Culinary Activism: Change through Our Kitchens

My life revolves around culinary art—it exhausts me, revives me, manages to cover my rent and living costs as my actual job, and feeds me—both literally and figuratively.  I grew up immersed in food; I wanted to understand how it worked, how bread appeared, how pasta somehow formed, how pesto was created, how cakes came to be, etc.  I wanted to understand the magic of the kitchen. 

I also wanted better food in my life.  My mom gave us food that way simple and easy—healthy, but uninteresting.  I wanted something different; the only way I saw to change what was on my plate was to start cooking.  So, with the guidance of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks, I began to change the way my whole family ate. 

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The idea of being (and becoming) a Culinary Activist comes from a deep place for me.  Through the mentorship of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks, I developed a taste for what it means to create bright beautiful dynamic flavors rooted in local organic produce.  This began a relationship with food that has forever enlightened my life.

But what does it mean to be a Culinary Activist?  How can we change the world we live in through our kitchens?

By beginning.  The more I work with food, the more I find that the potential for individuals feeling more nourished, closer to their community, self aware, and empowered lies in pushing past the fear we have of the kitchen; the fear we have to make mistakes.  We get so caught up in believing we can’t cook that we stop cooking all together.  Processed food consumption increases, diseases and depression increases, and we are left with more packaging, less connection to ourselves and our capabilities in the kitchen.

But where do we begin?

I truly believe everyone is a chef–in one form or another.  And through claiming this our own personal roles as chefs in our kitchens, we can reclaim food from the industrial factories, large corporations, and reclaim our physical and psychological health.  I am not speaking any particular diet or way of cooking.  Cooking itself is activism.  However you start, the journey of being and becoming a chef will take you where you need to go.

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How do we begin?

  • When you step into the kitchen, first and foremost, be willing to make bad food (ie. fail).  How many times have you heard or seen examples of how failure leads to success?  The kitchen is no exception.  It is important to embrace the new (and at times uncomfortable) journey of cooking and allow yourself to make things that do not taste good in order to learn what you love and develop your skills.
  • Start off simple.  Don’t bite off more that you can Chew—literally.  If you rarely cook your own food, don’t commit to do so every day or even every week.  Start small.  Seek out simple recipes through web sources or just start purchasing onions, garlic, and butter to sauté with your favorite vegetable once a week.  You do not need to get complicated to make amazing dishes and fill your home with beautiful scents.
  • Find out how you learn and get inspired.  Do you learn best through Youtube videos?  Inspirational blogs?  New York Times recipe archives?  Cookbooks?  Through friends or mentors?
  • Be adventurous.  Cooking can become as exciting as exploring a new continent once you start to develop an understanding of how vast of a world it is.  Feel free to explore new spices, different bean & grains, various vegetables, etc.    The world of cooking is endless; imagining ourselves as Lewis and Clark type explorers in a world of adventure allows fusions of different cultural foods to be made and amazing new dishes developed.
  • Use recipes!  Recipes are tools of inspiration!  As a chef, I continually look to recipes to push me out of my comfort zone or common culinary thought patterns back into being creative.

Where do we go now?  How do we change the world?

So what happens?  Where is the Activism that begins in our kitchens?  Why am I stressing the importance of starting to make food instead of preaching what to make, what to purchase, etc?

I may be biased; I do love to cook.

And I believe that as we start to cook– from the simplest bagel or the sweetest steak–the connection of our hands to our food begins a progressive change.  As we cook, we gradually and organically step away from processed food.

Once we get a taste and understanding for simple foods without 10 to 50 excess preservatives or fillers, our food system has the potential to shift.

As we enlighten ourselves through reviving our kitchens, my hope is that as Activists, we will no longer be ingesting shelf stable salad dressings with dozens of excess ingredients and toxic oils.  Instead we will be empowered to create dressings in our own homes that are beyond our wildest culinary dreams.

Why do I believe this?

This past year, I have had the opportunity to work with students at Pie Ranch.  Pie Ranch is a non-profit educational farm near Pescadero, California.  Throughout the year they host various field-trips and overnight stays.   Pie Ranch is an amazing place–for a variety of reasons.  One of the main reasons,  I feel, felt, and believe, is they create change through experience.

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Pie Ranch

 

While cooking with the high students at Pie Ranch this past year, I witnessed the power of giving student experiences.  Preaching is one thing, but empowerment is another much more vibrant tool in personal and global change.  Inspiring students of all ages to cook is Culinary Activism.

When we empower individuals to choose change, rather than forcing our beliefs on them, greater, more organic rooted change has the potential to occur.

I worked with a group of students at Pie Ranch whose daily diet drastically differed from our farm to table menus.  On that rainy afternoon I heard many grumblings– including one student mentioning that she was “allergic to organic food.”  As they joined me in the kitchen, making pastured farm beef meatballs, salad dressing from scratch, and cutting pumpkins for pie, Pie Ranch gave them a new experience.  By the time lunch rolled around, each student beamed as they boosted about the work they did creating the meal.

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Pie Ranch

Witnessing Pie Ranch give their students an experience, as well as educating them farm work and our food system, enlightened me to how individual empowerment and exposure to new life changing enlightening experiences hold greater power than preaching to individuals.

The more individuals are empowered to participate in the magic of the kitchen, the more understanding comes to how processed foods dominate our diets.  Foods that should be only a few ingredients now have dozens of preservatives.  Culinary activism has the potential to bring light to this disconnect. However as we start to cook, we begin to see that food is not meant to be complicated –food is meant to be delicious.  

With more and more people relying on processed foods to feed themselves and their families, Culinary Activism is a way to begin to turn back the tide of overconsumption of processed foods:

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Culinary Activism is a step of bringing everyone –regardless of income, age, background, or lifestyle–together.  It does not take much; no need to cook every meal from scratch or making long complicated meals, but it does mean bringing back magic into our homes, our lives, and our belly’s.

Morsels of Inspiration (Favorite Food Blogs/Resources):

Websites:

Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson

My New Roots by Sara Britton

New York Times Recipe Collection

the Orangette by Molly Wizenberg

Books:

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison*

Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

In the Green Kitchen  by Alice Waters

Cooks Illustrated Cookbook  by Cooks Illustrated

REFERENCES:

Chart sourced from:   Dr. Josh Axe, “US Food Consumption.” Https://draxe.com/charts-american-diet/. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.  USDA Economic Research Service, 2009

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