Eat This

Is Lesley Stahl Actually Stupid Or Just Pretending?

Watch an overpaid TV journalist protest against the "luxury" of home-cooked, home-grown food in this 60 Minutes interview with chef Alice Waters.  "But can we afford it?" Stahl asks plaintively, standing in for the public that apparently needs defending against a soft-spoken advocate for fresh food.

Watch Stahl pretend to identify with "stressed-out working mothers" whose lives demand that they microwave prepared industrial meals instead of chopping chives by hand.  Watch her act astonished at the time Waters spends preparing breakfast, when it looks like the kind of dish that could easily be assembled in the ten minutes that were not spent hunting for the scissors to open some breakfast-in-a-pouch.

Watch her behave as if she's never been in a nice restaurant in her life.   


Is Lesley Stahl really a cheese-doodle-munching idiot?  Or is she just pretending to be one in order to condescend to a public she seems to have a rather low opinion of?

For my part, I think she is merely profoundly disingenuous.  But you make the call.

Posted by on March 20, 2009 at 5:59 am, in the category Eat This.
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41 responses to “Is Lesley Stahl Actually Stupid Or Just Pretending?”

  1. Kerry says:

    That’s so funny, I thought it was a very flattering interview and the questions allowed Alice to answer her critics.

    When I used to work in TV, we called the anchors “meat puppets.”

  2. ed bruske says:

    I think Leslie was just pretending to be the averate Joe. I wasn’t offended. The questions she asked are the ones many average people would be thinking, sitting there listening to Alice Waters.

  3. M A says:

    I wish Leslie would get a hairstylist. That’s what I wish.

  4. I thought the interview was interesting. Leslie asked questions many of us would ask if we didn’t know about the slow food movement, and I thought Alice came off very well.

    And Leslie was right to be amazed by the breakfast Alice prepared. If someone proposed I cook eggs over a wood-burning fire and chop chives while trying to get my kids off to school, I’d be incredulous too. But we’re cereal and toast types, grabbing that last bite as we rush out the door, so what do I know? 😉

  5. Elizabeth Stump says:

    I think Leslie Stahl comes across like she can’t be bothered to make any effort in the kitchen. Note that she said it was one of the best breakfasts in her life. Hmmm, two extra minutes for a fabulous breakfast? I’m a harried mom too, and I microwave the pre-made mini pancakes, but I also provide real maple syrup (no maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup for my kids) and fresh fruit every morning too. Does the maple syrup cost a lot more than the imitation stuff? Heck yeah, but it’s one of the few ways I make my choice to pay for a few premium ingredients.

    As for Alice saying we can’t afford to not teach our kids to cook, she is right in that sense. Teaching kids to only eat a decent meal out is expensive. If they only have good food at restaurants that cost a lot of money, trying to be economical when they are adults, they won’t know how to eat well AT HOME. One of the biggest expenses you can cut out of a budget is eating out.

    I think Leslie is partly disdaining the whole idea, as she used words like ‘temple’, ‘acolyte’ connoting religion or a cult. However, I do agree that Leslie brings up a good point about the price premium of organic food (read my earlier comment on maple syrup).

    Some people can’t afford to double their produce and meat bill.

    I think there is a middle ground to be met. I think people can grow a couple pots of tomatoes and herbs on their back porch while saving money and not buy everything organic. Until agribusinesses start using some organic methods in lieu of some of the more herbicide/pesticide. mono-plant culture practices, we’ll just have to wait for organic food to be ubiquitous and affordable. So far, I’m willing to eat -some- of my food that has been grown on large corporate farms.

  6. John says:

    I learned to hate ‘60 Minutes’ years ago when they did a hatchet job on my place of work. I wasn’t interviewed and I had nothing to do with the story line but the way the whole thing was handled – making us believe the story would accurately show our position during days of filming only to have them slam us big time on air. Their use of creative editing left me with a distrust of anything they have ever said since, about anything including this piece.

