Alice Waters protested for supporting using human waste as compost

Alice Waters, an icon of healthy food, will be protested April 1 for supporting a compost program found to be unhealthy.

By Brady Welch

In a story that continues to amuse and fascinate, it appears that the human biosolids compost shit show we wrote about last week has left town… and ended up in, of all places, Alice Waters’ own backyard garden. That’s right: the seasonal, local, and cage-free proprietor of Berkeley’s fabled Chez Panisse has emerged as a staunch and unlikely defender of fertilizing your garden with sewage sludge compost, which San Francisco officials have recently discontinued giving away because of environmental concerns.

It all started when the Organic Consumers Association found out that Francesca Vietor, executive director of Chez Panisse’s non-profit arm promoting safe and healthy food for kids, was the same Francesca Vietor who is vice president of the SFPUC Board of Commissioners, which had until very recently been pawning off toxic compost made from human waste contaminated with industrial chemicals and heavy metals.

The news was like finding Mom (Chez Panisse) in bed with a Hells Angel (the SFPUC).

But we understand organizational slip-ups happen, and we trusted Waters to do the right thing, issue an apology, and figure out what to do with Vietor. But it turns out that the Bay Area’s advocate for a slow food economy that is “good, clean, and fair,” has decided instead to stand in defense of a system that is, frankly speaking, fast, cheap, and out of control.

On March 23, OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins wrote a letter to Waters asking how this could be. The letter reads, in part:

"Considering that the sludge was given to several local schools for use on their educational gardens, your work with the Edible Schoolyard should especially elicit your concern. This is certainly in direct opposition to the standards that Chez Panisse Foundation and the Edible Schoolyard encourage and uphold. It seems to us a clear conflict of interest that Francesca Vietor should serve as both the Executive Director of the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Vice President of the PUC."

Waters wrote back March 30:

"I have been involved with the organic garden movement for 40 years. I believe in the transparency of public institutions and count on the government to offer the highest standards outlined by the Organic Consumers Association and other reliable advocates. I look forward to reviewing the science and working with the SFPUC to ensure the safety of composting methods."

Well, the science is already in, and as we reported, it isn’t pretty; and more, our public institutions aren’t that transparent either, especially when it comes to sewage sludge compost. So on April 1, the OCA plans to hold a protest at noon to commemorate Chez Panisse Café’s 30th anniversary and perhaps remind the East Bay bastion of sustainability why diners have patronized them for so long.

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