Speaker 1 Go ahead.

Speaker 2 It was a completely different universe for cookbook's until fairly recently, I mean, the last 20 years there's been a major cookbook revolution and cookbooks have become a profit center for publishers. But back in Beard's day, I mean, I would be surprised if there were more than four or five hundred cookbooks published a year. Now, there's probably four or five hundred cookbooks published a week. And certainly cookbooks in those days were the domain of women. Women know they were like good girls who wrote practical advice for people. And it was a very small world, a very clubby world. They knew each other. All the cookbook authors, you know, Poppy Canham and you know, there was like a handful of them who were famous and they knew each other. And I think it would have been very strange for a man to write a cookbook.

Speaker 3 What was distinctive about James Beard's cookbooks?

Speaker 2 I think the big thing that is so important about James Beard is that he was a champion of American food. I think he was the first person who really understood that we have a cuisine here and he celebrated that. And he wasn't about, you know, let me tell you how to do something quickly. I mean, he was he loved food and he conveyed that. And the whole idea of, you know, cooking is a duty. It isn't about making it perfectly. He gave you permission to go into the kitchen and have a great time. And that was really unusual for that time. And we were really, until fairly recently, in the thrall of the Europeanisation of food, the idea that the only good food came from someplace else, that it wasn't here. And here was this man who said, I grew up in Portland. We had a Chinese cook. We ate everything. Our products are wonderful, you know. I mean, he was writing at a time when many at the point that beard started, American food was still really good. The products were really good. And then you have that whole post-war period with the industrialization of food. But he was remembering another time he was remembering the taste of American food and encouraging all of us to go out and find it. I mean, long before farm to table before farmer's markets. He was the person who said there is a farmer somewhere near you who is actually still milking cows and making great cream. I will never forget going to an American place and seeing Larry for Joan come out with he just had cream in a jar and he was shaking it. And I said, what are you doing that I'm whipping the cream? And I said, how can you whipped cream? I mean, I had never known cream. That was that good. And he said, you know, Mr Beard says that if you find the right dairy, you can get cream like this. And he went out and found it. So he was a voice who was encouraging chefs to rediscover an American food that had been forgotten.

Speaker 3 Let's talk about the food revolution that was going on in California with Jonathan Waxman, Larry Foredoomed, Alice Waters, the people at that time. How were they influenced by James Beard?

Speaker 2 Well, I mean, I really think that probably the biggest influence was here in New York, not in California. If there's a real influence, it's people like Jamile were influenced by him. But most of what was happening in California was very consciously California cuisine. And so I think if you looked at the restaurateurs who were doing it, I mean, the Michael McCarty's, the Bruce Martyrs' in Southern California, they might not have even have heard of James Beard. I mean, the Berkeley people did. And they were influenced by Beard and by Elizabeth David. But I don't think it had a huge influence down south.

Speaker 3 Tell us about how you first became aware of who James Beard was.

Speaker 2 I think I always knew who James Beard was. And I was in one of my early cookbooks was his book on American food, which I still use all the time. And I knew that he lived two blocks from. I was like, I would sometimes walk down the street hoping that he would come out of his house, but I was never lucky enough to encounter him. But when I first started writing about food, which was in well, I first started writing magazine articles about food, which was in the mid seventies. I was invited to a party and I was the food person at New West. So he said, you know, there's this party for James Beard. Why don't you go? And virtually everyone who was anyone in the San Francisco food world was at this party, which was at a private home. And there he was seated like a great Buddha in a chair holding court. And Marion Cunningham, who I met for the first time at that party, sort of saw me looking lost off in the corner. And she said, Would you like me to introduce you to James Beard? And I was really you would do that. And she took me up and introduced me and I said something like, oh, I make your tomato and cheese pie all the time. And it's probably the most plebeian of his rest of his recipes. And he looked at me and he said, Really? And I was done. And Marion found me a little bit later and I had been dismissed. And she said, Oh, I should have stayed with you. He's much nicer to boys.

