Last week the Wellness Warrior team was at ISPA 2015—the 25th annual gathering of members of International Spa Association.
If you like exercise, go to one of these meetings. The distance between your hotel room at Mandalay Bay and the conference facilities is roughly as far as most people go for a morning jog. You will walk miles throughout the day: miles of aisles that hold exhibitors displaying spa wares, from skin care products to footbaths to robes to…miles of hallways between General Sessions populated with interesting keynote speakers...miles of meeting rooms holding workshops on everything from massages to saving energy (and water!).
But the crème de la crème of invitations any attendee hopes to receive at ISPA each year is one to a dinner: a gathering that honors the recipient of each year’s ISPA Alex Szekely Humanitarian Award. This year’s dinner, hosted by Wellness Warrior founder Deborah Szekely, was held at Aureole Restaurant, a Charlie Palmer spin off in the Mandalay best-known for its wine tower where attendants rappel up and down a rack that stands about three stories tall in search of your order.
Ms. Waters attended, and 55 guests were delighted by her graciousness—especially when the smart phones came out and a round of photos began...and she did not seem to mind. As we all know, we live in unusual times when chefs are better known than most rock stars and restaurants take the lead in introducing and legitimizing food trends.
That is the genius of Alice Waters: long before sourcing all of a restaurant’s fare from local farmers’ (as well as foragers of hard-to-find items such as fiddleneck ferns and wild mushrooms) became a paragon, she was doing it at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Humbly. Calling herself “a cook.”
Long before educating children in their schools about the joys of growing fruits and vegetables, and helping them learn to prepare the fresh pickings for lunch that same day, became a growing movement—especially the school garden part of it—Alice Waters launched the Edible Schoolyard Project. Today Edible Schoolyard lists over 4,000 projects worldwide: a true movement to honor fresh, sustainable, and healthy food. Goodbye frozen pizza and Tater Tots!
The next day, Deborah Szekely introduced Alice Waters and presented the award after saying the following words:
Today it is my great honor to introduce our next speaker, as well as present her with the annual ISPA/Alex Szekely Humanitarian of the Year Award."
Alice Waters is someone who—as the old saying goes—needs no introduction.
Alice is a chef, restaurateur, author, and food activist—and my friend. In addition to her incredible entrepreneurship and culinary talents, Alice founded The Edible Schoolyard Project 20 years ago, an innovative model for public education grades K thru 12 that integrates the growing and cooking of food into the core academic curriculum.
Today the online Edible Schoolyard Network (edibleschoolyard.org) has grown to more than 4,000!! member programs in 54 countries.
Now you are about to meet the Wonder Woman who has done everything for children’s health that I ever dreamed of. Alice is a person I most admire and love, and I only wish my son Alex was also here to give her a hug as we present her with this year’s ISPA-Alex Szekely Humanitarian of the Year Award.”
We’ll share the text of Alice Waters’s speech as soon as we get a transcript. It was eloquent, and as we expected, a feast of inspiring ideas. A month earlier, Ms. Waters received the National Humanities Award from President Obama. She told The Salt (an excellent National Public Radio food blog):
We talk about the humanities — all the beautiful things that are cultural experiences for us and lift our spirits. And yet, we've never really talked about food that way. Food has always been like fuel, and now it's considered to be something that really lifts our spirits. And when food and agriculture are put together and are in the rhythm of nature, it brings us back to the table where a cultural conversation can happen."
PHOTO: Deborah Szekely, founder Wellness Warrior, and Alice Waters, recipient of the ISPA Alex Szekely Humanitarian Award, enjoy the evening with spa industry leaders at Aureole Restaurant.
“Alice Waters, Healthy Food Advocate, Receives Humanities Medal,” via NPR's The Salt
The Edible Schoolyard Project via EdibleSchoolyard.org
Chez Panisse Restaurant via ChezPanisse.com