Alice Waters and Montana’s Ameya Preserve: Slow Food uber alles?

The following is by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, who writes the LivingSmall blog from Livingston, Montana; she is the author of the novel Place Last Seen (read the first chapter).

Alice Waters finally responded to the questions I raised here about her involvement with the Ameya Preserve. Of course, she didn’t respond to me or to Ethicurean, but to the Wall Street Journal.

Five hundred grand — that’s what Alice Waters sold us out for, reports the Journal: "Ms. Waters says she signed onto the project because Mr. Dokken agreed to pledge $500,000 to Slow Food Nation, an organization she founded: ‘I wanted the money for Slow Food.’" (The article is free for now; there’s a bootleg reposting here should it get walled off.) [Nov. 29 update: The Journal has published a correction that Dokken gave Slow Food Nation $100,000 and promised waters another $400,000 under the terms of an unsigned contract.]

Let’s recall what the stated aim of the Slow Food Nation gathering in San Francisco is: "Slow Food Nation will show how food and agriculture are interwoven with the larger issues of the environment, health, education, creating community, the global economy and long-term sustainability."

That is, unless you live in Livingston, Montana — in that case you can kiss community and long-term sustainability goodbye. If you live in Livingston, Montana, I guess you should just be grateful that Alice is taking money from the first developer to bring big gates to your town, the developer who claims to be "preserving" more land than he actually owns while refusing to put any of the acreage into legally binding conservation easements, the developer who has publicly insulted the people of your town and accused those of you who question him of being driven by "class envy."

Although the Ameya people have trumpeted the arts amenities they’re bringing to Livingston, including a summer-music series curated by Peter Oundjian of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and dinosaur digs led by Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies, as well as the cooking school and restaurant "directed" by Alice Waters, it is unclear what access the public will have to these amenities. And while Ameya claims it will help the local community by building Habitat for Humanity homes, or contributing to the local public high school, neither of those claims ameliorate the sheer arrogance of their attitude toward our community.

We have an arts community already. We have famous and not-so-famous writers, actors, painters, movie producers and musicians who live here. We also have plumbers, carpenters, fishing guides, old hippies, telecommuting IT professionals and all kinds of folks. What we don’t have, and what we don’t want, is a gated development of rich people who descend on us for a few weeks a year demanding "amenities." Those people can go over to the Yellowstone Club south of Bozeman if that’s what they want. Or to Aspen. Or Telluride. Or Jackson Hole. Or any of the other ruined "destination resorts" of the West. We’re not a "destination resort." We’re a real town.

But hey, it’s OK, because Alice will get her Slow Food Nation. In San Francisco. You know, where all the cool people live.

Because if you live in Livingston, it’s not enough that you might grow your own garden, or buy grass-fed beef or organic lamb or eggs from your neighbor ranchers, or support the Corporation for the Northern Rockies Farm-to-Restaurant Campaign. It’s not enough even that you might show up at local food events like the Lutheran Church’s annual Lutefisk and Ham dinner (local, slow — and if you’re not Norwegian, kind of scary). Not enough that you might actually go out and hunt and kill and field dress and butcher your own meat for the winter (what do you bet there won’t be any hunting allowed in Ameya — not even in the two sections of public land in the middle of the development?). Nope. It’s not Slow Food Nation, so shove over and let Alice Waters show you how to do it right.

Are we the cultural equivalent of Wade Dokken’s carbon offsets? He thinks he can "offset" the ecological damage that 300 enormous and mostly empty second homes will do to crucial elk and bear habitat by planting trees somewhere else. What are we? The collateral damage that Alice thinks she can offset by supporting Slow Food Nation?

The interior west has always been a place for people from the coasts to come and extract assets — whether that’s trees or gold or oil or in our case, development dollars. Alice, like some latter-day carpetbagger, has managed to extract 500 grand by helping to sell a piece of land I don’t think she’s ever even bothered to visit.