    I liked finally “meeting” Alice Waters and learning a new way to cook eggs. It was great to see all the civic gardening going on in her area.

    One of the problems with learning new skills via television is that they are very skilled at avoiding the whole story. Who chopped the wood and started that fire? Who cleaned up before and after? The script was written long before the camera crew showed up with the reporter.

    I’m not raising kids and even with my four season garden 10 steps away from the kitchen I wouldn’t have the time to make that breakfast everyday. I think that Alice Waters is only saying that plenty of people haven’t a clue how to take that first step towards eating better food. She hopes to inspire – and she did.

  7. RR says:

    That breakfast took longer to watch than it would to prepare.Unfortunately, no one knows how to use a knife anymore so it seems “complicated”. Alice Waters is fortunate to live in an area where there is year- round abundance and a large community of artisan growers, ranchers, dairy farms all dedicated to sustainable practices.
    Loved the way she cooked that egg. Yumm!

  8. Michelle D. says:

    What’s wrong with you people ?
    Don’t you own and stoke a wood burning oven in your kitchen, maintain a hen house , tend an organic garden 365 days a year or shop at your down town farmers market , bake fresh organic bread daily and prepare your eggs in a cast iron ladle ?

    That’s slow food by means of affluenza.
    We should all be so lucky to have such luxury.

  9. Elizabeth Hensley says:

    Now that we are (I hope) moving toward universal health care, the question of the “cost” of organic food grown as locally as possible should be weighed against the “cost” of caring for those suffering from chronic disease that is essentially food-borne illness — diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, low birth-weight babies and so on. It’s probably cheaper to support a system of healthful foods sustainably grown (coupled with early education that teaches children how to prepare and enjoy those foods) than it is to provide clinics, medication and medical devices for a chronically ill adult population.

  10. Cassandra says:

    How would those schoolyard gardens work in a climate where gardening usually goes from May to September? Programs like that in my area usually aren’t very successful, since things get planted, then neglected as the kids are out for the summer. By the time they get back to class, there’s not much left to do anyway.

    I agree, though, that people need to learn to cook again. It’s cheaper and healthier. But it’s annoying when people seem to look down on others who don’t feel that they can afford “organic” produce, or cook an egg over a wood fire (looks tasty, though).

  11. I’m with you on Leslie Stahl’s “act”. I pretty much wanted to smack her with a bunch of chives. On the other hand, Alice came across beautifully. I do wish she’d had a better answer to the question about the affordability of organic produce. She may chose to spend her money on higher priced organics, but many others don’t have that luxury.

  12. Erin says:

    Hmmm, I’m more than a bit confused. Not by Lesley, or the 60 Minutes piece, but by anyone who could possibly have a problem with the piece or Lesley’s reporting. Why wouldn’t she be able to identify with stressed out working mothers? She is one (or was, presuming her children are grown). And what’s wrong with that anyway? Heck, I don’t even have kids and I can barely feed myself breakfast in the morning, much less cook an egg over an open fire and chop up a tomato (and yes, I do know how to cook AND how to use a knife).

    I don’t think that Stahl’s reporting was in the least be condescending or disingenuous. I think was a well-reported, enjoyable piece on a fascinating person who most of the country either doesn’t know or makes assumptions about given her work.

    More importantly though, why would anyone with any interest in supporting the Slow Food movement, sustainable gardening or the local food movement work so hard to find a nit to pick with what was probably the most intriguing and informative pieces ever done on a pioneer of the Slow Food movement?

    And how much should a professional television journalist who has served as an anchor or moderator on some of the most well-respected news shows in the world and now works for the most successful television show history be paid?

  13. I think Ms. Stahl was actually speaking for the majority of upper income individuals who have had most things prepared for them and have no idea of basic living skills but then most of us would have trouble surviving on our own without the neighborhood grocery store. I had not heard Alice Waters speak prior to this interview and I think she is a compelling individual with a great message. One reason that organic/local food is more expensive than agribusiness produced food is government subsidies which bring down the end cost. In addition volume always reduces pricing. Anyway, I think this interview would have wide appeal due to the totally disparate attitude of Alice and Leslie. The ‘clued in’ and the ‘clueless’ and it just depends which side you are on as to who you think is clueless.

