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July 25, 2007

"Guilt-Free Food" Story Chat

Wanna talk about Alice Levitt's provocative op-ed article in the food section? Here's where you can do it...


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I thought this was mostly satire, until I got to the whiny "Keep your politics off my plate" at the end. And while I believe "localvores" and the like can get out of control with their pretensions, at least they care about where their food comes from and the effect it has on the world around them. For the record: rinsing off a piece of pesticide-doused fruit doesn't do anything to counteract the effect the pesticides had on the piece of earth they were sprayed on or on the people who worked around these pesticides. (Rinsing doesn't necessarily get all the pesticide off that piece of fruit, either.) As for not caring about the conditions factory farmed animals are raised in because you'd feel less guilty putting an abused animal out of its misery than butchering an unabused one? Well, I was hoping that was satire- oh, so cutting edge! Judging from this piece, the writer is simply an asshole. To re-word a popular phrase just a bit, you are what you write.

P.S. Right now I'm sort of wishing Alice Levitt gets e-coli from some of that hastily raised and butchered meat of which she's so fond.


If you think that vermont smoke and cure bacon is the best you've ever had you have no right talking about quality trumping local. There are far better bacons out there. How about Benton's in Tennesee? The whole point of local food is buying it fresh. You probably never go to the farmers market and get that fresh picked apple that is better than getting one sprayed with not only pestacides, but fungacides, wax and petroleum. To make it look so shiny and nice in the grocerie store. I think the whole point of this artical was to get people mad, and it worked.


One reason to eat locally produced foods, which Alice Levitt ignores, is to reduce the fossil fuels burned to get to the food to us. Driving (or better yet, biking) the few miles to my closest apple orchard is way better for the planet than buying apples that were shipped from Washington state, or farther away. Oh, and they taste way better, too. Plus, my money is supporting my neighbors and stays in Vermont. As an aside, I think anyone who drinks Fiji water (which really is bottled in Fiji!) is insane. I can't buy Vermont-grown bananas, but I can buy great Vermont spring water.


When I first read this, I checked my calendar to make sure I hadn't slept through summer, fall and winter and woken up on 4/1. Then I re-read it, thinking I must be missing the joke. Then I thought, doesn't 7D have editors? How would they let such a pointless, ignorant and poorly written piece be printed? My only conclusion is that they want to artificially stir up some controversy. They are reaching for the passionate back and forth in the letters section that some eagerly await each week. Oh well, whatever moves papers.
Let's not get too up in arms, though.
There's not really any point in arguing. Levitt's points are convoluted and childish. She obviously has a chip on her shoulder (kind of like the new burlington BBQ owner), and she just wrote this to piss people off.
Don't give her, or Seven Days the satisfaction of flooding them with letters listing off statistics and facts. They don't seem to care about such things.

Ken Picard

Gosh, Alice, what a hipper-than-thou contrarian you are! No sense worrying yourself about those scurrying little critters who suffer through unspeakable cruelty their whole lives, with their feces mucking up the watersheds and ruining life for the locals. Just as long as the food they're turned into (the animals, not the locals) is moist and succulent when it arrives on your fork. After all, isn't that why all living creatures were put on this earth in the first place, to get crammed down your pie hole? Hell, why not eat 'em while they're still alive and wriggling? Nothing like chow that puts up a good fight before sliding down the old gullet. Here's a bumper sticker for your Hummer: "Vegetables: They're what food eat."

By the way, I'm so relieved to know you're not giving yourself a moment's indigestion worrying about those pathetic brown people who pick your food for sub-legal wages and then develop hideous tumors and give birth to deformed babies from all the pesticides they've inhaled. Only whiny, effete foodies with tourniquet-tight sphincters give a passing thought to those sorry losers unlucky enough to not be born as rich Americans.

Compassion? Concern for others? Big-picture thinking about how our daily decisions affect our neighbors, our children and ourselves in the long run? Gah! Pure, unadulterated pussy talk! just ladle yourself another heaping portion of goose pate, and don't skimp on the cruelty! It's torturiffic!

