EPISODE 33: We Are What We Eat W/ Alice Waters

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Show Notes

Alice Waters is the chef and founder of Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkley, California famous for creating the farm-to-table experience, and her work with the Edible Schoolyard Initiative and her own School Lunch Initiative has served as an inspiration to many. She even inspired Michelle Obama’s White House organic vegetable garden program. Today, Alice is here to chat about her trip to France that sparked her love for food, how that led her to open a restaurant that serves organically and regeneratively grown produce, and her life-long efforts to inspire others to rethink their relationship with food. You can find a list of her books here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/75571/alice-waters/

Transcript


Welcome everyone to another episode of kiss
the ground. Today we chat with Alice

waters, an amazing chef, restaurant
tour and author. Alice is the chef

and founder of she pennice, a
restaurant in Berkeley, California, famous for

creating the farm to table experience,
and her work with the edible schoolyard initiative

and her own school lunch initiative has
served as an inspiration to many. She

even inspired Michelle Obama's White House Organic
Vegetable Garden. Today, Alice is here

to chat about her trip to France
that sparked her love for food and how

that led to the opening of a
restaurant that serves organically and regeneratively grown produce

and her lifelong effort to inspire others
to rethink their relationship with food. My

Life, my purpose was to be
a protector or to care for mother for

nature. Soil really is the nutritional
bank account for our whistance. Together we

can do something that we've never done
before. We can rebuild our ECO system,

our degraded soils and our degraded waters
like this, freedom to me is

the ability, the right to be
all of who you are. I think

we can all do our roles,
even if you're not a farmer. From

the words of Roomy, let the
beauty you love be all that you do.

There is hundreds of ways to kneel
and kiss the ground. A lie

was born in New Jersey right after
World War Two and I didn't realize that

I looked a very different childhood than
children do today. I was in a

little small town about a Nour from
York in Mars County and my parents didn't

have very much money, but they
had a huge victory garden that they planted

during the war part of the war
effort, and they kept it actually their

whole lives. They that garden had
to be wherever they lived. Ultimately they

came out to California and they still
had that little garden in the backyard.

Victory Gardens, or war gardens as
they were often referred to, gardens created

during World War One and World War
Two as a way for folks at home

to help with the war effort by
preventing food shortages. It really represent it

complete delight during the summer months because
it began with strawberries when I was very

young. I just go out there
and pick him up to pine and eat,

but tomatoes and corn were exceptional.
Peppers from the garden and I didn't

experience good cooking in my Familey.
I guess my mother cared about help but

she never learned how to cook.
And Sara, she was, you know,

at the mercy of the fast food
and strand the s that was putting

out frostant food. All of that. She still so made apple thoughts from

the garden and we had that during
the winter. But we never ate out

of season. We never had cornered
tomatoes except in the summer. I think

really know what eight out of season
at that time or eight food important from

other countries. It just was the
way we did. We all ate at

the dinner table. We had to
be there at seven o'clock on the nose

and I basically played outside all of
the time. My parents, Di didn't

have a television, so we didn't
come in until we were called for dinner,

and that definitely made an impression on
me about the beauty of seasonality.

It wasn't a hardship, it was
something that we look forward to, but

we were going to eat in the
summer, even with a relationship with her

parents. Victory Garden, Alice didn't
think much about food growing up. I

don't think I was particularly interested in
food before that. That was a very

picky either. I just stiff.
I understood for my mother I should be

eating Brown bread and vitamins, but
I didn't. I didn't love food.

When Alice was nineteen years old,
she was studying French culture at the University

of Berkeley. Before the start of
her junior year, she decided to take

a year off and booked a trip
to France so she could experience the country

firsthand. That trip was life changing
and opened her eyes to so many new

possibilities, especially when it came to
food. I was complete brought into an

experience of eating a little small restaurants
and seeing the farmers markets on my way

to school and being fascinated by them. I think it was the beauty of

the whole culture, which at that
time was a slow food culture, in

that I don't even think that they
had all of oil in Paris because it

came from the south trance. They
had the food that was available in and

around Paris and that was a reagion
of beautiful butter from Brittany and Normandy and

it was just see food that came
from the it channel and maybe some oysters

out here from the Atlantic Ocean,
but I I just felt this aliveness of

food, the hot bag at the
APPRICCUT APRICUT shamp. I was willing to

wait in line to get my and
we were always reading the Menus and trying

to see who had the the meal
that was most appealing. I just fell

in love and when I came back
I wanted to live like the French and

that's what I've been trying to do
ever since then, truly. But it

was more than just food that Alice
fell in love with. It was the

culture and their relationship with food that
sparked something inside her. I never really

