I was born and raised in California: home of farmers markets, conscious eaters, and Alice Waters. I grew up on three acres in the beautiful Carmel Valley, a mere five-minute walk from Earthbound Farms. My childhood was spent roaming my family’s property with my faithful companion and yellow lab, Chloe, by my side. We would run through my family’s orchard, ripping yellow apples off of the trees and gorging ourselves on green gage plums that had fallen to the ground. We trampled our berry bushes, smeared raspberry juice across our faces, but avoided the loganberries – they weren’t sweet enough for our unsophisticated palettes.
My father, a brilliant self-taught gardener, spent too many summers trying to teach me how to cultivate the vegetable garden; but, Chloe and I were always more interested in our jungle of giant pumpkins than in the slow process of sprouting seeds. I grew up with an understanding of plant and flower species, helped with the harvest by eating most of the crop, and sold our burgundy plums at a fruit stand near Hacienda Hay and Feed for a small thrill. I respected food – real food – and took for granted what has, culturally, become increasing rare: a family coming together at the end of the day for a well crafted, locally grown meal.
Inevitably, as I matured and went to college, my concept of food shifted. Convenience and comfort became my staples, and I reasoned that my salad and bowl of ice cream balanced each other out. Although I was experiencing significant digestive issues, I assumed that the stress of Stanford was the culprit.
As a longtime Francophile, I spent my junior year abroad in Paris, where I embarked on a lengthy mission to discover the best pastries in the City of Decadence. For the sake of my science, I passionately documented my excursions to the finest pâtisseries in Paris from the éclair at Carette, to the millefeuille at Musée Jacquemart-André, the Mont Blanc aux marrons at the tea salon Angelina, the tarte au citron at Ladurée, and the macaron at Pierre Hermé. Although I suffered for the sake of sweetness, I refused to accept the state of my stomach.
After graduation and a move across the country to Washington D.C., I could no longer ignore the signs my body was sending me. In high school, while traveling in Indonesia, I had been hospitalized and treated for a rare parasite that would take over a year to kill. I quietly suspected that these symptoms, which had now plagued me for years, somehow related to my initial infection. Little did I know that it would take countless doctors and conflicting diagnoses, multiple biopsies, a cancer scare, an infamous water fast, naturopathic tonics, and dietary restrictions to begin a new chapter of healing. If only I had also known that I would eventually discover the power of breath, of yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, as well as inner strength that I did not know I had.
At this point, I’ve cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. This diet is due to a recent diagnosis of dysbiois – a microbial imbalance in my body that I’m working to correct. I’ve experimented with both vegan and paleo diets, and ultimately have discovered a fusion that keeps my symptoms in check.
Good health is about balance, but more importantly it’s about listening to your body and discovering your own personal food code. Diets shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all; our bodies are much too complicated and nuanced for strict observance of just one philosophy. Whether you hand-select a few of my personal recipes or choose to make them all, together I hope that we can reshape our understanding of healthy living and reestablish respect for real food. It begins with the first bite.