Now, if you'll excuse me, a group of us dour vegan localvores are going to fire bomb a McDonald's and then gang-fellate an organic veggie farmer. Bon appetit!

Lisa Crean

As my fellow writers know, it's rare that I find myself speechless. But here I do. So I'll second Ken's eloquent rant, say a prayer for Alice's misplaced soul (maybe it's at the bottom of a discarded bucket of Extra Spicy Chicken Fingers?), and retire to a melting glacier in Greenland to meditate on this all.

Does Alice's tone sound a little "Let-Them-Eat-Cake," with a generous side order of rage? Whatever happened to that Marie Antoinette chick, anyway?


Tyler -- when Ms. Levitt pitched the story, I didn't know what the exact contents would be. I did know that she thinks my food coverage is overly-politically correct and too focused on ethics rather than the taste of the food. A couple of other people have intimated the same thing.

While food ethics and environmentalism are topics of extreme importance to me, many of the people on our editorial staff thought it might be interesting to hear some opposing arguments. I agree with them. We did not solicit this piece to "artificially stir up anything," we accepted a pitch from someone who expressed a genuine gripe with my approach.

I'm not sure what motivates you to say we at Seven Days don't care about "statistics and facts." We printed something written by a freelancer in which our particular brand of coverage was openly criticized. If you've been following the section since I started working at the paper last October, you'll have seen lots of articles about organic farming, using organ meats instead of wasting them, local folks who make great food, and the odd piece on politics and agriculture. It's this liberal bent that annoyed Ms. Leavitt in the first place, so I'm not sure what leads you to think that we/I don't care about these issues.


Suzanne- I don't know, dude- but from where I'm standing you vs. the venerable A. Levitt does not seem like a fair fight at all. It's like you hired the President of the 8th grade pro-life club to debate a senior officer of Planned Parenthood. Wash off the fruit- it's as good as organic! Make the animal into a non-entity, and eat the meat guilt-free! Such dazzling thought! Is Levitt really the best you can do? She sounds to me like a hippie child throwing a delayed temper tantrum against her organic and free range-obsessed parents. I should know, as I was once that child myself. It's true- free-range chicken is not so tender as chicken that's spent its' life in a box, and seeking out organic produce seems like such a pain in the ass when there's good-looking, cheap, pesticided stuff there for the taking. We are free to consume such adulterated products. What we shouldn't be free to do is ignore the effects consuming such products has, as Levitt seems to think we should do.

Lisa Crean

One more thought for Alice: considerably less stray Chinese melamine winds up in the Vermont-produced food I enjoy buying and consuming. I don't have to rely on the corrupt Chinese government or the underfunded US FDA to sniff out the contamination--I can look the farmer in the eye, visit his premises and decide for myself.

But perhaps Alice enjoys plasticky chemical additives. It sure keeps the oncology biz booming. Bon appetit, Alice! See the rest of you at the farmers' market.


Hi Simeon -- I'd like to think I could hold my own in a food philosophy debate! Alice Levitt was the first person to come forward and offer a contrary view. But I'd certainly love to see a philosophy professor or economics guru offer a skillfully argued piece against all the things I hold dear.

In a long treatise I wrote on the subject back in my college days, my first argument was that our food choices dramatically impact our fellow humans (via the environment, in some cases), and thus we ought to make thoughtful, responsible choices. Kind of like when we're driving.

This belief informs my gastronomic decisions. That said, I think I eat some of the finest food in the world on a regular basis. It's not that I think Vermont has a monopoly on good farmers or producers -- although the small-batch, made-from-scratch ethos we seem to embrace can lead to tastier food -- it's mainly that lots of foods taste better when they're fresh. And meat, eggs and dairy products are more flavorful when they come from free-range, properly-fed animals. I hardly ever have to choose between gustatory pleasure and my values.

