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Alice in Bloomington

Following nearly 5 years of planning, Alice Waters came to Bloomington for three packed days in April. She arrived Wednesday evening for a glass or two of rosé and a quiet dinner at home, hopefully a bit of a respite after a busy few days in Chicago and a chance to catch up with Bloomington friends. Thursday – a blustery day - we visited Muddy Fork bakery where Eric was about to form the loaves he was baking for the evening reception. He and Katie showed us around the facility where he grinds his own organic grains and bakes in a wood-fired oven.

Next we drove back into town and stopped at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. I think it is fair to say that Alice was struck not only by the range of activities there – food pantry, cooking classes, tool and cookware share, garden – but also the lightness of the place: a tapestry adorns the main room and the whole betrays both an artist’s touch and an environment that speaks more of care and dedication than of despair or want.

We had lunch at the new home of the Food Project/Institute catered by our two food studies grad assistants, Maddie and Leigh, and Collins/IUFP visiting artist Alexandra. After an afternoon siesta, we grabbed a pizza at King Dough and made our way to the IU Cinema for a screening of Marcel Pagnol’s The Baker’s Wife (1938). This was the world premier of the Criterion restoration of the film and it was beautiful: a stunning crisp print that made Pagnol’s masterpiece, and sequences like Raimu’s inimitable drunken scene, jump off the screen.

Alice insisted that viewers would want a good piece of bread after the film so we hosted a bread (Muddy Fork, the baker and baker’s wife were in attendance) and wine reception tastefully presented by Chris Gray and IMU catering.

Friday started with a mostly organic/mostly local breakfast at the Hutton Honors College. A full house engaged Alice in a discussion that ranged from restaurants to sustainability to activism. From there we strolled across campus – the weather was improving – to Bryan House for a lunch with President and First Lady McRobbie, Provost Robel, Mayor Hamilton and others. Dave Tallent served up a delicious lunch featuring spring lamb, ramps, and other products available in early April. Hopefully that was the start of a conversation that will move IU in the direction of more sustainable food procurement and offerings for students. From the elegance of Bryan House we moved to the energy of Rise and Kevin’s K-6 classroom at Templeton Elementary. Alice fielded questions – including e.g. “have you ever made anything at the restaurant that you ate at home growing up?” – and we toured Templeton’s edible schoolyard. Following a short break we made or way to Presidents Hall for Alice lecture “Teaching Slow Food Values in a Fast Food Culture.” I did the introduction and then, after a good start, managed to fumble the advancing of the slides. I swear the clicker had a mind of its own. The lecture played to an appreciative full house as Alice contrasted fast-food values – uniformity, speed, availability, cheapness, and the ideas that work is drudgery and more is better – to slow-food ones: ripeness, interconnection, diversity, generosity, collaboration, simplicity, and beauty. Following a short Q&A, Alice signed books for all comers and the IMU provided a light reception.

From Presidents Hall we passed through Sample Gate and enjoyed a sold out benefit dinner at Finch’s Brasserie: Cardinal Spirits cocktail, octopus and other appetizers, pork loin, walleye and again a careful selection of local springtime offerings, many from Heartland Family Farm. Among the wines, the Bandol rouge stood out as Chez Panisse practically introduced Bandol to the American market. It was a fun and festive evening.

Saturday we arrived just in time to see Sean cross the finish line of the Bloomington half marathon and from there took a stroll through campus – the weather by this point had become splendid. That stroll included ducking into Auer Hall where we chanced upon a rehearsal of the Beethoven horn sonata. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning. We then spent an hour or so touring the Bloomington Farmers Market, just two weeks into the outdoor season. Alice purchased a promised chard croissant as well as ramps, sassafras root – neither available in California - greens, eggs, and other treats. Alas, we had no more cooking plans before her departure so much of the product ended up in my fridge.

We then traveled down the B-line for a fine lunch (and more rosé) at Feast. Our final public appearance was at Hilltop Garden and Nature Center for a Bloomington Community Orchard tree planting.

It was also authors’ hour as Alice received copies of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude from Ross Gay and Selling Local: Why Local Food Movements Matter from James Farmer. Alice spent the evening with the Hamiltons and flew back to California early Sunday morning.

Alice’s visit marked the true inauguration of the Food Project and was in some sense the culmination of the effort to make that happen. Hopefully it will also be the start of a process of consciousness raising at IU regarding the slow-food values described in her talk and also, again, to substantive changes in campus food purchasing and dining.

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