Alice Waters: Eat Local

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Published on March 28th, 2011  |  Discuss This Article  

Editor’s note: The following is a guest essay written by chef, restaurateur, activist, author and humanitarian Alice Waters. She is the owner of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, California restaurant famous for its organic, locally-grown ingredients and for pioneering California cuisine. She created the Edible Schoolyard program at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California. You can learn more about her work and on Twitter and Facebook.

To find out how you can make a difference this Earth Day and to get recipes from renowned chefs like Alice Waters, Mario Batali and Barton Seaver visit earthday.nature.org.

I believe that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. One of my favorite weekly outings is shopping at my local farmers markets in Berkeley and San Francisco. As I make my way through the delightful maze of stands, smelling and tasting and filling my bags, I talk to producers and learn what one week’s time has brought us, what has come in early or even a bit late. We also frequently talk about their devotion to sustainable farming methods and their true love of connecting people to their food. Time and time again, I walk away knowing that I have supported the people who are truly taking care of our land. The responsibility falls on each of us to make that choice.

In addition to shopping at farmers markets, there are many other ways that we can support and grow the local food economy. For instance, I believe that Edible Education in which students learn about ecology and gastronomy should be integrated into the curriculum of every school, as we have done at the Edible Schoolyard. I also believe that all children should have access to free lunch, and the cafeteria should utilize as much local food as possible.

(Check out our Earth Day chef recipes featuring Alice Waters’ Spring Minestrone with Peas and Asparagus)

There are certainly challenges to eating locally, such as the decrease in the variety of food that is available in the winter months. At Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, we are lucky because we can find local produce all year long. However, we are always thinking about food in a sustainable way. In the winter, we focus on the winter squashes, root vegetables, and we use canned tomatoes and huckleberry syrup that we’ve made in the summer. I think eating locally is so much about being creative with your choices.

I am hopeful, as I believe we’re waking up to the fact that for the past 30 years we haven’t been eating food that’s really good for us, and we’re not taking care of the land or the farmers in our country. I’m seeing that this is changing as evidenced by the drastic increase in the number of farmers markets in the country in recent years, the fact that there are now vegetables growing on the White House lawn, and the incredible number of school gardens popping up across the country.

(Image: Alice Waters. Image credit: ©David Liittschwager)

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Comments: Alice Waters: Eat Local

  •  Comment from Nek Romancer

    I ‘m not attempting to undermine your article here,but there’s some thing’s you should know about eating locally grown foods,and I quote

    “Nobody wants to actually change what they eat. If our oranges come from Mexico and we decide we want to eat local instead, we don’t just stop eating oranges. No, we instead insist that somebody start growing oranges nearby. And there’s a reason they weren’t already doing that.

    The vast majority — over 90 percent — of food-related emissions don’t come from transportation, but production. So if food is grown in a place where it can’t be produced efficiently, like our hypothetical oranges, it’ll end up being more harmful to the environment than food that’s been efficiently grown and then flown in. Any non-native crop usually requires extra irrigation and stronger fertilizers, which add far more to a dish’s carbon footprint than one lousy airplane trip.

    Locations like the Pacific Northwest need more environment-harming fertilizer to produce the same amount of food grown in a sunnier place like New Zealand. Countries like the U.K., with limited open space, require more intensive farming techniques than those with bountiful space.

    There is such a thing as a local diet that does more good than harm, of course: It just takes a lot of research, sacrifice, diligence, and careful planning … which usually doesn’t go hand-in-hand with that weed, regular co-op shopper. Long story short: Without reverting to an extremely well-researched native diet, which most 100-mile dieters don’t do, we’re better off just letting the foreigners feed us. Maybe we can do them a solid, though, and stop burning their food on our way to buy their stuff.”

  •  Comment from Lisa

    Compelling comment from Nek Romancer. Who are you quoting? Please send the reference. We need to make informed decisions based on science that examines the complete picture of food production and consumption.

  •  Comment from Brenda Troup

    I eat local when and where possible, but live in MA, and am not prepared to give up citrus, pinapple, cocoa, and coffee, to mention a few things NOT grown locally.
    Living near Berkeley is a whole other situation.

