Dandelion Effect Podcast - Allison Radecki: For the Love of Food, Sharing & Community

Allison Radecki: For the Love of Food, Sharing & Community

Allison Radecki is a food writer, culinary tour guide, a member of the first graduating class of Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, and dear friend of the Feathered Pipe. Able to converse and share recipes in a range of languages, she has spent her career traveling the world, learning about culture, tradition and people through the lens of food–where it comes from, how it’s grown and by whom it’s prepared.

From the secrets of the perfect udon noodles in Japan to Frankies’ meatballs in Brooklyn, Allison is most interested in how food brings people together and opens us up to connection, generosity and joy. How breaking bread with those different from yourself can lead to lasting social change. How asking questions about what’s on your plate sparks an important conversation about history, diversity and sustainability.

Allison reminisces about her favorite childhood dishes, introduces us to the foremost voices in the international Slow Food movement, and tells stories that will leave you saving for a one-way ticket to Italy to embark on your own Eat, Pray, Love adventure–or make you run straight back to your mother’s kitchen. We discuss simple and creative ways to vote for good, clean and fair food systems and support every step in the supply chain from farmers and growers to restaurateurs and small business owners.


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Episode Transcript

Andy Vantrease  00:17
Welcome to The Dandelion Effect podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience.

Andy Vantrease  00:44
This podcast is in partnership with the Feather Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

Andy Vantrease  01:03
Welcome to another episode of The Dandelion Effect podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease. And today I’m talking with Allison Rabecki. Allison is a food writer, culinary tour guide, and a member of the first graduating class of Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences. Able to converse and share recipes in a range of languages, she has spent her career traveling the world learning about culture, tradition and people through the lens of food, where it comes from, how it’s grown and by whom it’s prepared. From the secrets of the perfect Udon noodles in Japan to Frankie’s meatballs in Brooklyn, Allison is most interested in how food brings people together and opens us up to connection, generosity and joy, how breaking bread with those different from yourself can lead to lasting social change, and how asking questions simply about what’s on your plate sparks an important conversation about history, diversity and sustainability.

Andy Vantrease  01:59
Allison reminisces about her favorite childhood dishes, introduces us to the foremost voices in the farming industry and the international Slow Food movement, and tell stories that will leave you saving for a one way ticket to Italy to embark on your own Eat, Pray Love adventure, or maybe just make a run straight back to your mother’s kitchen. We discuss simple and creative ways to vote for good, clean, fair food systems and support every step in the supply chain, from farmers and growers, to restaurateurs and small business owners. I’m going to throw this disclaimer out there, do not listen to this episode on an empty stomach. Fasten your bib and help me welcome Allison Rabecki to the podcast.

Andy Vantrease  02:41
So where I want to start with this conversation, and I’m taking a page out of your book, and that is what foods bring you back to your childhood? Whose kitchen are you in? Who’s cooking? What dishes what are the smells? And let us in on what that means to you.

Allison Radecki  02:58
My kitchen of my childhood is my grandmother’s kitchen first. Her name was Genevieve. And she was originally born in Poland. She came to the states when she was a teenager. I knew her as the grandmother who had the huge garden, and she would always have dirt on her, what she called them junky pants, and my sister and I were always very confused. We’re like, what would she use, you know, the pants that I can get dirty. Her kitchen always had soup and always had something frying. So as soon as you would open the door to her house, you’d be like, oh, okay, we’re having chicken and onions. But for me, lamb chops. Lamb chops, there’s a certain smell of that gamey lamb, you either love it or hate it, but I am transported into her kitchen, where I can see the crazy tile on the floor and the Formica 1950s color of like, green, and, you know, and pink and yellow in some sort of strange geometric design. And I’m thinking about time in this kitchen where we cooked, we ate, but we also just spent time together and learned about each other. And then the other thing that comes to mind is my mom’s kitchen in the house, in the house where we grew up in, making zucchini bread. And it’s not, it’s not something that we made often, but I think we made it a lot when I was a child. So there’s something about shredding zucchini and nutmeg and cinnamon and honey, and mixing, and then having to wait as your house is like perfumed with this like sweet smell. I found that when I lived away from the United States, and when I was living in Italy and had housemates, they would always say make me something from your house. I found myself making zucchini bread. What amazed me is that in Italy, they have zucchini, you know fried zucchini, zucchini fritters, but to make a sweet out of it! All of a sudden everyone was like, can you make that like the sweet thing with the zucchini again? I think it’s also a real tactile thing that you can, you know, shred, and mix, and we have great conversations when we cook together. So, that’s where my mind goes.

Andy Vantrease  05:13
Oh my gosh, I’m so hungry right now already. I knew that would happen in this conversation. I just didn’t know what happened in the first three minutes.

