Edible Orlando publisher Kendra Lott explains why you should explore the city beyond the Magic Kingdom on your next Disney vacation.
We’ve got an interview with journalist Virginia Sole-Smith about her book The Eating Instinct. She’ll also tell me what’s bugging her about food writer and famous locavore Michael Pollan.
Recommended Recipe: Edible Boston‘s Lamb Burgers
Joy Manning: I’m Joy Manning and this is Edible Potluck, a podcast that gives food lovers a taste of Edible Communities magazines.
Joy Manning: First up, a stop in Florida to talk to Edible Orlando publisher Kendra Lott about why you should explore the city beyond the Magic Kingdom on your next Disney vacation. There are plenty of food reasons. And then I talked with journalist Virginia Sole-Smith about her book, The Eating Instinct. She’ll also tell me what’s been bugging her about food writer and world-famous locavore, Michael Pollan.
Recipe: Lamb Burger
Joy Manning: But first, let me tell you about the burgers that I’ve been grilling up lately. These are not your typical beef burgers. These are lamb burgers and I got the recipe in Edible Boston. Lamb out of the gate is a more flavorful meat than beef if you ask me so you’re bound to get a robust tasting burger with lamb. But this recipe mixes in really bold ingredients like shallots and olives. It makes it extra salty and savory, which is great, but it’s really the fixings that take this totally over-the-top.
Joy Manning: Think salty creamy feta cheese with a yogurt sauce that’s mixed with fresh dill. I like to wrap the burger and all the toppings in a sturdy fresh pita instead of a boring old bun, but the choice is yours. You’ll find a link to this recipe in the show notes for today’s episode.
Joy Manning: Orlando Florida, world-famous as the home of Walt Disney World isn’t quite as well known for its local food scene, but the people who live there know a different Orlando than what the rest of us see on our Disney vacations. They know a city that’s full of regional flavors and off the beaten path food. Today we’re talking to Edible Orlando publisher Kendra Lott about her city and what you can find beyond the gates of the Magic Kingdom if you know where to look. Kendra, thank you so much for being with us today.
Kendra Lott: Thank you Joy, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Joy Manning: I read that you have a master’s degree in food studies from NYU and that you worked for a time at Food Arts Magazine in New York City. Those are some impressive food and publishing credentials, and I’m just wondering what drew you to Orlando as the place you wanted to stake your claim as the publisher of a food magazine?
Kendra Lott: Well, while I did spend a significant part of my adulthood in New York, I was actually born and raised in Orlando, Orlando, area I’ll qualify. Most people who are from the area just say Orlando because it’s the only part of the state that anybody is very familiar with, but in reality, it’s a place that’s full of neighborhoods and different kinds of communities.
Kendra Lott: Before I moved back in 2010 to launch Edible Orlando, I’d still been visiting the area for years to see … My family is still here and I did some serious recon and was so satisfied with how much the food scene had grown and blossomed in the ensuing years that it felt like a good risk to take in terms of launching the magazine and we’re still going strong over eight years later.
Joy Manning: Yeah. I think that would be surprising to outsiders, that there would be so much local food there when Disney … Lots of people love to eat in Disney obviously, but it’s not what you think of when you think of local food. I guess one thing I’m wondering is what do you wish, your city gets so many visitors. I read it was 60 million a year. Is that right as far as you know?
Kendra Lott: I think it was even more than that last year. I’m not sure when they send out the stats, but it’s always in the 60, 70 million range.
Joy Manning: But you know, I’m an editor of an Edible as well. I’m in Philly and there’s just so much that I feel like visitors that I want them to know about the city and I just imagine that there’s a lot that you wish that all those visitors knew about Central Florida and Orlando. Maybe you could share some of those things that you wished visitors knew before they came for their trip.
Kendra Lott: I wish that they would come … We get a lot of people not just visiting here, but moving here as well with the expectations that the seasonality is going to be the same as it is where they come from. We’re not an apple crumble kind of town. Those don’t grow here and that’s not what we’re known for, and to look a little harder for say the locally grown items like shell peas and green peanuts. And of course, everyone knows about citrus, but we have a pretty much year-round growing season.
