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S*@$-Slinging at Chez Panisse

I wish that this was a joke, but it's not. Two days ago I received a press release from the Organic Consumers Association with the subject line "Picket at Chez Panisse Restaurant." Picket lines? At Chez Panisse? Chez Panisse, that place in Berkeley that does everything right? Oh, California. It seems the OCA will indeed be picketing in front of the restaurant today, on the occasion of the restaurant's 30th birthday (and can we just pause for a moment to recognize that—30 years!).

But why the picket? In a nutshell, the issue at the heart of the OCA's protest has to do with humanure—that is, toxic sewer sludge, which the OCA claims the SF Public Utilities Commission was giving to "unsuspecting gardeners" in the Bay Area during free compost giveaways last fall. (For some background, check out Barry Estabrook's article here.) According to the OCA, the biosolids compost that had been offered to green thumbs across the city also contains dangerously high-levels of heavy metals and other contaminants that have no business being anywhere near our food. Can I remind you all again that this is not a joke? So what does that have to do with Chez Panisse, and Alice Waters? Francesca Vietor, the executive director of the Chez Panisse Foundation is also the Vice President of the Public Utilities, and the OCA is claiming that Waters' turning a blind eye on the potential hazards of this material was something of an inside job—how could she speak out against toxic sludge when her the Foundation's frontwoman was the one dishing it out? According to a press release issued by the OCA on March 31, "Both Vietor and Waters support growing food on toxic sewage sludge."

Except—the SFPUC immediately stopped giving out compost some time ago, when questions about toxic sludge contamination were first raised, in large part because of Ms. Vietor's activism. The Foundation countered today with their own statement, indicating that not only were they in favor of oversight of the compost program, but also announcing that they had requested, on March 26, the scientific data that the OCA claims proves unsafe practices. The OCA has not yet produced that data.

Ah, some good old fashioned shit-slinging.