  14. LauraBee says:

    I think Alice’s point would have been better made if she’d cooked something an average parent could make on a school/work day, and that an average kid would eat… and that an average American could afford. In most of the country right now, fresh local produce of any variety is, at best, a gleam in the gardener’s eye.

    That said, I think Leslie is clueless regarding what constitutes good food & how to cook it.

  15. nycgarden says:

    First things first. Leslie Stahl is 68 or so and look at those legs. Mmmm, mmm! I’m staring into her icy blue eyes wondering what I’d like to cook for her.

    I wish everyone media would stop tying vegetable gardens to war by calling any vegetable garden a “Victory” garden. Stop!

    If you read this blog, you know vegetable gardening isn’t new or old. Its always been with us and its always been practiced. Its just newfangled to those people who live essentially urban lives and have dispensed with it.

    I think poor editing made Alice look slightly aloof regarding the price of organics. What the show (or Alice) should have emphasized is that we cannot afford not buy local and organic when its possible. Not that she would trade Nikes for grapes!

    We should never get rid of preserving foods, like canning or drying. These methods are an advantage to people. Northerners know about 120 day growing seasons.

    Calling Alice a dreamer, so annoying true or not. Leslie Stahl is not a dreamer? Did she think she’d be making 1.8 mil (wikipedia stat) looking good and reporting when she was a young woman? So many of us are dreamers I suppose, dreaming of the tomato we’re growing outside just like our parents and grandparents and every one before them.

    Its okay, she doesn’t understand, she’s a dreamer, an artist, a fool really. I wonder what Leslie’s most well equipped room looks like. For Alice, with money came a really awesome kitchen.

  16. I don’t know, I thought her questions were fair. She brought up the criticisms that “Joe Six Pack” would have brought up. And she gave Alice Waters the chance to respond.

    I just wish Alice had pointed out that if those stressed out working mothers stopped coddling their kids and expected them to help out in the kitchen and garden to help the family, those moms would have plenty of time to cut up some vegetables for dinner. I am so tired of our society acting like children are supposed to be spoiled rotten little prince and princesses. Those kids in the video clip were enjoying gardening! I bet they would enjoy 20 minutes of quality time with mom in the kitchen each night.

    Making dinner from fresh ingredients doesn’t have to be some sort of gourmet extravaganza. The other night I made vegetable quesadillas with tomato salsa and a spinach salad with corn and a cilantro based dressing. It took me less than 30 minutes. How is that any more time consuming than getting in the car, driving to a fast food place, sitting in the drive through and then driving the now only like-warm food home to your family? I don’t have kids, but if I had a teenager to help me chop the vegetables and rinse the spinach, I could have done the whole thing even faster.

  17. Valerie says:

    Well, Lesley has point that Alice Walker IS living in a different world. I agree with Laura Bee that she could have ditched the wood fireplace and made a breakfast that more average cooks could pull off.

    The truth is, until science can find a way to make farming without artificial pesticides and fertilizers feasible for feeding the world’s population, so-called “organic” food will always be a luxury for the few. I don’t like the term “organic” and here’s why: http://cowbirdsinlove.com/407

    I am perpetually annoyed with the media putting the job of all parenting and domestic work on mothers. What about fathers? That was the main thing that bugged me about Lesley’s reporting. But it’s another topic altogether.

  18. vicki says:

    I confess that I’m turned off more by the ranting against/bashing of these two women than I am of Leslie’s reporting or Alice’s passion. I fail to see how it helps to focus the debate.

