I’m a nutritional anthropologist, farm-starter, truth-seeker, and mama.
One part nerd and three parts seeker, I’m a whiz at taking braniac social science research and translating it for the rest of us into a joyful life centered on food and family. I’m a California girl by nature, but I braved a dreary couple of years at Oxford University getting my masters in nutritional anthropology.
I thought I would spend my career crunching numbers, because I kind of have a thing for epidemiological data (one part nerd, remember?). But thanks to a bizarre series of experiences involving: breathless schoolchildren birthing a calf, a disappearing passage connecting quaint shops of curios (Don’t look so surprised! C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Phillip Pullman, and JK Rowling all came out of Oxford… makes you think), and a talk by the fellow nerd/spiritual warrior Jane Goodall that left me questioning everything I had once aspired to do, I came out of my time at Oxford obsessed with something else entirely:
I needed to figure out the complex, difficult, beautiful, joyful, fretful, breathless, powerful relationship we humans have with food.
When I became a parent, my life took a radical turn. I knew I had to find a way to help my daughter grow up knowing her own body, trusting herself, loving herself, and loving good food. I’d already spent a lot of hours researching the effectiveness of nutrition education and had discovered something shocking — it just didn’t work. The medical model of teaching nutrition is all about teaching kids to avoid “bad” food. Sure, kids make short-term gains but truly healthy habits are never set. Instead kids as young as 6 begin the “diet-fail-shame” cycle – old eating patterns return, and the shame of failure and poor body image sets in (sound familiar?). I knew there had to be a better way!
Through my combined academic research and parental exploration, I made a groundbreaking discovery that all parents should know:
Creating a fundamental emotional connection to fresh, healthy food is the only reliable way to raise a healthy eater, the only reliable way to make sure your kid knows the joy of a good meal and the simple reverence of taking care of her body. Now, I helping parents, medical and education professionals, and pretty much anyone who will listen work with kids to cultivate a healthy, joyful relationship with food.
My work is based on techniques I developed when I founded Full Circle Farm, an educational, organic farm on school land that connects the district’s 14,000 children directly to the source of their food — both in the fields and in the cafeteria. While there, I developed a powerful “recipe” of experiences designed to foster healthy spaces, healthy kids, and a healthy planet. It starts with a base of media literacy (to inoculate kids against junk food marketing), adds a heap of tangible experiences in the garden, and is seasoned with a dash of culinary education and social activism. It has worked miracles with the many kids at Full Circle Farm, and now I’m working to share the same simple “recipe” with parents everywhere.
I’ve gotten some pretty cool props for my work: in 2009 I was voted one of Kiwi Magazine’s “Moms of the Revolution“ for my work at Full Circle Farm. Last year, I was named one of ParentDish.com’s 25 “Amazing Moms of 2010“, alongside some superstar awesome mamas like Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama. My writing has been featured in a few places that give me goosebumps, including the cover story of Natural Life Magazine and in Civil Eats. Right now you’re on my benignly neglected blog, www.ieatreal.com. I’m a writer for sure. A blogger? Still thinking about that one.
Not quite food related but also a passion of mine: I’m a founding member of the Bay Area Children in Nature Collaborative. CINC is an amazing group of people working to engage schools and parents in increasing kids’ access to healthy, outdoor environments. Because kids not only need healthy food — they also need time in the sunlight, playing in the dirt. In my not-so-spare time, I volunteer with Veggielution, an urban farm in San Jose, CA connecting at-risk youth to the land.
I also love to speak to groups about my work, and have been a guest speaker with Soroptomist International, the Children & Nature Network, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and Kaiser Permanente.
My 6-year-old daughter, Helen, is the light of my life. We live with my best friend in a house behind my parents’ place in Mountain View. Because it takes a village, baby.
The poet Mary Oliver sums up so much of what I’ve learned on my journey:
I don’t want you to just sit at the table.
I don’t want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there,
far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud,
like a blessing.