Kendra Lott: I think because so many of our visitors come in the summer, which is actually unlike where they’re from, kind of the low point in our season unless you love okra, which I do, fortunately, just kind of look beyond the area, the tourist areas and visit some of the farms that we have locally. Many of them are open and it’s lovely to go berry picking or go through a corn maze just as it is where many other folks come from those have a more Florida feel here obviously, but I would encourage people to maybe go take a 20-minute drive from the parks and you’ll be amazed at what you find.
Joy Manning: If summer is the low point of the growing season, what’s the high point of the growing season during the year?
Kendra Lott: We have two actually. Things are wonderful in October, November and then again in the spring. We actually, if readers look too Long & Scott Farms website, they are famous for their Zellwood Corn. That’s our iconic local dish, so to speak, local item and they actually have two growing seasons. And when that comes out, you can be assured that other things are really abundant as well.
Joy Manning: And that’s a variety of local corn.
Kendra Lott: Yes, that is a variety of local corn that is triple-sweet. I think they branded the name triple-sweet corn and we get to enjoy that. We’re just coming out off the tail end of that season right now, of the spring season, but we get to do it again all over again in the fall.
Joy Manning: Is it typically served as corn on the cob?
Kendra Lott: Yes. I mean, I’m one of those people that, when people say, “Well, what do you like to cook?” It’s really boring frankly because when you have good ingredients, like we do here, you really can keep it very simple. I mean, we’re home to … We have wonderful pastured eggs and poultry and raw dairy and, as I said, mostly year-round growing season where we can get all the things that everybody’s used to getting from California, of course, but as well as some of the more delicate varieties of shell peas like conchs and zippers, that are more classically let’s say Southern produce.
Joy Manning: Yeah, I think people forget that Florida is technically in the South.
Kendra Lott: It is.
Joy Manning: It’s not really thought of as a Southern state.
Kendra Lott: It’s also not thought of as an AG state when in fact, we’re the number one state for calves and more and more of those calves are spending their whole lives here and becoming grass-fed, free-range meat and because people, because the local movement, people are asking for that and not as excited about the grain-fed as they used to be and farmers, they want to make a living and they’re flexible and they realize that that demand is going to allow them to charge a little more for their product and be on restaurant menus, which increasingly it is.
Joy Manning: Are there other ways that southern food culture plays out in its own way in Central, Florida and in Orlando?
Kendra Lott: Oh, absolutely a lot of what would fall under I guess the generic gastropub term is actually, almost always has a very Southern twist here. You see a lot of grits on menus and not just at breakfast. It’s Southern polenta. It’s a very versatile grain and there are Florida milled products like Geechee boy grits. You see that on menus all over the place. You see boiled peanuts as an appetizer. Chef Greg Richie at Soco, which actually stands for Southern contemporary, his restaurant in Thornton Park, which is a wonderful neighborhood just adjacent to downtown Orlando, full of great restaurants, and his is a mainstay there for all kinds of biscuits, but upscale sort of festive Southern fare, not meet and threes, but definitely inspired by meat and three, that classic southern.
Kendra Lott: For southern cooking for me it’s as much about the sides as it is about the main. So yeah, you’ve got that center of plate pulled pork or fried chicken or what have you, but it’s really about the grits, the beans, the pimento cheese all of those things that you would associate with classic southern fare at places like Soco, like the Ravenous Pig, like the Tennessee Truffle and Sanford, another great area worth visiting.
Joy Manning: Having read several of your issues lately, it seems like local food has really shaped the city in recent years. Has food culture had an effect on shaping the city, helping neighborhoods develop or in any other way that you can think of?
Kendra Lott: Absolutely. We have a very strong Main Street program. I think there are maybe 11 official Main Street districts in Orlando that work in tandem with the city, but also as their own individual nonprofits to promote small businesses in their areas. A great example of that is Audubon Park, which was always an older community, lots of mid-century homes that people have taken a real renewed interest in because when East End Market opened as a food hub for both retailers, but also artisans who were using the space, using commissary space and that in tandem with their really thriving farmers market, which is the only farmers market in the area that limits its spenders to growers and producers.
Kendra Lott: They have to have grown or made the item that they’re selling. And unfortunately, that’s not the case with all of our area farmers markets and we get lots of wholesalers, et cetera. So those two things working in that neighborhood, it really changed the tone of it because people are hanging out. It’s about the communal aspect of it. I mean, at East End Market, my office is actually upstairs at East End Market so I get a pretty good sense of what slice of community that is, you get moms with young kids, you get groups of people hanging out. No one’s in a hurry and I feel like-
Joy Manning: What a perfect place for an Edible office.