  19. Rosella says:

    My feeling is that they each were interesting, from their widely disparate corners. I felt that Alice came off as a dreamer — not practical, not caring very much whether the ordinary family could afford the organic produce — her attitude seemed to be that if you don’t eat this way, you are dull and deserve the poor health that will come to you in your later life. Lesley, on the other hand, was somewhat disingenuous — she can’t be so above it all as not to know that there is a movement toward local organic food and that there are people deeply committed to this cause.

    My own feeling is that I will grow my own tomatoes, lettuce, squash, peppers, eggplants, etc., because I have always done that and will continue to do so until I am unable to keep it up (which may come any day, at my advanced age). I will IF AFFORDABLE, buy organic fruit and vegetables, and will restrict my consumption of meat and poultry of any kind. I am unable to pay $12 for an organically-raised chicken, nor can I pay $5 in the local farmers’ market for 12 eggs from happy hens. While Alice might be able to afford this, I suspect that most ordinary people cannot. And frankly, I thought Lesley’s attitude was sensible on this point.

    But maybe we here are not the typical target audience — I think that we all probably know more than the average person about the risks and/or rewards of this kind of eating. For some people, it is still news that fresh green beans can be prepared in a home kitchen, and need not come from the Jolly Green Giant. HoHoHo.

  20. Phillip M says:

    Calling someone stupid in the headline of your story is pretty rude.

  21. M Robinson says:

    I enjoyed the piece, but kept waiting for Stahl to do something stupid or insulting. I didn’t see it.

  22. Becky says:

    Hmmmm…I think you are quite harsh. It’s all a matter of priorities, in many cases: I *do* tend an organic vegetable garden (not year round, alas; I’m in Iowa), make bread quite frequently, cook almost all our meals from scratch, have FOUR cast iron skillets, and I most certainly did have a hen house (we had 30 chickens) for years and years, and also raised and homeschooled two children.

    What we didn’t have was much money…but as a result of my decision to stay home with the girls, I had LOTS of time, and I put that time to use in ways that you call “affluent.”

  23. Regardless of personal opinions on Leslie or Alice– the show RAISED AWARENESS of gardens and fresh food! Millions of people saw the show. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

    Cameron

  24. vicki says:

    I don’t, but I know a family–who would be considered living just a hair above the poverty level of $$ income–who do exactly what you describe and raised 5 wonderful children–and were/are the happiest people I know.

    They are so busy living their full and rich lives, they spend very little time on a computer and would laugh at the arrogance often expressed on blogs like this.

  25. I disagree Michelle. I found it to make a compelling case for everyone to consider. Stahl was just playing the critic and frankly there are a lot of families that really do have no time between work and family to grow their own food. The show definitely raised awareness. When economic times are hard, people become nostalgic. They long for simplicity. A simpler life.

    I began to consider not using a microwave anymore…

    I’ve been dreaming of starting a edible square foot garden for months now. Yesterday I went to price the lumber to build a few raised beds. Reading this today, confirms what I must do now. Grow food. :)

  26. You are right.

    Every time I go to a NYC bakery with college educated bakers and workers I think, “how the hell did they figure out how to make bread $6 a loaf?

    My Italian baker (quickly disappearing) would sell it for $2.00.

    This problem is systemic. This is what I mean, all these things are the ordinary things of centuries, resold as expensive items because they are out of the industrial system of production. How did we get so damn convoluted? Wait, I think I know that long answer.

  27. Jaqueline,

    If you have soil, save yourself the wood plank money and just make a raised bed without. Its unnecessary and just makes for tidyness. If you got rocks or bricks or whatever (twigs) lying around, use those to form edge, but otherwise plant, do it cheaply.
    Organic vegetable gardening doesn’t need to be expensive.

  28. Maddie says:

    This report made it seem like there’s nothing between organic $4/lb grapes and McDonalds’ happy meals. If I can’t afford a wood fired grill in the kitchen I might as well nuke some Jimmy Dean’s sausage. If you don’t have ten acres, goats and chickens then a pot of basil on the kitchen window is a waste of time.

