On eating well, and bringing values to the table

Waters
Waters

The family meal was once the central civilizing activity in a child’s life, says Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse, the trendsetting restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. She acquired her own core beliefs “almost unconsciously, at the table of my family.” Nowadays, however, families no longer give priority to the “ritual of the table,” she said in September at a colloquium sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies.

Waters believes public schools can help restore that daily ritual by encouraging children to grow, prepare and eat their own food and by making lunch a for-credit course. In The Edible Schoolyard, a program she helped found at a Berkeley public middle school, she says students not only find that work can be a pleasure, but also learn to think seriously about food and where it comes from, and to relate to each other in a respectful and social way. Waters wants schools nationwide to follow suit, creating “a curriculum that teaches the essential values of nourishment, community and stewardship of the land.” She said funding must be found, because unhealthy food, inactivity and the destruction wrought by factory farming carry hidden costs.

Waters has already helped to transform cuisine on the Yale campus. She’s an advisor to the Berkeley College dining hall, which last fall began serving mostly seasonal, sustainably grown foods. The menu attracts more diners than the college can serve.