Kendra Lott: Yes, isn’t it? I get the bird’s eye view and people in the commissary kitchen wanting to give me samples, which is incredible. So-
Joy Manning: Yeah.
Kendra Lott: … but that is really, people have gone on from that to retailing in major grocery stores or getting food trucks of their own. There’s some women that operate out of there, Sugar Rush Marshmallows. They’re making their product in the commissary kitchen, they started selling at farmers markets and they got their own food truck and now you can get, there’s s’mores pies at the Orlando International Airport. I mean, that’s quite a trajectory I think and it’s because of places like East End really incubating that talent and providing people a low financial bar of entry, without the commitment of maintaining their own space and it’s really that they’ve gotten legs, and their marshmallows are delicious.
Joy Manning: One of the articles you shared with me was about chefs who open not just one restaurant in Orlando, but two or three or four restaurants. Do you have a theory as to what’s driving that trend?
Kendra Lott: I think it’s straight-up success. I mean, so many of them are so social media savvy so they oftentimes develop a following before they even open their doors and people are so happy to have something, an outpost in their neighborhood say. I mean, I never realized how sprawling Orlando was until I moved back as an adult. As a kid growing up you stay in your bubble, to and from school, practices, et cetera. And you don’t realize how little you get out of your zip code.
Kendra Lott: Adults are like that too. I mean, I drive everywhere because I’m covering a three-county area for the magazine. So when somebody hears about something on social media and it’s the hot new thing like Sushi POP, which has been in Oviedo, which is a bedroom community in Seminole County that you would not expect to find a cutting edge fun kitschy Japanese restaurant in, but that was maybe six or seven years ago that they launched, and they’ve only just opened an outpost in Winter Park, which is much more central to many people and believe me, people welcomed it with open arms.
Joy Manning: So it’s sort of the culture of the city, the way that the infrastructure is that a popular restaurant in one neighborhood, people feel like they need it in their own neighborhood. You don’t have robust public transportation as I understand.
Kendra Lott: We do have actually a SunRail, little light-rail commuter train, which doesn’t yet operate on the weekends, but during the week you can take it right to Downtown Winter Park, which is a very pedestrian-friendly older neighborhood with lots of restaurants, retailers, beautiful architecture, lush green spaces as well as Sanford. A lot of the cities are working in tandem with SunRail to do a shuttle. In Sanford, you can actually take a trolley between downtown Sanford to SunRail station and the central Florida Zoo during-
Joy Manning: Oh, well that’s great.
Kendra Lott: … which is great so you can come and walk our main street downtown. First Street, I say our because I live in Sanford, so I’m sort of a relentless cheerleader of it.
Joy Manning: Sure.
Kendra Lott: Sanford is north of Orlando and a very I would say much more Southern look, neighborhoods right on a big lake, it’s got an old-fashioned main street, lots of houses built in the 20s and 50s. So again, that very kind of classic southern feel to it.
Joy Manning: I wanted to congratulate you on your new book, Unique Eats and Eateries of Orlando.
Kendra Lott: Thank you.
Joy Manning: That seems to fit in very well with what you do with the magazine, I’m sure.
Kendra Lott: Thank goodness because writing a book is much different than publishing a magazine, I found, but luckily I’ve been researching it for in essence the past eight, nine years, so.
Joy Manning: Yeah, I’m sure you consulted all your back issues as you were going on.
Kendra Lott: Absolutely.
Joy Manning: What’s the most surprising place that you covered in your book? Is there anything that’s really do-not-miss or you’d really love to tell people about?
Kendra Lott: My favorite thing to write about frankly was Hot Dog Heaven, which is a hot dog restaurant that has been on a stretch of Colonial Drive, which Colonial Drive, if listeners haven’t been there is, I could write a book about the restaurants on Colonial Drive. It has a thriving Vietnamese community and the restaurants have been there for decades as well as some more young fun upstarts and old school places like Beefy King and Hot Dog Heaven, which are decades old.
Kendra Lott: And really when you go there you could see like oh, this is a great little workaday spot where people are going to get their lunch every day. They’ve got their crowd, you can tell. I just had the funniest time writing about that because, despite the fact that I pass it almost every day on my way to work, I had never eaten there. And I thought, okay, I got to go there. So things that kind of made me say, oh, I have to try this for the book and when I was pleasantly delighted was like, why did I wait so long?