Andy Vantrease  05:22
For me, my cousin and I always talk about chicken and dumplings, the way our grandmother made dumplings. We still laugh about how hard she would smash the dough onto the kitchen counter. And it was so loud and it was like shaking the whole table. And she was kneading the dough. And, you know, now living here in Montana when it gets cold, that feeling of just wanting chicken and dumplings and wanting to be back in my, in my grandmother’s or my mother’s kitchen really, all of that comes flooding back in. It’s such a visceral feeling and a visceral response to, to a memory, to a taste, to a smell, and ultimately to a person.

Allison Radecki  06:04

Andy Vantrease  06:06
When did you start to weave your love of food, or even your awareness of your love of food, into then food writer, and working for the slow food movement, which we’ll get more into later? But I’m just curious about the beginning of that journey, and where and how that happened for you?

Allison Radecki  06:23
It definitely started also like most good things, in my grandmother’s kitchen, being someone who grew up with a family that actually cooked. And I didn’t actually realize that so many people did not grow up with a garden in the backyard. I felt very lucky. Of course, I had no idea how lucky I was. I knew what sorrel was as a young age. I didn’t care about it. I just knew that that tasted good. And that when my babcai, which is the Polish word for “grandmother,” said she was making schav, that’s sorrel soup, and I liked it. Having a garden, so you could see where things came from, and how hard you had to work for it, and how my grandmother had a war with gophers and raccoons and possums, and I mean, it was, I learned so many amazing swear words, just from those experiences. But then when you finally got those, you know, snap peas or they didn’t eat the squash blossoms, it was a victory. And I mentioned, I always mention that my grandmother had this strange dark, dank cellar room that everyone called the mushroom cellar, and no one wanted to go down there because it smelled funky. And later on in life, I’m like, wait a minute, we had a mushroom cellar. She would inoculate logs with spores, and they would grow their own mushrooms. And she had a room where she would put up, you know, tomato rice soup from the tomatoes in our kitchens, and other soup, so we had different vegetables available in the winter.

Allison Radecki  07:51
I was an exchange student in junior year of high school through the Rotary Club. And as I’m sure you can imagine, in high school, you’re, you know, you’re four years in the same building, and your imagining of what world exists outside, and what the next step is. And one day, a girl came to our classroom and said, “I spent a year in Sweden, and I went mushroom picking with my host family. And that was what they like to do on the weekends.” And I remember people were like, “Ahh…mushroom picking.” But I was like, “Oh my god mushroom! That sounds fantastic.” I ended up going to Budapest, Hungary for my junior year of high school. And I lived with a host family in a small apartment. We cook together, and I got to explore Hungary, and another country, and see markets and other foods. And that’s also where I said, “Oh my gosh, there’s something completely different here.” And that fueled the fire.

Allison Radecki  08:47
And then when I came back to go to college, I met my college roommate who was assigned to me, who was from Helena, Montana. And I remember looking at it and seeing Helena, “Mountain?” Like my first reaction was, “Mountain?” as the girl from New Jersey who doesn’t usually see the MT, you know. And thanks to Shanti, I met the Feathered Pipe Ranch family because Shanti had worked there. And I got to come to the Ranch, and be in the kitchen, and see everyone cooking. Just get to know other things that I’d never heard about like nutritional yeast and tofu steaks that are still so great. I love, love the recipe. And realizing, you know, as I had these experiences, you know at the Feather Pipe, and out in the world as an exchange student, and thinking about where I came from, and the gardens and the foods that I grew up with, I remember reading the New York Times food section as I would take the commuter bus from Montclair, New Jersey to Manhattan, which could take anywhere from on a good day 25 minutes, on a terrible day, two and a half hours, and loving the time that I would be stuck on this crazy commute because I could read about food. And say, “Wait, if they can do this, how can I? can I write about food? I like to write, I love to learn about food and the history of the food of places. So how can I make this work?”

Andy Vantrease  10:10
Mm hmm. When you went to Hungary, and you visited, and you started to have your perspective, and really your worldview, completely burst open through the lens of food, and through the lens of trying new things, and learning new things, how do you organize that in your mind of what’s actually going on, in those circumstances, and in those experiences?

Allison Radecki  10:36
I think it has to do with love. It’s a huge concept, but I think, you know, feeding someone or sharing food with someone, you’re not only sharing, you know, whatever, whatever the actual plate or dish is. Hopefully, you’re taking time to eat, you know, with someone and talk to someone. Food is a time where we’re forced to slow down, usually, not always. But if it’s done, right, you can actually, you know, have a conversation, and you never know where it’s going to lead it, I would always see that food could be the conduit to expanding my knowledge base on the world. I found that whenever I traveled, or even if I was going in a taxi in Manhattan somewhere, one of the best ways to talk to someone is to say like, “What food do you miss from your homeland?” If I met someone who was from another place, or like, “Oh, you’re from this town! If I ever go there, what should I not miss?” It’s a way to open up a conversation to learn. And you think maybe in the beginning, it’s just about your stomach, or about, you know what you can whip up in the kitchen or serve to someone. But really, what you’re learning about is you’re learning about the world, you’re learning about someone else’s story, and if you really start to connect the dots, you have to learn about environmentalism, and food access. And if you really start to look at the the finer points, there’s so much that you can kind of dig into when you, when you just say, “Tell me a favorite food? Or what do you miss from home?”

