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.
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)