The best-selling author discusses her work, the power of food to connect communities, as well as her books Feed the Resistance and Now & Again.
On What Inspires Her Work
In general, I think I've been drawn to food my whole life - and I have been since before I can remember. I've always been cooking and wanting to be in the kitchen. When I reflect back on that and how that passion really continues, I realize that the food itself isn't really important. It's the community and the people behind the food. I think community is the thing that I'm really drawn to and food has been my way into that.
I would say that more recently the things that have inspired my work on putting together Feed the Resistance or Equity at the Table have come from expanding my community and trying to do a lot more listening rather than just talking. I've loved food my whole life. I've taught myself how to cook through cookbooks. I've surrounded myself with them and known since I was tiny that this was the work that I wanted to do. I wanted to create cookbooks and I've gotten to do that work so I've been extraordinarily privileged to not only know what I wanted to do but to also get to do it! I've worked with tons of people and their cookbooks and I've gotten to work on my own.
I've gotten to put my own voice out there, have it heard, and experience what that feels like. In doing that work, I've come to understand that that privilege is not afforded to everyone so I feel like the more things that I've accomplished with my own voice, the more invested I am in making sure that those opportunities are offered to more people. That is the work that I care most about at this point. It's also just more interesting work. I know my own stories. I've heard my own voice. I'm just so curious about everyone else's. So that's kind of been the shift for me - doing more listening.
On the Power of Food to Connect Others and Propel Movements
It's why I love what I do so much. I feel like that happens constantly. A table of food on it to bring people together is really not to be underestimated. I think of the first time my wife met my parents and we had lunch at a restaurant. It was a totally positive thing and I remember what it felt like to sit around that table and to be so happy and comfortable. I've sat at meals with colleagues where we had really intense conversations about things, but the fact that we were sitting around a table with food on it helped us create a safe space to have a hard conversation.
I also do a lot of volunteer work through cooking and the power of those meals to literally provide a meal for somebody who might not have access to it, but also the experience of cooking that meal with another volunteer and seeing how that has brought us together. I see it personally in my own life all the time. There are also so many incredible examples in terms of politically bringing people together and in movement building. There's an enormous legacy to food and movement building. Movements are about people and people need to be fed and taken care of. That work has been going on forever and I think the best example is Georgia Gilmore and the Club from Nowhere during the Montgomery bus boycotts. Her organizing all of these women, primarily Black women, providing food and feeding people is just as vital as anyone boycotting. It's all an ecosystem and food is a big part of it.
On Feed the Resistance as a Tool for Difficult Conversations
I definitely think the book could be used as a tool. There's one example that I think about a lot and it's kind of a dramatic one. The Daily, the New York Times podcast, did a show about the story of Derek Black who was born in a total White supremacist family. His family started this really right-wing site called Storm King and I think his godfather the head of the Ku Klux Klan -- like really crazy, scary stuff. He grew up in this family that was his community and everything he knew. As he got older he ended up renouncing his views in an open letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
What struck me so much about his story was that he talked about how his views began to change when he was in college and he was invited by a college classmate who was a religious Jew to a Shabbat dinner. He was basically like, "We have different opinions, but come to this meal and get to know a community that you have actively discriminated against. Share this meal and let's talk about the stuff that's hard to talk about." I've always been so struck by the fact that he talks about the shifting of his own views having started around that table. You know, it wasn't the food on the table that changed his mind, but it was the invitation and introduction to a different community and a conversation. I think for the person who did the inviting - to open your door to someone who hasn't necessarily supported you is a scary thing to do, but the opportunity for dialogue is so huge and can have a major impact.
I was working on Now & Again when the election happened. I felt a lot of things as I think a lot of people did. Lots of fear and anger. So I wondered if there was something that I could contribute that was positive, productive. I felt like one really random thing in this world that I can do is put together a cookbook and so I pitched Feed the Resistance to my editor who I was already working on this next book with. I was like, "I have this idea. I think we should do it.I think we should do it right now and it should come from a big community." We had over 20 contributors and I don't think any of them had worked with Chronicle, my publisher, before. So I wasn't asking my publisher to just say yes to me, but to a community that brought so many perspectives, experiences, ideas, and voices. I also said that in addition to paying the contributors, I also wanted us to give all of the money to the ACLU and to use the books as a way to be a tool to support the protection of civil liberties. It was a pretty extraordinary experience. It changed my life and brought me closer to every single person who's in the book.
On Her Latest Book Now & Again
I was actually working on this book before I started on Feed the Resistance. It's a really fun cookbook. I'm really excited about it. It's all menus and the recipes so that you can make the whole meal. Then, there are ways to reinvent all of the leftovers from that meal. It's totally how I cook and how we eat in my house. I'm always cooking tons of food a then turn the leftovers into something else. We eat all of our meals at home so there's always something in the fridge. It's a personal book. It's of all of my favorite menus and stories behind them and stuff. It's a cookbook full of really fun and creative ideas.
It comes out on September 4, 2018.
Listen to the full conversation with Julia Turshen on the Undiscovered Worth podcast.