Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Storm Between Paula And Tony And Is This The SAME Tony Bourdain Who Gave It To Alice Waters For Being An Elitist?

Last week, I noticed that the dustup between Tony and Paula was getting pretty heated. It was even commented upon on the Op-Ed page* of the NY Times last week. I guess what the grand dame of heart-stoppingly good Southern cuisine and the bad boy of the professional kitchen have to say about each other must be pretty important.

To recap, Anthony Bourdain spoke ill of several Food Network hosts – Paula, Guy, Aunt Sandy and RR in an interview with TV Guide. He said, “
The worst, most dangerous person to America is clearly Paula Deen. She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations and she's proud of the fact that her food is f---ing bad for you."

He doesn’t stop there:

We got Paula’s response on Page Six of the Daily News:

Paula continues, "Not everyone can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. (BINGO, Paula!) My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills . . . It wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to feed my family, too.”

Why is this news? Bourdain’s been making negative comments about television cooking hosts forever.
Actually, I thought Tony had slowed down his Rachael-Ray-is-the-most-evil-thing-on-the-planet rants (not that I totally disagree, but only about her cooking, not her personhood). I guess he has a new season of No Reservations to promote.

The real reason this particular back and forth has caught fire now is that Paula’s response has touched a nerve. She knows what it’s like to be on the other side of affluence – having been through a divorce, agoraphobia and economic worries. She may be living on easy street now, but no one can deny it was an uphill battle filled with hard work and sacrifice.

By portraying Tony’s diatribe as an attack on the have-nots by the haves, who casually order hugely expensive restaurant meals and think nothing of buying any ingredient they fancy, no matter the price, (as long as it’s politically correct), Paula has struck a chord.

The ironic thing is that Tony took Paula’s side of this argument against Alice Waters not so long ago. It must be inconvenient for him to remember that he railed against Alice Waters’ philosophy of supporting local farmers and pushing organic, farm fresh foods as being incredibly rarified and elitist. He said this in 2007:

Tony ends with this statement – “I’m a little uncomfortable with legislating good eating habits.” HUH?!!! Why the diatribe against Paula, then?

Why is it, when arguing against Alice Waters, that Tony feels we should have the choice to eat whatever we want? But he doesn’t allow the same freedom of food expression to Paula and her fans.

Our dastardly eating habits come from so many places. Paula is not the number one cause. I’d look to too much television time and paying too much attention to video screens as pretty high on the list of what we should change. Our sedentary lifestyle is the root cause for many of our obesity issues.

If we worked in the fields or paced factory floors or even walked up and down 20 flights of stairs a day, the story would be different. But many of us work and play (and eat) in front of screens and unless we’re bicycling or elliptical-ing at the same time, WHATEVER we eat is just going to sit there…no matter what it is.

No one home to cook or teach youngsters how to cook is another problem. It IS amazing how many people do not know simple kitchen basics. Adding a cooking curriculum to schools would be one great way to foster a healthier lifestyle in every family.

The list goes on and on. Bad food available cheaply and plentifully is another reason why so many eat so poorly. Lack of fresh food in many neighborhoods is a huge problem.

I can’t criticize Paula for all of our nutritional woes. I would feel as if I were saying something bad about a beloved aunt. Plus Paula has such a cozy way of welcoming us into her kitchen.

Anthony Bourdain is as warm and cuddly as a rattlesnake, even if I’m sure his culinary likes and dislikes are a lot close to mine than Paula’s are. I also like his sense of humor, although I do find him a bit scary. But does he really not see the contradiction in criticizing Alice Waters for demanding fresh, local food (especially to kids), and, at the same time, blasting Paula for cooking feel-good food and working with a company that gives loads of (okay, not the healthiest) food away every year?

Isn’t it obvious how incongruous it is that TODAY he’s playing the Alice Waters’ role and PAULA is playing his, by crying foul, that the normal person can’t afford high falutin’ baby squashes or rainbow colors of kale, whatever that is anyway.

Frank Bruni makes a good point in comparing Tony’s harangue to what’s going on in Washington. The tenor of the Tony’s remarks (actually they’re more like rants) is the opposite of an open-hearted, kind-spirited conversation to find common ground.

On the subject of food, at least, it’s a shame that something that can bring so much joy, not to mention actual physical sustenance, is being used as a way to demonize one’s opponents.

Of course, there are gads of tough practical issues and some moral ones too. What if KFC offered to give away millions of pounds of food to poor school children? What if they offered to supply free school lunches across America? Probably the people in charge would say no. But does that mean they would prefer kids to go hungry than to eat KFC?

What if Cool Whip were offered in every shelter and soup kitchen? Obviously, to that one I would say no and hope a more healthful alternative could be found. But that’s easy for someone with a full refrigerator (before the hurricane, at least) and pantry stocked with extras to say. To folks with few alternatives,
free ham or cheap hamburgers at least fills them up to fight another day.

It’s hard to disagree with Tony that people should eat better and make better choices. I’ve always agreed when Alice Waters has said the same thing. But the best way to make that happen probably does not include accusing sweet Paula of crimes against humanity and berating the food so venomously that she offers with such love and affection.

