I started my blog in my first semester as a dietetics student back in 2009, hoping it would give me an outlet and help me find my voice as I made my way along the journey. I’ve had an interesting career path, as I’d considered pursuing nutrition as an undergrad, but I was also in love with writing. A sweet scholarship to my top-choice writing program made the decision an easy one to 18-year-old me, but after landing in NYC after graduation, I worked for a little while before eventually deciding to go back to school to become a dietitian. It was this strong gut feeling I knew I had to listen to, and even when the going was tough (and holy crap, it was tough sometimes), I stuck with it because deep down, I knew it was right. “One day, all these gray hairs and tears and exploded chemistry experiments will be worth it,” I’d tell myself. “One day you’ll laugh about the crazy.”
I also thought for a long time that I had to keep my writing life and my nutrition life separate from each other, but that wasn’t even remotely sustainable. I talk more about that inner struggle in this episode of Jill Ozeovek’s Career Passsport Podcast. Aside from being much happier since embracing my writer side, writing has actually become a major part of my work. Making a living with a lifelong passion is something I’m grateful for every day.
I love sharing the stories of dietetics students. One of the amazing things about this field is the wide array of backgrounds we come from. Today I’ve got a fantastic guest post for you from Catherine Brown, CDM/CFPP, Organic Grower, Certified Chef, and KSU Dietetics Student.
Without further ado, here’s Catherine to tell her story!
The Making of a Farmer, Chef and Dietitian
I’ve been mesmerized by every aspect of food for five decades now. From growing, selling, cooking, teaching, writing, and dreaming, my life has revolved around food. I didn’t get serious about food production as more than just a hobby until I moved to New Hampshire from Southern California almost a decade ago. The life skills I learned during my five years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps certainly came in handy. I joined Small and Beginning Farmers of NH and started interning with other farmers. I asked questions of anyone willing to share their knowledge (along with a lot of time spent weeding while listening). I learned how to earn and maintain organic certification. For my first couple of seasons I grew hundreds of seedlings from my two-bedroom apartment until I could plant them on leased land. I rented living and growing space on several former dairy farms and brought new life to restless fields. I started connecting with chefs by making local deliveries. As the grower, I loved these interactions! I took every opportunity to bring something new to the table.
Back-to-back devastating weather events that destroyed acres of prime organic crops motivated me to pursue another area of the food chain by formalizing my culinary education. Having been the grower, I now wanted to learn commercial food production skills. In 2015, I graduated from the New Hampshire Culinary Institute with an AS, Baking & Pastry Arts, and in 2016 with an AS, Culinary Arts and Health Science. I loved every minute of these programs and sought internships that would allow me to develop my creativity as well as basic skills. Catering opportunities that highlighted local, seasonal ingredients became my favorite experiences.
However, rampant community health issues and food inequities became undeniable once I answered the call for a volunteer chef for Cooking Matters, a non-profit program of Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry. I started taking a critical look at how food availability, including offerings on restaurant menus, were negatively impacting the health of many people around me. Likewise, I knew conventional farming, mass animal production and food waste were negatively impacting the environment. Buckets and buckets of restaurant compost later, I knew there had to be a better way. I could no longer keep feeding people saturated fat and processed sugar and feel good about it. I took a leave of absence from my pastry chef position at DiCocoa’s Market & Bakery in Bethel, ME in January 2017 so I could return to school full time in pursuit of a BS in Dietetics. I graduate from Kansas State University in May 2018. Once I’ve completed the required internship, I will sit for the registration examination and finally become an RDN. Farmer, chef, dietitian. This gives me a well-stocked toolbox from which I can start impacting some of the community health, food disparity and environmental issues in a meaningful way.
In the meantime, I continue to increase the growing space on our 5-acre farm in Errol, NH, and 35-acres in Albany, NH. Growing food is in my blood and I will never venture far from it. I also continue to donate my time and skills to Cooking Matters as a volunteer chef, give food demonstrations at our local farmer’s market, am a volunteer chef for the Dinner Bell, accept catering and personal chef jobs that are in line with my food values and give private and group culinary lessons.
My aspirations for building a better food system in my community and in my future include working with chefs and restauranteurs on making menu changes to include healthier and more sustainable options, particularly adding more vegetarian and whole foods plant-based dishes. I aspire to use my training as a dietitian nutritionist to help chefs cater to the ever-growing population of people with food allergies, sensitivities and diseases heavily influenced by food, like type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, many auto-immune diseases and some cancers. We are dealing with a serious epidemic of preventable diseases related to what and how much we are eating. Small changes can have a large impact.
I plan to continue my involvement with community nutrition by working to increase SNAP recipient’s ability to utilize their food benefits at their local farmer’s market and learn how to cook with fresh, local ingredients. It is also my goal to learn ways to make the voices of those who go to bed hungry at night heard by their representatives in Congress. Finally, I aspire to bring people together over food. The importance of listening without judgement and providing encouragement and inspiration to people ready to make lifestyle changes, however small, is significant.
To help foster these conversations, provide some inspiration and offer digestible evidence-based nutrition information, I’ve recently started my own food blog, A Seat at My Table. This is a virtual gathering place where all are welcome. I offer plant-based recipes organized by categories. Each recipe includes nutrition information, some interesting facts about the ingredients, stunning photos, step-by-step directions and where to source ingredients. Access is free of charge. I do not take sponsorships, partner with any brand or receive any compensation for my work. My opinions are my own and based on personal experience and currently available scientific evidence. Drop in and have a look about. I’d love to hear your feedback. If you’d like to know when a new post is added, please subscribe! You can connect with me on Facebook @aseatatmytable, Twitter @chefcathbrown, Instagram @chefcatherinebrown , Pintrest @chefcatherinebrown or LinkedIn @chefcatherinebrown.
Meaningful, enduring change is going to require a systems-level approach with environmental support through policy change and strategic collaborative efforts. I am undaunted by the enormity of what lies before us, but only more determined to continue full steam ahead.
Thank you, Catherine!!
This has been another installment of the Running with Spoons Thinking Out Loud link party, where randomness is the name of the game. Thanks to Amanda for hosting.