Joy Manning: I have to tell you, I have this Disney World obsessed family member who’s getting married on Friday.
Kendra Lott: Oh wow, he’s not alone. He’s not alone.
Joy Manning: I know. He’s going to Disney World for his honeymoon.
Kendra Lott: Okay.
Joy Manning: And I think as part of his wedding gift I’m going to ship him your book to try to get him out of the park.
Kendra Lott: Okay. Well, you know what? There’s great food in the parks too, but there’s a lot of park adjacent food that I think he’ll enjoy.
Joy Manning: Oh, I think this is I like his 10th trip to Disney.
Kendra Lott: Oh okay, yeah, he can try something new then.
Joy Manning: He’s probably ready to venture out. Well, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast to tell us more about Orlando and get to hear about it from the perspective of someone who’s just loves local food and is a native of the city. It’s really been a different perspective I think. Thank you so much, Kendra.
Kendra Lott: Well, I hope that you come to visit sometime and I will be happy to give you some pics based on your final destination here.
Joy Manning: I’ll take you up on that.
Kendra Lott: Thank you.
Joy Manning: That was Kendra Lott, publisher of Edible Orlando. We’ll share links to the magazine in the show notes for today’s episode. Follow her and the magazine on Twitter and Instagram @edibleorlando.
Joy Manning: Virginia Sole-Smith is a journalist and the author of The Eating Instinct, a book that’s equal part memoir and cultural criticism. In the book she tells the harrowing story of how her baby lost the ability to eat and how she learned to eat again. Along the way she explores the complex relationship women have with our own bodies and appetites. Virginia has written for the New York Times magazine, Scientific American and many other publications. I’m really excited to talk to her today about The Eating Instinct and some of her other recent work. Virginia, thank you so much for being here.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Thank you for having me.
Joy Manning: Now, I think that you are a guest who’s a little bit outside of the normal farmer chef cookbook author that we have on the show, but I found myself as a food lover really drawn to your book, The Eating Instinct, and I think other listeners might be as well. For people who haven’t read it, can you just tell us briefly about what inspired you to write it?
Virginia Sole-Smith: Absolutely. First I should say I am a total food lover. So I am happy for other food lovers to enjoy the book. Certainly, it starts at its core with a love of food, but the backstory is, so I am a journalist who got my start in women’s magazines and specifically writing nutrition and fitness stories in women’s magazines, which meant I was writing a lot of diet articles on how to lose weight, get your beach body, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah for years.
Virginia Sole-Smith: And increasingly uncomfortable with that because I just knew that it was turning food into this thing that people measured and counted and tracked and obsessed over and felt bad about and it didn’t seem like it was making anyone feel better about their body or resolve any health issues. It was just kind of like causing all of this, this stress and anxiety about weight and food.
Virginia Sole-Smith: For years I struggled with kind of trying to make those stories better in certain ways, falling short, wrestling with my own stuff and really what I know now looking back was that I was still kind of holding out for this unicorn that there would be some perfect way to eat, some plan or diet that would be something that would achieve all the “results” that we’re told we should want but also let us enjoy all the food we love and not feel deprived and not feel hungry, and that doesn’t really exist in the way that we want it to.
Virginia Sole-Smith: So fast forward though, in 2013 my daughter Violet was born and this is where the story takes a little bit of a weird turn, but Violet was born with a rare congenital heart condition. And as a side effect of her condition, she completely stopped eating and became dependent on a feeding tube for the better part of two years. During that experience, as strange as it sounds, I think because I was pushed so far outside the paradigm of what I thought eating should be, what I thought feeding a baby should be like, my expectations for myself as a mother feeding a child.
Virginia Sole-Smith: It was suddenly pushed so far outside that, that’s really when I realized like, oh, there’s no expert or guru who can tell us all these things. This is something that starts with our relationship with our body and that’s kind of where food and eating has to start in order for it to work.