Speaker 3 That's great. So I try not to sound like, oh, I love that. So then did you come to know him?

Speaker 2 I did, because I then became very close to Marion and I came to love him for me. He changed Marion's life completely. He she had never left the state. And she went to this class that Mr. Beard was holding up in Portland and she cried all the way up there on the plane. She'd never been on a plane. She was terrified of heights, of people, of everything. And she went to this cooking class that he had and was liberated by him through him and became his assistant and went from being a cowering housewife to someone who traveled the world. And I mean, she found her power through him. And I came to love him just for what he had done for her and then really started, you know, reading his work. And when he came to town, she would take me out to dinner with James Beard. And, you know, after this sort of Rocky first meeting, he was a lovely man. He was very generous with his readers and generous with people in general. And Marianne just loved him so much.

Speaker 3 What was it like to dine with him?

Speaker 2 Well, he was he was the original definition of Falstaffian. I mean, he was a man with huge appetites and he loved food. And it was so much fun to just watch him eat, watch him enjoy food. I mean, by the time I knew him, he was already ill and not supposed to eat so much and not supposed to drink so much. And it was kind of a shame. I mean, you wished that he was enjoying it wholeheartedly, but he didn't have this little voice going on it don't take another bite. And you could sort of see him feeling that inside his head.

Speaker 3 Now, during this time, were you in California or were you in New York?

Speaker 2 Oh, no. No, I was I was in Berkeley. You were? Yeah.

Speaker 3 Yeah. So he would visit fairly frequently.

Speaker 2 He he would come out fairly frequently. He always stayed at the Stanford Court Hotel. He was very good friends with gymnastics. And, you know, Marion always drove him around and her Jaguar and she would make sure that he saw, like every young chef that she thought was important for him to. And he would write a column about Judy Rogers. I mean, Marion took him out to the Union Hotel and she took him to Shea Penney's. And he was very good about bringing these young chefs who were doing the kind of food that he was obviously really excited about. I mean, he was watching his version of American cuisine come back to life, but he would write about these people in his columns. And it was very important to them. I mean, he. He made all these chefs careers.

Speaker 3 Let's talk about how food writing has evolved since James Beard started writing about food. What was it like then and how is it different today?

Speaker 1 Well, you know, in

Speaker 2 James Beard's time, even, you know, even when I first started writing about food, most Americans didn't care about food. I mean, you really felt like you were sort of chasing something that you were strange and. There was a very small audience for it, and we all felt like we all knew each other. I mean, it was a small little world. People supported each other. You know, there had been this generation of, you know, the James Beard, the Mary Frances Fisher, the Julia Child group. And they were important because they had a voice. They each had a very unique voice that previous food writers hadn't. I mean, with the exception of maybe A.J. Liebling, there hadn't been a lot of celebrating food from a very personal point of view. I mean, we had that whole era of the fanny farmer. Let's make cooking scientific. Forget about what you personally are bringing to it. If you follow this prescription, you will have a meal that will not make you ashamed. And suddenly you had these people saying, no, no, no, wait a minute, there is a lot more to food than just getting something edible on the table. And they were inspirational to all of us who followed in their footsteps and said, you know. I don't know when you eat, if you're tasting the same thing, I am I mean, cooking is really personal and I'm going to say this in my voice, not as if there's some universal standard. And they were important for that reason.

Speaker 3 How is it different today?

