Alice Waters Goes to Washington

Alice Waters, chef owner of Chez Panisse in Berkley, doyenne of the New California Cuisine with its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, and an outspoken proponent of sustainable agriculture, grew a vegetable garden on the National Mall as part of her presentations at the Folklife Festival which just ended on July 4th.

I knew she was presenting, but I had no idea that she had planned to grow an organic garden on the bone-dry sward in the center of Washington. Apparently, there were some issues in the production of the garden, but eventually, they panned out and she was able to serve Senators, agriculture department secretaries and other Important Government Officials (tm, patent pending) meals in the honeysuckle-strewn gazebo next to the kitchen garden that were made from produce grown right there in downtown Washington.

Apparently, she has been trying for ten years to get an organic kitchen garden started on the White House grounds, as a means to raise awareness among American citizens of sustainable agriculture while getting our presidents into the idea that local food is good food. This garden on the Mall is as close as she has managed to get, but she wasted no time while in Washington whining–she not only spoke to the public, but to every politico she could corner on her ideas of how to get kids to eat healthier as a means to fight obesity, and how to get Americans more involved in the production of local, fresh foods.

One thing that she trumpeted while in Washington was her pilot program that has transformed the school lunch program at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. She calls it, “The Edible Schoolyard,” and it basically involves kitchen gardens on school grounds that the children tend from seed to harvest. The produce that results from this garden is then prepared by the students in the school kitchen, and made into lunches that are a far cry from the grey “mystery meat” and cardboard pizza drek that most American kids are served in school cafeterias.

It is a fascinating program, which can teach kids botany, biology, nutrition, ecology, math, cookery and economics all in one go, and Waters seeks to spread it across the country.

Similar programs are the new trend on college campuses, which seek to lure students with organic foods. University administrators and food service companies are seeing that students are more ecologically aware and informed about the health and economic benefits of organic foods, and so are beginning the process of offering more organic, sustainable foods on campus.

Yale University has the Sustainable Food Project, also started four years ago by Waters when her daughter Emily started attending the Berkley College there. There are gardens, a composting project and a cafeteria that features food grown in the gardens supplemented by locally produced grass fed meats and free trade coffee. The food is so good there, students who are not enrolled at the Berkley college try to sneak in, and there are rumblings among the students to spread the sustainable menu to all the other cafeterias on campus.

The popularity of these two projects started by Waters means that similar projects may crop up in other parts of the country. All it would take are some dedicated individuals to study Waters’ methods, and figure out how to impliment them in their own local areas.

It is certainly something to think about.


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  1. I’d love to see more programs like that instituted, especially on college campuses, I think it’s vitally important for people to understand where their food comes from. Having once dated a man who would not eat meat that “looked like an animal,” I think it’s great that programs like this expose people to food in its natural state, as it were.


    (New food blog:

    Comment by knitvixen — July 6, 2005 #

  2. Oh, dear.

    I get so irritated with people who won’t eat meat that “looks like it came from an animal.”

    You know, until we can grow cloned animal muscle cells in vats, all meat comes from animals. It certainly doesn’t grow on trees. And if a person cannot deal with the reality of an animal dying to provide them with protein, then they shouldn’t eat animal protein. Eat tofu–it is good and good for you. Eat texturized vegetable protein. Eat tempeh. Eat beans, for God’s sake, but don’t whimper about meat that looks like it came from an animal!

    Sorry–that is a hot button issue–and I have stories of folks like that. Maybe I should write a post entitled, “Meat Comes From Animals: Deal With it Or Eat Vegetables.”

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — July 6, 2005 #

  3. It’s a hot-button issue for me as well. I’m not particularly kindly disposed to picky eaters to start with, but in addition to that, I grew up on a farm. My grandparents allowed us no illusions about food– Gram even named her chickens things like “Casserole”– and I have been glad for it.

    The truly sad thing is that folks who won’t eat animal-appearing meat miss out on so much wonderful food, and so many amazing ways to experience food.

    Comment by knitvixen — July 6, 2005 #

  4. This past weekend, ding0 and I went to a family reunion/pig roast. We drove up and yep, there was the pig, turning on a spit over the fire. ding0 commented that if he couldn’t deal with looking at meat like this and then eating it, then he had no right eating meat at all. I agree completely. And the pig? Quite tasty.

    Comment by Amy — July 6, 2005 #

  5. The Edible Schoolyard – we had that when I was growing up, and I was disappoointed when my children started school that it was a thing of the distant past. I’d like to see it come back.

    And knitvixen – I grew up on a farm, too, and named the pigs I castrated (that would be fattened for slaughter) Schoenewurst (pretty sausage) and Schmeckwurst (tasty sausage) and such.

    Comment by Noddy — July 6, 2005 #

  6. On Grandma’s farm, all the animals had names, and when we butchered a named steer or hog, the name went on the packages of meat along with whatever cut it was and the date. So, when we said grace at dinner and supper, we’d say, “And thank you, Lord for Ginger, who gave her life to make really tasty sausage for us to eat and thank you Ginger for being a really friendly and tasty pig.”

    I tell that story to people and some of them freak out. Like, how could we name an animal and love it and pet it and give it treats and then eat it? And I always ask, “Would you rather that we beat it, starve it and treat it like shit before we ate it?”

    Loved animals are happier, and happier animals are healthier and grow better than unhappy, sickly animals.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — July 6, 2005 #

  7. Oh my gosh, Barbara, I love that story about “Thank you for Ginger …” I completely agree with you about this being a hot-button issue.

    I have an aunt who thinks that if we called the animals by their proper names — calling it “cow” all the way to the table, and “pig” instead of pork, that would start to get the idea through to people.

    This is the same aunt who insisted, when I was 13, that I read “Diet for a New America” which talks about the meat industry and how each animal is treated, if I was going to continue to eat meat. I read it, and I am a better person for it. I think this is a great blog topic — ping me if you write a post so I can link to it.


    Comment by life begins @ 30 — July 6, 2005 #

  8. I reach your aunt–and I think she is right. If we called it cow instead of beef or pig instead of pork, people might pick up the clue phone and understand the idea that we are eating animals when we eat meat.

    And yes–I read “Diet for a Small Planet” myself, just like I am reading “Mad Cowboy” right now. And while I am not going to become a vegan over anything I have read in either book so far, I value what I am learning from both authors.

    But then, I am of the view that veganism isn’t necessarily as sustainable as some propose. I think that it would be better if a lot more people ate a lot more vegetables and less meat, but I don’t think that everyone in the world needs to become a vegan in order to feed everyone, either.

    But, I guess that is fodder for another post, now isn’t it?

    I guess I should get to writing…

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — July 6, 2005 #

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