When I do buy products from across the globe, they are chosen very carefully. I invest in things that I could not get closer to home if I tried. An example is 12-year-old balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. Same goes for the occasional banana or avocado. As for big, sexy blueberries...we grow 'em here, so I wait 'till they're in season.


WOW. Some of these responses are exactly the kind of vitriol that offer an open invitation to all the poor, unenlightened, red state CONVENTIONAL VEGETABLE EATERS (the horror!) and McDonald's patrons to sling epithets such as "elitist", "self-righteous", and much worse at our self-contained, luxurious food utopia here in the Morality Mountains. I value locally grown food, "responsible" consumption habits, and haven't eaten red meat since age ten, when our cows mysteriously disappeared back in Ohio and the freezer was full of meat and I got to thinkin'. However, I still have a goddamn sense of humor about food, still value and respect personal choice in all its messy incarnations, and actually enjoyed the article in question. In this atmosphere of uptight, image driven, perversely intolerant and single-minded "awareness", Levitt's article (whether serious or humorous in intent) is as refreshing as a lard-based, artificially flavored Wendy's Frosty on a hot summer day (I never eat Wendy's, but I'll starve before looking down my nose at those who do.) I love living in Burlington, but this kind of attitude seems so counter-productive and isolating.


Suzanne, I didn't say, nor did I mean to imply that I thought you didn't care about the issues. What I was getting at, is that was surprised to see such an off-base, groundless diatribe in your paper.
You say you didn't know what the contents of the piece would be when she submitted the idea. Surely you read the piece before it was printed, and saw that it was nothing more than a rant with no real informative purpose, and no real reasoning behind any of the arguments. It served only to make Levitt look uninformed and stubborn, and as a magnet for heated responses.
I know you care about food issues, and that article in question can't be taken to represent the leanings of 7D. I'm just bewildered as to why such and ill-executed opinion piece was allowed to take up feature space, when it belongs in the letters or on a blog.
Maybe I was just being cynical when I said 7D was trying to attract angry letters. Sorry.

Eric Coker

This isn't the first anti-localvore rant I've seen. Something similar was in the New York Times a few weeks ago. It was infinitely more well written with arguements predictably based on the globalization is good belief. I think these rants are a good thing. Obviously the few percentage of people who really give a shit about where their food comes from is a rapidly growing minority, and those who don't want to give a shit are worried that someday they will be forced to. Well, good. Alice is deluding herself that politics have nothing to do with her plate. Ever hear of the farm bill? The politics is set up so it is easier to get cruelly created meat and pesticide laden apples than sustainably grown meats and veggies. Just because she ignores the politics doesn't mean they aren't there. The beauty of the eat local movement is that we are diluting the effects of the farm bill by overpowering the subsidies on industrial food. We are creating a market that does not need a farm bill to survive. If anything, the local food movement will result in less of a need for politics on the plate.

Where can I get a "Gang-fellate an Organic Farmer" bumber sticker?


Hi Blake -- I appreciate your comment. You sound like a thoughtful and non-judgemental person.

I think what's getting folks so riled about about Alice's article is that it's clear she knows animals are suffering (in certain cases, much akin to torture) so that they can be made into patties and nuggets, she professes not to care. I think there's a difference between treating yourself to a Frosty every once in a while, anti-globalization or not, and saying that you don't mind if a calf gets its legs broken as long as the veal tastes good. Perhaps people find that similar to a statment like "I don't care if the 5-year old Chinese kid goes blind, I just gotta have my Nike's."

One problem is, even things like pesticide-sprayed apples are causing significant suffering. Farm workers have died from complications related to pesticide exposure, and children at schools near fields that are regularly sprayed fall ill. In Africa, extremely young children work long days picking cacao beans, and are whipped when they don't pick fast enough. For many people, knowing these things makes it harder to have a sense of humor about grapes and Mars bars.