Speaker 2 Well, today, food is is I mean, it's incredibly exciting for people like me because I have watched food become part of popular culture and I look at my son, who's twenty five, and he thinks of going out to eat, not he doesn't go to fancy places, but he thinks of going out to eat and buying food and making good food at home as part of his cultural life. I mean he thinks of it like going to movies, reading books, going to theater, listening to music. It's all part of the same thing about expanding your horizons and enjoying life. That is a completely different attitude than it was even 15 years ago. You know, for someone like me who's felt like I've been like, you know, shouting in the wilderness, pay attention to food. Food is great. You know, it's it's it's really important to eat well. And eating is an ethical act. And none of that was part of the landscape until fairly recently. And I think, you know, if Mr. Beard were alive today, he would be stunned and thrilled. I sometimes wonder what he would think about having these awards in his name. Probably he'd be really pleased, but he would not recognize the world that we're living in today

Speaker 3 as someone who is one. James Beard Foundation Awards. Tell me why it was important to you, especially as a writer to.

Speaker 2 It's nice to be it's nice to be recognized by your peers, although I have to tell you don't want this, I'm not going to say, you know me, actually, when I wanted at The New York Times because I didn't go, I you know, I was trying to be anonymous, so I didn't go to any of those things. My editor went in my place and thought so little of it that he forgot to tell me for a week. And then somebody somebody congratulated me for winning the James Beard Award for restaurant criticism. And I went to my editor and said, did I win? He said, Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. Which will tell you how much. I mean, I don't think that would happen today. I mean, I think the awards themselves have become much more prestigious and influential and important and everybody puts on their resume. How many James Beard awards they've won. But it was hard won getting getting the awards to that level. I mean, the beard people have done an amazing job of really making these awards count

Speaker 3 other than the awards. How do you feel that we see his legacy today in the food scene?

Speaker 2 Well, I think, you know, he's widely considered the father of America, of modern American food. The James Beard is really the person. It's partly timing. It's partly who he was. It's partly that he lived such a long life that he really is the person who watched American food go from plane, but really good products to pretty awful industrialized and then watch the curve change and watch young people start caring about food and watch young farmers start raising really good food again. So he has been the kind of through line on this. So it's totally appropriate that the food awards are named for him. And, you know, there's no question that if there's one person who is really responsible for where American food is right now, it's James Beard.

Speaker 3 Tell us about tell us about Delicious.

Speaker 2 Well, I mean, Delicious is is a novel that really started with and I went into a library and I just had you know, if you're very lucky as a writer, you have these epiphanies. And I went into a library and it was just an ordinary library, but I imagined it as this wonderful library with incredible light coming in and beautiful leather chairs and long library tables. And I imagined finding a a pack of letters that had been written by a little girl in Akron, Ohio, during World War two to James Beard. And the letters just they came I wrote them all. I just sat down and wrote them in one big swoop and I think probably came out of I had found a stash. It was just this wonderful lucky find. I found a stash of pamphlets from the Department of Agriculture during World War Two about how to start a victory garden, how to cook using ration points about the Women's Land Army, which I had never heard of about the Crop Conservation Corps. And in trying to research that, I actually went to James Beard's letters because I knew that he had really been writing about food all through that period. And he was like the obvious person I went to. And I also imagine that if there was any food writer who would have written back to a little girl saying, help me cook, I'm trying to figure out how to cook. My mother's working in an airplane plant, foods falling on my shoulders and the rest of the recipes that the Department of Agriculture sent out were really vile. And so Lulu, my heroine, says to him, I know you could do better. These recipes are terrible and you should be writing a book for someone like me. And the more I read about James Beard, the better I liked him. So his voice came easily to you? Well, he is not in it all, you you you hear from Lulu and she's writing to him and she's responding to his incredible generosity. And then he goes off and he's in the United Seeman service and he's writing to her from all of these places around the world where he's setting up places for semen and, you know, cooking for hundred turkeys for Thanksgiving and discovering Brazilian food. And then he's off in Marseilles just as the war is ending. And and he's constantly telling her, you know, he had these wonderful sayings that I just love my favorite of which just you you gets used throughout the book because it keeps coming up. And he said, you know, the the only thing that will make a souffle fall is if you if it knows you're afraid of it.

