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Doing good through good food

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At BlogHer Food ’12, two leading chef-authors focusing on health and social justice shared their success in engaging consumers with healthier food options.

Bryant Terry and Terry Walters have expanded their influence well beyond the kitchen. Walters began her journey dialoging with farmers to prepare healthier food for her family. And Terry went to culinary school to engage young people to create a more sustainable food system. They laid down a few simple rules for writers who want to inspire audiences to make smart, ethical choices about food.

Start with delicious food. When introducing healthier food, the palate plays a key role. “I’m a believer that if you’ve had something you don’t like, then you’ve probably had it not made well,” Walters said. “Something made in balance brings out the deliciousness of food and really nourishes us.”

Terry said letting the food speak for itself opens people up to possibilities. “When I became a vegan and started to harangue people, I was ignored,” he said. Instead, he found cooking to be the best way to engage people and encourage change. “It starts with delicious food,” Terry said. “I don’t care how ethical and sustainable food is — if it tastes bad, I don’t want it.”

Become a storyteller. For these chefs, it’s important that engagement with food continues beyond what’s on the plate. Terry includes music suggestions and readings in his latest cookbook. “We don’t eat in a vacuum,” he said. Through food, we get “connection with family and friends in ways that we can’t with technology. I see how food carries a story, and I want to communicate that.”

The story for Walters is about the pursuit of food. “It’s talking to the farmers” and gaining insight into their lives and backgrounds, then using those stories to educate, she said. “My work is about education and empowering others to make healthy choices.”

Variety is key. Both chefs emphasized variety as a major part of their philosophy and shied away from endorsing one diet as the only solution. “I write about foods we all need more of,” Walters said, noting that it is ineffective to ask people to make a major diet or lifestyle change that they are not able to maintain. “It’s not a diet, it’s about fitting foods in our lifestyle.”

Each chef mentioned disagreement with their publishers about labels and fads. The chefs are looking to cast a wider net to engage more readers. “I told them you can sell my book however you want, but you can’t put a label on me,” Walters said. “Labels don’t help us.”

Terry agreed. He is excited to see more people looking to eat plant-based food, but he doesn’t think any one diet wins out. “We need a complex approach to diet,” he said.

Create discourse. While both chefs emphasized the role of choice in change, each also highlighted increased discussion about a proposed ban on certain soda sizes. Walters noted that “so many people were talking about it. What people are actually eating is completely different from what they say they value.”

Terry emphasized the importance of having all of the facts when making choices about food. “Our goal is for young people to have all of the information, then make an informed decision,” he said.