Alice Waters' Crusade For Better Food

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

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This story was first published on March 15, 2009. It was updated on June 10, 2009.

When it comes to food, Alice Waters is a legend. At age 65, she has done more to change how we Americans eat, cook and think about food than anyone since Julia Child.

Waters was only 27 years old in 1971 when she opened her French bistro Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., today considered one of the finest restaurants not just in the United States but in the world.

Waters has produced eight cookbooks, but she's more famous as the mother of a movement that preaches about fresh food grown in a way that's good for the environment. The movement, now called "slow food," is a healthy alternative to "fast food."

You might think this appeals only to the Prius-driving, latte-sipping upper crust, but Waters' ideas have gone mainstream, as 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl found out when this story first aired in March.

It all started at Waters' culinary temple, Chez Panisse. She still shows up almost every day, as she has for the last 37 years, to oversee the cooking with her exquisite, infallible taste buds.

It's not just the cooking that has made her famous: it's the ingredients. She was one of the first to serve antibiotic and hormone free meats and insist on fresh, organic, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

"You started a revolution in food. How we think about food. How we cook food. But do you think of yourself as a revolutionary?" Stahl asked Waters.

"I guess I do now, but when I started Chez Panisse I wasn't thinking of a philosophy about organic and sustainable. I just was looking for flavor," Waters replied.

It's flavor that comes from serving only seasonal food, one of her hallmarks; say "frozen" and Alice Waters shudders. Because all her food has to be fresh, she buys only from local ranchers, fishermen and farmers.

People who meet Waters are struck by how gentle and dreamy she seems to be, and they wonder how someone like that became so successful. Truth is, Alice Waters is a steamroller, relentlessly going after what she wants. And now she wants everyone to cook the way she does. And that has put her in the spotlight

"People have become aware that way that we've been eating is making us sick," she said.

She has become the leader of a movement to change how we eat. And she's getting traction. Now you can go to your neighborhood grocery store - even Wal-Mart - and buy organic. But in the process, she's become a target.

"People say Alice Waters is self-righteous and elitist. And these are words I've heard over and over," Stahl pointed out.

"I feel that good food should be a right and not a privilege and it needs to be without pesticides and herbicides. And everybody deserves this food. And that's not elitist," Waters argued.