Speaker 3 Judith Jones told us a story about how his phone was constantly ringing, should be in his house. And it would be someone in Omaha saying, hey, help me with my roast is not coming out correctly. And he would very, very patiently walk these people through their recipes and help them. So was there a story like that that that really kind of tipped you off to, if you know this, that this situation between James Beard and and your protagonist would happen?

Speaker 2 Well, I remembered a story that Marianne told me about James Beard getting a phone call from someone that I can't remember what it was, something some source they had made was too salty. And it was just, you know, she was standing there and he was in the middle of a cooking class and he'd taken this phone call. And because he really didn't think that people should have to struggle, you know, he really wanted to help everyone. And he, you know, he had that kind of mission of, you know, if only people would eat good food, they would love it as much as I do. And so he said, well, just dump some ice cream into it and it'll it'll get rid of that and then moved on to finish teaching the class. And I knew that he was generous that way. But I have to say, you know, many cooks are I mean, I've been I've been home and gotten a call from someone in Texas saying, you know, I'm in the middle of making the Bonino on the Gourmet cookbook and I don't know what to do with the my supposed to keep the bacon in or take it out. And you're not going to hang up on them

Speaker 3 during your time at Gourmet. Did you ever come across any of his old manuscripts, letters, any kind of correspondence?

Speaker 2 Oh, if only I had found correspondence from James or to Gourmet. No. In fact, in the book, Bearded is he's writing at a non non-existent magazine, an imaginary magazine called Delicious, and he ultimately has a falling out with them. And they they pretty much excise him from the magazine. And if there were things of beards at Gourmet, I mean, he did actually have a falling out with the people at Gourmet. And after they had sent him on many wonderful tours to do wine pieces and so forth, there was a moment when they parted ways and there was not a scrap of anything of James Beard at Gourmet.

Speaker 3 What do you know about that falling out?

Speaker 2 The story that I have been told is that Gourmet originally was in the penthouse of the plaza and that Mr. McCausland, who was the publisher. I was eating lunch at the Plaza one day and James Beard was in the dining room with a number of friends and that they were very raucous, they ate and drank a lot and he didn't like it. But I don't know, it may be totally apocryphal, that story.

Speaker 3 That's interesting. US how would you describe him to someone who had never met him?

Speaker 2 I would describe him as a great big teddy bear of a guy who will watch you eat with great joy. And will happily cook you a meal and we'll probably be the best meal you ever had.

Speaker 3 Of the people that you could have chosen to include in your new book, you've known so many throughout the years with world luminaries. What about James Beard as his character stood out to you by James Beard?

Speaker 2 Well, I wanted someone who would represent American food, and that person is pretty much James Beard. And I also knew that Mr. Beard was he had that generosity that he would answer the phone if you called and said, help, I'm using a risk. I don't know what to do that he couldn't resist doing that. So. I mean, he was he was he was a man who loved people as much as he loved food, and that's not true of many food writers. And so he just really seemed to me to be the obvious person to, you know, be this shadow character in the background who is a great mentor. And I wanted a New Yorker, too. I mean, I really want because this book is also very much an ode to New York. And he was he adopted New York as his city. And so I really wanted a moment when Lulu comes to New York where he takes her around to places that he loves.

Speaker 3 Can you describe where does he.

Speaker 2 Well, well, he he takes her for one. He takes her to the pavilion, which is Lopevi or is you know, if there's a restaurant of the century in in. If there's a restaurant of the 20th century in New York, it's probably the purview. I mean, it virtually transformed restaurants in New York and probably across the country. And all they Zulay, who owned it, had this idea that some people were his people. And it wasn't a snobbish thing. It wasn't they didn't have to be rich people. They had to be people who loved food. And I imagine Lulu and Mr. Beard going to the pavilion and her having this completely transformative meal. There used to be a great butcher shop at Macy's. So I sort of imagine them meeting in this incredible butcher shop. And then he takes her to Rumpo Myers for breakfast and he takes her to Chinatown and he sort of opens the city up for her in a way that he takes her through the Lower East Side and sort of gives her this view of both very elegant Manhattan and then ethnic Manhattan. And I think, you know, one of the things I really love about him is that he is someone who, you know, had these these flavors that were not common to America. I mean, I think because he was in Portland, which also looked towards Asia. He is one of the few cookbook writers of his time who actually had a love of and respect for Chinese ingredients, Japanese ingredients, which, you know, you did not you didn't find that anywhere else in America in the 40s, 50s, 60s. It just didn't happen. And it was important for me that we get that piece of it as well.

