Alice Waters is the Dali Lama of the organic food movement, promoting local food before local food was cool.
And she was promoting local and organic food this week in Charlottesville, preparing a meal at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello and talking about organic food with students at Mr. Jefferson’s University.
Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse, the highly lauded Berkeley, Calif., eatery and the first woman to win the James Beard Foundation’s best chef trophy, met Wednesday with about two dozen students and faculty huddled under umbrellas in the rain at the student-run community garden at the intersection of Alderman and McCormick roads.
The creator of Edible Schoolyard program, Waters listened as much as she talked, drinking in the ideas from the students about the projects on which they are working, such as a community-supported agriculture program at the Morven Farm Garden and efforts to plant gardens at local schools. She suggested the students post their projects on her edible schools website, which she envisions as an idea-sharing site.
Waters suggested there needs to be a nationwide campaign against childhood obesity, as there was a push for physical education in the schools in the 1960s. She said children should have free, healthy, organic lunches – lunches to which they contribute through school gardens.
“We should raise a generation of kids who love farming,” she said. “This is a delicious revolution.”
Waters advised the students to stay focused on the positive, on the things they have in common and not to be distracted by divisions. “Think about things we all want to address, like feeding hungry children,” she said. “Look for the things that really connect us. We have enough bad news; we need the good news.”
She stressed that people need to learn to cook and share what they have with each other, and get back in touch with the values of previous generations.
“Our everyday eating habits teach our values,” she said. “When you eat in a cheap and easy way, you think in a cheap and easy way. People are experiencing fast food lives and loves and they don’t want to pay attention anymore.”
Waters talked with the students about the local farmers’ market and the importance of buying organic.
“You should ask if something is organic,” she said. “It is really important that we do that. We have to support the people who support the land. A lot of people assume if it’s at a farmer’s market that it is organic.”
Waters’ visit was hemmed in by other commitments, and she had to leave after about an hour, but before she left she took time to sign copies of her cookbooks the students had carried with them.
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