learned how to speak French well,
but I think I had an immersion and

French culture that was very deep and
art and music, not just food,

Ala and in a way of living
that that was about having a picnic and

apart on the weekend. Having children
at that time came at home and ate

with their parents lunch from the school. Can you imagine having two hours off

in the middle of the day when
everybody gathered and work stopped and he ate

lunch? I think that's what Julia
Child shall in love with too. It

was beautiful way of living and food
was central to it, but it was

about a much bigger picture. Before
Alice's trip, she had read about the

global food system during her studies.
She noted the works of Francis More Le

Pays Diet for a small planet and
Rachel Carson's silent spring. But it didn't

really all connect for me until I
was looking for tastes after I got back

from France and when I started shape
her eyes and was thinking that somehow,

if I had a restaurant, I
would be able to find that at food

that tasted like it did in France. And I was naive and the sense

that I I didn't realize that it
came from the way food was grown and

eating it in season, and so
it wasn't mental. I connected up with

the local organic farmers and ranchers did
I understand, and once I got connected

in that way, I just knew
that it would make shapennese exceptional if we

were able to really buy food directly
from them. And that's how it all

began. In one thousand nine hundred
and seventy one, alice founded Shapannese,

a restaurant that was dedicated to bring
organically grown produce from farms to her tables

and we had been connected with farmers
all around California that we were buying directly

from. So we were giving all
of our money right to the farmer picking

up the food or they would bring
it to us. Many time, I'm

just that would take the scraps from
the restaurant back with them. and Luckily

the first farmer that we met.
My parents actually went around California looking for

a farm for us that was organic, that could be our main stay farmer,

and they narrowed it down to three
people and they felt like Bob Kennard

was the only one it was crazy
enough to work with us and we didn't

know at that time that he was
a regenerative farmer. It wasn't until the

s the alice began familiarizing herself with
regenitive agriculture and the benefits of how a

healthy ecosystem can deliver healthy, clean
food. But when we met Bob Right

in their early S, he made
such an impression because he said his vegetables

were ten times more nutritious than anybody
said body else's and we laughed. We

left. For sure Bob sure and
and then, of course, worse,

we come to find out that they're
way more than ten percent and that he

was right. But he wanted the
soil to be all that it could be.

So we you go to the farm
and and it didn't look like anybody

else's if there weren't roses, neat
rows of vegetable. Everything was growing sort

of together and it's ECO system that
he worked out and you had to pull

almost the weeds aside, pull up
the carrots, and it was just an

amazing experience to to meet him and
we were extremely lucky to find to build

a relationship way back when, because
he brought all of the values right through

the kitchen door of Shapennese. He
did. He would say, you sent

back stems of the chart. Why
didn't you cut them off? Why didn't

use them? I don't want to
have my food not used in a way

that that makes me feels like it's
valuable to you. Think about that.

Use All of the PEG table.
And then he started sending it was some

of the weeds that and he said
figure out how to use the personally and

the nettles, and so we did. We've been making the most delicious Metal

Pieeces, that that all of this
is part of this big ecosystem that is

so important. Ten he made me
really understand that that our bodies certainly like

that carrot in the ground and what
is it around juts and what we we

eat can deeply, deeply nourishes.
So the ground around that carrot, it's

giving the carrot the nutrition that the
carrot is giving us. Bob Kennard is

the mastermind behind pet a luma's green
string farm, which has been supplying Alice's

restaurant for over thirty years. Oh, he's he's one of those people who

really indoctrinated us, and the right
way. You know, where we we

all learned together. HMM. Yeah, I'm remembering days in the Catholic gratitude

days when we had like that's sixty
five different vendors. How insane that is,

and yet you know, it's it's
it's beautiful to it is. You

know, Ralent, that's something very
important to talk about because the reason the

you know, those big companies are
are concentrating on giant industrial farms to pick

everything up together and deliver it all
as being the easy, convenient way to

receive food. And yet it's a
really meaningful it to receive food is to

know the people who are growing,
who are producing, and to actually have

a relationship, to go out to
their ranch to see how their how the

chickens are free ranging and what the
landscape is like, how much they love

the work that they do and how
lucky I am to be able to support

them that. This has been the
greatest part of running a restaurant. Yes,

I love to be cook good food
and feed it to people in the

dining room, but I also love
to give them a peach from MOSMAS SOMOTO's

farm and to know all about the
variety, to know all about how he

grows that, how it only happens
at this moment in time and and how

how distinctive that flavor can be.
And it's sort of opened your mind and

that is that magic that excites me. And the industrial food system has just

eliminated all of that human connection and
the beauty that you experience when you're when

you're really using food that has just
been picked. It hasn't aliveness about it

has so lothenticity and, needless just
say, taste. So here you're awakened.