Speaker 3 Did you ever witnessed him teaching his class?

Speaker 2 I didn't. I wish I had, but I didn't know

Speaker 3 about him as a teacher. And we have spoken actually some of his former students and they say that he was very generous of spirit in his classes. Why do you think a documentary about James Spears life is important?

Speaker 2 Well, I think we're at a very important time in American food right now. And, you know, we're we could lose it all. I mean, we could go either way right now. We could become a country that has a two tiered food system where, you know, one in eight people in this country goes to bed hungry, mostly children. Poor people find fast food cheaper than food. We have an obesity crisis. We have a diabetes crisis. And on the other hand, rich people are rediscovering food in an unprecedented way and or know eating organic food humanely raised food. You know, we have a real problem with how we treat food workers right now. And I can see this country going either way. I mean, I can see us either embracing food and understanding that eating good food is a right. And it's actually something that will make a healthy society and it will ultimately be cheaper for all of us if we say that children deserve to be raised on really good food and that eating together is important for your family. And I think if there's one person who embodies that sort of notion of, you know, the whiteness of American cooking, it's James Beard. So, you know, I think it's really important right now for us to learn about this man who went through the entire cycle of American food. I mean, he's like one hundred years almost of what happened in our century in food and as we come to this place. Where we are finally and we're only just scratching the surface, but we're finally starting to understand that how we cook, how we eat as a nation is important. James Beard is the poster child for that. I could've written it.

Speaker 3 And then I think after this, this is all I have. Beth wants to jump in. OK, let's talk about our favorite food memory from your childhood or youth. I know Tender at the Bone is, you know, has a lot of that. But if there's one that really stands out for you.

Speaker 2 Oh, that's funny, because I just was writing about this when I was, you know, my mother was truly the world's worst cook, but she was curious and I feel really grateful that, you know, if I had a choice, actually, between having a mother who was a great cook and one who was like a curious eater, I'd rather have the curious eater. And one day when I was about seven, I opened the refrigerator and there was a suckling pig in there. And my mother had she had trouble sleeping. And so she had like been wandering the streets of Greenwich Village and she'd seen a suckling pig in Autumn Minnelli's. Window, and as soon as they opened, she went in and bought it and brought it home and I said, what are you going to do with it? And she said, You're the cook. You figure it out. I was seven. But the thing is, if there's one food that you're going to give your seven year old to cook, a suckling pig is brilliant because there's nothing you can do to screw it up. I mean, basically, you just put salt on it, put it in an oven. Will it sit there for a few hours and then at the end, you crank up the heat, crispy skin. I mean, it it's a really easy thing, but you bring it out and everybody is like, oh, and then you start eating it and it's, you know, it's the most delicious meat. So it was like a perfect way to make a kid into a cook. I mean, after you've done that, you know, I can cook, I,

Speaker 1 I can cook anything to come out. Well, it was perfect.

Speaker 2 It was fantastic.