Andy Vantrease  12:18
Mm hmm. Where your food comes from, and environmentalism, and land, and all of these other topics that can easily fall under the form of activism, and, and preservation and conservation. I’ve heard you say that it starts with taste. Can you walk us through how you talk to people about that? Or how you begin that conversation in your work, when you’re starting at the beginning with somebody?

Allison Radecki  12:47
Sure. I had run into a friend on a public city bus, who I had gone to high school with. And she had remembered that I was an exchange student in high school. And she said, “Allison Rabecki, I was just thinking of you. I had a job in Italy, at an international school, and they were looking for someone to teach drama.” And I had studied and did a lot of theater, and loved theater. She gave me the name of this international school director and like, an email. I went to Italy, to the town of Genoa, in the north, right on the, on the ocean, on the sea actually. They always say, “It’s not the ocean, it’s the sea.” I had a wonderful year of working in this international school, and learning how Italians had options to market. You could go to the big supermarkets, of course, which exists, but they also had, you know, a four day a week, public market. And some of the things that were the best were just the tomatoes, the beans. And I, and I remember being like, learning the language very slowly and saying like, “Why are these tomatoes more expensive than those at the other table?” And what I understood was that they said, “Well, those come from, you know, Holland, and these come from down the road.” So getting to connect, like the fact that wow, it’s not like I was dining out in fancy restaurants, when I was working in Italy. I was a poor struggling, post-college student taking a job to travel. I was just buying things at the local markets and saying, “Why does the bread tastes so good? Why does this tomato sauce it tastes so good?” Taste is pleasure. And when people are connected to pleasure, I think it opens their minds as well, so they can be like, “Oh, yeah, that tasted really good. Why is that?”

Allison Radecki  14:35
Do you have a memory of some simple thing or a place where you’re like, “Damn, that was delicious?”

Andy Vantrease  14:44
My mom, she would wake me up really early and just whisper like, do you want to skip school and go strawberry picking? I was like, obviously. I’m from Northern Delaware and we would drive down south, maybe an hour and a half. So, between where I grew up and where she grew up. And we would just go to these, u-pick strawberry farms, and I can just remember sitting in the field, picking strawberries and eating them, you know, right off the vine and right off the ground. And then also really good summer tomatoes. And again, a lot of you know, you can get them in Delaware as well. Not many people know, but Delaware has a ton of farmland. Those memories that I have of the simple dishes are typically equated with the produce being very fresh and very local. It’s incomparable, you to buying it at a grocery store. I mean, it’s just not even in the same realm.

Allison Radecki  15:43
Yeah, and in the grocery store, you can pretty much get anything at any time. And that’s not necessarily that you should. I mean, if you are, if it’s, you know, January 17, and you see a tomato, odds are that that tomato is not going to be the tomato of your dreams. Unless you are, you know, connected in some way to, you know, a cook, someone who loves to cook, or someone who loves to garden, or someone who knows where to go buy things in season, How would you know? I think you have to learn through taste, or learn through connecting the dots. I remember asking for broccoli in, you know, January at the market in Italy and, and having it be so delicious. And then later on being like, “Why doesn’t it taste as good as, and you know, in the summer?” And they were like, “Because it’s a winter vegetable.” Okay, or like that strawberry that you see available in February, you know, sure it might be coming from South America and who knows when it was harvested, and how red it was, and if it was put in contact with some sort of gas to make it ripen faster and the fruit to look red. But it won’t have the same taste as if it’s been sitting on that straw or on that dirt, and being warmed in the sun, and letting all of that strawberry turn red. Like you start to learn that there are certain varieties of foods that have been bred and developed, and you know, genetically altered so that they can travel from South America to anywhere in the world and not get bashed or dented, and can survive the trip. In case someone really wants that February strawberry.

Andy Vantrease  17:16
Mm hmm. Food has come to the forefront in such a different way this year, amidst the pandemic and amidst disruption to what we would consider normal in our everyday lives as it pertains to what we can get, when we can get it, where we can get it. What are the things that you’re looking at, and you’re focusing on?

