Let me introduce (or reintroduce) you to Alice Waters, renowned chef, food activist, and author. As one of the most influential people in the food, we have her to thank for her activism to highlight the slow food movement and a public advocate for a return to access to fresh, sustainable food. Noted as the “mother of American cooking,” her restaurant Chez Panisse has been ranked as one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” over the last four decades. I had an opportunity to speak with Ms. Alice Waters after her keynote address at the Natural Products Expo East and it was a delightful conversation filled with wisdom. We discussed a return to real food in the homes, quality time with family and friends, and how to encourage kids to develop healthy food habits.
How would you say green living as a whole and not just aspects of food, but everyday living feeds into redeveloping our personal ecosystem?
I guess the end of my speech really says all about what I think. That when you live your life in a certain way, it affects other people. And that’s how we’re going to make change. It’s like how Ghandi made change. He became the change he wanted to make and he demonstrated that with the way he lived his life. And I think we’re at that place where we know what’s good for us. We’ve have thousands of years since the beginning of civilization and it has have been telling us that we need to sit down with our family and friends and have dinner. That we need to eat food that’s durable and sustainable. That we need to buy from the markets that are nearby. That less is more; We can accumulate a lot of stuff that’s not enough for everyone. And all of this comes from a deep teaching that’s kind of inside of us. It’s 60 years of fast food nation can’t eliminate it and it feels like it has, because they’ve been so good with their indoctrination. And in fact it’s still there; We’re hardwired for another kind of life. And we just have to find it again, and when we find it, we want to live it. It’s not hard to do, It’s why i get in that place of a delicious revolution because it’s innocent.
Do you think programs that were established 40 years ago like food stamps and such. I theorize that they are actually the ones who created food desserts?
I think that they probably did. I think people need to be encouraged in ways that are very different from the message from the government. I mean after 9/11, the message was go out and shop, that’s gonna help everybody get a sense of the economy’s return. But it‘s so perverse to think that we are not really encouraging people, to think locally, to focus on their stoops, to encourage small farmers, to figure out economic ways so they can make a living. What better ways is there then supplying foods for the schools? I mean that’s 20% of the kids are in school. And if all the farmers with schools could have that criteria for the buying of food from local and sustainable people, I mean it could really change the food systems overnight in this country. But we have to be willing to think, I want to say radically but it’s not radically, we have to think logically. We have to look back to the models that really worked, and I am not talking about going back to the sort of drudgery of ma and pa on a piece of land. You know, having to do it all themselves, we have to invent farming differently. The way we do that is by making farms in our schools and experimenting and talking about it. And it’s kind of an endless and beautiful discussion we could have.
Do you have a particular view on gmo vs. non-gmo. I just returned from the state of Iowa, I was invited by the Soy Association to tour some farms and be educated on all the wonder of their industry and there was a conversation about gmo vs. non-gmo. So do you have a personal viewpoint since that seems to be such a big focal point?
It’s a very big important thing. We are talking about the seeds that gives us life. To imagine a company that wants to buy those seeds, patent those seeds, alter those seeds and and sell them back to us, it’s criminal. And it’s really a place that we need to go for social justice. I mean it’s the bottom line of it. Seed saving has happened around this world since the beginning of time. We give seeds to our friends, we don’t hoard them; we share them. And that’s the way that we’re gonna maintain bio-diversity. We need to keep the planet alive. And just the whole idea of sharing seeds teaches about generosity and communication and we need that too, aside from something that’s incredibly nourishing.
In the past days and even now, how would you encourage kids to adapt to this notion of slow food? Because I am the oldest of six kids and most of them have come back to me and say that “You know what, I’m not gonna have fast foods anymore.” Which is bizarre and I’m thinking that maybe I’m setting a good example. Yet there are some people and parents who are really resistant to that notion.
I am not resistant to the idea of cooking a hotdog or a hamburger once in a while. But want to know where the bun come from, I want to know where the hotdog comes from. I want to know what’s in it in detail. I want to know what grass fed farm produced the meat for this hotdog. I want to know where the tomatoes come from for ketchup. I want to know the whole thing, I want to know where it comes from. But I think the place of slow food is about tastiness. Now, we’re trying to get kids to eat vegetables, but if they aren’t tasty, they don’t want to eat them. But if it is they are tasty, they do eat them. And I see this at the edible schoolyard in Berkley with teenagers. If they grow the food themselves and they cook it, they eat it all. And We’re talking about kale, but tasty kale with garlic and olive oil, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about somebody who doesn’t know how to cook. Thinking that I need to have vegetables and just chopping up a whole lot of them, that’s the kind of hippy food that I could grew up on and I don’t want to eat it anymore. It didn’t taste good to me.
I don’t want to eat brown rice just because it’s brown rice but now, I know how to cook brown rice. And it’s just delicious and I wonder why I’m eating white rice ever. I just think it’s fantastic. You hardly even don’t need anything but a little salt and pepper. So it’s a matter of learning how to cook and it’s about doing things that don’t take any time because they’re just so tasty right off the branch, who needs to do anything but slice up that tomato.
What is your favorite healthy food? Or your favorite like simple recipes?
I have so many. It’s something that I do, I have this wonderful whole wheat bread and I toast it and sometimes I grill it in my fireplace. And then I rub it with garlic and then I drizzle olive oil on it. And sometimes I put just wilted kale or sliced tomatoes; it’s like a little crostini. But one of the the delicious things of Chez Panisse that I do all the time is take taking a big bunch of mint and sometimes lemon verbena , I put it in a pot and pour hot water over it. Like tea, I make a lemon verbena mint tea and nothing else. Just hot water and mint and then I just pour it in a glass and I drink that at the end of a meal and I love it.