Awards, People

Alice Waters wins National Humanities Medal

The renowned chef, restaurateur and good-food leader is one of 10 recipients of 2014 National Humanities Medals, President Obama announced today.

Alice Waters
Alice Waters -- chef, author, food activist and UC Berkeley alumna -- is one of the recipients of the 2014 Humanities Medal awarded by President Obama. (Photo by the National Endowment for the Humanities.)

Alice Waters, renowned chef and restaurateur, food activist and UC Berkeley graduate, is one of 10 recipients of 2014 National Humanities Medals, President Obama announced today.

The National Humanities Medal honors a person or organization whose work has deepened the national understanding of the human experience, broadened citizen engagement with history and literature or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.

Waters joins a list of new honorees that includes historians, writers, a philosopher, a preservationist, a scholar and an education course. Medals will be awarded at a White House ceremony Thursday, Sept. 10, at 3 p.m. Eastern time; the event will be livestreamed at

The latest recognition of Waters’ long history of food activism, which she has said began during her studies at UC Berkeley, reflects a steadily growing premium placed on healthy and sustainable foods in California and beyond.

Previously, Waters was named one of Time magazine’s Top 100 in 2014, received the Wall Street Journal’s 2014 Innovators’ Award, was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2008 and was made a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the French Legion of Honor.

A year ago, the University of California’s Global Food Initiative targeting food security, health and sustainability launched systemwide with visits up and down the state by UC President Janet Napolitano. She visited Waters at the Edible Schoolyard, which Waters established in Berkeley in 1995 to teach youth how to grow, harvest and prepare healthy foods.

Alice Waters

Alice Waters

Waters, who earned a bachelor’s degree in French in 1967, credited her studies abroad in France while enrolled at UC Berkeley for exposing her to a new world of local produce and fresh foods – a world she brought home with her to California.

Later, she went back to Europe and trained at a Montessori school, where she learned practical, hands-on activities for children, an approach seen later in her Edible Schoolyard Project.

Waters has always maintained strong ties to UC Berkeley.

In 2001, she held a fundraiser at the foot of the Campanile for more than 500 guests and 200 volunteers to raise funds for the Chez Panisse Foundation, later renamed the Edible Schoolyard Project.

In 2011, she donated to the Bancroft Library a treasure trove of records from her famed Berkeley restaurants Chez Panisse and Café Fanny (now closed), including menus, cookbook drafts, correspondence and Chez Panisse art deco posters designed by David Lance Goines.

Last year, Waters met up to discuss sustainable food with a group of Washington Fellows from the Young African Leadership Institute attending UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.

Also in 2014, the strategic use of Chez Panisse’s branding of suppliers’ names on the restaurant menu was deemed a prime example of the “open innovation” business model at work, according to a case study published in California Management Review. The study was co-authored by Henry Chesbrough, a Berkeley-Haas School of Business professor who coined the term “open innovation.”

Waters was involved with the beginning of the popular Edible Education 101 course in 2011 to introduce Berkeley undergraduates to food education. The course has support from the UC Berkeley Food Institute, College of Natural Resources, UC Global Food Initiative, UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Office and the Epstein/Roth Foundation.

The National Endowment for the Humanities advises the White House on its Humanities Medal selection process. NEH chair William Adams said those receiving the honor “have sparked our imaginations, ignited our passions and transformed our cultural understanding. They embody how the humanities can serve a common good.”

Some 175 Humanities Medals have been bestowed since 1996. Other Berkeley-connected recipients include writer and alumna Joan Didion; the late Robert Bellah, a Berkeley sociologist; Maxine Hong Kingston, a writer and senior lecturer in Berkeley’s English department; Berkeley philosopher John Searle; and Kevin Starr, a historian and alumnus of Berkeley’s now-defunct library school.