*And isn’t it interesting that The Times now has TWO food-centric writers on their Op-Ed and Opinion pages? Frank Bruni AND Mark Bittman.)


Anonymous said...

I must admit this is the first of Frank Bruni's columns that didn't make me wish Frank Rich hadn't left the Times. Bruni is absolutely right that Paula Deen's style of cooking is something people clamor for in upscale restaurants, including Anthony Bourdain's. No question that the swipe at her is based on her perceived audience as well as her food.

Except...when people go to those restaurants, they're looking for something they wouldn't get at home, not something they make at home everyday. And Paula's food is pretty monotone when it comes to fat content, implying that you can and should eat this way at every meal. If she mixed it up a little, it would help. As for the low cost, it would be interesting to see how much Paula's food actually costs to make, it's probably not all that cheap anyway.

My guess is that you're right that Bourdain's sniping has more to do with his upcoming show season than an actual complaint. He may have miscalculated in taking on The Mighty Smithfield, though, and clearly Paula's PR team got the jump on him. I'll be interested to see if he has a response.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I don't like Tony Bourdain. I think he's a massive, self-righteous poser who is always trying to prove how hip and cool and adventurous he is. Do I respect what he does? Yes I do. Do I agree with a lot of what he says? Hell yes! I just don't like the way he packages his message. In a sense he is no less holier-than-though than Alice Waters is.

Although I'm pretty much over Paula Deen - I think her act has become ridiculous and so has her food - I think she is a bit of a of a victim of her own marketing machine. She works for the Food Network, which is constantly making its cooks dumb down their food because they believe the unwashed masses can't deal with cooking beyond basic assembly. She also now has a public persona to maintain as well as a cooking style that people now expect to be high fat. This wasn't always what her show was about. She is, however, the owner of a very successful restaurant that she started herself from the ground up in the kitchen (so by Bourdain's own definition is a chef) and worked hard for what she has. One would think Bourdain would give her some credit for that. He won't though, because he relexively hates everything on the Food Network.

I don't like her shilling for Smithfield one bit. Score one for Tony there.

Let them both battle it out to the death. Maybe sanity will return to Food television.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

I like Bourdain, but consistency isn't his strong point. If you page through his "Les Halles" cookbook, you will see plenty of recipes that will flat out kill you, AND cost a ton of money to make. (On the other hand, that was the first published cookbook I ever read that used cuss words liberally thoughout the copy).

My rule of thumb (kiped from various sources): I can eat whatever I long as I shop for it myself, cook it myself, and do the dishes for it afterwards.(Or help my wife do these things). The time investment alone is enough to keep me from overeating, and I've trimmed down a bit in the last couple of years.

Sue said...

What I took most from Bruni’s column was that he would appreciate a more civilized discourse on this incredibly important topic. And really, just as it’s Tony’s job to shock us with his incorrigible tirades, it’s also Paula’s to bring on the folksy, feel-good chatter alongside her seriously fat-filled cooking. I personally love watching Paula, but I don’t actually use her recipes.

And, yup, Tony had to promote his show and Paula probably doesn’t really mind one cotton-pickin’ bit (y’all) that she’s all over the news (well, the blogs, anyway) and that she’s getting defended by all kinds of unlikely folks.

Beautifully said!

I love and hate Tony in the same way.

But I love Paula too. However, I also feel very uncomfortable with her association with Smithfield. Do you remember the riveting series in the Times about race in America and the one article that highlighted a Smithfield slaughterhouse? It's pretty obvious to say that conditions there were almost as bad for the people that work there as the animals. (That piece was written over 11 years ago, so hopefully things have improved for both groups.)

Paula Deen is not the cause of everything that’s wrong with the way Americans eat. And if people take her that seriously and use her as their sole source of cooking knowledge than we have bigger problems than eating gobs of mayonnaise at every meal.

Hiya James,
I don’t have a copy of Les Halles at hand, but that’s interesting.

There are plenty of times when I’m out that I eat precisely what I CAN’T or WON’T cook for myself. But I do buy precious little processed food. I have no bought salad dressings or frozen meals or much garbage-y food at all. I have admitted to marshmallows plenty of times, but I could never bring myself to buy a jar of marshmallow fluff, partly because I would dip a spoon into it every time I walked by. Like you, though, if I made it myself, I’d be perfectly happy to eat it (all, probably).

But in the end, watching Paula cook isn’t going to ruin my life. I’m going to laugh and drop my jaw a few times and then go back to whatever I was going to make anyway.

Emily said...

I actually thought his comments were pretty funny. I didn't really take them seriously though. I agree that he's probably stirring the pot to get in the news and give him better ratings for the new season of his show.

That's pretty balls-y of him to mess with such huge Food Network celebs. Especially Paula.

Sue said...

I think Tony was being 100% serious, as well as trying to get more press for his show. On the one hand, he's sly like a fox; on the other, he's like someone's old Uncle Harry, who says anything to anyone and has lost all his socially acceptable filters.