Sunday, June 04, 2006

Food, en masse.

The NY Times Magazine from this weekend ran two articles that evaluate trends in two very different strata of the food world. The first covers a topic that has been splashed all over the news of late: Walmart's announcement that it will soon go organic. Michael Pollan notes that when the pesticide-free lettuce hits the shelves--and at prices only 10-percent higher than Walmart's regular greens--organic food will have suddenly shed its air of elitism. Like the writers that have covered this story before him though, Pollan doesn't exult in the spread of organics too long before he begins to worry about what it will mean for Walmart to keep its prices low. Buying local will certainly be out. And to keep up with Walmart's demand, the small farmer we have come to associate with the organic movement will no doubt be forced aside. But more importantly, Pollan wonders, what happens when Walmart's lobbyists go to work on how the government defines "organic" in the first place?

On the flipside, Mark Bittman writes about the trend for big-name chefs to leave the kitchens of the restaurants that made them famous in favor of overseeing an empire of restaurants that bear their name. Of course, heading up so many eateries means that these chefs are more consultants than cooks--they help design the space, train the staff, and put together the menu, but they're not actually in the kitchen much of the time. Bittman bemoans the fact that high cuisine no longer means knowing that the artist-chef is personally tinkering with your meal to make sure the flavor is just right, and he argues that the quality of the meal has suffered as a result. He calls his most recent meal at one of Alain Ducasse's outposts "beyond dull." Unlike with the advent of organic foods at Walmart, however, the strip malling (mauling?) of haute cuisine does not equate with low prices--meals still go for $300 a pop. In either case, it seems that, at least in the food world, bigger isn't necessarily better.


Post a Comment

<< Home