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Food Activist Alice Waters Takes to Web, Mulls TV
BERKELEY, Calif. — Alice Waters is unlikely to become the next Food Network Iron Chef. But with sustainable eating hot fodder for celebrity chefs, the woman many credit with planting the seeds of the movement may make the jump to her own television program.
The California-based food activist says she's exploring new ways of spreading her message about the importance of fresh, local food and supporting the farmers who grow it, including a possible TV show, though talks for that still are in the early stages.
"I want so much for this message about food to reach people," Waters said in an interview.
Waters put her quest for new connections into action Wednesday, participating in an online video conference that saw her taking questions about cooking and food policy from her Berkeley kitchen. She earlier held a similar session with bloggers.
The notion of eating fresh and local never has been more popular. Chefs from Rachael Ray to Paula Deen are talking about the importance of nutrition, Michelle Obama is leading a national charge against child obesity, and Jamie Oliver recently turned his effort to reform the diet of a West Virginia town into a hit reality television program.
"It's so unbelievably gratifying," said Waters. "I think we're all talking about real food vs. imitation food. That's the place we need to go."
Waters, who opened her landmark Chez Panisse restaurant in 1971, has been widely praised for programs such as The Edible Schoolyard that she started at a Berkeley middle school, and has since spread elsewhere, teaching students about food, health, and the environment. But she's also been criticized as being out-of-touch with average working families, partly because of her message that good food is worth paying a premium for.
Waters reiterated her belief that good food is a good investment. "You either pay up front, or you pay out back," she said. "You either pay in your health and your way of life and the health of the planet or you come into a new relationship with food."
But Waters — whose latest book "In the Green Kitchen," features simple techniques from a number of chefs — said eating well doesn't have to mean a big expense. Eating meat every day is expensive, but learning how to cook different things, such as inexpensive lentils and chickpeas or faro is not. "It's what this book is all about. It's really about demystifying food."
Oliver, whose ABC show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," documents his efforts to change eating habits in Huntington, W.Va., said in an e-mail that Waters "has created a program that works brilliantly for her community. She has found a way to get everyone on board and really teaches kids and adults about proper food. And she teaches them to really enjoy and cherish it too. Her books bring her recipes to everyone. There's nothing elitist about that."
Waters said that if she does a television show, she would like it to be on public television.
"Some of my heroes of cooking have been on PBS in the past," she said. The show might feature guests, famous or not, farmers and suppliers to Chez Panisse. "I feel like I need to be in a place where I can bring a lot of different people into that kitchen."