Has YSFP grown in the ways that you had hoped or expected?
The garden has grown and flourished in the most amazing ways, and I think the whole project feels like the garden. There are little fires and connections being made all around, and I think you’re building something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
What’s more important to you, that food be ecologically responsible or delicious?
Well, I want it to be both, and fortunately you can do that, especially when you eat in season and if you know how to cook in the most basic way. I think that that is something that naturally happens; that’s why it’s so easy to do.
So hypothetically, if McDonald’s were to produce the exact same fast food using ecologically responsible practices, would that be okay?
It’s not OK to just have the ecological aspects in the growing of it; it has to be in the preparing of it as well. What’s wrong with what they’re doing is they’re preparing them in a way that’s unhealthy. But if they were doing that piece right, and they were doing that in an ecological way, then OK! What’s unacceptable is the preservatives, the whole package deal. They also market to children. They are lots of things that are unacceptable, but I’m not opposed to food that is made quickly.
What should be done to expand sustainable food to parts of the population that don’t have access to it?
We need to get into the public school system and educate children about where their food comes from. I think people have to understand the consequences of every decision that they make and also what they eat. We need to be in the kindergartens, so that the kids grow up with the right set of facts. People can be educated, but we need a SWAT team out there to educate right now. There’s been a lot of effective scare tactics, but we need something positive.
Do you feel that the kind of food served at Chez Panisse could feed the whole country?
Well, not fancy like that. I think we need to develop a peasant cooking, if you will, in this country. Something that’s affordable, and delicious, and seasonal. But it takes time. We’ve allowed fast food to take over that place of peasant cooking. And it’s not that we’re all going to be peasants again, but we just have to know how to nourish ourselves — have to be respectful of the grower. There are lots of things that we do at Chez Panisse that I think could be part of that. From all cultures, there are beautiful foods that have stood the test of time. That are, as I said, basic nourishment, and affordable. Not cheap, but affordable. But if you grow your own, that’s the cheapest.
As a chef, you’ve been one of the key figures driving the early organics movement. What kind of people do you see driving the movement in the future? Chefs? Writers? Politicians?
I think that students are beginning to drive this. What’s happening at Yale and at universities across the country. It’s very important to the people that are going to be the future leaders of this country. I don’t want to be the carrier, and I think that celebrities are inappropriate people to carry this message. I would like leaders of the United States to carry this message.
A lot of people I’ve encountered, at Yale and elsewhere, just don’t like the food that is associated with the organics movement. They would prefer McDonald’s. How do you reach them?
That’s because they’ve been seriously indoctrinated, and we have to seriously seduce them. I think we have to do that by engaging people in the process. They have to be involved in the growing and the cooking, and the ritual of the table. There are a few eccentric people who are just closed off, but I think that most people are addicted to salt and sugar. So you have to figure out other ways to get them engaged — don’t tell me these are people that won’t eat the food up at the garden. And they’ll want to come back for more. It’s slower moving than to work with children, but everybody must be able to see the damage being done. Give them a copy of “Fast Food Nation” or “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” These people are intelligent.