Allison Radecki  17:39
The thing that’s most interesting to me now, in this weird kind of limbo, is seeing how food is being talked about, coming up in conversation in so many ways, especially with people who might say, “I never thought about that.” This time where our entire country in the world has had to stop, and slow down. And it’s slowed down so much whether it’s your own life, whether it’s the fact that you’re not able to leave the house as you used to, depending on where you live, slowing you down to realize that wow, for the first time I saw empty shelves in the supermarket. Yeah, there was, it was impossible to find flour for a while around here. To find people who are who had to cook because restaurants were closed, and if you were going to find a way to have food in your house…People I know who I never spoke with about food or cooking were like, “Allison, beans, beans, tell me about beans, dried beans, canned…What do I do with that? We’re buying tons of beans because you know there’s, you can’t get food.” So it was also interesting to see all the ways that people are getting food. We had a friend of ours who because she has many children found it easier to order food through a delivery service from a supermarket, and she had been doing this for two years. And because she was doing that, she had a weekly delivery, and she could order online and get food, and she became the food connector to many of friends. She allowed other people to order on her already existing account. So you had this like co-op form. But it also got people to think, “Why is the food not there on the shelf? If the produce isn’t there, where’s it coming from? What do you mean, things are slowed down? Why would that matter? What? Wait, the cucumbers are not coming from here? Like where are they traveling from?” People who are either growing and cooking and teaching at the same time, they were primed to respond to what happened in the world. And they kind of went with the flow. I think about, there’s a woman named Leah Penniman. She’s a co-director of a farm called Soulfire Farm.

Andy Vantrease  19:53
Oh! I’ve heard of this.

Allison Radecki  19:54
Oh my gosh, yes! And she also just wrote a book called Farming While Black. She not only became a farmer because she and her partner in their kids lived outside of Albany, New York, and found themselves in a food desert, where they could not get access to fresh food. And looking into that, and realizing, why is this happening? If you’re looking at that, you have to look at systemic things such as racism and access to land, that are baked into the distribution of land and food. And she not only became a farmer, but is teaching people how to farm, and also now has a CSA that is feeding many families in our community. So it’s not only growing, it’s teaching, it’s giving access and sharing with your community. I find that that’s what is exciting to me. It’s not, it’s not just about people saying like, “Can you make sourdough? Take, give me a recipe.” It’s people stopping, and trying to do it for themselves, and realizing how much time it might take to make a starter, and how much patience you might need. My next door neighbor, she texted me, she texted me saying, “Do you know a good sourdough starter recipe?” I said, “I know someone who does.” And I, you know, connected her with a friend. And then maybe a week later, a beautiful loaf of bread came by my front door.

Allison Radecki  21:25
So I think that there’s also this idea of generosity, generosity, and knowledge. Generosity is also sharing what you have. It creates a bigger circle that encompasses more people. And then you can make that, that circle even wider. So I am excited for the possibility of transformation, and sharing that exists right now, because we have to look at food in a different way. Or we are some people think, actually have to think about it, after not thinking about it, because we might be in a country, or a town or community where you never had to think about how you were going to find fresh food. Or how hard it is to make, you know, transform food into something delicious. Or how easy. Maybe you found that you liked it. That’s what’s exciting to me – the communication that’s happening around food.

Allison Radecki  22:19
I always, I always say that people would say, “Oh, you’re a food writer.” And I’d say, “Yes, I write about food. But I’m really writing the stories behind the food.” I called myself for a while a food community connector. Because when people would find out that I was involved in writing about food, they would ask me, “Oh, I’m going here. What should I you know, what should I look at?” And you end up putting people together, and people in places. And there are certain places that exist around food, that are about so much more than food. I think about my farmers market, even my town farmer’s market, I can go there and get wonderful tomatoes in the summer. But I might also see someone who’s visiting town who hasn’t been back in town for a long time and connect with them. Or ask a question to someone while buying tomatoes, and someone else saying, “Oh, wait a minute, I have, I have an answer for that. You should do this.” It, it allows this communication to happen. You know, there’s a rooted community around food in many ways. And if you can tap into that, you can gain access to people, places, recipes, but also so much more.

Andy Vantrease  23:30
I think of it almost as like going from like a scarcity mindset to “let’s share this abundance.” And that’s where I feel like the generosity that you mentioned comes from. It’s like if I have this, let’s share it.

Allison Radecki  23:41
The universal factor that everyone has to eat, it’s something that connects everyone. You might not all like the same music. You might not all, you know, enjoy the same, you know, reading books, or watching movies or dancing or biking. But I know that this morning at some point you ate something, because you had to. It not only like sustains us. It, it really sustains us. Like food is life. Breathing, moving, eating…these are things that are all, you know, we all have to do in order to be healthy, and just in our daily lives as humans, and it’s something that we all have in common. And when you love something, or you taste something, or you’re interested in something, or someone is interested in something that you love, that you know how to make, or connect them with, or that can tell them something about where you’ve been, or what you’ve seen through food, II think the natural instinct is to say tell me more about this, and I know where you should go. So yeah, I think it is baked into that because it is such a universal necessity to life and something that we all share. And that it’s all so different for all of us. Like you talking about growing up in Delaware and the strawberries, like that’s exciting, and that’s different than what I grew up in. You’re telling me more about your story of who you are, when you’re telling me about what foods make you think of your, your, your history.

