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What Alice Waters is Missing

What Alice Waters is Missing

Isabel Cowles | Chef's Blade

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post on March 25, 2009.

For decades, Alice Waters has commanded attention for her love of the freshest, most local food. Last week, her crusade was the focal point of national attention, as Michelle Obama finally agreed to plant an extensive vegetable garden at the White House.

If Ms. Waters is serious about changing the national food system for all Americans, she needs to get down and dirty on the economic issues tied to her edible ethos. At present, the food Waters espouses—clean, local and organic—is not sustainable to the American wallet.

Two weeks ago, in honor of Houston’s best growing season, I committed to eating only local foods for a full moth. For 30 days I planned to restrict my diet to whatever was grown, raised and slaughtered within 100 miles of my doorstep. My plan was derailed three days-and fifty dollars-later.

Without the use of my own vegetable garden, the only way I could afford to live on strictly local food for the period would be to eat eggs (at $3.50 a dozen) with scant veggies and bulk beans. Normally, I buy staples from a super market and make meals that feature whatever is fresh at local farmers’ markets. Without the addition of non-local grains, flour, butter, milk and affordable produce, I was left with esoteric dairy, (raw goat’s milk) meat, mushrooms, dried black beans and lettuce—all at an exorbitant cost.

It wasn’t a huge surprise: in general, I spend almost as much at the farmers market as I do at the local grocery store each week, and the locally grown produce accounts for less than a quarter of what I eat. Trying to rely purely on my regional food sources was harrowing, though, and illuminated a major flaw in America’s food system: for the first time in my life, I understood what it was like to be unable to afford the healthy food I wanted.

Like so many Americans, I have been inspired by Waters’ mission and believe that her far-reaching message has improved this country. Nevertheless, her current platform needs an update, or more bluntly, a reality check. When interviewed by Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, Waters outlined her noble vision: “I feel that good food should be a right and not a privilege and it needs to be without pesticides and herbicides. And everybody deserves this food. And that’s not elitist.”