Alice Waters, iconic chef and creator of California cuisine at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, on kids and food, climate change and the Obamas.
Natural Vitality Living: What's the best way to get the average person to see the health and unhealthy food crisis we're in?
Alice Waters: I've thought about this a lot. I believe the most effective way of waking people up is just to cook for them. We need to cook very simply and seasonally and really gather those people at the table. I did a project in Washington a few years ago, and we invited senators and congressmen to the table and we cooked from the garden and from the farmers' market. They stayed at the table and they had a conversation. That's the easiest way to do this.
NVL: What's the bottom-line best way to get kids to eat and enjoy healthy food?
AW: I've seen it myself: when kids grow food themselves and cook it, they all want to eat it. And it could be anything from kale and garlic to little salads or chickpeas. They feel empowered by the circumstances of it. They like the taste and they like serving their friends. That's a truth I have discovered. If you engage children in a positive way and if you make them something delicious and it comes with care, they want that.
NVL: You are passionate about kids having access to healthy school lunches.
AW: We should feed all of our children in school and do it for free. I sort of see this as a stimulus package that deals with preventative medicine, sustainable farming, and bringing the children into a sense of their culture, back to their senses. It has been done before, when President Kennedy put physical education in the schools because we weren't physically fit. We spent lots of money then. We built tracks and gymnasiums and hired teachers and made it part of the curriculum of every school in this country. We now have a huge need to teach gastronomy and ecology, and we need to feed all children because we don't want childhood hunger to be an issue for why children aren't learning. We need school reform, and this brings it along with feeding the children.
NVL: Do you see food as related to global warming?
AW: It is unimaginable to me that people could think about global warming without talking about food, because 40 percent of the emissions—the bad kind—come from the wrong sort of farming, ranching and distribution of food around this planet.
So if we were all to be asked to support the people who take care of the land, to buy our food carefully with intention, I believe we could make a dramatic difference. Because once you get into that place of farmers' markets and communities that care about nourishment, you begin to make different decisions about everything you do. It teaches you a different set of values. And so I may end up walking to the farmers' market instead of driving my car to the supermarket. I bring all my bags to pick up the groceries; I don't use any of the wrappings in the farmers' markets—I just put the vegetables right in my basket. All of these are contributors to the big picture. And I think it's the easy and delicious way to help people understand deeply the frightening possibilities of global warming and to feel empowered to do something about it.
NVL: What did it mean when Michelle Obama broke ground on the south lawn of the White House a few years ago to plant that esteemed institution's very first organic vegetable garden?
AW: I think that Michelle Obama putting her shovel in the garden with a lot of children is probably the first time that we've taken the ie out of foodie. We've all of a sudden started to look to the land and connect where our food comes from. I really believe that the president and his family care about how we eat as a nation, and maybe we're moving slowly toward that ultimate decision to feed all children at schools.