Allison Radecki  25:10
I know I had mentioned to you that I ended up going back to school in Italy, to the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in 2004. And it was the first year, that they had founded this university with the help of the Italian government. And the idea was that the slow food movement, which is started in northern Italy, wanted to create a school that would link the science and the arts and the history all around food, and create a new person, a global food gastronome, someone who would be able to look at the science behind the food and the cultural impact and the social impact. And that’s where I feel like a lot of this kind of jelled for me in the experiences that I had, understanding food culture. Because it is, food is culture. You learn about, there’s so much more on, your happening on your plate, when you really start looking at it can well you

Andy Vantrease  26:16
Talk a little bit about the Slow Food movement, because I wasn’t very familiar with it before I was introduced to you. And I was actually shocked to find out that I didn’t know about it. Because once I started reading, I was like, wow, this really intersects a lot of my interests. Tell us a little bit about what that is, and just the importance of it, now more than ever.

Allison Radecki  26:39
I first heard about the Slow Food movement when I was living in Genoa. And I remember walking down the street one day and seeing police, Italian police in riot gear with the big huge plastic shields. So something was definitely going on. But there were only like two or three of them. And they were leaned up against the McDonald’s. I wasn’t scared because the police were texting with their cell phone and just kind of you know, like they were I can tell by their body language, okay, they might be having a riot shield, but it’s not…I, my dad always called me friend to the world. I always love to ask questions. So, so I said to them, like what’s happening? And the answer that I got was, “It’s Slow Food. They might come to throw the pasta.” And that meant nothing to me. But when I walked back to my apartment, and I got the limited, you know, wi-fi access that I had in my little apartment, and I googled it, it seemed that this organization called Slow Food, which had started in Italy, in this in a small town in the Piedmont region that was famous for truffles and cheese and wine. They had a national day of protest. They, the whole reason when Slow Food was founded in the 1980s, was when McDonald’s opened a restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome. And that was the moment where things sort of galvanized and these group of activists in northern Italy, who always would love to get together, and eat the good food and wine, and talk about how they were going to change the world. That was the moment where they pinpointed and said, “Wait a minute, that’s an attack on our Italian heritage. And how boring a world would it be if everyone is eating a Big Mac? How sad that kids might not know the cheese that comes from the next town over, but they all know they all want Chicken McNuggets.” The original Slow Food protest was to have Italian grandmothers make pasta and serve the pasta to people in front of the McDonald’s in the room, and say, “You don’t want this fast food. Here, taste this. Have my pasta, simple pasta.” And they said, “You want slow food. It’s the opposite.” And that’s kind of where it started. And by the time I found out about it, uh 1999, they had a national day of protest. And they were afraid that people in Genoa were going to come and throw the traditional trophy pasta at the walls of McDonald’s in Genoa just as like they were going to throw tortellini and Bologna. And I thought this is amazing. I want to know more about this. If this is their idea of a protest, serving food, or you know, even hurling pasta, at that point I was, I wasn’t thinking of food waste. I was just like, that’s an interesting way to protest. So that was the spark. And when I moved back to the states and knew that I wanted to study food in a different way, I found out that they had founded a chapter of Slow Food in New York. And I wrote them a letter, and they wrote me back. And I started working in the tiny office in Manhattan, trying to connect chapters all over the United States with each other and highlighting regional and local food culture, and looking at sustainability, and the pleasure that you could have in actually slowing down to sit with people and eat and talk and that’s where it started.

Allison Radecki  29:57
They had a project called, still exist, the Art of Taste, which is the idea that chapters all over the world will find a product, maybe it’s that strawberry that you grew up with that is in danger of not being cultivated, because it takes a lot more time and energy, and the yield is not that great, but it does have great flavor and a taste is so good. What can we do to connect the people who appreciate that taste, or you know, a certain variety of turkey. Their first big project was the Heritage Turkey Project here in the States, which was connecting farmers all over the United States, and getting them, and raising heritage breeds that are known not for, you know, their size. They don’t have they’re not the massive turkeys that you think of seeing in like the commercials for “get your turkey now from your supermarket.” But they’re known for their amazing taste, and they have a link to the American history. And, and so the idea was how can we save these foods that are connected to our history, but are also in danger, but tastes great? Well, let’s load them onto this “ark of taste” and bring people to them, and tell them, and connect farmers, and connect consumers, and eat things to save them. So that got me excited.

Allison Radecki  31:15
And while I was working at Slow Food, they mentioned that they were founding this university. And my original job was to help, you know, do some promotion and talk about this university of gastronomical science that they were founding. And as I was telling people about it and hearing about it, I realized that I wanted to go there. And I thought, I think this is my school, because everywhere else at that time, they if you said you wanted to study about food, you were either studying to be a dietitian, or they were saying, “Oh, you’re going to go to culinary school and become a chef.” And although I love to cook, and I cook a lot, I am by no means a chef. I’ve never gone to culinary school. But I wanted to do more and dive deeper into why food connects us. And this was…this seemed to be the project the University of Gastronomic Science, because they were bringing people students from all over the world. And they were bringing them to Italy. Italians would talk about their food in such a loving way, where they have a different respect or a way of thinking about food.

