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Faces & Visions of the Food Movement: Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat creates community around food as a cook, writer and teacher in the Bay Area. From Chez Panisse to Tuscany, Piemonte to the northern coast of Iran, she has spent the past 14 years immersed in a life of cooking and learning beside groundbreaking chefs, home cooks, farmers, writers, and artists.  Drawing on this broad spectrum of experience, she brings to her all of her varied work a sense of humor and joy as well as a deep desire to empower and encourage people to find their own comfortable place in the kitchen.  She is currently at work on her first book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, to be published by Simon & Schuster in Spring 2015.

What issues have you been focused on?

All of my work as a cook, writer and teacher intersects around people and the community. I love encouraging people and taking care of them so they can take better care of themselves and each other.

What inspires you to do this work?

My inspiration comes from the people around me, from how good it feels for me to be good to my community and the desire to give that to as many people as possible. For me, because I happened to stumble into the world of food, it became my tool, but ultimately my work is about people.

What’s your overall vision?

To make people feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves, and to use food as my tool to do that. Creating connection is my ultimate goal. If I can create a space for people to feel more connected to each other and to where their food comes from, and help them create a more loving and fun experience for themselves and their friends and families, then that’s what I want to do.

What books and/or blogs are you reading right now?

The most incredible book called Things That Are by Amy Leach. It’s a work of non-fiction and essays about the natural world. It’s so beautiful and inspiring. It fuels my whole day. Essays are my favorite form and I love Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Robert Hass. I don’t read a ton of blogs but I do love The Yellow House, Poor Man’s Feast, and BrainPickings.com.

Who’s in your community?

I’m really lucky have stumbled into the Chez Panisse family; it was my first point of entry into the food world. However, it’s been very important to my work to step outside of that, so I work with a lot of great young journalists, including my friend, Novella Carpenter, who’s been a great guide to me as a writer. In the Bay Area food world there’s an unfortunate division of people who work in food for pleasure and people who work in food justice and I’ve tried hard to straddle both worlds. I feel one will help the other. I’ve tried my best to understand the food landscape. The women at City Slicker Farms, People’s Grocery, 18 Reasons, they’re my community. I’m also deeply inspired by the natural world and anyone with a sense of craftsmanship, so my community also extends to surfers, woodworkers, artists, musicians and the like.

What are your commitments?

To good food and deliciousness. To taking care of people around me and the natural world and doing my best to have a really good time! And, to learning as much as I possibly can.

What are your goals?

To finish my book on time. To make the best possible book I can make so I can inspire and teach as many people to cook as possible. I’m trying to be really single-minded right now.

What does change look like to you?

I’m super inspired by Howard Zinn’s words, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” And I believe that wide-scale change will happen when many people make little, positive changes in their habits.

Regarding the practicalities of enacting change, what planning is involved? What kind of outreach?

Cooking is my tool. I work with people to understand their insecurities and encourage them to practice. Really, it comes down to encouraging and empowering my audience so they feel they can be a part of the change or even to make small changes in their own lives.

What projects and people have you got your eye on or are you impressed by?

Shakira Simley with her Public Label of preserves and pickles and her community outreach work at BiRite Market. Elissa Altman who writes for Poor Man’s Feast, everything she does is so thoughtful and interesting. I eat up every word she puts out. Andrea Gentl is an incredibly thoughtful food photographer I am obsessed with. Tamar Adler is a constant source of inspiration.  I’m really looking forward to People’s Community Market changing the way West Oakland Eats.  And my friends Sarah Ryhanen and Nicolette Owen, with their amazing work with flowers, inspire me on a daily basis.

Where do you see the state of agriculture/food policy in the next 5-10 years? Is real policy change a real possibility?

For me it goes back to my idea that change comes from people’s habits and people wanting change. I’m not sure it can come from the top. I think things are going to get worse before they get better. I think a lot of people aren’t informed and before problems show up on their front door, they won’t do anything.  So, I’m not sure I believe that policy change will happen until the people demand it, and that can’t happen until more people understand the true state of things.

What does the food movement need to do, be or have to be more effective?

Unification. It’s so fragmented. There are so many factions aiming for the same thing. There are so many people not working together. If there were a voice that could unify us, that would be really powerful and really helpful.

What would you want to be your last meal on earth?

Mexican Food!! Tacos. I actually don’t care what I eat as long as I get to be surrounded by the people I love.

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