How many times has Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food saved you from a complete disaster in the kitchen?
This is the cookbook that explained how to properly cut an onion through its whimsical illustrations, and that the best way to cook salmon is by slow-roasting it in a low-temperature oven. Waters has always had your back with her easy-to-understand ways of teaching you everything you need to know about food.
Now, she is looking out for all of us by thinking about the trickiest topic in food right now: the future.
As part of LA Times' Festival of Books happening this weekend in Los Angeles, Waters—along with Jonathan Gold, David "Mas" Masumoto of Masumoto Peach Farms, and food researcher Sarah Smith—will be having a conversation titled "Food Futures, presented by California Humanities."
MUNCHIES recently caught up with Waters and Masumoto to discuss the future of food. We talked about potentially scary farming technology and why school lunches should qualify for academic credit around the US.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Alice and Mas. How are you doing today? Alice Waters: You don't want to know. I'm finishing up work on a memoir and also working on a book for children. I'm on deadline mode.
David "Mas" Masumoto: I thought I had issues with a couple thousand trees and a couple thousand vines, but at least they don't talk back to me. Things are bursting right now at the farm, so there is so much work to do.
How do you two know each other? AW: Through delicious peaches. Some of his peaches are so juicy that they never leave the farm. Whatever Mas is growing is my favorite peach varietal.
DM: Early on, Alice and Chez Panisse were doing wonderful things with our peaches, so we knew each other simply as a farmer and a chef. We have become good friends since those early days, though.
What topics will you be touching on during your "Food Futures" conversation this weekend? AW: I'm hoping that our conversation really comes together very clearly in the end. We all need to support the people who are taking care of the land. They are to be treasured. We all need to get to know them. These farmers have made Chez Panisse what it is. Once you make that connection with the farmer, you can't have it any other way. When you know the farmer, it completely changes the way in which you think about food.
You come into this seasonal connection and start to anticipate something like peaches. I anticipate Mas' peaches for nine to ten months out of the year, for example. I only get them for two months, but I would rather wait that long then have my palate dulled by second-rate fruits and vegetables. When it is peach season, I am thrilled. For people to engage in this way is incredibly important because it will change the way that you buy food and the way that you eat it.
I call it a delicious revolution.
DM: I'm supposed to be moderating, and I think we have some dynamic people in the panel like Jonathan and Alice, so we will be jumping all over the place. I will be talking about things that we should be worried about when it comes to the future of food, like the role of farming and technology in cooking in the future.
In your opinions, what is the biggest threat or trickiest subject to talk about when it comes to the future of food? AW: We have to figure out the role of technology. Is it really about finding out about every varietal of fruit and vegetable and every breed of animal? Is it about helping us plant victory gardens like early farming technology and the government helped us plant during World War II? We need to be able to have good food come into the city and be available through wholesale to schools, hospitals, and all of the big institutions. And we can't have a profit-maker in between the farmer and the institution.
How can we do this? We all need to get together and talk about the details. Nobody is doing this in a large scale in a nonprofit way.
DM: I think it is definitely technology. Maybe it is not a threat, but what is happening right now sort of reminds me of possibly the biggest revolution in farming: the tractor. The farming technology that is being developed right now will affect how food will be produced, how much food will cost, and environmental and labor issues. Looking into the future, I want to find out: What is the role of technology in everything? Is this development a threat or will it welcomed as "innovative"?
In a perfect world, what does a futuristic food scene look like to both of you? AW: I can't imagine it in any other way than how I imagine it for myself. We need to have real, unadulterated, way-more-than-just-organic food for everybody. Fortunately, we do have the knowhow already, but we have a lot to face with global warming and a lack of knowledge. I think the future of food lies in public education. Again, we have to really get to know our farmers.
As a chef, it is so inspiring to me to have this very close connection to farmers. It is something so valuable that I can't even tell you how valuable it is. I feel like a real preacher on the pulpit when I start thinking about farmers. They are feeding us in the most profound ways and we've lost our way of honoring them. In the future, I see them—along with teachers, who have also not seen the respect that they deserve—[getting] lifted up.
I want a declaration from the President of the United States that everybody in public schools should have a free, delicious, organic school lunch.
DM: Alice is touching on something big here. The future of food is going to be about "real food." [California] has a wonderful natural advantage with weather and climate. As we face these new crises, we are going to get innovative and find answers. I think there is going to be a brand new public-private partnership system that comes out of all these new issues. Even water issues will slowly, eventually get worked out.
It really is about transparency in food.
How can we get young people to start caring about the future of food? AW: I say the younger, the better. Begin the edible education in kindergarten. I'll tell you: After 20 years in the Edible Schoolyard, if kids grow it and cook it, they all will eat it. And they will all fall in love with nature in the process. It's like coming home. It feels so natural. Thank God that we haven't lost those genes inside us yet that really connect us with mother nature and those genes that have to do with eating together as a family, or those genes that make you think, Ooh! I want to eat this and taste it!
My daughter is very, very health-conscious, but because she has such an edible education in taste, she wants that kind of food to be fantastic. In the last ten years in this country, we have found delicious organic tortillas, and grains beyond brown rice. We now have all of these things that we never had before.
DM: I think Alice is touching on the key point of connecting young people with food. The earlier you witness this connection, the earlier you can make this connection with how food is part of your life. A lot of young people these days are much more health-conscious than when I was growing up. Also, the world of food is one of the invigorating worlds of innovation. I think that is the other angle that the youth can connect with. If you just look at all of the wonderful, creative ideas that young people have surrounding food, there is this wonderful spirit of energy.
My daughter is very active and is now farming with me; she just gets so passionate about it.
What are each of you doing to change the future of food? AW: Oh, God. Well, I have a big vision. I want a declaration from the President of the United States that everybody in public schools should have a free, delicious, organic school lunch. I'm imagining school lunch as an academic subject, and kids get graded for eating it. For example, you can be served a Mexican lunch and speaking Spanish while eating it by tying it with a Mexican history class or any other academic subject.
Until we have a free school lunch and schools supporting organic, local farms, the values of equity and nourishment will never come to pass.
DM: On a personal front, our daughter is taking over the farm, so there is this wonderful new question about what exactly does successions in food mean? I am no longer looking at my decade or two left on this farm—I am now suddenly looking at a whole other half-century. This thinking is what the future of food is all about.
Thank you very much for speaking with me.