Andy Vantrease  32:21
I want to touch back on something that you mentioned in the middle of that answer. And it’s the Ark of Taste project that you worked on. This is the way that consumers can really change the way that we farm, and the way that production is facilitated, to actually disrupt this beast that we’ve created in the agricultural industry where I know in America and globally, it’s all about production. What are some of the little decisions that people can make to start to flip that around and really prioritize these things that perhaps are more tasteful and pleasurable, but then also starting that conversation around repopulating our the biodiversity of our crops, our soil, our air, our water, that whole conversation, which is such a huge one right now?

Allison Radecki  33:18
The thing that jumps into my mind first is, since probably because we just came out of an election, it’s the idea of voting with your fork. That everything that you purchase, or everything you spear with your fork to put into your mouth is you are making a choice of how you are giving your money. What you are eating is a vote towards the kind of food system and the kind of production method that you want to see in the world. The founder of Slow Food, a journalist named Carlo Petrini, he wrote a book a few years ago called Good, Clean and Fair. And he ended up bringing that into the main tenant of the Slow Food movement, which is that we should be eating food that is good, it’s good to taste, it’s good for the soil and for the earth, it’s clean in that it is not producing more waste, it is not polluting, it is not, you know, causing the soil to be depleted, and it’s fair and it’s fair in how it’s being produced. Who is growing the food? Are they being paid a fair price, not only for their work in growing it, whether it’s farmers or people who are harvesting, or the price that the producers are actually given when it goes to market? So if you look at little things that you can do, you can buy a few things locally. Try to go to a farmers market, if it’s in season and you have one. Go to your supermarket and see also what is local.

Allison Radecki  34:48
The other thing that I think of it that we have to talk about is eating less meat. I eat meat, but we definitely reduce our meat consumption. We have meatless Mondays, we have veggie taco Tuesdays thinking about the way that massive farms are polluting, not only the soil but the water around the world. And that as the world develops, and more people look to countries like the United States and say, “Oh, I want to eat like them. I want to have a hamburger every day. I will have a big steak,” it’s also playing a role in the environmental degradation of the world. So if you want to make a small change, try to have a day where you’re experimenting and getting to know a new vegetable. See how that goes for you. Try to plant one seed. Grow some basil on your windowsill. You know, see what happens. You might find yourself liking it, wanting to grow more. You might just like the connection of going outside and watering your little basil plants. And see where it leads. Those are the things. Plant a seed. Try to buy something local. Try to lessen the meat that you’re eating.

Andy Vantrease  35:55
What are your feelings about this regenerative agriculture movement, basically healing the soil that we have depleted over the last many decades? And there’s a movement of people who are really incorporating animals into this way of farming, this older way of farming, where you’re using the animals to move across the land to…

Allison Radecki  36:17

Andy Vantrease  36:19
Yeah, what are your thoughts on that?

Allison Radecki  36:21
Yeah, my thoughts are that there’s a cycle there. And that people are tapping into cycles that, if you look, even if you look as far as, you know, the Three Sisters and Native American gardens, and having beans that fix nitrogen into the soil, and they’re always patterns and regenerative circles that you can find. And I think people are finding their way back to them, whether it’s through Rudolf Steiner, and making compost tea, which sounds, like people were always saying, “Oh, that’s so kooky.” Like, deciding when to plant by the moon. But it’s all part of the circle of feeding your soil, and feeding the earth. And it’s, it regenerates the earth, which then gives you the food that will regenerate you. And, you know, people are talking about gut health and the microbiome of soil, and the microbiome of your own body. You are looking to give earth the chance to regenerate so that you can get nutrient-rich soil which can give you nutrient-rich food. When you were touching upon, like using animals, absolutely! There’s a farmer in Virginia who he would call his method, the pig, cow chicken method, where moving your chickens from field to field, so that not only do the chickens have the chance to follow where the cow has just been, and the cows will, you know, graze, eat the grass and also poop as cows do. And, and the chickens will come and eat them for bugs and worms that grow after the lovely flies, on those wonderful cow patties. But then that will make the chickens grow and then the pigs will be rooting…So it’s just all following the pattern and allowing things to rest. And allowing things to have time to be fallow. And, and seeing the difference that that can make in not only your output of whatever you’re growing or raising there, but how it’s really affecting the soil which is the basis of it all.

Allison Radecki  38:33
I remember, one of the things that people would probably call “woo-woo,” was at Terra Madre, which when Slow Food founded the University of Gastronomic Science, they also that same year, 2004, had something called Terra Madre Mother Earth. It was a conference of asking 5000 farmers from all over the world to come to Turin, Italy, and have a world conference of farmers, sponsoring farmers, raising money so you can send a farmer to Italy. And then towns in Italy, villages, and hosting for free these farmers and putting them up in their towns. And people from all over the world dressed in their regional costumes, and their farming outfits, and their national dress, and seeing the world of farmers. I remember Michael Pollan, who now most people know writing, you know, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and all of his amazing food books. He was there talking about food and listening. And so was a professor from Greece who came and brought these, I think they were some sort of electron microscope photos of food. And they had shown the vegetable that was grown in soil that used certain chemical inputs and pesticides. And the same vegetable that was grown in soil, that was a anthroposophic Rudolf Steiner biodynamic farm. And it almost looked like you could see rays of light and tendrils coming off of this photo of this vegetable. And thinking, wow, there’s so much more going on in this vegetable than the human eye can see. And I think that’s what also you start to realize when you talk about regenerative farming and these other methods that look at the bigger picture, and the bigger circular picture of how everything’s connected.

