Alice Waters: sustainable food advocate

G Magazine

Meet the godmother of the slow food movement

Alice Waters

Credit: David Sifry

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Alice Waters is a busy woman. After three months of emails, phone calls and missed opportunities to speak about her work in organics and sustainability, I'm nervously biting my nails as the day of our interview approaches.

What if she postpones? (Again.) What if she gives me just a few minutes? (She has numerous projects across the world of food education taking up her time). Even worse, what if I mess up the time difference between Australia and her home base in Berkeley, California, and it's all over before it begins?

For those who know her work, Alice Waters regularly inspires reactions otherwise reserved for bestselling authors or Oscar-nominated filmmakers.

On a recent US trip, I mentioned to California locals I had eaten at Waters' flagship restaurant, Chez Panisse. Their eyes literally shone with excitement.

Chefs and serious foodies also lit up at the mention of her name.

I soon learned that expressing an appreciation for Waters' work was like a shortcut in communicating my understanding of a new philosophy on food, which promotes organics, sustainable farming practices, knowing where your food comes from (hopefully it's local), and quality over quantity, just for starters.

Slow food, fast pace

Waters counts Jamie Oliver as a friend - "We have the same philosophy, it's just expressed differently" - and her school garden project has drawn the attention of none other than the Prince of Wales.

Yet in Australia, she is a virtual unknown. (Although it must be said that serious food folks, including Stephanie Alexander, hold her work in high regard.)

While the current interest in Waters may be assisted by a new awareness of the issues surrounding global food production, it's worth noting that she has spent over three decades advocating sustainable food.

There are eight cookbooks, all selling well; Chez Panisse, where her efforts in practising what she preaches have earned the restaurant dozens of awards - including 2001 Gourmet Magazine Best Restaurant in America; and her work educating American children on food and healthier eating.

If that weren't enough on her plate, Waters is also an International Governor of the Slow Food movement.

This title suddenly strikes me as ironic, given that her life sounds, well, quite fast-paced.

"It has been a little crazy these days," she admits.

Food the saviour of the planet?

While looking at the list of Waters' local and international affiliations is enough to make one's head spin, her approach to food is anything but hectic.

Waters has built her reputation on the premise that we should know who grows our food, buy locally wherever possible, and always eat with the seasons.

"I'm always looking at where it came from. Who produced it? I'm looking for what is local, sustainable and ripe. I can't eat anything out of season, I don't want to. But not just because it doesn't taste good; I also don't want to as it disconnects me from a cycle that I've always found very renewing in my life."

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