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Q & A: Alice Waters, US food activist and founder of Chez Panisse restaurant

Matilda Lee

19th June, 2009

Alice Waters on dining with the Dalai Lama, edible schoolyards and life in Berkeley, USA

Can you describe a typical day?
First thing in the morning, I take a walk with a friend to clear my head and plan out my day. When I return home, I drink a café au lait, read the newspaper and take phone calls. Then I drive over to Chez Panisse [Berkeley, California] at around 11:30am for tasters with the chefs and cooks, perhaps followed by a lunch meeting in the café. Dinner is usually at my house, with friends and family; we cook together and share a glass of wine or two. I love old films from the 1930s and watch one or two classics every evening.

What book or film would you recommend to all politicians?
To learn more about industrial agriculture and our current food system, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Jonathan Kozol’s books on the US public school system, particularly The Shame of the Nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America, have had a profound influence on my work.

When are you most happy?
I’m most happy when I’m sitting around the table with loved ones, stoking my fireplace and cooking over the open hearth.

What makes you angry?
It’s upsetting to me when people don’t understand the centrality of food to the rest of our lives, and when they don’t see that the choices we make about what we eat not only impact our own wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of our fellow humans and planet.

Where do you live and why?
I have lived in Berkeley, California, since my twenties because it’s a place where many people share my values. It’s a university town with a great cinema, wonderful used bookstores and incredible farmers’ markets.

What is your favourite meal and made by whom?
A Parsi feast prepared by my dear friend and cookbook author Niloufer Ichaporia King.

What causes do you most actively support and why?
I firmly believe that every American child who attends public [state] school should have the right to a nutritious, organic, seasonal lunch. Beyond that, I believe in a concept I call Edible Education, which has been put into practice at The Edible Schoolyard (ESY), a programme of the Chez Panisse Foundation. It’s a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom for urban public school students at the Martin Luther King Jr Middle School in Berkeley. At ESY, students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce.

What’s the most touching praise you’ve ever received about your restaurant?
Perhaps the biggest honour of my career was when the Dalai Lama shared a meal with me at Chez Panisse.


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