Chez Panisse’s goals: Fresh, local and in season

BERKELEY, Calif. — It is no secret that the United States is plagued by a growing epidemic of overweight children, calculated by BetterHealthUSA to be around 25 percent.

Fast food, the main powerhouse within the American food system, is often blamed, but David Prior, director of communications for the Chez Panisse Foundation, is optimistic. “Anything is possible,” he says of the effort to fix the problem. His optimism is well-founded.

David Prior says kids will eat what they grow and make themselves. By Lynne Perri

With its origins dating back to 1971, a time when Berkeley was at the forefront of the United States’ free speech movement,  Chez Panisse not only challenges the fast food industry’s unhealthy meals, but also practices and promotes environmentally friendly food production and little waste. Its founder, Alice Waters, has been hailed as a torch bearer for the so-called slow food movement, a movement that consists of eating crops that are locally grown and in season. However, Waters’ idea does not only yield gastronomic repercussions; slow food reduces obesity rates and also exhorts for sustainability, Prior said.

Prior’s often alluded-to slogan “good, clean and fair” calls for quality food, organic ingredients and fair trade with farmers. This last one is key to the economic amelioration of local agriculturalists. Since all the food at Chez Panisse is locally grown, local farmers have a chance to sell crops at fair prices, allowing agriculturalists to lead sustainable businesses. In another of the many ways that Chez Panisse offers help for local farmers and reduces its waste output, Varun Mehra, assistant to Alice Waters, explains how the restaurant also supplies them leftover fryer cooking oil that agriculturalists can convert into bio-diesel fuel.

The Chez Panisse Foundation’s contributions don’t stop there.

In 1995 the Edible Schoolyard was established in Berkeley at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. The innovative idea was established to give this public school’s students a chance to learn firsthand how to grow crops and eat healthily as well. Prior said, “If students are introduced at an early time to use fruits and other natural foods, there is a better chance they will continue to eat healthily.”

The archway sign invites customers into Chez Panisse. By Jordan Galerkin

On the other hand, however, Prior believes that the Chez Panisse can’t confront the fast food industry on its own.

“We’re fighting a very strong industry,” he says, “It all starts with the consumers and customers…we need the community on board.”