When chef, restaurateur, and food activist Alice Waters opened Berkeley’s market-inspired Chez Panisse in 1971, she brought a passion for fresh, organic ingredients and farm-to-plate dining. A pioneer of California cuisine and the ‘slow food’ movement, Waters has been a strong national public policy advocate for school lunch reform and champion of sustainable, locally grown agriculture.

Waters is the author of several cookbooks, including Chez Panisse Cooking (with Paul Bertolli), The Art of Simple Food I and II, and 40 Years of Chez Panisse, in addition to her 2017 memoir Coming to my Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook. Her latest work, We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto, comes out in June.

In a reading list for One Grand Books, Waters shared 10 books that helped inspire her revolutionary approach to food and dedication to social and environmental justice. From foundational French recipes to the perils of America’s fast food industry, find her recommendations below.


The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney

“Olney is one of the great recipe writers, because all of his recipes work. He was a painter, and channels that vivid language into make his recipes come to life on the page.” -AW

A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David

“I was very lucky that someone gave me this as my first cookbook. David doesn’t give a lot in terms of the recipes – ‘take a handful and throw it in the pan with some garlic’ – so you have to think for yourself. And then you figure it out.” -AW

Sacred Food: Cooking for Spiritual Nourishment by Elisabeth Luard

“Worth it for the pictures alone – people celebrating the important moments of their lives. There’s an Indian banquet where everyone is eating off of leaves, sitting on the floor. One of these days, I’m going to thrown an event like that.” -AW

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein

“Who needs a big place to live in? You need a front porch, you need a busy street, you need neighbors to say hello and goodnight to, and you need a bedroom to restore yourself. This is a book you can open on any page. You might find a drawing of the narrow streets of Ethiopia, or a chapter titled, ‘Dancing in the Streets’, which is something people have done forever.” -AW

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser (also rec’d by Richard Branson & Yoko Ono)

“I like to tell the good news. Schlosser tells the bad news. Sometimes it just needs to be said.” -AW

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

“This book is so hopeful that I gave it to Obama. It feels so naive that it almost reads like a children’s book, but it’s something I believe – that you can change the world by planting trees.” -AW

And The Pursuit Of Happiness by Maira Kalman

“I love Maira. She is always talking about this country and how we behave, and looking for the good news. This book is incredibly important to me because it’s about Thomas Jefferson and our founding fathers, and how she kind of found them.” -AW

Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol

“A book that shocked me – that there are schools that flood in the winter, that kids have to put on their boots to cross the campus to use restrooms – and it’s even worse now.” -AW

What Are People For? by Wendell Berry

“Berry puts that stake in the ground. He’s a poet as well as a wonderful writer, and his message is simple: Nature is our teacher. We just need to listen and feel it, and try not to get in its way.” -AW

Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean And Fair by Carlo Petrini

“Petrini knows how to win people over, and he’s a writer who translates difficult ideas about biodiversity and sustainability into metaphors that readers can understand right away.” -AW
Categories: Activists Writers