This is the second time in less than a year that Alice Waters has put Slow Food Nation above communities of actual Americans on the ground. First, she stood by as Carlo Petrini insulted the hard-working farmers of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and now she’s sold out the people of a town she’s never even visited, a town with a real and vibrant community life that will not be enhanced by the "amenities" enjoyed by a bunch of separatist wealthy people up behind a gate in Bullis Creek.

Who’s next?


11 Responsesto “Alice Waters and Montana’s Ameya Preserve: Slow Food uber alles?”

  1. sam says:

    I knew there was something about Alice that wasn’t quite right. Thanks for this article.

  2. Peter aka Nosher of the North says:

    I guess in the end, everyone has their price, and eventually they will sell.

    I just hope I don’t…

    Too bad for Alice.

  3. Kim says:

    Great piece. You folks in Livingston have every right to be angry. Vacation homeowners and part-time residents provide surprisingly little economic boon to communities after the initial construction, as I’ve heard it, and the State of Montana has a heck of a time getting them to pay their taxes.

    I will also be interested to see what happens to hunting access. I would be surprised if they allowed any hunting on their private land, but I don’t think they can restrict hunting on public land! I really hope not. May the deer much all their landscaping!

  4. Kim says:

    Eh… much=munch

  5. Kei says:

    This is just appalling, and it’s the perfect example of high-minded liberal intentions gone awry. It’s really too bad. I feel like the movement for local, organic food is more of a consumerist notion in big cities; whereas in smaller communities, it’s more about halting the decline of rural America and using food as a way of rebuilding connections that have gotten lost through urban- and suburbanization. Very depressing stuff.

  6. Excellent post. This is exactly why I won’t be renewing my Slow Food membership. It does seem to have some good programs, but it really does have an elitist bent to it –as does Queen Alice — in many ways, things that its leaders seem to justify because they are dedicated to “slow food.”

    They can keep their festivals in Italy and San Francisco. I’ll stick with my CSA in Valencia, Pennsylvania.

  7. Eek… $500,000. That’s a lot of moola. The Devil tempts and the great have fallen. Sad.

  8. Nicole says:

    Dokken may be able to buy off folks like Alice Waters and countless others, but he can’t buy Mother Nature. Ameya Preserve is being built on (or very near) the Suce Creek fault scarp. MSU – Bozeman Professor Dave Lageson states, “It’s just one seismic belt after another.” He’s trying to convince Montanans that earthquakes can really happen here. “I’m kind of amazed at the lack of understanding or just even acceptance of the fact that this is earthquake country,” commented Lageson. “Most Montanans just don’t consider this to be a seismically active region. That always amazes me.” Maybe Dokken doesn’t recall the Hebgen Quake of 1959, or maybe he thinks his gated community is exempt from earthquakes in Montana, despite the evidence that major earthquakes have occured there in the past 10,000 years. What Dokken needs to buy is a clue.

  9. Jan says:

    Similar to Ameya Preserve building on or near several geologic faults, they are also building in a very fire-prone landscape. Alice, before you buy, you would be well served to learn something about fire ecology in the area. Look at all the juniper and Douglas fir colonizing grassland habitats in the Bullis Creek and adjacent Strickland Creek drainages. Also, look at Ameya’s vegetation and note all the dead and dying limber pine Douglas fir. That area is over due for a good fire. As a Californian, Alice should be well aware of the fire hazards.

    Anyone else comtemplating taking the bait on Ameya Preserve should be very, very careful. Team Ameya happily will take your money and run. You’ll be stuck holding the bag. Well, maybe not. I suspect The rest of us taxpayers will be bailing you out.

  10. Philip says:

    Sadly this is all such schadenfreude.

    Alice Waters is merely the most visible- and velnerable public figure available for attack in what is a local land use battle.

  11. Bonnie P. says:

    Phil — I disagree. Schadenfreude is defined as deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. I think what most people are feeling in this case is disappointment in learning that their idol has feet chained with bundles of cash. The sustainable food movement — of which land use and environmental awareness is an intrinsic part — has few enough heroes that we can’t really afford any to opt out. It’s as if Michael Pollan announced he were becoming Wal-Mart’s organic marketing adviser.