Speaker 1 Right. Beth, did you want to come so fast that you found these letters about The New York Times that when Craig was leaving, there were like lovers going, what's going to happen, Ruth? Oh, would you want to sit here year? So I mean and I know so you probably know the lineage then after Craig and maybe you can, because I don't think you probably did. But he didn't say you could kind of then pick it up from what happened and who took over for Craig and then

Speaker 2 did maybe take over for

Speaker 3 you. Says maybe I

Speaker 2 said I mean, because there were no I mean, John Kennedy did it for a while. Ray Sokoloff did it for a little while. But, you know, the really important big voice after Craig Claiborne was Mimi Sheraton. And they were very different. I mean, I don't think Mimi gets the credit she really deserves. Craig was I mean, in many ways, Craig invented restaurant criticism as we know it in this country. And he went to cooking school. But he was really on the side of the food people. I mean, he you know, he knew all the restaurateurs. He knew the chefs. He was a cheerleader for restaurants, really. Mimi came in and she was a consumer reporter. I mean, she was on the side of the consumer and she came in with this very strict voice. And although everyone like me keeps saying, you know, Craig was the person who invented the restaurant, I think it's really the two of them together because they were the yin and the yang of restaurant criticism. And Mimi also had a very Catholic palate. She, unlike Craig, who was really a Francophile and had all these French chefs who were his really close pals, Mimi liked everything. And she went to, you know, Sammy's Romanian and Chinatown. And I mean, she ate everywhere and. After she left, it went much more back to the French model, the French and Continental, but Mimi was really remarkable in being the person who widened the palette of New Yorkers. And then after Mimi and Mary Burroughs did it for a couple of years, John Kennedy did it our way. Sokoloff, who was another one who loved ethnic food, and then you had the Brian Miller years, which was sort of back to the Craig Claiborne model of he had French wives, he loved French food, he liked Italian food pretty well, but didn't have a lot of love for any kind of other ethnic food. And then I came along and said with my sort of West Coast, 20 years on the West Coast, saying, well, you know, what about Latino food and what about Japanese? And and opened it up again. But I was really just going back to the Mimi Sheraton model.

Speaker 1 Did you ever hear about a rivalry? Because, you know, we keep hearing about kind of decamps and one camp is, you know, the Craig. Everyone wants to pretend that there was this rivalry between bearding and. Did you ever hear.

Speaker 2 I actually didn't. I didn't. It's actually the first I've heard of it. Although, you know, if anybody if anybody would know about that, it would be Florence Fabricant who told me. And I mean, she really felt that that Craig had been treated very badly at The New York Times.

Speaker 1 Oh, really? Yeah. You know, she's definitely in the ring. Yeah. Decamps. I mean, Biard was 10 years old, different, you know.

Speaker 2 And, you know, really, again, you have the dichotomy between the American voice and the very European voice. And, you know, Craig went to school and was on beard, was he loved French food, but he really was the champion of American food, which is really important. But they were they were all friends with with Joe Bauen. Right. And I mean, he used them both as consultants.

Speaker 1 You worked at Chez Panisse?

Speaker 2 No, no. I just I worked at the Swallow. It was in the university. Art Museum was a collective

Speaker 1 deputed go there. No.

Speaker 2 Oh, no, we were really happy collective, we were not very not

Speaker 1 so because I know you do a lot and I'm starting to evolve a little bit, that there might be a section that's kind of like behind every great man, because there really were so many amazing women that were kind of pulling him up in a

Speaker 2 lot of different ways. Well, you know, about the rivalry between Marianne and Barbara,

Speaker 1 let's talk

Speaker 2 about I mean, I don't know much about I mean, a lot of people do know about it, and he kind of played them off against each other.

Speaker 1 So let's start with this, because I do want to introduce a little bit of Marianne and introduce a little bit of Barbara. And I'm sure you could do it in a very astute way, because for people who know anything about either one of them, why kind of who they were or why they were important. And you talked about Mary a little bit.

Speaker 2 Well, Marianne really was very much the female Jim Beard know. She was a West Coast person. She was tall and beautiful with a great appetite and a great appetite for life. And I mean, she really was one of most beautiful women I've ever met. And she's certainly the most beautiful older woman I've ever met. And I think he probably loved being with her. And she had a great laugh and and he had saved her life in a lot of ways. So I think he loved their relationship. I mean, she really kind of was an acolyte of Barbara Kafka is extremely area intellectual, very East Coast. She's nobody's acolyte ever. And I'm sure she lectured him all the time as opposed to sitting at his feet and adoring him. Oh, you know, we should talk to Cecilia Chen.

