Alice Waters in conversation with SF Mayor Gavin Newsom

Mayors of major American cities are usually the ones answering questions in interviews. So when the mayor is the one doing the interviewing, the subject must be someone special. That was the case on Monday night, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson sat down with chef, food activist, and Slow Food International vice president Alice Waters to help publicize Slow Food Nation, a giant celebration of food, farming, and culture that is coming to San Francisco on Labor Day weekend in late August.

San Francisco's cable television channel (SFGTV) was on hand to record the discussion, with streaming video and an MP3 audio download available on their website (about 1 hour and 20 minutes). Newsom and Waters covered many topics, some of which I'll try to highlight here.

The conversation started off in familiar territory: Waters's culinary awakenings in France and the 1971 opening of famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.

After some meandering talk about philosophy and values, the discussion turned to the concept of the "Edible Education," and Waters became far more animated. It is clear that among all of her current projects — the restaurant, the writing, and so on — Edible Education is one she is truly passionate about. The inspiration for the project came from a visit to the San Francisco County Jail's Garden Project, a 7-acre farm tended by prisoners. After talking with some of the inmates about how gardening was changing their lives, Waters had an epiphany that schoolchildren too could benefit from a garden program.

Waters pitched the idea of a comprehensive gardening and cooking program to a Berkeley school. After months of negotiation and fund raising, the Edible Schoolyard was launched in 1994. She explained how it works, that farming, cooking, and eating can teach children about the pleasures of good food, math, science, history, and manners — practically every academic subject imaginable. She recalled the Presidential Commissions on physical fitness in the 1950s and 1960s: they saw a problem (unfit children), made a plan (add physical education to every school curriculum), and did it. So why not do it for food? I hope that Waters asks Democratic nominee Barack Obama that question if they meet during one of his swings through California. Based on her connections to the top tiers of the Democratic party, I'd say that the odds of a meeting are pretty high. The odds of meeting Senator John McCain, however, are considerably lower.

Returning to Slow Food Nation, Waters pointed out that there are countless exciting and innovative food- and agriculture-related activities happening across the country. One of the main goals of Slow Food Nation is to bring people together to share knowledge and spark new ideas, to break through the regional bubbles, and help create a new food system in this country (and around the world) that is good, clean and fair.

Tickets for Slow Food Nation have just gone on sale, including for the Food for Thought series. These panel discussions on the world food crisis and relocalizing food will feature some heavy hitters in the food movement, including Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, Dan Barber, and Gary Nabhan.

Newsom/Waters photo by Jen Maiser of Life Begins at 30, used with permission.

2 Responsesto “Alice Waters in conversation with SF Mayor Gavin Newsom”

  1. Ian Lewis says:

    I am really surprised that this was not mentioned in your post, but, AFAIK, the school that Alice Waters consulted for, no longer follows those guidelines. The people at the school who actually had to implememnt her ideas were either not able to get what they needed on a regular basis, or could not afford it, even though they had a larger than normal budget.

    I remember that this was covered on Chow.com.

  2. There wasn't much discussion about the current state of the edible schoolyard program at the Berkeley school. As far as I could tell from the conversation, things are going well, but perhaps the curriculum is not as intensive as Waters would like (she wants the edible education to be part of every subject). As for money, outside funding from the Chez Panisse Foundation (and possibly other sources) is the only reason the program is surviving -- California public schools are seriously underfunded.