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This Year's Berlin Film Festival Had Culinary Message

US food activist Alice Waters will be helping choose the crème de la crème of films at this year's Berlinale, a festival with a section devoted to culinary cinema. The restaurateur has come with her own clear message.

The jury of the film festival, from left, Henning Mankell, Christoph Schlingensief, Alice Waters, Gaston Kabore, Tilda Swinton, Isabel Coixet and Wayne Wang

US food guru Alice Waters is part of the Berlinale line-up

A good film and a nice dinner are some of the ingredients that go into the Culinary Cinema section of the Berlin international film festival.

After the screenings top German chefs serve a menu inspired by the films, and events are rounded off with discussions on culinary themes - completing, for some, the perfect evening.

Food guru Alice Waters, a surprise choice on the eight-member international jury this year, is thrilled at the idea and has come to Berlin with a message.

Time for new approach to food

Alice Waters

Waters opposes factory farming and processed food

"Pay attention to what you eat everyday. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth and know where it comes from," she says, chatting about her dreams of "bringing people into a new relationship to food."

Waters, who will help decide which movies will be honored in the Berlinale this week, says festival director Dieter Kosslick is right when he talks of an "apocalyptic situation" in the food industry.

Asked if things were really so bad, she answers: "I think it is because when you think about it, 40 per cent of the economy of this world has to do with food production.

"In fact, industrial farming and fast food operate hand in glove, very much like a vast conspiracy. Together they suppress variety, limit our choices, and manipulate our desires by getting us hooked on sugar and salt," she argues.

Waters has been appealing for change through the tastebuds since the 1960s, when she first began her push for organic and local food from her famous Berkeley, California, restaurant Chez Panisse.

In 1994, Waters developed the Edible Schoolyard programme at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. Using a vacant lot adjacent to the school, a garden was planted, with students given lessons in gardening and cooking.

There the children were taught the principles of ecology, and about nourishment, "not in a way that was didactic but in a way that was pleasurable," she said in an interview.

"Our aim was to bring them into a new relationship to food." The project was so successful that the idea soon spread to numerous other schools across the country.

Waters wants US-wide diet scheme for kids

A man dips his Currywurst into its sauce. Also waiting to be eaten, french fries with tomato ketchup and mayonnaise.

It's unlikely Waters will try the Berlin specialty, currywurst and chips

Now, Waters wants a system introduced whereby all schoolchildren in America will be fed a breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack on a daily basis.

"If you set up strict criteria for the purchase of the food, a huge incentive will be given to local producers," she says, adding another advantage could be "the huge economic boost for families."

Waters, whose Chez Panisse restaurant was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine in 2001, and who has authored numerous books about cooking down the years, says Robert Kenner's film "FOOD INC" exposing the morass of the food industry, was a powerful choice to head off the 2009 Berlin Culinary Cinema programme.

"In every state in the US there are corporations that are very involved in the production of food," says Waters, hinting some were "very powerful."

To Waters, food represents "an integral part of our civilization," a part which she now fears is disappearing in a culture of fast, junk food consumerism. She maintains it's important for people to know where their meat comes from, how it's produced and whether it is clean and fair.

"Fair," she says, "in the sense that fair wages are paid to the farmworkers and the people who produce it. I don't want to eat food that is grown in a way that is causing somebody elses starvation.

"I want to buy food from people who take care of the land, think of a big picture about nourishment. And of course I want tasty, bright and seasonal food," she continues.

Born in Chatham, New Jersey in April 1944, Waters graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 and later spent time studying abroad in Paris.

In France, she says, "I discovered the intimate connection between food and the quality of one's life." She took this knowledge back with her to California, opening up Chez Panisse in 1971 and later, in the '80s', Cafe Fanny, named after her daughter.

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