Speaker 1 We talked to her a little bit on the red carpet and hopefully we will in San Francisco

Speaker 2 because she she really did love Mr. Beard, knew him and, you know, she's ninety four and still there.

Speaker 1 But so then a little bit about what you had heard about the rivalry.

Speaker 2 Well, I mean, I know I was very close to Marion and she was very huffy about Barbara. And they I don't think we're ever in the same room. I couldn't have two more different people. And I was told by many people at the time that Jim Beard kind of loved the fact that they fought over him and, you know, he had like an East Coast person and a West Coast person. But I do remember Marion coming to this big party for Craig Claiborne and worrying everybody was supposed to be one hundred people and each brought a dish. And I just remember her worrying terribly that Barbara was going to bring something better than she was.

Speaker 1 That's great, because I know there's letters and just of something. I'm curious, did you say you found letters from a little girl?

Speaker 2 No, no. I imagined them. I could totally

Speaker 1 imagine some other kind of letters that inspired, you know,

Speaker 2 I just it was just it just came to me. It was just like one of these moments where I imagined I mean, I was in a library that was just an office building, but I just had this vision of this, you know, long tables and beautiful light and, you know, really comfortable chairs. And this is huge, beautiful room. And then I imagine I mean, I just was like, Will, it's just like one of those little moments where you have this. And I imagined finding this cache of letters that had been hidden away for fifty years that nobody had ever found and opening them up. And then I just sat down and wrote these letters and I you know, every word of this book has been rewritten many times except for the letters, which not a word has changed. I mean, I just wrote all the letters and imagine Lulu over the course of the war. You know, writing to Beard and and I'm sure it came out of this subconscious thing that I had been following World War Two, which is just, you know, it's the only time in this country that we all ate together. It was rationing victory gardens. People who never farmed in any way were going out and helping bring in the crops. Food was considered a front of the war. I mean, that's why Beard was I mean, that was his job feeding people. And, you know, Roosevelt said the home front is the other front of the war in food. The mantra was farm to the fence for national defense. And the idea was that you would grow as much food as you could and, you know, save it for the soldiers and save your fat to make ammunition and.

Speaker 1 And that's perfect because we know we have a lot more documents and stuff like that. What else can we talk about and anything else that you want to know?

Speaker 2 When I wish I'd known, wish I'd known him better. But I know

Speaker 1 that you talked about kind of this dichotomy because we want to address that at the end of the film. You know, by the end of his life, he he was a political man in that he lived a political life, but he didn't he wasn't going to benefit in protesting. But towards the end of his life, he was worried about arable land, that too much was being taken over by the suburbs. And where were people going to get food?

Speaker 2 You know, we're still asking that question.

Speaker 1 Water, who's very worried about

Speaker 2 water, as you know? Well, he should have been.

Speaker 1 Yeah, well, so you kind of we're coming up at the beginning of the 70s and a lot of people talk about how the food revolution was happening in the 70s. What do you what do you think people mean by that? And you kind of touched on it, but. Well, I mean,