I'm always awakened by the seasonal experience
of food and it kind of renews

my my we're reinforces the the change
of seasons makes me feel like I'm part

of nature. This idea of stopping
to appreciate food is highlighted in Alice's new

book titled We are what we eat, a slow food manifesto. Slow Food

Culture is at the core of Alice's
philosophy. Her book details the harm of

industrial farming and the fast food industry
and offers a solution to eat in a

slow food way. I was really
wanting to know how we lost our human

values and such a short period of
time. It's only really been sixteen,

the most seventy years that we have
left seasonality behind, that we have purchased

food from around the world, that
we don't need to hit the table anymore,

that we want food to be fast, cheap and easy. It's never

been about that. It's food,
as always spend something precious. We always

wanted money for food more than anything
else, and now food is last on

the list and we've understood that it
that it should be available two seven,

that it's completely something disconnected to the
seasons. They want Avocados all year long,

no matter where we are in the
world and it's that that kind of,

I call it a fast food and
dctrination that has really changed us.

And so I am hoping, if
that we can see that that when we

pay attention to what we eat,
that we can bring these human values back

into our lives. We we can. It changes the way that we see

the world, and I really believe
this that the destiny of nations depends on

how we nourish ourself. As briat
sufferance and way back when, the French

philosopher that that really we are what
we eat, and when we eat fast

food, we eat the values that
come along with it. But it's okay

to eating our car that that we
you know, it doesn't matter about waste,

there's always more where that came from, when we know that we're destroying

the world, and to think that
there is an option of buying food that

is not only delicious but nutritious and
the way that it's being grown, as

pulling the carpet out of the atmosphere
and put it down in the ground,

that we can address all of the
critical issues of this time that we're living

in with something so desirable. Yes, it's hard to imagine why we're not

doing it, and that's why I
can't think of any other place to begin

then in the public schools and feeding
our children reach gender tip. Organic food

for schools, lunch for every kid, MMM MMM, free, free.

Yes, Alice has been a part
of many movements dedicated to providing and teaching

the importance of responsible agriculture, but
she doesn't refer to these acts as activism.

I've never done any sort of activist
work. Now, let's say that

again. I've I feel like I've
never done work that I didn't want to

do, that I wasn't really passionate
about. That I'm I'm just looking for

the things that that make my life
meaningful and nature is at the top of

the list. It's where the beauty
is and the bio diversity is something so

exceptional to me and I'm fascinated by
it and it's what has really engaged me

with food and always wanting to learn
more about it. Never it's never exhausted,

it's just endlessly interesting. In one
thousand nine hundred and ninety five,

alice founded the Edible School Yard,
a nonprofit organization that transformed public education by

providing a guard for children to get
their hands on experience with nature. It

really began with an ill enlightened principle
of a middle school in Berkeley. Neil

Smith called me up and he asked
me if I could come and see school.

He was very interested and having me
beautify in some way, he said

on the phone, and I agree
to go and see. Now this was

a middle school with a thousand kids, six seventh and eighth graders, and

it was built on a piece of
plan of seventeen acres back in one thousand

nine hundred and twenty one. And
since that time it had grown so much

that there were a thousand children they
are now. But the land itself was

very big and part of it had
been taken over by the city, but

another part was just kind of had, you know, temporary buildings on it,

just sort of broken up asphult and
and and late to waste. And

so I walked around school with the
principle and I had a big fish and

right away, being a monastory teacher
that I was, I said, Oh

my God, we could make a
garden and have a garden classroom, not

for teaching gardening per se, but
for teaching all the academic subjects because monastory

beliefs that are senses are pathways into
our minds. So we need to be

touching, tasting and smelling, listening
and looking very carefully, and that can

happen out in the garden. And
so it's a math class, you could

be a science class, it could
be an art class, could even be

a music class. The same time
you're listening, you're smelling, you're picking

the raspberry or your experiencing nature.
And then we I saw the kitchen bundle

that had been there and I just
said, Oh my God, we can

make a kitchen classroom again, not
to teach cooking per se, but to

teach history and math and maybe even
a language. But you're cooking the food

of that country. So you're in
the geography of the Middle East and you're

making tea bread and you're making hummus
and maybe you're cooking spicy Greens. But

the students just love these classes and
I can say with great conviction that if

they grow it and they cook it, they all eat it. But I

can also say that what they learned
in their academic subjects, in the garden

or kitchen classroom, they will never
forget because it's really come through all of

their senses and they they remember and
I imagined that we would have a big

cafeteria and built out in that blacktop
behind the school and we could have a

space for kids could sit down and
eat school lunch together again. I could

imagine it almost has an academic experience
and that, you know, you could

have a teacher at the table and
you're talking about the food or you might

be talking to each other as part
of, you know, a lunchtime conversation

and that's that's meaningful and connected to
what you're studying actually in the classroom.

