June 14, 2009

Alice Waters' Crusade For Better Food

Lesley Stahl Profiles The Outspoken, And Sometimes Controversial California Food Activist

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(CBS)  This story was first published on March 15, 2009. It was updated on June 10, 2009.

When it comes to food, Alice Waters is a legend. At age 65, she has done more to change how we Americans eat, cook and think about food than anyone since Julia Child.

Waters was only 27 years old in 1971 when she opened her French bistro Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., today considered one of the finest restaurants not just in the United States but in the world.

Waters has produced eight cookbooks, but she's more famous as the mother of a movement that preaches about fresh food grown in a way that's good for the environment. The movement, now called "slow food," is a healthy alternative to "fast food."

You might think this appeals only to the Prius-driving, latte-sipping upper crust, but Waters' ideas have gone mainstream, as 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl found out when this story first aired in March.

It all started at Waters' culinary temple, Chez Panisse. She still shows up almost every day, as she has for the last 37 years, to oversee the cooking with her exquisite, infallible taste buds.

It's not just the cooking that has made her famous: it's the ingredients. She was one of the first to serve antibiotic and hormone free meats and insist on fresh, organic, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

"You started a revolution in food. How we think about food. How we cook food. But do you think of yourself as a revolutionary?" Stahl asked Waters.

"I guess I do now, but when I started Chez Panisse I wasn't thinking of a philosophy about organic and sustainable. I just was looking for flavor," Waters replied.

It's flavor that comes from serving only seasonal food, one of her hallmarks; say "frozen" and Alice Waters shudders. Because all her food has to be fresh, she buys only from local ranchers, fishermen and farmers.

People who meet Waters are struck by how gentle and dreamy she seems to be, and they wonder how someone like that became so successful. Truth is, Alice Waters is a steamroller, relentlessly going after what she wants. And now she wants everyone to cook the way she does. And that has put her in the spotlight

"People have become aware that way that we've been eating is making us sick," she said.

She has become the leader of a movement to change how we eat. And she's getting traction. Now you can go to your neighborhood grocery store - even Wal-Mart - and buy organic. But in the process, she's become a target.

"People say Alice Waters is self-righteous and elitist. And these are words I've heard over and over," Stahl pointed out.

"I feel that good food should be a right and not a privilege and it needs to be without pesticides and herbicides. And everybody deserves this food. And that's not elitist," Waters argued.


Produced by Ruth Streeter
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by msharemail May 11, 2010 12:41 AM EDT
Here's a new book from Alice. http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/2010/05/learn-how-to-cook-in-the-green-kitchen/
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by unlvdating November 18, 2009 12:58 AM EST
I really appreciate your efforts to write articles that are informative in nature and undertake different issues and happenings in our society. These posts keep me updated with these matters that make me aware on the current situations in our society. Thanks for your dedication on providing relevant articles. I acknowledgment your great work!

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by zenmonkman October 30, 2009 6:16 PM EDT
Ah yes, the aristocratic flare of frying an egg in your personal hearth poured over freshly cut tomatoes, lettuce and olive oil ... yes, let the little people eat cake because expensive, small portioned food with little relevance to today's economic perspective is soooooo relevant ... Lesley you got this one wrong.
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by bestwishesmarie September 25, 2009 12:01 AM EDT
she is an interesting woman, who has done much good, often with no thought of profit (in general). and i think it is great that she has held to her ideals and some compensation (financial) is starting to come.
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by Diniz1980 August 18, 2009 5:00 PM EDT
The thing is that fresh natural food should be considered standard/ normal for and the distinction should be made to identify the industrial GM hodgepodge for what it is, fake food. Better to cut back on super soft toilet paper and preety much everything else than to settle for that deadly rubbish, besides if you plant your own garden it is even better and costs a lot less than the industrial sludge.
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by Diniz1980 August 18, 2009 4:59 PM EDT
The thing is that fresh natural food should be considered standard/ normal for and the distinction should be made to identify the industrial GM hodgepodge for what it is, fake food. Better to cut back on super soft toilet paper and preety much everything else than to settle for that deadly rubbish.
Reply to this comment
by mjinaz June 20, 2009 10:54 PM EDT
Organic food is SO POTENT, and valuable (price included) that you tend to use it wisely, making up the difference by cutting back on other things you spend your money on. (My favorite analogy is the choice to eat a spinach salad instead of using iceburg lettuce. That's more POTENT).

