Alice Waters interviewed on 60 Minutes

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P’fish’ers,
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Did you catch this past Sunday’s “60 Minutes”? In a segment first aired in March, reporter Leslie Stahl interviewed Alice Waters about having a connection to and relationship with our food. I believe in the philosophy of the Slow Food Movement and champion the amazing work Ms. Waters has accomplished and what she stands for — delicious food that we grow ourselves or from people we know and from companies we trust. Even more moving is her promotion of edible school yards and landscapes!
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But, I wonder how her message will be received by a national audience that watched Ms. Waters poach two eggs in her personal kitchen hearth. Nice work, if you can get it! (I freely admit that I love~and covet~her kitchen…and her giant garden. I have a tiny patio garden with budding herbs and veggies).
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My worry about how sustainability is often presented by the media is that it can come across as elitist. This important topic — one that is vital to our individual and global well-being — is too easily dismissible as unattainable. Who wouldn’t want the freshest, most flavorful, most nutritious foods? Yet how many of us have the free time and spare cash needed to poach free-range eggs over a wood fire for breakfast? The chasm between the haves and have nots represents a huge hurdle for mainstream America. I recognize we’re making great strides around the world with the help of retailers like Walmart. Still, I wonder, how do we popularize sustainability using star power but in a way that’s affordable and accessible for everyone?
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What do you think? How can “sustainable seafood” avoid being labelled a luxury and instead become widespread?? We need sustenance from the sea, whether wild or farmed or both.
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And quite honestly, I know, understand and have experienced how media reports (print, broadcast, etc) are edited for impact. Ms. Waters is a leader, the way indigenous peoples were the world over, quite honestly, with their stewardship of the land. She deserves a lot of credit for spending her entire life trying to get people in touch with the earth and the food we put into our mouths.
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Her quote on the show about how people may otherwise spend money on Nike shoes– well, Birkenstocks cost as much. So, I think this is all much ado about the wrong subject. At essence, the subject is sustaining our planet and the creatures that share our planet, enhancing ours’ and their well-being, and enjoying a certain quality of life. And I mean “enhancing our well-being” to mean improving the nutrition, food access, and economics of the poor, TOO. That point is way too often left out of sustainability discussions.

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2 comments so far

Enhancing sustainability of production systems today generally entails incurring higher costs. However, as these next generation production systems become refined and gain economies of scale through growth, the costs can come down. Many of the leaders in the movement toward sustainable food have a preference for smaller, higher cost systems. While this can further the perception of their being elitist, the fact is they represent a class which can absorb higher costs. This provides a critical foothold for tomorrow’s production systems, and deserves credit. However, we should also promote those focused on improving larger, lower cost systems which will have the biggest impact on the planet. While these leaders will inevitably challenge some of the more elitist ideals held by others in the movement, it will also reveal critical synergies between the two. We need leadership at many levels on the continuum of sustainability.

Michael Wink
June 17th, 2009 at 10:49 am

Thank you, Mike,

Astute comment. You’re right. The curve now is high. We need efficiencies of scale to work for society but not at the expense of the environment. The marketing of the phrase ’sustainable seafood,’ came forth with a roar. Meanwhile, companies like yours, Kona Blue, had been quietly helping to lead the development of sustainable, open-ocean aquaculture. And being on the vanguard is never inexpensive.

High-end product sales do represent a critical foothold, yes. That was the case with early adopters of organic produce, free-range chickens, and hormone-free, grass-fed beef, etc. The sea is ‘tougher’ because so much media attention these past 10 years has stressed its demise that people are afraid to eat any fish at all. Wild fish or farmed fish or even fish oils. Confused about labels, about wallet cards distributed by advocacy groups, about health claims, about contaminants, etc.

As an example of how the message may NOT be catching on…consider my old friends from graduate school in Boulder, Colorado. A smart couple, with sweet gigs (both aerospace execs), sweet digs, sweet kids, the works. Guess what? They had an outdated version of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Card stuffed in the back of a drawer somewhere. Why? They said the card may have been affordable for the two of them, but now raising a family, it made little sense financially. For most of us, heady issues become hip pocket issues, evaluated by our wallets: cash out vs groceries in, household budget vs environmental cost, etc. If people across the economic spectrum are made to feel guilty about their food choices, they will ignore the advice. And, the price points that most people can afford happen to be found in farmed seafood.

A continuum of sustainability that offers entry points for all buyers is vital. Couple this with effective education at all levels and that will deliver a powerful combination punch –building markets, minds, and motivation. We spend what we earn on the things we want. Too few understand what is “sustainable.” The issue needs to catch on faster, and something is missing. Dire predictions do more to polarize than to orient consumers.

Patricia Parisi
June 19th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

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