I agree that vitriol doesn't help the situation or change minds. Reading as much as I do about the issues behind our food supply and striving every day to make thoughtful choices for the sake of people I'll never meet (including future generations), I can understand where the anger is coming from, however.


Tyler -- Thanks for your thoughtful response to my response to your original comment!

Looking back at the paper, it occurred to me that this wasn't overtly labeled as an opinion piece (in order to contrast it with our more traditional variety of features). Perhaps that would have helped?

Other than that, I'm afraid I can't respond without going into an inappropriate amount of detail (for this venue) about the editorial process and circumstances surrounding this particular piece.

Thanks again for being so measured, and I hope that you keep reading despite your feelings about this article.

Bruce Miller

What a genial genius this Levitt.

How refreshing to read an honest gourmand's appreciation for real food, with good old fashioned poisons and subjugation of animals.

You pretentious whiners who do not understand this piece need to sit zazen in Shelburne and afterwards let the master give you a nice potchy upside the head.

Levitt's writing reminds me of Twain, and in this case of his wonderful essay on the triumph of American food in his faux-crotchety "A Tramp Abroad":

It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one--a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive--as follows:

Radishes. Baked apples, with Brook-trout, from Sierra cream. Nevadas. Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Lake-trout, from Tahoe. Frogs. Sheepshead and croakers from American coffee, with real cream. New Orleans. American butter. Black-bass from the Mississippi. Fried chicken, Southern style. American roast beef. Porterhouse steak. Roast turkey, Thanksgiving Saratoga potatoes. style. Broiled chicken, American style. Cranberry sauce. Celery. Hot biscuits, Southern style. Roast wild turkey. Woodcock. Hot wheat-bread, Southern Canvasback-duck, from style. Baltimore. Hot buckwheat cakes. Prairie-hens, from Illinois. American toast. Clear maple Missouri partridges, broiled. syrup. Possum. Coon. Virginia bacon, [...]


Hi Bruce! I'm all for eating any of the things Twain listed (especially the Porterhouse steak and the duck, with a side of hot buckwheat cakes). Luckily for him, when he was traveling around the U.S. and eating those delectable dishes, none of the foods were sprayed with pesticides, irradiated, nor genetically modified. And the man was never subjected to the horror that is a casserole made with gloppy Campbell's cream of 'shroom soup with canned fried onions on top. Nor did he live to see the advent of processed "cheeze food"...I don't think he would have approved. Plus, before you pick on those who care about where their food comes from, note that Twain was very specific about the provenance of his prairie hens and his bacon.

Yeah I know, I'm a killjoy cause I take some extra time and spend some extra money to get local, ethically-raised products, but my dinner guests certainly don't complain! It's not like I'm serving them bulgher and tofu. They feast on fat roasted fowl, the freshest possible salads and homemade bread.

But also, wasn't Huck Finn about a boy who followed his own moral compass, even though he was raised in a culture that was permissive of slavery? About doing what you think is right, even if others tell you to relax and accept the status quo?

Twain once said about animal testing, "I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't.... The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further."

Just because someone is a humorist doesn't mean he's not a moralist. I don't think that Twain would have accepted the "good old-fashioned poisons and animal subjugation" that you referred to.


What makes for good reporting, especially in an alternative weekly paper, is what shakes up the status quo. I respect the journalistic credo to present a balanced picture of any issue, but Seven Days has every right to be unapologetic about its focus on local food news as it is a local paper. Alice Levitt's article “Guilt-Free” is not news. Her opinions are the unconscious or at least unstated opinions of the majority of America’s population. We hear this opinion all day long in every form of food advertising there is: this tastes great, so buy it for the taste. We hear it from every business who prints ‘made in China’ as small as they can on their products and then only because they have to. We hear it in conventional supermarkets that never write ‘grown in China’ on their signs because they don’t have to.
I am glad that 7d is helping balance out this picture with news about where our food comes from and what implications that has for the world at large. If you do not care about that then you do not need to read articles in the food section of the paper because they won’t teach you anything about your own smug ignorance you don’t already know.
In an agricultural state within a globalized world keeping politics off your plate is impossible. One can only choose what kind of politics to put on their plates, and if you don’t like the taste of your choices, you should keep your mouth shut to protect those delicate little taste buds of yours rather than trying to convince everyone else that their delicious local grape cherry tomatoes are sour.


