A FEW FRIENDS ASK what I think of an op-ed by Julie Powell in yesterdays New York Times, Don't Get Fresh With Me!.
Not much, really. She makes two points in her column, both of them simplistic; straw men set up as subjects for a newspaper entertainment. One has to do with the economies involved: here her memorable line is When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating penury with immorality.
But the organic (or, I would prefer, sustainable) food movement does not wed money to decency. Its a specious argument that organically or sustainably produced food is more expensive than the product of what has presumptiously come to be called conventional agriculture, for at least two reasons.
First, much of the cost of modern chemical- and petroleum-dependent agriculture is simply ignored and deferred not paid at all (yet), or posted to accounts conveniently kept elsewhere. Second, much of what is invented, produced, sold, and eaten as food in todays society is and has been developed as deliberately expensive alternatives to real food. When by far the majority of the potato crop is bred (or gene-manipulated), raised, harvested, and tooled expressly for potato chips and french-fries, its essentially meaningless to compare the cost of organic potatoes in the farmers market with giant russets or boilers in the supermarket.
Her other point is more interesting, though less arresting: that cooking is not (and is more than) shopping. But this too is set up with specious reasoning and outlandish generalization:
For the newer generation, a love for traditional fine cuisine is cast as fussy and snobbish, while spending lots of money is, curiously, considered egalitarian and wise.
I object to this equation, she goes on, and well she might, and so do I both because it is false, and because it is a rhetorical distraction in her column. Good cuisine will always be a matter of finding the best provender you can and doing the most appropriate thing with it, depending on the cultural context youre operating in.
Its an art, like any other: it represents the intersection of material, method, and mores. All else is simply entertainment, and often entertainment whose expense, finally, can no longer be justified.