Andy Vantrease  40:30
I know before you mentioned certain women farmers, they’re not necessarily farmers, but women entrepreneurs in this food space that you’re finding really inspiring. And I’m just curious if there’s anybody in these realms that you want to introduce people to for for some of these ideas to start following along?

Allison Radecki  40:48
The most beautiful thing that happens is when you just get a bunch of food, people in the room together and have the chance to say, “Oh, find someone you don’t know and say hello and talk to them for two minutes.” And I first encountered that at a conference called the Cherry Bombe Jubilee. Cherry Bombe, first was a magazine that was highlighting women and food and culture and fashion and trying to bring everything around there. And they would have a yearly gathering called the Cherry Bombe Jubilee. And I met so many amazing people saying, “Tell me what you do.”

Allison Radecki  41:23
And I would tell people to look at Cherry Bombe and they have Radio Cherry Bombe, which just as you’re doing, they have podcasts and interviews with some of the most interesting bakers, farmers, food thinkers, food activists. The other thing that’s exciting to me is seeing a lot of the people that I went to school or met through Slow Food, a man named Gordon Jenkins and a woman named Vera Fabian. They both had worked around Slow Food and also through the Edible Garden, and the Edible Schoolyard. But they found that they loved food, and they were gravitated towards food. And these two people moved down to North Carolina were very Vera was originally from and they started a farm called Ten Mothers’ Farm. And they leased the land with people that started their CSA. They had a few, I think like 30 CSA members in the beginning, and leased land, that they just started to grow a small one acre garden. And no till so no tractors farming everything with, you know, by hand in a very small space, which also can create more nutrients in the soil and more nutrient dense food. And through that, their CSA, their community supported agriculture, they were eventually able to buy a very small parcel of land along with some other friends and they farm together. And if you want to look at their website, you can see what they’ve done, and how they’re responding to our time now in the pandemic, and realizing that, wow, we’re really providing value of wonderful nutrient dense food in a time where people are wondering where their food is coming from.

Allison Radecki  43:06
And Leah Penniman has a book called Farming While Black. And in learning about what her farm is doing, what she’s doing. What really struck me was to see that she was talking about land, not as a commodity. Looking at it with a relationship of the land being a deity or a god, and that we are coexisting. And you think about a garden, like you’re trying to find balance. You’re responding to what’s ever happening. Like, you plant a seed, and there is an animal, well, like a raccoon that’s going to come into your garden, and that raccoon, its job is to eat your squash. And that’s okay, because your job as the farmer is to find a way to find that balance with the land, and get enough to feed your community, and teach and have enough to eat. And so this idea of not trying to dominate the Earth, the soil, but really the Earth, and to connect yourself with it and work with it, is a way that just makes sense to me. And to see her talking about that makes me excited, because so many of these ideas of regenerative farming have roots in indigenous wisdom and things that have existed for a long time. And it’s teaching you patience. You have to wait for that garden to grow. And you have to communicate. You have to ask for help, because sometimes you might even have to just say to your garden, “Oh my god, why isn’t anything growing? Help me!” Or you could, you know, find someone who knows another farmer in your community to share and communicate with you. It’s all about balance. And I think that looking at it that way as she writes, as looking at land as a deity, and finding this balance, it teaches you. And you’re learning from the land. And you’re kind of having to honor the land and give it what it needs. And if you do that, it’s going to try to give you what you need might not be perfect, but I bet you’ll learn something so that the next time, and the next season, you might do something differently.

Allison Radecki  45:12
Those are some of the some of the places I would point you to, as well as just looking up the Slow Food movement and seeing how they’re linking biodiversity and sustainability and pleasure, with food and food activism and food justice, and food that just tastes delicious.

Andy Vantrease  45:29
Hmm, awesome. Thank you so much. Where can people find your work?

Allison Radecki  45:35
I’ve written for some of the Edible Publications, which is a linked group of locally food-minded, a magazine that you usually will find that likes different co-ops and supermarkets. And I also had a wonderful time working with Chef Rozanne Gold, who also has a fantastic podcast called a One Woman Kitchen, that she records in New York. But we came together to work on a project called Handwritten Recipes, through the website, handwritten.com. Because the idea was, it was a column where you found people and said, “If you give me something…can you give me a recipe. It has to have some component of being written down with your own hand.” And once you would get that recipe, and it could be the receipt from a gas station with just the words written, you know, white rice, butter, and don’t forget the cheese. And then tell me the story of this. And these pieces of paper, and these photocopied recipes that someone had had written, were really gateways to stories about people’s lives. And that was a fantastic project that I really enjoyed.

