By: Antoinette D’Addario
Alice Waters’ discusses her latest book at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.
Alice Waters fell in love with French food during her time abroad at the Sorbonne in the 1960s, where she was meant to be studying French cultural history. But Waters said she rarely attended class, choosing instead to study French culture through her senses.
“I digested French cultural history through food,” she said.
Dozens of people crowded into Politics and Prose on Saturday to hear world-renowned chef, Alice Waters, discuss her latest book, Fanny in France. This is Waters’ second children’s book based on her daughter, Fanny’s experiences growing up abroad with her mother.
Waters said she was inspired by Eloise at the Plaza books when she began writing her children’s books. Her goal was for parents to read the stories aloud to their children when they were young, and then for children to read them on their own as they grew older. She said she also hoped the book would encourage families to spend more time together. Recalling her time in France, she spoke of families having two hours each day for lunch, so they could return home and eat at their table together.
“This book is a love letter to the French,” Waters said.
Waters read a section from her book titled “My Mom’s Special French Rules.” This section encourages readers to shop at their local farmer’s market for fresh produce and to know when to ask for help. It also emphasizes the importance of starting each meal with a toast.
The floor was then opened to the adults and children in the audience for questions. One person asked Waters about her experiences promoting organic foods in the 1980s and 1990s. Waters said her food choices were never about something being organic; she was simply searching for what tasted best.
“At that time, organic foods were only in health stores, and they rarely tasted good,” she said.
Being a foodie after her time in France, Waters searched California for ingredients that satisfied her palette, and she found them with local farmers.
Another person in the audience was a teacher and asked Waters what schools could do to bring healthier foods into schools. Waters discussed her Edible Schoolyard Project, which she began at a middle school in Berkeley, Calif. over twenty years ago.
“I remember getting a new class of kids and they’d be so afraid of getting dirty” she said. “But after a week or two they were throwing themselves on the ground. It’s amazing what nature does for kids, especially those who don’t [often] interact with it.”
Waters said she believes that school lunch should be an hour-long, academic subject, where students eat and learn together. She also supports free lunches for students and argues school meals should include organic, local ingredients. She suggests serving students tacos while teaching about the Spanish-American War, or have a green salad while discussing geography.
“If we don’t take food out of the fast-food category and focus on cultural aspects and history, we’ll never be edibly educated,” Waters said.
Waters ensured that Fanny was edibly educated throughout her youth and she is now a food connoisseur like her mother. Now in her thirties, Fanny is working on a memoir detailing her travels with her mother during her childhood. Waters also commented on the importance of economical usage of food, recalling a friend of hers in France feeding ten people with just one chicken.
“Every culture since the beginning of time [has] considered food precious,” Waters said.
Waters encouraged attendants not to be wasteful when they make meals, arguing that bigger is not always better. After taking questions, Waters stayed to sign copies of her books and take photos with people. Lina Flefel, a teenage chef, told Waters she is leaving in March to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and Waters wished her luck with her studies.
Barb Perry has family in California and they went to dinner at Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse, for Christmas in 1983. Perry still has the menu from their dinner and brought it with her for Waters to sign.
Despite America’s obsession with fast food and convenience, Waters holds out hope that the next generation will be able to reverse this trend.
“Working with kids has given me a lot of hope,” Waters said.
But she argues this movement must start at the kitchen table with families interacting each day.
“The most important thing I learned from France is eating together,” she said, recalling kids eating with their friends in cafes and families eating every meal together.
“We need to bring people back to the table and back to their senses.”