In the food world, at least, labor has replaced scarcity as the definition of a luxury good. It’s the labor of hand-rearing; of organic farming; of hunting, fishing, and foraging; of dehydrating and canning and pressing and distilling and all the rest. If artisanal is the new gourmet, it is because that which is conspicuously consumed in the former are the hours that highly educated craftsmen have spent bent over a stove, a still, or a deep woods trove of matsutake mushrooms.
It is easier to see that when you read about Patterson scraping lichen off trees, but this labor is part of the luxury offered by Waters too. And that’s somewhat problematic for her politics. She cooks peasant food, but only rich people can afford it. Even her recipes can fall flat for the average home cook, since we are generally not cooking with the peak-of-perfection produce that Waters uses.
The conceit that farm-to-table cuisine comes straight to the diner unmediated by the kitchen obscures the enormous cost and expense associated with producing such food in the field and pasture. If nothing else, places like Coi and Noma do us a service by making those costs more apparent.
Whatever its flaws, Waters’ philosophy offers a coherent vision of what food is and what it should be. Waters’ is a didactic cuisine, a moral project that instructs us on the correct way to procure, cook, and eat food: support the local farmer, treat animals humanely, plant gardens for underprivileged children, luxuriate in vegetables, scorn processed food. It is explicitly value-laden and political.