Alice in Wonderland

A conversation with Alice Waters on the 35th anniversary of Chez Panisse.  


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I caught up with Alice Waters recently one late morning in Berkeley, California as she boiled a couple of eggs. I'd asked her to name two or three things she is most proud of 35 years after opening her restaurant Chez Panisse.

"Oh, I don't know," she demurred.

"Alice, I can tell you what they are, but it has to come from you."

No one has done more to transform the way things are grown, cooked, and eaten in America than Alice. We had met a few times over the past five years and I have always been struck by the contrast between Alice's shyness and the force of her intellect and influence.

"Oh, alright," she said at last. "My project in the schools—The Edible Schoolyard, which has led to the school lunch initiative."

In 1994, Alice started The Edible Schoolyard at the Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in Berkeley to get the hands of city kids dirty. Students plant, grow, harvest and cook an array of organic fruits and vegetables. By doing so, they develop better nutritional habits as well as a firm appreciation for why things taste good. This in turn has led to the school lunch initiative, which makes "food a central part of the academic curriculum."

"I'm also proud of having been involved in the evolution of a philosophy about food," said Alice. "It's not something I initiated, I mean it's been there since the beginning of time, but we're getting reconnected to food again."

Before Alice, organic farming and organic food simply didn't have the prominence of today. Through her efforts, farmers can earn a livelihood and consumers lead healthier lives.

"Anything else?" I asked.

"Well, of course Fanny, my daughter—she would have to come first."

Then she said, "Is that all?"

The eggs had boiled and it was time to eat.

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