At one of the immense indoor spaces of the American Tobacco campus, we dined on duck prosciutto with fig goat cheese, butternut squash flan, black grouper with basil pesto fume, and pineapple sage roast lamb shank. It was the SEEDS 10th anniversary dinner and the meal was made of totally local and sustainable foods–as Alice Waters once said, “The meal is part of the message.”
Waters, who is the chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and is widely credited for giving New American cuisine its beginnings, has taken on a whole new crusade in the last 10 years. This past Saturday, after visiting the Durham Farmers’ Market in the morning, she gave the address at the dinner for SEEDS, an organization in Durham dedicated to supporting our farmers’ markets and fostering community gardens. Waters has always stood for the principals of good eating: that eating brings us together; that food, when it is grown properly, when it comes from our communities and is made with love, can act as a tool to unify, teach and enlighten.
This is a lesson that we as a community have been learning. More and more chefs in the Triangle are using locally produced foods and are committed to supporting local farmers as well as to making the best food possible. At the SEEDS dinner, chefs like Nana’s Louie Botta, Giorgios Hospitality’s Giorgios Bakatsias, and Enoteca Vin’s Ashley Christensen were there cooking and supporting a cause they hope one day will extend beyond their restaurants and into the greater community. Unfortunately, this is a crusade that rarely reaches beyond the purveyors and patrons of fine dining.
Organizations like SEEDS and Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation are striving to take the food revolution one giant step further–into the lives of our children and our schools. Waters asked us, “What values are today’s children learning at the table, and at whose table are they dining?” Not only are many children not sitting and eating with their families anymore, but basic nutrition is sadly lacking in kids’ diets. Childhood obesity and diabetes are rising at alarming rates. “Our most democratic system, the public school system, has an obligation to teach our children how to eat, because they’re not learning it at home,” she said.
In Berkeley 10 years ago, Alice Waters walked into a middle school and was shocked. Even in Berkeley, a city thought of as affluent and enlightened, the school was poor and depressed, the school yard bleak blacktop. What she began was the edible classroom, a one-acre garden in which students grow organic, sustainable food and then learn to cook and eat together in the kitchen classroom. Now in Berkeley, more than 9,000 kids in 17 schools are taking part in an official curriculum based on that first edible classroom. The classes are mandatory and meet all government standards. As Waters points out, “Kids who need this the most are the least likely to take advantage if it’s only offered on a take it or leave it basis.”
SEEDS is doing its best to foster a connection between gardening, eating and learning in Durham. If we continue to nurture these connections, our communities can only become healthier. “I think I see something growing here,” Waters said, “and I hope I can encourage it.”