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Oh Alice, Don't Let Them Do This To You

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 21:34:15 PM PDT

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Oh lord, now an industry astroturf group (the American Council on Science and Health) is expressing their schadenfreude over Alice Waters' refusal to renounce growing any food in sewage sludge. And there's one thing they have right (which is one more than usual): Alice Waters IS a hero of the sustainable food movement.

But here's the full statement they made:

"I have to admit to some schadenfreude when the organic, 'environmentalist' crowd turns on itself," says Stier. "Ms. Waters was a hero of the sustainable food movement, but now they are turning on her because of very low levels of heavy metals in this compost, less even than you'd get from a vitamin supplement. The irony, of course, is that using biosolids is a wonderfully environmentalist thing to do, since it safely recycles waste materials; the 'environmentalists' are on the wrong side of this environmental issue."

They are congratulating Waters because using sewage sludge is a "wonderfully environmentalist" thing to do?? Alice, please, these people still think DDT should be legal. Don't let them count you as being on their side. It hurts me to see Alice Waters used like this.

(As for those heavy metals... they've done a nice job cherry-picking the ONE class of toxins in sewage sludge that is somewhat regulated. Sure, sludge might not have too much lead in it... but how about flame retardants, dioxins, pharmaceuticals, and phthalates?)

Jill Richardson :: Oh Alice, Don't Let Them Do This To You
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Alice's Restaurant (4.00 / 2)
Okay, I know this is petty, and I'm carrying a grudge.

About 8 years ago, I went to Alice Water's restaurant which at that time at least, offered only a fixed-course menu. I asked for a few minor substitutions (mostly to leave out high fat extras like butter and cheese) and I was told "No. We don't make any changes here."

As of that day, I stopped supporting Water's work in any way. If her attitude is "my way or the highway" it's going to be hard for her to build rapport and sympathy.

Her unwillingness to learn and bend on the sludge issue doesn't surprise me in the least.

Chefs... (4.00 / 1)
I see what you mean, but there is another argument out there with which I tend to agree, that at certain (higher-end, chef-driven) establishments, the point is that you're really going for their creations, rather than just to eat something, so in that instance "have it your way" doesn't necessarily apply.

There was a long, interesting discussion on this point a few months ago over at Portland Food & Drink which I enjoyed reading, and though I never thought much of the issue before I found myself ending up on the side of "the chef is always right" in certain establishments.

But I'm just bringing the point up, not saying you're wrong or even that her restaurant would qualify as the type of place where this would apply as I've never eaten there before and probably never will.  I've walked past and eaten nearby when I was living in Oakland, though!  Heh...

[ Parent ]
I dunno Jay. (4.00 / 1)
I haven't followed your link yet, but my first response is, even chefs who don't allow salt shakers on the table as routine do allow patrons to get a salt shaker by request. My second response is, isn't the customer always right, and isn't the customer always right especially in high-end establishments? Even for prix-fixe, the modifications requested by JPStreeter seem reasonable.

If I wanted cherries jubilee instead of bread pudding - ok, that's a no-go.

Several years ago I went to a high-end restaurant when I was first trying to cut back on carbohydrates. I was clear, explicit, and emphatic that I did not want to see mashed potatoes on the plate, even though mashed potatoes were on the menu as a side dish for my order. There was no miscommunication between the waitress and me, no uncertainty, no shades of meaning.

I received mashed potatoes.

Either the waitress did not communicate my stipulation to the kitchen, or the chef got all huffy and thought "I'll show him!" and the waitress brought the plate to me regardless.

The situation was not ameliorated by the fact that the chef stupidly put dill sauce on the salmon before it was grilled.

I didn't tip the waitress, and I never went back to the restaurant.

It'll be interesting to see what arguments are advanced in the PFD discussion.

[ Parent ]
The PFD discussion... (4.00 / 1) heavily "winter tomato"-centric, as that was the original topic, but about 10% of the comments go further to address the "chef is always right in certain establishments" vs. the "customer is always right" perspective.

Like I said, I never really thought much of it before (and I never eat in such places either, so maybe that's why I never spent much time thinking about it), but I do see the point of a chef in a place like Alice Waters' restaurant refusing to nix the butter on something if that's a component of the meal they feel is necessary.

Of course, I see the other side too so I'm flexible there.  As Cap'n Transit said in quoting Walt Whitman yesterday, "I contain multitudes".  Heh...

[ Parent ]
That's good stuff. (4.00 / 1)
I've never read any Walt Whitman, and that's clearly my loss. Need to fix that.

[ Parent ]
I think that it depends on the dish that's ordered (4.00 / 2)
In your case, the mashed potatoes were a side? In that case, I'd ask the waitress to let the chef know that I don't want the potatoes because I don't want them wasted, otherwise I'd just not eat the potatoes if they were delivered anyway. Sometimes chefs get on a high horse, sometimes they get to putting out/plating many different orders on a tight timeline and may forget to not include an item that is normal with the meal. It happens.

In JPStreeter's case, I can't say if his/her substitution request was reasonable or not as I don't know if the butter and cheese were sides, or were integral to the recipe for the meal component (appetizer, entre, or desert) served. If the cheese and butter were sides or accompaniements, then if substitutions were not allowed then just don't eat them. If they were part of the recipe for the component served, then I don't think that asking for a substitution was reasonable.

But like I said, I don't know what the food/meal that the butter and cheese were included was.

As to your question about whether the customer is always right or not, I would have to say, sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the situation.

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
I hasten to say (4.00 / 1)
I didn't eat the spuds, they were wasted far as I know, and that didn't help me feel any better about the situation.

Diners were at three tables, including mine. Slow night.

[ Parent ]
In that direction... (4.00 / 1)
In one of Baltimore's glass-and-stainless steel diners, I tried to order one pancake. The menu did not offer one pancake, and the waitress said I couldn't get only one pancake. I said I would gladly pay for three pancakes, but wanted only one. She said I couldn't have only one even if I paid for more.

What we agreed to do was, she would give the kitchen an order for three pancakes, then she would discard two in the trash before she came out of the kitchen. I don't know if that's what actually happened, but I received one pancake.

[ Parent ]
That makes me think of Harold's situation with his diabetes (4.00 / 2)
oftentimes he will go to a restaurant and want only eggs and bacon, no toast, no potatoes. But to order ala carte for those two items costs more than ordering bacon and eggs. He used to fret over that, maybe he still does. My answer to him was to just order the regular meal and not eat the toast and 'taters. I know it's a waste, but there ya go...

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
Actually, the least expensive way to get his bacon and eggs (4.00 / 2)
is to make it at home, but then he couldn't eat breakfast with his buds down at the coffee shop.


Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
Isn't there... (4.00 / 2)
...a long waiting list to get a reservation to her place? Your assessment is probably spot on ("at certain (higher-end, chef-driven) establishments, the point is that you're really going for their creations, rather than just to eat something").

[ Parent ]
Heavy metals (4.00 / 1)
Maybe ACSH did a nice job of cherry-picking the category but

less even than you'd get from a vitamin supplement

Is that true?

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