Alice Waters on The View

Sharing your guilty pleasure is like describing what you just did in the bathroom: most people don’t want to hear it. But today my guilty pleasure intersects with my career and so I have no choice but to share, yet again, the sad but very true fact that every day, late in the afternoon, I watch “The View” on Tivo.

(shocked silence)

I wish I could say, “Sometimes I watch ‘The View’ on Tivo” the way that some people might say, “Sometimes, when I’m depressed, I dip Doritos in ice cream.” But no, my guilty pleasure has become a lifestyle; I may as well put curlers in my hair, chain smoke, and eat bonbons. “The View” makes me feel connected to the real world, somehow. The sensibility of those five ladies–admittedly less charged than when Rosie was on–is fascinating to behold, and I love the weird tension between Whoopi Goldberg and Sheri Sheppard, especially after Sheri shocked America by revealing that (a) she doesn’t believe in evolution; and (b) she’s not sure if the world is round. You can tell, ever since then, that she (thankfully) keeps much more to herself. It’s a fascinating commentary on the how the forces of religion, science, liberalism, conservatism and media interplay in 21st century America.

But I’m not here to talk about the merits of “The View.” I’m here to tell you that last night, when I got home from my reading at The Strand, Craig was on the couch watching a Michael Haneke film (“Benny’s Video”) and when it was over I grabbed the remote and said, “Ok, my turn.”

He said, “Anything but ‘The View.'”

Naturally, though, just to irritate him I took the Tivo remote and highlighted “The View.”

“No, stop,” he said.

“I just want to see who’s on it,” I replied.

Well imagine my surprise when I saw that the third guest–after Elmo and Tracy Morgan–was none other than the single most important living female food figure in the country (does anyone dispute that?) Alice Waters.

“Oh my God,” I said, “It’s Alice Waters! I have to watch this so I can write about it for my blog.”

Craig, being the good sport he is, allowed me to proceed (and to his credit, he didn’t ask, “Who’s Alice Waters?” and lately he’s been surprising me with knowing references to Dan Barber and Nancy Silverton. I’ll make an Amateur Gourmet of him yet.) And so I clicked “play” eager to see what would happen.


In the segment you have Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, just the two of them, standing behind a table arrayed with food (“Fresh from the Union Square Greenmarket,” Alice would eventually explain) and little Alice Waters, mousy and celestial, kind of crouched over in a corner.

Now at the top of the show the announcer, revealing the guests to the audience, described her as a “natural foods expert.” That’d be like describing T.S. Eliot as a “word organizer.” I almost gasped at the lack of reverence and yet, when the segment began, Whoopi seemed to know more than she let on: she sort of embraced Alice and said, “I love this woman.” Maybe Whoopi’s eaten at Chez Panisse?

Whoopi said, “Ok, so tell me about this organic fruit.”

Alice wasn’t having it. She wanted to start at the other end of the table with the vegetables. “Well we have the vegetables here,” she said, gently correcting Whoopi, and flitting across to where Joy was standing.

“Look at these beautiful vegetables,” she said (I’m paraphrasing–or, rather, recalling the best I can without actually watching it again), “this is how we’re going to seduce our children back to the table.”

“And all these are from the farmer’s market?” asked Whoopi.

“Yes,” said Alice.

“But you can get all this in a normal grocery store?” spat Joy, clearly uncomfortable around this weird Berkeley hippie.

You couldn’t find two women more different than Joy Behar and Alice Waters. One ballsy and brash, the other dainty and delicate. Did Joy understand who Alice was, her significance, the impact she’s had on food and the way we eat? I wasn’t quite sure and then, when Alice was showing off the chicken she’d roasted, my worst fears were confirmed. Joy asked, “Can’t you shove a beer can in the chicken’s vagina and cook it that way?”

Ok, it was pretty funny. I can’t imagine a more irreverent question to ask a living legend, especially one so meek-seeming you could blow on her and she’d fall over. But Alice Waters isn’t meek, that’s obvious to anyone who’s read about her. She just kind of hovered there, a weird visitor from another planet, and let the ladies have their fun while she squeezed in several words of advice. “Salt your chicken right away when you get it home,” she said, “it locks the moisture in and keeps it really moist when you roast it.”

Watching this with Craig, I realized how far removed this whole food world is from the “real world.” Obviously everyone’s sense of “the real world” is different, but to me it’s a question of class, education, exposure: what Joy Behar represents, at least for me, is a working class mentality. Why go to a farmer’s market when you can get cauliflower at Publix? Why salt a chicken early when you can put a beer can in its vagina?

In her own way, Joy Behar was the perfect foil for Alice Waters: no coddling, no ring-kissing. Just crass reality in the face of lofty idealism. Between the two, the answer lies.

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