Andy Vantrease  46:47
I just read your article on that handwritten calm about your dad’s vodka sauce. And that was just, it not only allowed me to get a small glimpse into your relationship with your dad, but it also made me think of my relationship with my dad. And then I started thinking, well, what is my dad cook he’s kind of like the grill master, you know, when it comes to helping prepare meals. And it just it truly does get you feeling. It’s not even really thinking. For me, it’s more feeling, into people, into places, into times in your life that are worth taking a pause for. And worth remembering.

Allison Radecki  47:32
But I, and I’m really thankful that I wrote that, because it gave me the time to think about my dad who died seven years ago. And now I have this moment of time. And this the fact that he found a way to get this recipe for my sister and me. And my dad did not cook. My dad could cook, maybe, he could boil water and make hotdogs. And he enjoyed a great New York slice of pizza, and a Veal Parmesan. That, it was very limited what my dad would eat. But he took my sister and I anywhere we would want to go. And he introduced us, he unlocked New York City for us, because we would just have these adventures. He would always say, “You are lucky that we live near a city where you can find any language, a person from any country. We need to, like explore that.” And we would always sometimes just go to the city and just have these amazing days. And we would always end up somewhere to eat. And sometimes if it was at a Japanese restaurant where my dad would absolutely not touch anything, he would always just say, “You enjoy it.” That would that is code word in our entire family. And even now my daughter knows that if you do not want to eat something, you can just look at the person, and look deep into their eyes, and say, “You enjoy it.” And that means, “Thank you. I’m not eating that.” But it’s also how my dad would just say, “I’m not here for me. I’m here for you.”

Andy Vantrease  49:00
Wow. My last question, and maybe you don’t even know yet, but what are you making for dinner tonight?

Allison Radecki  49:06
Okay, so I’m actually not cooking tonight. My mom invited me over to her apartment, and she is making meatballs. Meatballs is not something that we grew up having. Even though I’m not cooking, this is a good, a good night to ask me this question, because when I was working in Brooklyn, giving food tours, kind of linking the history of this neighborhood in Brooklyn with local businesses that are there. There’s a wonderful restaurant called Frankies Spuntino. And they make meatballs that are phenomenal that have pine nuts and raisins. And it’s like it’s a Sicilian dish because in Sicily, they cook with many spices and pine nuts and raisins. And I took Tabby there when maybe she was about six. And we get there and Tabitha tells the waiter, “I just want pasta with cheese and butter.” Which to me is like, I think too many parents. It’s like, that’s all you want. But you know, they have to find their own tastes too. And this wonderful waiter just looked at Tabs and said, “No, and a meatball.”

Andy Vantrease  50:14

Allison Radecki  50:14
And she said, “No, I don’t like meatballs. I don’t like…” And he goes, “Have you tried our meatballs?” Probably because it was not apparent, she was like, “No, No, I haven’t. Okay.” And so he just brought one meatball. And she tasted it. And then he goes more meatballs. And she said, more meatballs. And because of that, I had to buy the Frankie’s cookbook, just for that meatball recipe. And Tabitha has told other people, “You know, you need to make my meatballs. They’re really good.” So they become hers. And if you have them with her, and she, and you’re someone who she has never told this story to, she will also say, “Do you want to hear how I got to make these meatballs. I hated them. I didn’t want them. But now they’re mine.”

Andy Vantrease  50:58
Well, enjoy Frankie-Tabitha’s meatballs. And thank you again for being here today.

Allison Radecki  51:04
Thank you. This was great. It was wonderful to talk.

Andy Vantrease  51:19
Another amazing episode, I told you not to listen on an empty stomach, didn’t I? I don’t know about you, but I am now starving. And given the feast of information, Allison just dropped on us. I could literally listen to her stories all day long. What I really appreciated about her and this conversation is her ability to introduce big picture issues like food access and biodiversity, through memories, firsthand experiences, and then of course, her hilarious stories. They really drew me in and got me thinking and feeling, about the role food has played in my life and my relationships, the role I play in these systems that everyone experiences differently, and the ways that I can more appropriately relate to the Earth. I’m always thinking about how to find that balance, that balance and patience really, that she mentions when referencing the Leah Penniman and Soulfire Farm.

Andy Vantrease  52:10
For more information on Allison’s work, as well as the websites of the farmers, entrepreneurs and activists that she referenced in this talk, please visit that episode show notes. We’ll have links to all the goodies to help you dive deeper into the concepts and ideas we spoke about today.

Andy Vantrease  52:27
A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as our dear friend Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of “the dandelion effect” and how ideas move through the world.

Andy Vantrease  52:42
This podcast is brought to you by the Feather Pipe Foundation, a 501(c)3, dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit featherpipe.com/gratitude. Or leave a review and share with friends. Be sure to tune in to our next conversation in two weeks. We can’t wait to share the love. Signing off. Have a beautiful day.

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