In college, I wrote a paper about Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard Project.
She is a pioneer — in the truest sense of the word — for the local, organic food movement. Most passionately, Waters has been an advocate for free, locally-sourced meals in our school systems. She got her start in Berkeley when she opened Chez Panisse, one of the first restaurants in the country to consciously source its ingredients. Since then she has been a chef, restaurateur, activist, and author.
We talked to Waters about eating locally in Tahoe, suggestions for combating the Tahoe housing crisis, specifically in regard to housing kitchen staff, and her opinion on fad eating trends.
On Sept. 8, Beth Ruyak of Capital Public Radio’s show Morning Edition, will be hosting a conversation with Waters at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.
Tahoe, while located so close to the Central Valley, could be considered a food desert, especially in the winter. What suggestions do you have for folks living in this area who want to be conscious of what they eat year-round?
Well, I have always believed that there are many, many beautiful things to eat in the wintertime; you just have to be a little bit prepared. That means you have to have some canned tomatoes that you can buy organically or that you have made yourself in the summertime. But you are eating differently in the winter than you are in the summer. You’re thinking about whole grains, farrow, brown rice, and beautiful lentils and chickpeas. You’re using root vegetables.
What can be grown in the winter in a greenhouse? You absolutely need greenhouse possibilities. Or at least I know that I would need that.
Now, we don’t have the extreme restrictions that you have up in the snow. We eat root vegetables and meats and whole grains. Look to the countries that have cold climates. We’re just not allowing ourselves to want anything from the summer at that time. The only thing I can’t live without are herbs and salad.
It’s a beautiful way of eating, and when spring comes you’re happy for it. I don’t think that people know how to eat seasonally anymore.
Restaurants in Tahoe are having a hard time keeping their kitchen staff because they cannot afford to pay the money needed to live here. What advice do you have for these restaurant owners?
I have thought about it and we have to face this crisis. It’s not just happening in Tahoe, it is happening in San Francisco and Berkeley as well. We have to really impress upon the powers that be, the government, to absolutely make affordable housing, public housing.
We have to have those meetings, and maybe it is a great idea to bring all the restaurateurs together, and the people who live in Tahoe full time, and those who benefit from these restaurants, to go to the city and make a demonstration, make a plea.
At the very least, restaurants can gather together to find a building that they could all use to house their staff.
The other thing is, there are a lot of people I know who have houses up there and never use them in the winter, and maybe there is a way that those houses could be used by restaurants for their staff. They could rent them and keep them up and promise to take care of them for the wintertime because it is just a crime to have so many houses just unused.
It is very depressing for me to think about in a restaurant way.
Switching to larger picture questions, eating trends are becoming more and more popular. What is your opinion about people cutting dairy or meat out of their diets?
I think it is probably good to cut out a lot of the meat and the bread and the dairy. I can’t resist any of them. I could restrain myself, but I don’t want to eliminate them. I know that certain meats are more ecologically friendly than others.
Meat should certainly not be an every day or an every week event. I remember when I was a kid beef was a very special thing to have, and chicken was the same way.
The most important thing we can do is support the people who are doing it the right way.
Right now we are in a shocking place of industrial meat that just takes my breath away, and multilevel corporations are taking it over and we are their guinea pigs.
I just saw a film called Eating Meat. I’ve seen a lot of films about the industrialization of eating meat and inside those factories, but this shocked me more than I had ever seen. You cannot, you will not believe the deception and the collusions with the government that are happening. It is just unbelievable.
Critics often argue that eating whole foods is not as affordable as eating fast food. What do you say to these people?
Well, I think you know what my argument is.
Number one, we all need to learn how to cook. A very expensive, organic chicken may be $28, but if you know how to cook you can make three meals out of that and that is what makes it affordable.
If your diet is more whole grains and fruits and vegetables, it is extremely affordable to eat everything organic.
I just think that once people know about the poisoning of the food system, the antibiotics we are eating inadvertently by eating meat and the GMO crops; it is astonishing that we eat these products without questioning.
Once you start going to the farmer’s market and eating this way you’ll never go back. That is the pleasure of my life. I never ever could imagine living any other way. It is the most beautiful experience to have these people growing my food. To feel so grateful for mother nature that it has just awakened me, and I think that can happen to anyone.