Eat your words

By: Rebecca Sullivan | October 8, 2015

Alice Waters and Rebecca Sullivan
Photo: Rebecca Sullivan

The word meaningful came up in conversation more than once when I had lunch with legendary foodie Alice Waters recently. Sometimes people say it with little meaning at all but when it comes from the mouth of Alice Waters, American chef, restaurateur, activist, and author, the word kind of lingers in the air a while. I could rattle off the usual adjectives to describe Alice: passionate, honest, authentic and warm, but they do not do her the amount of justice her work and her words deserve.  

Alice is a woman who believes firmly in creating meaningful work for everyone; not just jobs, but work, so when we discussed the ‘granny skills movement’, which I have championed in my home state of South Australia, ideas grew. Given her previous experience in setting up successful programs like the ‘Edible Schoolyard’, in her native Berkeley California, I asked her what future she saw for the revival of traditional homesteading and what older generations can offer.

“Old age in America is sad. Other places in the world value their elders and retirement is something you used to look forward to because you became someone who was respected. That does not happen here,” Alice explained.

It does not happen in Australia much either sadly. Statistics show that the number of people aged above 65 will double in the next 25 years. In a world where 43% of our elders experience social isolation, which is closely correlated with loneliness and depression as well as mental and physical decline, the 'granny skills' movement offered a chance to engage with older people.

“I have watched a lot of people feel like they’re being punished as they get older. It’s so wrong, and we have to figure out how to bring them into our lives in a beautiful way," Alice said. "What a workforce is there, a group of people who really want to be engaged. They don’t want to sit in front of the television in the old folk's home. I think about my parents. They died, not because they got sick, but I think my father really died because he didn’t have meaningful work.”

Alice is known for her crusade to improve eating standards across all socio-economic demographics, and especially for real food to be served in schools. “Now wouldn’t it be fabulous if your grannies could be the ones cooking this real food for the kids in schools!” she enthused.

By this point we were on a roll. I explained that ‘grandpa skills’ had been soft launched through the Men’s Shed movement in Australia and that ‘granny skills’ was about kitchen and crafts. Alice devised a plan: “So if we took a farm run by grandpas, that grew food for the local school, and the grannies used the produce and cooked the lunches every day, and the kids went on farm as part of their curriculum (everything from math to agriculture), surely it would be a win-win situation for all involved." And a new generation of healthy eaters would be educated in food provenance.

We plotted and planned about the next big revolution we could collaborate on and then she slammed her tiny hand down on the table and said, “Fine let’s do it”. She shook my hand and gave me a gargantuan meaningful hug and then we feasted. 

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