It Came From The Library 9: Of Sustainability and Smarm

By: Jonathan Milder

As a cultural phenomenon, backlash generally surfaces at the point when a movement gathers enough force to actually pose a threat to somebody. So it could be taken as a positive sign that an increasingly vociferous backlash is emerging to the sustainability movement these days. This trend first became apparent last year, as some in the food media began to surfeit on locavorism. Now one can discern it in the avalanche of abuse that’s swirled around the sustainability movement’s proxy, Alice Waters, for the last couple months.

To be fair, much recent criticism of Waters is not backlash. It’s coming from fellow travelers whose patience Waters has exhausted. But there’s also an undercurrent of conservatism coursing through much of these Waters wars, an undercurrent most often betrayed in the tenor of the conversation, the ad hominem attacks, the vituperation. Ultimately, one senses that these attacks aren’t really about Alice at all. Or rather, are only about Alice insofar as she can be deployed as an instrument in an ideological battle whose timing is revealingly coincident with the arrival of a new administration and the possibilities for reform that it has opened up. It seems reasonable to expect that the closer the sustainability movement gets to realizing its goals, the more influence it wields, the cozier it gets with the Obama administration, the more desperate and aggressive the backlash that will emerge. Brace yourself, Alice.

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