Food activist Alice Waters explores new ways to spread message about fresh, local food

Alice Waters is unlikely to become the next Food Network Iron Chef.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Alice Waters is unlikely to become the next Food Network Iron Chef.

But with sustainable eating hot fodder for celebrity chefs, the woman many credit with planting the seeds of the movement may make the jump to her own television program.

The California-based food activist says she’s exploring new ways of spreading her message about the importance of fresh, local food and supporting the farmers who grow it, including a possible TV show, though talks for that still are in the early stages.

“I want so much for this message about food to reach people,” Waters said in an interview.

Waters participated in an online video conference that saw her taking questions about cooking and food policy from her Berkeley kitchen. She also held a similar session with bloggers.

The notion of eating fresh and local never has been more popular.

Chefs from Rachael Ray to Paula Deen are talking about the importance of nutrition, the wife of the U.S. president, Michelle Obama, is leading a national charge against child obesity, and Jamie Oliver recently turned his effort to reform the diet of a West Virginia town into a hit reality television program.

“It’s so unbelievably gratifying,” said Waters. “I think we’re all talking about real food versus imitation food. That’s the place we need to go.”

Waters, who opened her landmark Chez Panisse restaurant in 1971, has been widely praised for programs such as The Edible Schoolyard that she started at a Berkeley middle school, and has since spread elsewhere.

But she’s also been criticized as being out-of-touch with average working families, partly because of her message that good food is worth paying a premium for.

Waters reiterated her belief that good food is a good investment.

“You either pay up front, or you pay out back,” she said.

“You either pay in your health and your way of life and the health of the planet or you come into a new relationship with food.”

But Waters — whose latest book In the Green Kitchen, features simple techniques from a number of chefs — said eating well doesn’t have to mean a big expense.

Eating meat every day is expensive, but learning how to cook different things, such as inexpensive lentils and chickpeas or faro is not.

“It’s what this book is all about. It’s really about demystifying food.”