A year ago, my parents invited us to join them for dinner at Chez Panisse to celebrate my mom’s birthday. We eagerly accepted, because one we love spending time with them and two, as self proclaimed foodies, we love to try new restaurants, especially world renowned ones. The whole evening was amazing. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful craftsman style home, nestled into a busy Berkeley Street, hidden by trees and marked only by a very non assuming carved wooden sign announcing this food mecca. We were sat downstairs for the prefix menu of whatever fresh courses Alice Waters has chosen for the given night, we had no idea what we would be served. The dining room was beautiful, and the kitchen sat behind beautiful wooden columns at one end of the dining room allowing us to watch the many chefs preparing dinner. It was amazing! While we were watching the magic happen in the kitchen I caught a glimpse of Alice Waters herself! She was the real life version of the photograph on the cover of her cookbook that was in my kitchen. Here we were at her restaurant, and there she was in the kitchen. I don’t know if you guys have gone to a lot of restaurants that are famous for the chef, but the famous chef is not usually in the kitchen. I calmly, excused myself under the guise of heading to the restroom and asked the hostess if we might be able to meet Alice Waters, I was prepared to pull out all of my bargaining chips, it was my mom’s birthday, eating at this restaurant was on her bucket list, etc. I didn’t need any of my arguments, the hostess explained that their’s was an open kitchen and anytime we wanted to, we could go back and see what was going on, if we wanted to meet Alice though we would have to go quickly she was just eating dinner and would be leaving soon. With that, my mom and I rushed back to meet her. She was the nicest woman in the world, she talked to my mom about cooking and how she loved to give back to her chefs by eating what they had prepared offering them encouragement and feedback. She didn’t act “holier than thou” because she had challenged the way that America eats and when asked about the breakfast she would soon be preparing with Michelle Obama to promote childhood nutrition, she said that she hoped it would help. Then as I thought we were about to leave she turned to me and entrusted me with saving my generation from processed foods. Yikes, let me tell you when Alice Waters, the pioneer of the slow food movement tells you that it is your responsibility to bring your generation back to “real food,” you take the charge seriously.
I have never really eaten processed foods, my mom was pretty into fruits, vegetables and whole wheat bread. One time I came home from kindergarten and asked my mom why all the other kids had fruit snacks in their lunches, and my mom simply replied that it was because their mom’s thought that fruit snacks were real fruit, I think that I have eaten an apple almost every day of my life and can count on one hand the packages of fruit snacks I have had. I have always believed that a homemade cake means flour, sugar and eggs, not a box from the grocery store. And don’t even get me started on white bread, I don’t remember tasting Wonder Bread until I was in college and let’s just say that Wonder Bread and I had an amazing weekend long fling, but when the loaf was done and I went back to Wheat Bread I knew that I would never go back.
I also believe that there is something so comforting about eating foods in their seasons. I don’t believe that God made any mistakes in the creation of the earth and there is something beautiful, harmonious and balancing that the foods perfectly match the need of the season in which they ripen. I mean really, fresh, juicy fruits and vegetables in the summer, when the days are long and the sun is out and all you want to do is sit and graze while enjoying the heat outside, not be stuck inside next to your heating oven. Then the seasons turn, days slow down, leaves change color and squash starts covering the ground like crazy and nothings seems more perfect than roasting vegetables in your oven all afternoon while sipping hot cider or the smell of big vats of soup simmering on the stove all day.
As you know, I have taken on the challenge of gardening this summer and it is discouraging. I planted a whole package of corn seeds and I have 1 measly stalk of corn. I know that this journey I am on toward REAL FOOD will probably be very long, and I will fall back to convenience and ease time after time, but I am committed. I am taking Alice Waters seriously. Because I think that our health and the well being of our planet is important. I think that childhood obesity, diabetes, and hunger are important. I know the facts. This planet produces more than enough food to feed all of it’s inhabitants and yet 1 in every 15 children will die of starvation before they reach the age of 5. Imagine if that were the statistic in our preschool and Sunday school classrooms. Food was made for a purpose. For nourishment but I also believe for community. Jesus broke bread with the disciples. He started all sorts of controversy when he ATE with the pharisees. His first miracle was water into wine at a wedding. It is not something to be taken for granted. I don’t think that it was made for a can. We can all agree that a tomato fresh off of the vine is far and away more flavorful than a tomato out of a can.
Last week a High School student came to my door collecting cans for a canned food drive. I am happy to report that I gave her every last can in my house… 1 can of kidney beans. It was so encouraging to see a little picture of progress. I hope that the generation that follows will be reacquainted with the family dinner table. They will understand the community that can take place around a dinner table eating a bowl of soup that has simmered on the stove for hours or a fresh loaf of bread from the oven. I long to taste and love REAL food, even if it is “harder”.
Join me won’t you in eating one meal of real food this week. I promise you won’t regret it.