Speaker 2 for me, it's very clear living in Berkeley, you know, I mean, I'm of the, you know, the sixties generation that fought the war and suddenly the war in Vietnam was over and we were like, whoa, we are powerful. We ended this war. And then it was like, OK, what's the next cause? And for those of us in Berkeley, it was very much food is the next cause. We should be in control of our own food. This is something that ordinary people can do. The food is being you know, there's a vertical integration of agribusiness. It's really awful. The food that is being made now is bad for you. And this is a way you can take control of your life. And it was very conscious. I mean, it was, you know, diet for Small Planet came out. And Frank, you wrote this book that basically said we are feeding usable protein to animals, we're losing protein. It's you know, it's crazy. It takes 20 pounds of usable protein to make a pound of beef. It's a crazy way to use our resources. And, you know, we very consciously started raising our own food and being vegetarian and really thinking about food in a completely different way. You know, there were co-ops in Berkeley and the food movement was a political movement. It came out of the free speech movement. It came out of the anti-war movement. And then something kind of strange happened, which is when you think about food that much, you you can't not think about flavor. And ultimately, you know, Berkeley went from being the place that we were all protesting food to the gourmet ghetto. And it happened, you know, in sort of 10 years, you know, one minute we were all, you know, pulling up our lawns to raise little lettuces to sell to our Japanese. And the next minute we're all leaving those little lettuces instead of selling them to us. But the food revolution was I mean, it was the beginning of an understanding that what we matters matters very deeply and that what a nation eats matters and that, you know, if there's one thing that you can do as an individual to change the direction of the country, food is one of those plates. You know, we all eat three times a day. We all vote every time we choose to go to one store instead of another. We're voting when we choose to eat industrial eggs as opposed to supporting the farmer next door who's selling eggs for twice the price. But he their eggs that have been ethically raised, I mean, that's a choice. And the entire food movement, I mean, it took a detour for about fifteen years into, you know, what Alice calls the delicious revolution. But ultimately, it's come back and you now have this generation of kids who completely understand that eating is an ethical act. And, you know, it's important not to eat bacon made from tortured pigs that, you know, it's it's bad for the nation.

Speaker 1 Brilliant on that. Why do you think it's important for young people to start kind of getting a culinary education early or. Well.

Speaker 2 Nobody eats good food and then decides that they're going to start eating junk, it doesn't happen that way. I mean, I think of teaching young people I mean, there are a lot of reasons why you want young people to eat good food. I mean, there's there's a lot of new evidence that has just come out that, in fact, kids who eat good food from infancy are brighter. They have better concentration. And I mean, kind of no brainer. You kind of intuitively would imagine that if you eat well as a young person, you're going to be healthier. And, you know, it's important for all the reasons of, you know, preventing obesity and preventing diabetes. But on top of that, I sort of think of it as like, you know, we all started drinking wine with junk with white zinfandel or Flying Nun, Blue Nun or whatever. Um, Mata's. But you gradually, once you like one, you go from that to better wine and that's where you start. And food is the same thing. You know, if you start eating vegetables and fresh food, you don't then decide that what you want is a lot of junk. I mean, the thing is that eating is learned behavior. I mean, Japanese children don't grow up wanting to eat fish and rice and vegetables for breakfast because they're hard wired that way. They grow up that way because it's they're trained to eat that food. And we're training people to eat when they're very young and. The better we train people to eat fresh food and vegetables and fruits, the better they're going to eat for the rest of their lives

Speaker 1 and then talks about growing the edible schoolyard and how important it is for kids to get their hands dirty and to learn how to grow things. Why would you think that would be awesome?

Speaker 2 Well, I mean, the most shocking thing that I know about the Edible Schoolyard is when Alice first started it, she went into a classroom with an orange and held it up and kids didn't know what it was. They'd only oranges they'd ever seen was orange juice that came in a box and they didn't know what a napkin was. I mean, they set the table with a napkin and they didn't know what a napkin was. But the other thing about growing food is when kids grow food, they'll eat it. You know, you may not want to eat a pea, but if you've grown that pea, you want to taste it. It's just natural. And it's also I mean, there's a lot of good evidence that nurturing a plant teaches people to nurture each other as well, that there's something about, you know, you understand when you're growing things that plants and creatures need care, that if you don't water that plant, it's going to die. And I think it's an important way of teaching about watering your friends, caring for your friends.

Ruth Reichl
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Ruth Reichl, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 29 Mar. 2014,
(2014, March 29). Ruth Reichl, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Ruth Reichl, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 29, 2014. Accessed May 29, 2022


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