State of the Fruit Report 

Berkeley's Alice Waters, the foodie's foodie, continues her campaign for healthy eating habits.

As one of America's leading food crusaders, a tireless champion of fresh produce, and doyenne of Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, restaurateur/chef Alice Waters delivered this Northern California "State of the Fruit Report" via cell phone en route to a Slow Food USA conference in Portland last week: Rhubarb wasn't harmed by last month's unseasonable rains. Strawberries have been hit or miss, but were helped out by the previous week's heat. We're seeing the first apricots now, and cherries are still pretty good. "Of course," Waters admonished, "we only eat and use fruit at its moment."

Right now also seems to be the moment for Waters' message of fresh, natural food from local ingredients. After getting the beef fat scared out of us by exposés such as Fast Food Nation, maybe we're finally ready to embrace the healthful comestibles and organic gardening that Waters has promoted in her cookbooks, among which Chez Panisse Fruit (HarperCollins, $34.95) is the latest. But don't hold your breath -- Big Macs are still selling. "That's a wonderful vision," says Waters about consumers being scared straight by Fast Food Nation, "but the path needs to be much more clear. Once people become aware that it's fast food that's making us sick -- and by sick I don't just mean physically, but also a spiritual sickness -- they'll want to find good food that's affordable and available." "Affordable" is a key word, because one of fast food's biggest selling points is that it's cheap. Says Waters: "Fast food is like filling up at a gas station. The consequences are devastating."

Instead of merely issuing dire warnings, Waters' approach is to accentuate the positive through such efforts as her public-school gardening and cooking project in Berkeley. Meanwhile, despite the economic slowdown, business is still healthy at Chez Panisse, the cornerstone of her career as America's most-respected celebrity chef -- and the apricots are ripe. Alice Waters appears at the Berkeley Farmers' Market (Center Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Way) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 29 to sign copies of Chez Panisse Fruit. For further information: 510-548-3333 or www.ecologycenter.org

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