So I told Nail that's what I
have in mind and he said, well,

I get back to you and I
didn't hear from him for about six

months and then he called and he
said we're ready, we're ready to do

it. And he said please don't
talk about the free school lunch right away,

and I said, but, Neil, is all or nothing. I

want to make an experiment here,
and he said you can do you a

garden cast room and the kitchen classroom, but let's wait a little bit before

we talked about school lunch because it
will frighten people. But Alice wanted to

go above and beyond teaching students the
importance of healthy eating, but actually implementing

healthy eating into the students school lunches. And she wanted to make sure that

these sustainable meals would be free to
all students, which might sound impossible,

but not to Alice. But that
is something that I know is possible to

do. I know it's possible to
buy food directly, like we've been doing

for fifty years at shape and meats
for the school system, but it needs

it means that we need to really
dispel the myths that we cannot do this,

there are too many students, that
students don't like that food, they

don't want to eat it, and
that that we don't have the money to

make that happen. These are all
fast food miss that we can buy organic,

retender to food, we can make
it affordable, we can fit it

into the USD reimbursement and we can
stimulate the act economy in every state of

this country. If we bought food
directly from the farmers gave them the money,

they would want to sell it to
the school and just think of how

many people we could put in business. I mean making Tortilla's bread, dairies,

we have to limit the meat and
cheese, but we know from the

experience of the school and from the
experience of the network that we have have

developed over the twenty five years that
we can make food that's culturally diverse.

We have almost six thousand schools that
are connected to the APICAL squirard project around

the world and in every state of
this country, and we know that they

are all practicing stewardship of the land. They are all belief in nourishment and

in community and diversity. They all
get equity, they all are teaching through

a garden or a kitchen classroom and
we can learn from them. And so

you're saying that there's six thousand schools
around the country, in the world that

have adopted parts of, or are
identified as part of, the edible schoolyard

curriculum and programming. Yes, and
maybe some just simply, you know,

have a little garden and maybe a
place to cook in the garden, but

they all believe in these values and
teaching them to children when they're young and

so that they may be first graders, so they may be college students.

They believe in learning by doing,
they believe in the education of the senses

Alice is hoped to provide all students
in the country with a free school lunch.

Is An ongoing effort and after she
saw the effects of food insecurity brought

on by the ongoing pandemic, she's
even more motivated to make a difference in

the school lunch program we are really
worried about our children and we're just wanting

to have children eat healthy food.
But health begins in the soil. If

anybody says differently, they are not
understanding how it all works and it doesn't

begin in the supermarket and choosing fruits
and vegetables. Yes, it's better than

eating sugary foods, but it's not
getting to the place of health. And

we have a diabetes epidemic one and
for children, it's going to have diabetes.

How could we not worry about the
food that they're eating? And I'm

shocked that we are not putting this
together and understanding at this moment in the

time, because of the climate crisis, that we are not changing absolutely all

the food that we are serving in
the public school system. There are two

things that are universe, or so, food and education. And if we

put those together, if we decided
to reimburse schools for local reachenderative organic food

in the school we could address the
deep problems that we have in our society

and I know it can happen.
And we have to stop giving money to

fast food and give it to slow
food. Over at you see Davis's aggy

square campus and Sacramento, California,
is another one of Alice's efforts to further

the education of so many young people
and their educators through agriculture. The Alice

Waters Institute for Edible Education serves as
a Training Center for K through twelve educators

and as a research hub for leaders
in the field of a generative organic agriculture,

Sustainable Food Systems, climate change,
education and public health. And I

want it to be a place where
when people walk into the building, they

sense the values, they feel like
they're in a place that really cares about

them. That is try to make
stewardship and nourishment and, as I said,

acquitty head and community sort of central
to the whole teaching that we will

have a wonderful open kitchen, that
we will have gardens on the roof building,

that we're thinking about every material that
we're using for creating the building,

making them all sustainable and right for
that place for thinking about how to teach

in a reach generative way, which
is something that really interests me. We

been trying to do that at shapiness. We Are we're not having sort of

main chef at the top. We're
having a group of people that all contribute

to the way the food tastes.
They all have their input and we that's

the way that we can get to
something that's greater than some of the parts

is if we all contribute our knowledge
to that purpose, and I think the

the institute could be a central place
to teach the food service directors, and

I have great hopes for the University
of California in terms of leadership, because

they're spaced out over the state and
they could really, with their expertise and

their brilliance, they could make a
path for k through twelve in the state

of California. We need to learn
how do we purchase food in this way?

