Shortly after accepting the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Citizen Leadership, Alice Waters spoke to students at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy about the need for what she calls “slow food values” in a fast food world.
“I do feel strongly that all the serious problems we face today – every one of them – are fundamentally connected to food,” she said.
Waters, who founded the Edible Schoolyard Project and is vice president of Slow Food International, has worked around the globe to promote sustainable food sources and greater access to nutritious, local food for schoolchildren.
Since she began the Edible Schoolyard Project in 1995, it’s spread from a single schoolyard garden in Berkeley, California, to more than 5,000 schools around the globe.
As an advocate, Waters’ greatest concern is that fast food values have permeated nearly every aspect of our culture. She spoke to students about how fast food values like uniformity, speed, availability and cheapness have skewed our expectations in everyday life and led to a devaluing not only of quality food, but of quality interaction with the world around us.
As an example, Waters pointed to the way that society’s reliance on uniformity has made us less willing to try new things and engendered an expectation that we should have access to certain items and a certain lifestyle wherever we go.
She warned that these kinds of expectations close us off to new experiences and lower our willingness to embrace diversity in all aspects of life.
To combat the rise of these traits, Waters urges the teaching of “slow food values” from the earliest days of school. Among these, she listed ripeness, interconnection, diversity, generosity, collaboration and simplicity.
At a time when Americans have become accustomed to having nearly every kind of food available to them throughout the year, Waters said it’s important that people once again place emphasis on ripeness – not just that something looks ripe in a store, but that it is the peak time to eat something based on the season and climate of their home.
“Ripeness may sound esoteric, but it is a value that means there is a right time for everything,” she said.
She explained that in life there is a right time for everything and even pointed out that historical successes – like those led by Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers – were able to happen in part because the timing was just right.
Waters closed by reminding students that we are all interconnected, to each other and to the world around us, by the food we eat, and encouraged them to join her for “the delicious revolution.”