3. Immigrants. Again, finding the very idea of farming distasteful, Flanagan argues that school gardens are an insult to immigrant kids whose parents just escaped the fields in search of a better life. Well, my aunt was an immigrant who grew up on a less-than-charming pig farm with less-than-charming parents who left the farm to her younger brother, the only male in their brood. So she left everything behind and came to America, where farmland was comparatively cheap. At the age of 81, in the midst of chemotherapy for a brain tumor, she spent her entire last summer out on her tractor. Some people come to America not to leave the farm, but to own it.
4. The diets of American children. Flanagan scoffs at the notion that school gardens are valuable because a lot of city kids grow up in places where they have little access to fresh produce. Venturing briefly outside her life of extreme wealth to check out the supermarkets in L.A.'s Compton, she finds their produce sections quite passable. She has clearly never visited Detroit, where there are no major supermarkets to serve a sprawling city of 900,000 people, many of them far too poor to afford a car. Flanagan also makes the highly insulting claim that the poor eat badly because their lives are so bleak, they need the thrills offered by junk food. Well, almost 18% percent of American kids between 12 and 19 are obese, and many of them will go on to develop diabetes and a host of other diet-related diseases. These are not just poor kids, but middle class and rich kids, too. Our entire culture is hellbent on shoving Coke and chips down our kids' throats, and most American parents, in every economic class, do little to stop it. Any program that counteracts the insane way we feed our kids is not just worthwhile, but positively important. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the appalling numbers of American children who suffer from asthma and allergic rhinitis because they never play in the dirt.
5. Chez Panisse. Flanagan reports that she has experienced "oppressively sanctimonious and conversation-busting service" in Alice Waters' famous restaurant. The fact that she can't resist mentioning it, even though it has nothing to do with her argument, makes me fear that this is the real impetus behind the piece: She's decided to draw and quarter Waters for the insult. (Next time, try eating upstairs in the cafe with the hoi polloi. Food's just as good and atmosphere's more relaxed.)
Flanagan accuses Waters of foisting a "let them eat tarte tatin" attitude on hardscrabble public schools. Naturally, this seems entirely inappropriate to the class-obsessed Flanagan, who worries hysterically that the students in these schools, thus cheated of a proper education in favor of a too-gourmet vision of their futures, will become wards of the taxpayers, "a permanent, uneducated underclass. The state…will have to shoulder them in adulthood."
It's pretty impolitic of Flanagan to borrow even a phrase from Marie Antoinette, because if anyone in this picture resembles that privileged pitiless fool, it's Flanagan herself. But I do like the rallying cry Flanagan has coined and will embrace it.
Let the kids eat tarte tatin! Make sure to let all the kids have a bite!
What's wrong with introducing kids of all classes to beauty and taste in the form of gorgeous plants and wonderful food? How is it so different from having them read Shakespeare and solve algebra problems? Unlike, say, a bag of Doritos and a standardized test, these subjects make us civilized. They help us rise above the "desperate daily scrabble" and wrest new meanings from our lives.
I'd go so far as to say no education is complete without some understanding of plants, soil, food, cooking, the power of the sun, and the cycles of life. If I could, I would send Caitlin Flanagan right back to school to learn them.