How can we support the people who
are taking care of the land and

their farm workers, and we have
to learn how to do that, and

I just want to say that that
is something that is not difficult to do

it, but it takes a willingness. It takes an openness and it takes

a belief in the process and really
alice couldn't have picked a better school to

team up with on this project.
The University of California is currently conduct its

own carbon neutrality initiative and working to
become carbon neutral by two thousand and twenty

five as a way to help curve
climate change. And on top of that,

we do inedible education course in the
business school at the University of California

that we started at forty of birth
day of Shapenny, and it's so important

that students have accredited courses that are
connecting the dots between what's happening and natural

world and how people are being fed
and how how food is vital and so

many ways to solving our problems and
bringing us together grab the table. Alice

spend so much of her time nourishing
and healing the world through her agricultural efforts,

but it's also important for Alice to
nourish herself. I take a walk

every morning, every morning and I
walk just out of the House and up

the hill and it's always an experience
of nature that is is changing every day.

You know you're seeing not just food
growing but flowers and just the temperature

of the day, the clouds in
the sky. It's frightening when we see

the smoke and the sky. But
I haven't awareness of time and place,

and that's really important to me.
I love having sort of a weekly dinner

with friends. We all cook together, we I buy my fooded farmers market.

People come over for dinner and Sunday
we all cook, we all eat

together, we all cleaned it up
and it's it's a punctuation in the week.

It's so important that we have this
moment, even if we're by ourselves.

I always light a candle at the
table when I'm eating just to sort

of remind myself of the ritual and
that I want to be seated. I

do I want to eat on the
run. Not Eating on the run is

definitely a challenge for many people.
We all have busy lives and busy schedules

to adhere to. But if you
listen to Alice and the ways that she

values the food she puts on her
table every day, you might be convinced

to slow down and enjoy your meal
a little more and, of course,

make sure you're eating in season.
It opens up the world of food in

a way that you can never imagine. You can only eat ripe food if

you eat and see them, because
I don't want you know, yes,

I do. You know sometimes preserved
food for another season. I cold feet

tomatoes or I think about things that
that that can be preserved. Well,

the things that are dry, things
that you know, nuts and berries and

all the different fraudis of food you
can eat during the winter time, all

the kinds of of grains and all
of that have to be part of the

big picture of a seasonal diet.
But the pleasure of letting go when it's

over, and those teaches are over
right now. I don't think about them

until next year and I'm looking for
what's snack. I'm looking for the pears.

I'll be readies and and the pomegranates
and the apples. I'm looking for

the Brussels sprout. So looking for
the next thing and when that's over,

it's over. So my life during
the course of the year has just change

built into it. I think it
opens my mind in general to change,

to to looking for the bio diversity. It's thrilling for me to have ten

colors of carrots. Can you believe
we have ten now? We have,

you know, more run colored carrots, and every day you can cook them

differently and you're never tired of them
and they last a very long time.

They're nutritious and affordable. It's like
a squash and beans, tried beans,

every color of the rainbow, every
size, every way that you can mix

them and flavor them with spices from
around the world. It's so it's so

endlessly interesting to me as a cook
to to see all the colors of the

eggs. Can you believe we have
blue and green eggs? Every student at

the outible school yard wants to go
and and get the eggs and eat see

the different chickens that lay the different
eggs, and it's like a lesson in

biodiversity that you could never explain in
words. It you have to hold that

egg, crackhead and eat it,
fry it's, it's it's what really excites

me, as you could tell.
So, Alice, how do you kiss

the ground? I kiss the ground
every day by knowing where my food comes

from, by knowing how it was
ground, how it was Ray, knowing

that I am supporting the people who
take care of the land and their farm

workers for the future of this planet. I know that I I'm right there

and in fact, sometimes I go
out. I'm just losing my mind on

a zoom and I go right outside
in my backyard and I like camp on

the ground, and I smelled the
ear of that. I beach, ever,

and I took a base all leaf
I smell it. I make some

mint teason, just pouring hot water
over the leaves and I feel very,

very connected.
Kiss the Ground w/ Ryland Engelhart
The essence of the work of Kiss the Ground is this deep reverence for life. A conversation about ecology, soil, trees, and all the layers of the biology and living th... View More

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