Joy Manning: So how did those experiences with your daughter lead you to this broader exploration of what you call diet culture? I’m not sure if all of our listeners know exactly what diet culture is, so maybe you can also just brief give that explanation.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Yeah, definitely. Diet culture is just a shorthand way of talking about all the articles I wrote in the first 10 years of my career, all the Instagram influencers and books and websites, the Whole 30, the Weight Watchers. I mean, I could name zillions of them, all of the plans and experts that come at us all the time saying, “This is why you’re unhappy with your weight and with food. This is how you’ll fix it. Here’s a set of rules to follow. You need to follow these rules and eat this way and it’s all going to be great.”
Virginia Sole-Smith: There’s the very overt, that sort of Jenny Craig Weight Watchers versions of that culture and there’s far more subtle plans where they’re saying, “Oh, no, it’s not really about weight loss. It’s about health. It’s about spirituality. It’s about the sort of more wellness broader definition,” which we can talk about. But it all at the end of the day is about saying, “Don’t trust your body. Don’t listen to your hunger so much. That’s sort of leading you astray. Really follow this outside plan.”
Virginia Sole-Smith: And the reason that the experience with Violet kind of led me to start questioning all of that is because she’s sort of a metaphor in the book for what I think so many of us are struggling with. In Violet’s case and as with most babies the vast majority of babies, which means vast majority of humans. She was born knowing how to eat. She knew when she was hungry. She knew when she was full. There were mechanics of breastfeeding and bottle feeding that we had to sort of troubleshoot to make it work, but I didn’t have to tell this baby, “You should eat now. You should stop eating now.”
Virginia Sole-Smith: We’re all born with knowing that food equals comfort and pleasure and also kind of instinctively knowing how hungry we are and babies when they’re full, they just fall asleep and stop eating and it’s very straightforward. Then what happened was because she went through all of this intense trauma that I talk about in the book, eating became terrifying to her and in Violet’s case it’s something called an oral aversion where babies are literally conditioned to reject eating because they’ve had so many tubes and medical trauma kind of coming at them and particularly when you’re in the hospital like a lot of stuff comes at your face, at your mouth.
Virginia Sole-Smith: So it just made her shut down. It no longer felt safe. She could no longer hear her hunger cues. She really didn’t experience hunger for two years and she got no pleasure or comfort from the act of eating, which is totally counter to how babies develop normally. And when I saw that sort of stripped away from her in this really overpowering, opaque way. I mean, there was no like logic-ing out of it. There was no just like … People would say, “Wait for her to get hungry,” but she wasn’t getting hungry because she was so traumatized so that couldn’t work.
Virginia Sole-Smith: That made me realize how much so many of us don’t trust food and so many of us are really disconnected from our hunger and fullness because we feel so guilty at the idea of being hungry. We feel like we’re hungry at the wrong times. Our appetites are too big, too unruly. Our bodies are too unruly. Again, she’s really the metaphor but this is something that’s happening to so many of us in so many different ways.
Joy Manning: And how did all of this change your own experience and your own way of thinking about your own hunger and eating?
Virginia Sole-Smith: Pretty profoundly. I wasn’t really aware until we went through the experience with Violet and then really until I was reporting the book, which involved interviewing lots and lots and lots of people about their own relationships with food in lots of different ways. So I had people who are recovering from weight loss surgery. I had people living on food stamps and how living in poverty really changes your relationship with hunger. People with different types of eating disorders.
Virginia Sole-Smith: There’s a whole spectrum of case studies in the book, but there were these common themes of people saying like, “Eating feels too complicated. I never feel like I’m getting it right. I don’t know how to eat healthy.” Even though they sort of did know but they were feeling this with that idea. A lot of common themes that emerged where people were constantly apologizing to me for being hungry. Like just, “I’m so sorry I’m hungry. I’m so sorry I need to eat right now,” when it was like lunchtime. And yeah, I came here to talk to you about food, of course you’re eating.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Or they were constantly apologizing for what they were eating, the “I’m being so bad because I’m having this. I can’t believe I’m eating this type of food again. I ate too much of this food. I can’t stop eating this food.” And hearing those narratives from people made me realize my own patterns with that and how often I was sort of shaming myself or apologizing for my relationship with food and especially having fought so hard to help this child trust and embrace food again, the last thing I wanted was to be modeling that kind of shame and anxiety around eating.
Virginia Sole-Smith: So it did cause me to really stop that narrative altogether. I mean, I really never talk negatively about food or my body at this point. And an amazing thing happens when you force yourself to stop saying it out loud. You have to catch yourself, which means you have to think about it, which means you really can start to let go of it on a deeper level too.