    I wish Alice had cooked something simpler and I wish Lesley had gone down to the hood to see how urban poor people eat. Then she could have checked out the hills and hollows to see how the rural poor eat, organic before it was trendy.

  29. Barbara says:

    This woman is paid?

  30. Jer says:

    I could not agree more. I don’t have a clue why Michele is so hostile to Lesley Stahl. Whatever her issue might be with her, in this instance they are unwarranted.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    The one thing Stahl said that really bothered me was her claim that it’s impossible to exist without a microwave. That’s utterly ridiculous.

  32. I’m with Vicki and others. I think this rant is off base. We should be ecstatic that 60 Minutes has introduced their huge audience to Alice Waters and her slow cooking movement. So what if Lesley’s reporting was a little lame or that Alice could have chosen a more practical example of slow cooking?

    BTW, I learned to cook “egg in a spoon” in Girl Scouts, but I haven’t thought about it in decades. Maybe it’s time to resurrect this skill next time I wish to impress someone with a great breakfast.

  33. I live without a microwave at home. But at work, along with mini fridge enables good, hot or cold meals at dinner time instead of takeout or yucky warm sandwich. And I save a truckload.

  34. Martha says:

    Wow, you guys. I’m impressed that you care what the script writers on 60-Minutes put on the teleprompters for Leslie or anyone to say.

    Great that Leslie, 60 Minutes and Alice gave the television watching public ANY
    information on cooking, gardening and the other things I care about.

    Martha (No chickens here but plenty of growing, canning, bread baking and home made meals.)

  35. commonweeder says:

    I thought Leslie was irritating too, but imagined that those questions are the ones that are tossed in the face of every food activist. When people complain about the cost of organic food, or even fresh food, I always wonder why no one points out the cost of soda, chips, frozen lean cuisine and all the other junk food that goes past the cashier at the supermarket. What if the money was spent for those was spent on real food instead?

  36. Diane says:

    Why didn’t Stahl just cut the segment down to 30 seconds by saying, “I don’t make dinner, I make reservations”. I really believe that what Alice Waters does is completely lost on her, so of course its a ridiculous segment filled with dumb questions, and then horribly edited. Leave it to 60 minutes to blow the lid off this scandal.

  37. Amy Stewart says:

    I think the problem is that the story was framed around the question of “but isn’t this food elitist and overpriced?”–and it is a choice to tell that story rather than another one.

    In my neighborhood, a Laotian family down the street scratched some gravel out of the yard, stuck some mustard and onion seeds in the ground (the packets sell at the drugstore, walking distance from our neighborhood, for a buck), and surely don’t spend more than five minutes a day tending that little garden. They can do it while the commercials are on and still not miss their shows.

    In the last neighborhood where I lived, same deal. A primarily Mexican-American neighborhood with people growing okra and peppers in postage-stamp sized plots outside their apartments.

    Not to make it all about immigrant families, those are just two examples from my life. The story could have been framed around how incredibly easy and inexpensive it is to grow your own food and enjoy a little fresh organic produce, even if you’re poor and working two jobs, using examples like those.

  38. Brie says:

    I know! I haven’t had a microwave in years and we cook at home all the time, AND eat our leftovers. What a silly thing to say.

  39. Kim says:

    I was hanging on every word Alice had to say, and I didn’t even notice Lesley. I choose not to focus on what was wrong with the piece but on the so many things that were right. I will be seeking out more about and from Ms. Waters, and the piece left me hungry for more gardening, more fresh food, more cooking. Each person who commented has a right to their views, as does the writer of the Rant piece. But all I can think about is Ms. Waters and her gardens and her food.

  40. Ian says:

    One thing I noticed was that Leslie Stahl, who is almost 70, supposedly, has fake blonde hair, but still looks wrinkled in her face, and Alice Waters has some white hair, but is really far more healthy looking and quite a lovely lady.

  41. Don Salamon says:

    After watching the vapid Stahl on O’Reilly, I conclude she is a moronic liberal idiot.

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