“If you know about food,” Fortune’s Daniel Okrent wrote in 2007, “you know about Alice Waters and her restaurant,” Chez Panisse.
The owner of the Berkeley, Calif. restaurant has been called the mother of American food, and for good reason. Her insistence on sustainable local agriculture set her apart in the 1970s; so did her business approach.
“If you want to know how not to run a business, you could study Waters’ methodology,” Okrent wrote. “Disregard your investors. Eschew financial controls. Tolerate the disappearance (largely down the throats of your staff) of as many as 500 bottles of wine in a single month. Spend half your time away from your office, flying around the nation to promote sustainable agriculture. Serve film director Werner Herzog a well-cooked shoe for dinner.”
So it’s unsurprising that Waters might have something to say when it comes to Amazon’s blockbuster $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods. In Amazon, you have a retailing giant led by what some may call an enigmatic turbo-capitalist, Jeff Bezos; in Whole Foods, you have a pricey natural foods purveyor led by an occasionally cantankerous realist, John Mackey.
On the day of the deal, Waters weighed in on Twitter, suggesting that Amazon use its largesse for good:
Dear Jeff Bezos,
With the acquisition of Whole Foods—and the ubiquitous network of Amazon–you have an unprecedented opportunity to change our food system overnight: It is time to demand that produce comes from farmers who are taking care of the land, to require meat and seafood to come from operations that are not depleting natural resources, and to support the entrepreneurial endeavors of those American farmers and food makers who do not enjoy federal subsidies. They have the same amazing spirit that propelled you and John Mackey to success. It’s time to do the right thing for our country, our farmers, and our planet. And we are all here to help you do it!
Given the enormous national network of physical stores that Whole Foods enjoys, she’s not wrong.