Kudos to Ken Picard for ripping Levitt a new asshole. I am disappointed in Seven Days for printing such a distasteful and poorly written article. I also call into question Levitt's own tastebuds, which seem to prefer chemically treated produce and factory-farmed meat to fresh, unprocessed foods. Does she really consider Kentucky Fried Chicken to be "food?" How about those Dippin' Dots?

And forget about the fact that she doesn't care about inhumanely treated animals. How dare she excuse herself from caring about the rest of humanity? Somehow, living in America makes her "superior" to the people who suffer to deliver her pesticide-loaded bananas for breakfast. "Dig in and feel privileged," she says. What a truly disgusting, uncaring human being. Ever wonder why other countries are less fortunate, Levitt? Perhaps because people who might possibly be able to make the tiniest bit of difference just don't care. Resources do not just "abound," as she so simply puts it.

As a vegan of seven years, I've never eaten irish moss. I'm not even sure what that is. The environment is my priority, yet I do happen to "like food." Perhaps our ideas of what constitutes "food" are slightly different.


Ms. Levitt makes two very misconcieved and/or illogical points.

1) The source does not trump the product in importance.

The source (location, specific climate, growing conditions, etc) determines the raw product. Then treatment and handling it got along the way to be processed and brought to your store matters. Did she forget good cooking? Because as far as I remember, you can buy whatever the hell you please, but the ultimate shame is to let it rot in your refrigerator!

Importance of what, taste? If we limit ourselves to taste, we will easily be decieved to eat anything, including food which is not nutritious (this should be an obvious oxymoron). If we explore the relationship of taste and our mangement of the earth, a new worldview can open up. By developing a local food culture, our food system in VT is much more rich than other parts of the world.

Needless to say, there is no lack of creative diversified crap food out there mainly coming from the same monoculutres the Farm Bill supports.

Side note: just because it's organic doesn't mean it's the holy grail, obviously. Big organic agricultre has it's fair share of problems as well.

News flash: if we ever must depend on local foods guess what we would be smart to plant more of rutabaga! Put them in your root celler and then you can store solar energy all winter long. As for radishes, there are a whole bunch of varieties that can make your foodie head spin.

2) Cry for the honor student before the hooker.


This does not make sense, unless she's saying we should feel even worse for the humanely raised meat? Why are we crying if we're to be guilt-free? The way I see it there's two ways to confront the truth about what we know about our food system: confront the truth and try to overcome it or simply ignore it/pretend it doesn't exist. I choose the first so as to avoid that lingering guilt and ease of life and happy taste buds. As Ralph Nader repeats and his mother taught: tastes good huh? Tastes good for what? For you're mouth? What about your liver or you other internal organs? Truth be told there are people who find comfort at all levels of meat eating.

Any idiot can say yeay McDonalds, tastes so damn good! Even I can say that. And I don't consider myself to be entirely idiotic. So we're a little elitest. Get off our backs! We can still know food and be environmentally responsible.

Here's a good article:

Anyways, while she may think that once in a while us affluent Amerkans need to substitute a meal with cereal, the reality about poverty is that it's cyclical in nature, and that over a 10 year period 40% of the general population will experience poverty, where they'd be generally happy I assume, to eat a bowl of cereal.

Likewise with that abovementioned link: what a great way to be humbled and still taste the great fruits of this earth. Most people find eating local a challenge and a journey to the source of their food, which takes precedent over conventionally learned taste.


yea....u go guys!!!!!!!!!!

Guilt free food, lol. Unless you're a Vegan or something I don't see that happening.

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