Alice Waters' Crusade For Better Food

Lesley Stahl Profiles The Outspoken, And Sometimes Controversial California Food Activist

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Even as a little girl, Waters says she had a keen sense of taste. But what turned her into a cook was going to France in 1965 and eating simple and healthy country food. She had her epiphany.

Back at Berkeley, she was an activist involved in movements: anti-war, free speech, women's rights. But what she really loved was cooking, and feeding her friends. And she still does.

One day last August, she took 60 Minutes to a Mexican food stall in San Francisco where friends of hers were making slow food to go with organic corn and lots of spices.

You realize two things when you travel around with Alice Waters: one is that deep down she loves it when people eat, and two, it is that you can't resist her.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Waters disciple, told Stahl, "She has, I think, done more to change our eating habits for the better than anyone in the United States of America."

He agreed that obesity is a huge issue now. "We consume lousy food. This is killing us. I mean it really is. We have a drinking and eating problem in this country, not just in San Francisco. And this whole movement to me is the antidote for that."

Waters talked Newsom into letting her organize a "slow food" festival outside City Hall last September. Growing the slow food movement is one of her passions: she was ecstatic that 85,000 people showed up.

She walked Stahl through the taste pavilions, introducing her to her acolytes: organic cheese merchants and bakers.

The centerpiece of the event was a sprawling, urban victory garden - a real vegetable garden in front of City Hall. Waters called it "the ultimate symbolism."

The garden, Waters' idea, was planted to encourage people to grow their own.

She brought Stahl over to one of her favorite local farmers, John Lagier, who uses only eco-friendly, or as Waters would say, "sustainable" methods. That day he was showing off his specialty grapes, Bronx seedless, which he was selling at $4 a pound.

There's the rub. A common complaint about organic food is that it's expensive.

"We make decisions everyday about what we're going to eat," Waters said. "And some people want to buy Nike shoes - two pairs, and other people want to eat Bronx grapes, and nourish themselves. I pay a little extra, but this is what I want to do."