Alice Waters was born in 1944. Her early life, as she presents it, was typical of middle class Americans of the fifties and sixties, and then she was nurtured in the very radical climate of Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement, the hippies and beatniks of San Francisco, and the heated political atmosphere of protest and opposition to the Viet Nam war. She worked for the election of Bob Sheer to congress, a radical anti-war candidate. (He lost.)
However, she writes:
"Even though I shared a lot of counterculture values, I never connected with the hippie culture of the late 1960s, no question about it. The food in particular. I didn't really have friends who were hippies either -- except maybe my sisters Laura and Susan -- because I was seeking out people who thought about food and culture in a different way. I didn't want anything to do with the hippies' style of health food cooking: a jumble of chopped vegetables tossed together with pasta -- throw in a few bamboo shoots, and call it a Chinese meal. To me, that world was all about stale, dry brown bread and an indiscriminate way of eating cross-legged on couches or on the ground with none of the formality of the table. There was an aesthetic demarcation between the hippies and me, certainly as far as the food was concerned; I thought their approach was absolutely uncivilized, unrefined." (p. 148)
|David Goines: Chez Panisse Poster.|
Alice Waters also documents her many relationships with a variety of people, some famous, some not-so-famous. These memories are very readable and interesting; for example, her long affair with David Goines, the graphic artist, who provided the art work that is in my mind fused to the era and to my own mental image of Chez Panisse. (I did eat there once in the 1980s, and enjoyed it, though I don't recall the exact menu.)
Importantly, Alice Waters acknowledges how important Julia Child's influence had been on American food views: Chez Panisse presented French cooking in a very novel way, and developed many American twists on the French classics, but American diners in Berkeley were ready for this, according to Alice, because: Julia Child.
I enjoyed learning about Julia Child's early life and the whole atmosphere of her California girlhood. She was born in 1912 -- a few years before Alice Waters' mother was born (1916). Appetite for Life is not nearly as successful a book as Coming to My Senses or as Julia Child's own memoir, My Life in France, which I read a few years ago. After Fitch's interesting discussion of Julia Child's family and early life, she tediously presented far too much detail about Julia Child's return to California, early job experiences; her World War II job in China, where she met her husband Paul Child, and so on. Fitch describes the writing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the development of the French Chef TV shows, and Julia Child's later experiences with great fame and success -- all in way too much detail. Just because Julia Child allowed Fitch access to all the letters, personal notes, professional records, and other closely held materials in her possession, Fitch seemed to think she had to relate every happening, no matter how repetitive. I kept reading until the end, but I'm not sure why. It was more than I wanted to learn.