Joy Manning: It’s so interesting to me. I started reading your book at a time when I decided I was going to try Weight Watchers again, which-
Virginia Sole-Smith: We’ve all been there.
Joy Manning: … it doesn’t really make a lot of sense because in recent years, I feel like I’ve … I’m over 40 now and I have really come to a place where I feel at peace with my relationship with food and my body, but I just was like, I thought I could probably do better.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Right.
Joy Manning: I could probably do a little better.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Right. I think that’s always that sort of like unicorn that’s held out in front of us like, but surely I must be getting something kind of wrong here. This is the satisfaction I have, something’s flawed there if I’m just feeling at peace.
Joy Manning: But reading your book made me feel like even a tentative peace with your body and when you feel like you know what to eat and how much, that’s so precious and it should be nurtured and something like Weight Watchers can squash it.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Yes. Yes.
Joy Manning: I think that that was something that if I wasn’t aware of it before, it became so obvious and vivid for me.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Oh, I love hearing that.
Joy Manning: As I was reading it and then sort of experiencing it because putting those outside structures and limits on what you’re supposed to eat, it made me feel almost panicky somehow.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Well, yeah because you know, no outside plan can account for every situation you’re going to find yourself in. So okay, you have all these rules you’re following, but then you want to go out to somebody’s birthday dinner or you are just running a ton of errands and you need to eat lunch on the fly and Subway is the closest place, or whatever. There’s so many situations where it doesn’t make sense to even worry about trying to achieve this perfect eating that we got held up sort of expect ourselves to attain.
Virginia Sole-Smith: The real core issue with these plans is that we outsource the expertise, we outsource the idea that we say, “Okay, someone else knows better than me what my body needs,” but we don’t outsource the guilt. So when we do fall short of these goals that we’ve set or this plan that we’ve bought into we internalize all the shame, we have failed instead of saying like, “Oh, this plan didn’t actually account for this reality of my life. I am working two jobs. I have kids. I have whatever going on that I need to juggle and eating in this sort of like yoga guru perfect Gwyneth Paltrow mode or whatever happens to be the kind of diet du jour, it doesn’t apply to me and so I don’t need to live with that expectation for myself.” That’s really hard to do.
Joy Manning: I wanted to ask you about something else you wrote and people who love Edible Communities magazines generally speaking really love Michael Pollan.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Oh, yeah.
Joy Manning: He’s sort of like one of the founding fathers of locavorism. All of us I think in the Edible Communities network of readers and editors and publishers have our beloved copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. You wrote a story, an article called The Thin White Men Who Rebranded Dieting As Wellness. We’re definitely going to link to that article. I think that it’s very interesting and everyone should read it, but can you tell us in a nutshell what is your beef with Michael Pollan?
Virginia Sole-Smith: Oh, where does it begin? So okay, I also in the early years of my career as a writer also was on the Michael Pollan bandwagon full force and in the mid-2000s when he was publishing Omnivore’s Dilemma when yes, locavorism, farmers markets, all these things were sort of becoming the new way to think about food. I was so here for it because I was like, “Great, I can put down my light yogurt and my SnackWell’s,” and all these sort of diety foods and things that had been marketed to us. And these were not the answer. All I have to do is eat whole foods. This is so freeing. This is so amazing.
Virginia Sole-Smith: There are a couple of problems with this though. Number one, it’s expensive to eat that way and we can talk about growing your own and blah, blah, blah, but not everyone has time or access or ability or interest in taking on food in such a labor-intensive way and that is not a personal failing of anybody. But the way Pollan and others have talked about food and this need to get back to cooking in this labor-intensive way, it makes you feel like you’re failing if you can’t execute it perfectly. That starts to feel pretty diety to me.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Number two, the sort of labor that he’s romanticizing is often historically, almost exclusively historically, has been the labor of women or the labor of people of color, the labor of marginalized communities. So for him to come in as the skinny white man and say like, “I have found the answers. I have found this sort of truth about eating that we can all gather around.” I feel that there’s been some reappropriation there. I don’t think he’s giving credit necessarily where it needs to be and I also think just because he eats this way and he’s thin does not mean it’s the answer for all of us.