  •  Comment from Barb Kartak,MN

    I definitely believe in growing and eating organically grown foods. I do so in my little patio garden, but people, by and large, don’t want to change their way of eating and growing that much.
    Also,people in this area can’t because of the realistic impossibility of doing so due to lack of finances for starting/ maintaining something like this where they live( especially during the long winter months) and/or because of their other daily commitments,etc.
    This would be great if we could do this, but a lot easier said than done except on a small scale, for most. Buying organic is possible and done more and more, coming from wherever products can be grown year long.

  •  Comment from Travis Sherman

    Nek Romancer. Is that your real name?
    I love your opening statement. “Nobody wants to actually change what they eat.” Sounds so true, and is anything but. Thirty years ago ethnic food was pizza and Chinese. Now we’re all eating yogurt on a daily basis.

  •  Comment from Julie C.

    Not everyone can live in California, texas, or Florida! I agree with Brenda. I live in Minnesota, and when produce becomes available here June-Sept. locally is where I can buy my produce, but for the other 8 months out of the year, we totally depend on other states and countries for our produce. But when it comes to meat and dairy…they all depend on us!

  •  Comment from Melinda

    I agree with Brenda. It’s really a bit unfair for people who live in California to tell those of us who live in the Northeast to eat local! We can do it in the summer, but where are we supposed to get our vitamin C, coffee, tea, etc? And what about supplements (which we need if we have no citrus!)? Aren’t most of them produced in China?

    I shop at my Farmers’ Market year round, and buy almost all my meat there. But in the winter (only every two weeks), there are almost no vegetables and certainly no fruit.

  •  Comment from Anne Pyciak

    I eat as local as I can, and also what is grown in the USA , AND Shade grown coffee.and only citrus from USA, I live in Michigan.

  •  Comment from HELEN HAAS DAMBROSI

    Sharing home grown avocadoes and mangoes in season is done in my neighborhood, Home grown Lady Cavendish bananas
    ripen on the tree. We used to enjoy picking fresh oranges from our two trees before the government came onto my property and destroyed them. I still enjoy the fruit from surinam cherry bushes in my yard. They are a wonderful source of natural, organic Vitamin “C”. Many Carribbean fruits, herbs and vegetables will grow anywhere from the Keys up to Stuart, Florida. Local fresh coconuts (not imported from elsewhere) are also available locally. The coconut meat can be grated for coconut cream pie, or bread pudding – or used in oriental dishes. Kumquats can be pierced and left whole or even sliced in half, arranged in a glass jar and covered with vodka – stored in a dark place for a month or two – and you will have an appertif to share around the Holidays!!

  •  Comment from Carol Ashley

    Eating local when it’s available is a first step. Learning how to preserve food for oneself is another. Perhaps we need some local community kitchens for preserving local food, too. Don’t give up if you can’t do it all right away. As local growers find it more and more profitable to sell their products locally, more will think about those community kitchens and preserving food for those who can’t.

    Each step people take will help to change our food system and make it less likely for people in my position to suffer the consequences of industrial farming.

  •  Comment from Grace

    I buy organic where possible, and buy local free range meat. However, if I was to eat only local then I would have no tea, no unrefined sugar except excellent raw, organic honey, no coffee and no nuts except walnuts and almonds. I can’t afford locally grown saffron or wasabi, and I would have to give up my non-homogenised milk which is produced more than 100kms away. Most locally grown cheeses, berries, black cherries, salmon, organic beef, saffron, truffles, wasabi, etc are sent to other parts of the country. I would even have to give up my organic oats for breakfast.

  •  Comment from Cesar Thames

    Congratulations to these chefs. We are trying, in Costa Rica. We need to come back to the past time, like our grandfathers….to establish more orchards, of natural and organically production….is not easy in nowdays when the transnational food trade and monopolies of the food chains impose us the way to consume and buy the food….But we need to make more efforts in orde to get a new actitude, and ways to produce in minor scale and in our yards or patios, include the hydroponic systems……….

  •  Comment from Crunchygirl

    Great ideas…here’s one more: How ’bout making your recipes, etc., “Printer-Friendly??” Took 4 pages and LOTs of ink to print out the Spring Minnestrone Soup Recipe!!

  •  Comment from Jean Zamboni

    Our Minnesota schools are STARTING to buy locally grown foods. We do have tomatoes grown here now year round and we have many kinds of apples. Vegetables such as potatoes, squash and I don’t know what else–I suppose meat, chickens, eggs – - the whole garden-type farms will produce more now that there will be a market for them. School lunch programs SHOULD buy local, but our growing season is not in sync with school calendars.

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