrarian fantasy?

Mon Nov 07, 07:54:00 PM GMT  
Anonymous Tana said...

Hi, there.

Just a note: I appreciate all your sentiments, but you need to know that Eric Lau is not making foams for the vulgarly rich. Oswald is just about my favorite Santa Cruz restaurant, and the entrées are scarcely more than $20 or so, last time I visited. Like most things in Santa Cruz, you get a lot of value for the dollar.

Eric is a big supporter of our local farms, a gentleman, and a brilliant chef. He's a treasure.

Tue Nov 08, 03:08:00 AM GMT  
Blogger mmw said...

Tana, for all I know Lau (or Patterson himself -- it's not like I ever had enough money for Elizabeth Daniel) is the best chef south of Yountville. My concern was the "logic", not the cooking.

For whatever reason, most people just cannot separate the issues involved, and thus end up enlisting poor people in whatever their bourgeois campaign is. Now, I may have exaggerated the absurdity of Patterson's campaign, but it was only to expose that of his argument[s].

Tue Nov 08, 05:29:00 PM GMT  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

I felt, after reading his article, that he said almost nothing. He brought up a point but was then too cowardly, (=afraid of the big bad AW), to take it further than a mention.

One of his points is interesting. That CP's way of doing food is The Only Way in the Bay Area. We do have way too many restaurants which fit neatly into this mold.

It can't possibly be the only cuisine which can support/echo a "sustainable"/farmer's market/organic/local relationship.

Sun Dec 25, 04:13:00 AM GMT  

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