Virginia Sole-Smith: And that sounds super simplistic, but I think it’s a problem with many diet plans and we give a pass to the ones that are couched in sort of a scientific, masculine, authoritative voice because it sounds very knowledgeable and research-based and evidence and it runs in the New York Times versus running in Self Magazine, but at the end of the day, all of the checkmark … If I were to go down the bullet point of everything that makes up a diet plan like, it’s all in there.
Virginia Sole-Smith: So I think we need to reckon with that and we need to deal with when we’re being super prescriptive about food, whether we’re doing it from a place of trying to preach weight loss and weight loss alone or we’re doing it from a place of trying to preach weight loss and also get people to care about organic farming. We need to question what we’re doing there.
Virginia Sole-Smith: So fundamentally my biggest criticism, I think, is the fact that he did sort of adopt the “obesity epidemic”, and I’m putting that in quotes because that term is really loaded for a lot of people, but he took all of this stuff about making food systems more sustainable and improving soil quality. All of that makes a great deal of sense from an environmentalist point of view, I’m here for it. But when you start saying, “This is the secret to solving obesity,” you’re taking on an entire other thing that I don’t think needed to be combined with that, and I think really what it was was marketing because it was hard to get people super enthusiastic about organic farming, but if we told them it would make them thin, suddenly we have people’s attention.
Virginia Sole-Smith: And I say this as someone who was very much in the media when that was happening, writing versions of those articles, quoting him in women’s magazines and lifestyle media, doing celebrity lifestyle books where this was what I was often explicitly told, like, “Read Omnivore’s Dilemma and do the women’s magazine version of that.” And that has become a problem. That has really led to where we are now with the clean eating craze, with detoxing, with a very unsustainable way to eat, that I think is not helping the vast majority of people.
Joy Manning: Can you tell me a little bit about your podcast, The Comfort Food Podcast?
Virginia Sole-Smith: Yes. So The Comfort Food Podcast I run with my best friend and sort of longtime work wife, Amy Palanjian, who is the creator of a great kid food blog, Yummy Toddler Food. And Amy, it’s interesting, she very much comes from a … She and her husband grow tons of their own food, they’re total Edible Communities people so we often have debates about this stuff, but at its core what we really want to talk about on the podcast is like how can we make feeding less fraught for busy parents who are trying to feed kids and are trying to present food in a way that’s like exciting, but no pressure, dealing with things like picky eating without making those situations more intense and leading to power struggles.
Virginia Sole-Smith: And we also talk a lot about the expectations put on women particularly around food because a lot of our ideas about the perfect mother are tied up in feeding our families in this perfect way. So we try to challenge that. We try to talk about okay well, we all have these goals of wanting to feed our families well, feed ourselves well, eat “healthy”, but what does that really look like day-to-day? What’s realistic? What can you do? And so there’s a lot of problem solving and strategies. I think it’s a really great listen for parents, but I do also hear from folks who aren’t parents saying that they like just talking about the food and feminism and that whole combination of stuff.
Joy Manning: I’m not a parent myself personally, but I did spend the last week taking care of my five-year-old niece.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Oh, so yeah, you were right in the trenches with us.
Joy Manning: I just have to say, the food part was challenging especially for someone like me who expects her to love all of the …
Virginia Sole-Smith: You’re like, why are you not loving this amazing meal?
Joy Manning: Yeah, dim sum in Chinatown.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Isn’t this blowing your mind? Yeah. No, that’s not-
Joy Manning: Spicy homemade stir-fry
Virginia Sole-Smith: They don’t go for the spicy homemade stir-fry. I mean, some kids do, but you can’t bank on it. That’s true, but you can get them there eventually.
Joy Manning: I’ll have to do a binge-listen before my next time out as an auntie. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today to talk to us about your book and your work and it’s been really a huge pleasure to talk to you, Virginia. Thanks again.
Virginia Sole-Smith: Oh, thank you. I always love talking to you.
Joy Manning: That was Virginia Sole-Smith, journalist and author of The Eating Instinct. Follow her on Instagram @v_solesmith. Check out our podcast, The Comfort Food Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.
Joy Manning: Thank you for joining us today on Edible Potluck. Our podcast producer is David Wolfe. If you liked this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a rating or review. You know it helps other listeners find the podcast. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of your own local Edible magazine. If you don’t know where to get one, find out at EdibleCommunities.com. You can find links to everything we talked about today in the show notes for this episode at EdibleCommunities.com/podcast. Until next time remember, eat local.