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Alice Waters Goes Mainstream: Elitist or Arugulist?

Oh, Alice. It's as if she's suddenly been thrust front and center into the real world—the cruel world that lies past our cozy, often smug 7x7-plus square miles of sustainable bubbliciousness. First there was the 60 Minutes interview where she baked an egg in a wood-fired oven in her kitchen as an example of a quick and easy breakfast that just about anyone could whip up. Of late, there's been the Obama's garden, a victory perhaps for Alice, but not necessarily one's she's going to get credit for. As Maureen Dowd wrote in her pro-Waters op-ed column on Saturday,

"[Waters] wasn’t invited to the opening of the White House garden, and she understands why the Obamas would want “to keep a kind of distance from me and from that whole celebrity chef” aura. Barack Obama got upset during the campaign that he was painted as a finicky elitist after he complained about the price of arugula at Whole Foods."

Then on Friday a drippingly sarcastic oh-really? kind post from the National Review, called “Alice in Wonderland,” called her organic food expensive and elitist.

Alice's rebuttal includes a fun new word: “I’m just put into that arugulance place. I own a fancy restaurant. I own an expensive restaurant. I never thought of it as fancy. People don’t know we’re supporting 85 farms and ranches and all of that."

Which brings up something that's been on my mind. With the recession causing every restaurant in town to cut back on everything from labor to food costs, Alice's Delicious Revolution must be suffering a major setback. Chez Panisse is an exception, but there's no way every chef in town that has exclusively supported the local and sustainable can do it right now if they're going to keep their restaurants afloat. It's not what I'd like to see happen either, but I guarantee you that exceptions are being made. Organic milk is expensive. So are eggs and onions and cheese. I've witnessed diners looking for deals first and foremost, and turning a blind eye to the things they used to demand. Suddenly, the Bay Area, which has always lived securely in its wealth, might just be getting a taste of what the rest of the world has been balking about when they hear Alice expound lovingly on $4-a-pound grapes.