You use less of it, in a way. There is a tendency to cut back on meat and eat a lot more produce. DO YOU KNOW THAT ORGANIC MEAT AND POULTRY IS ALWAYS "FREE RANGE" TOO. If you choose to eat meat and poultry, ORGANIC is more humane than the horrific mistreatment of many farm animals, including DAIRY COWS. Organic dairy products, poultry and meat is starting to appear in the regular grocery chains, and those prices are coming down.

Also, CUT BACK ON EATING OUT. If I'm out and about in my neighborhood, I drive home to fix something to eat and go back out. If I had to, I'd take my food to work, or find healthy options near where I would work.

The quality and flavor is amazing, AND you will
SAVE ON MEDICAL BILLS because of MUCH BETTER HEALTH, and not so easly become DISEASED.

It amazes me to watch many people waste their money, or splurg on so many other things, and then, some are, so extremely cheap about groceries.

If we, the public, would make those healthy choices and reject the junk food, the prices would come down.

And come on, about Alice Water's egg cooking over her firepit, that was HER kitchen. I hardly expected that she and Leslie Stahl were suggesting that everyone should get a firepit, and obviously most of us do not have a place to grow our own.

This was a beautiful story, and inspiring for people to open their minds to CHANGE for the better. Change takes a transition, and, although the story didn't go into it in much detail, apparently, Ms. Waters has been an advocate for this, regardless of whether you've heard of her, or not. Thank you to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's (ECONOMICAL PRICING), and even our regular grocery chains, who have positively affected this change. Find the health food stores with the BARGAINS. They're out there.

Keep making the HEALTHY CHOICES, and THE PRICES WILL COME DOWN as well as your medical expenses, from care to prescriptions.

I'm tired of overly analytical stories comparing healthy foods vs. junk food, and thought it was great to focus on the POSITIVE expose' of the inspiring Alice Waters.

Next, I'd like to see tobacco farming transition to more herbals for economical fresh spices, and for herbal health supplements, more natural toiletries, etc.

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by FLangheinrich June 18, 2009 10:42 AM EDT
Alice Waters is clearly a "let them eat cake" kind of a person. I have a six figure income but won't pay $4 a pound for pathetic little grapes like she was helping to sell. I have been to her exceptional restaurant but it is clearly not the food for the masses she says she wants to feed us. She is really arguing that we should let millions die so that we can all grow less food in a way acceptable to her. Also, how much hydrocarbon volume did she send into the air to cook those two eggs? Finally, it's nice that the White House will have an organic garden, but bet that the peasants will be doing most of the work.
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by organic4all June 18, 2009 12:40 AM EDT
Apparently alot of people didn't understand this story. Unless we all get on the same page as a nation and demand organic foods we will never have a mass opportunity to eat organically. What this nation is doing to our food supply is appalling. Instead of dumping on Alice Waters do a little research online. Find out the meaning of GMO foods, find out what happens when cows are given antibiotics and hormones. This type of behavior is putting farms out of business. American food has turned into big business. When I was growing up I don't remember food ever getting recalled. People dying from eating beef, peanut butter or spinach. Please research online and educate yourself before throwing stones at Alice Waters. By the way, I'm a conservative woman with these opinions, just in case anyone is judging.
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by spyknot June 16, 2009 9:56 PM EDT
Please reconsider your statement that Alice Walker has done more to change the way we eat than anyone, ...

Dr. Vandana Shiva, former nuclear physicist, environmentalist, ecologist, author, speaker, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize), has done more.
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