I’m reading Tom McNamee’s succulent, savory and savvy book on Alice Waters. It’s called “Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution.” Berkeley, California in the 1970s is certainly trippy.
Throughout the book, the narrative will be interrupted by Alice Waters giving a detailed description of how to cook a dish. After reading about how to make the perfect omelet, I had to try it myself. (I have to work on flipping it over in the air). Having hard boiled eggs around also turned out to be a simple way to start the day. Her search for the perfect lettuce and the perfect peach had me combing my local farmers’ market pretending to be a forager from Chez Panisse. I brought the peach to my nose and inhaled. I cradled the beautiful head of lettuce and pictured it on my table. I sniffed and caressed.
For many people, these are hard times. So talking about good food may seem callous and a bit hippy dippy. But that’s not why I’m recommending this book. What we eat is something we have some control over. We can eat simply and healthy. And people on food stamps can buy produce from farmers’ markets instead of filling up on processed cheese. I was at a farmers’ market in Livingston, Montana. The couple ahead of me were buying some nice potatoes, lettuce, and radishes. They used food stamps.
Something else that I do to ward off the evil spirits of doom and gloom is to get out an old lace tablecloth and serve my radishes on a nice china plate. A little elegance on the frontier is what ranch wives often tried to do in the face of dust and dirt. And I continue the tradition.
When I moved here 18 years ago from NYC and LA, there were few farmers’ markets. Oddly, I had been spoiled by living in those big cities. They had fabulous farmers’ markets. New Jersey is not called the Garden State for nothing. But Montana imported 80% of its food. Also I discovered that people here did have vegetable gardens but they traded with their friends but didn’t sell the fresh produce. Thanks to local women, we got our own farmers’ market. And the ones in the larger towns have grown and become increasingly sophisticated in their consciousness of flavor and organic ways of growing things. It took me years, but I finally convinced my rancher husband to stop grain feeding his steers and go grass fed.
I thank you Alice Waters for your pioneering spirit and pushing farm to restaurant and schoolyard gardens. Yes, you can be a pioneer in Berkeley and you can lead a revolution with a spatula and a iron skillet.
I may need that book!
The radishes look beautiful.
Thank you for reading this. Yes, It’s a pretty interesting book. “The way we eat can change the world,” she said. Her “Edible Schoolyards” are visionary and are changing the world.
Alice Waters arrives at UC Berkeley right when the Free Speech Movement was in full swing. She calls out Henry Kissinger in 1966 using the word “genocide”. Then on the next page is a written description of crepes with orange zest.
Waters herself says, “God, it was a wild time. A terrible time in many ways. But it all felt so important.” Would that young people today had that feeling that this is an important time because it is. In 1966, students rebelled against the idea that they were not allowed to talk about politics on campus; that they were not allowed to disagree with the Vietnam War; that women were not to speak of these things publicly. Nowadays young people think they have all this freedom, but they don’t. They have choice of sneakers and cereal, but not freedom from subservience. Alice’s crowd had champagne, some cocaine, good food and sex. Our young people may be too drugged on anti-depressants to understand the reality of the world that is now. It’s important to look back on this time. It should be a film.
I never ate radishes before. They always seemed to me to be annoying pieces of cardboard on my salad. But a fresh radish right from the garden is divine, I’ve discovered.