Waters has come to see food as an engine of social and political change. A few blocks from the restaurant is the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, where, since 1996, Waters has been funding the Edible Schoolyard, teaching children to grow and prepare their own produce. Waters is also a director of Slow Food, a movement that makes connections between food quality, the environment, and social justice.
But ultimately it all comes back to the skillful interweaving of high quality and doing the right thing. Waters and I are sitting at a little marble table. On it is a delicate glass carafe etched with a wreath design and the words chez panisse and still. It’s one of the bottles that the restaurant ordered from Bell’occhio (a local shop) when Waters decided to stop serving bottled water and instead serve filtered tap water, still or sparkling. “It was something I’d always thought about, that I’d wanted to do. Why are we bringing all this water over from Italy?” She didn’t act on that thought until a friend who was publicizing a book about the politics of water suggested that Waters take the leap. “And I said, ‘We’ll do it. We’ll do it now.’”
Later, when I’m dining at Chez Panisse with a friend—deeply immersed in a meal that starts with North African–style vegetable salads and moves at a measured pace through Alaskan halibut, quail couscous, and a fig tart—I find myself thinking about the water bottle. It’s right there on our table. It’s simply a gorgeous object. It’s certainly prettier than a Pellegrino or Perrier bottle. I realize that Waters has performed alchemy. She’s managed to turn her bottled-water ban from a prohibition to a celebration.
In the future, San Francisco will likely have a plethora of green landmarks. A new Transbay Tower downtown, the height of the Empire State Building, might be topped by a wind turbine. Scheduled completion date: 2014. Treasure Island, in the middle of the Bay, will be developed with a couple of iconic towers, solar and wind-generated power, and a 20-acre organic farm. “The most sustainable, greenest development of its kind in the United States,” Mayor Newsom predicts. Scheduled completion date: 2022. Until then, the best symbol of green San Francisco—of the enlightened 21st-century city where virtue and pleasure are one and the same—can be found right here on my dinner table in Berkeley.