From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy Podcast
A Conversation with Erin Alderson

A Conversation with Erin Alderson

Talking to the former food blogger behind Naturally Ella about shedding that identity and launching a zine, Cook Casual, to get people to eat more vegetables.

I loved talking to Erin Alderson because I think we have a similar mission that we go about in different ways, and that mission is to just get people to eat more vegetables. (Her recipe-driven way might work a bit better, if her 134K Instagram followers are any indication.)

It’s also fascinating to me to hear about those folks who came up in the heyday of food blogging about how self-publishing both has and hasn’t changed. Alderson didn’t approach blogging the standard way, though, by making herself into the main character and putting food second, and that’s why it’s not so surprising that she’s quit that world to put out a recipe zine instead, guided by seasonality and inspired by dinner parties, called Cook Casual.

We talked about how she came to the decision to launch a zine, how she came to be vegetarian, and why she reminds animal-rights vegans about farmworkers. Listen above, or read below.

Alicia: Hi, Erin. Thank you so much for being here, 

Erin: Thanks for having me. 

Alicia: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate? 

Erin: Yeah.

So, I am originally from the Midwest, I grew up in Illinois, Central Illinois, and was there until I was about 27. I was very surrounded by corn, soybeans, pretty much, was what we were surrounded by. 

And I did not eat the best. It's kind of funny, because I feel people in food are—have all of these rich histories, and they have family members who are really into food. And I ate McDonald's growing up.That was kind of my family. My mom cooked some, but it wasn't a huge part of our household. And so yeah, it was a lot of fast food. And we were always on the move. So it’s, I don't really have this rich childhood history with food. And then, it wasn't until I was really well into college that I started connecting more with food. 

Alicia: Right.

What made you connect more with food? 

Erin: My dad had a heart attack when he was 45. 

Alicia: Wow.

Erin: Yeah, so that was kind of a big wake-up call for our family. My mom's a nurse. And so she was really, already well into trying to bring in more fruits and vegetables into the house and everything. And then finally, when my dad had his heart attack, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, shit.’ I was 20 at the time, I think? And so, it was definitely a big—’Ok, I need to start taking care of myself more.’ And so, I really dove into eating, just trying to figure out like, ‘Ok, what does my body need?’ It definitely was not always the healthiest path at times, but it's kind of what kickstarted up until now, really.

Alicia: Right. Right. 

And when and why did you become vegetarian?

Erin: So. it was all kind of tied up with that. I wasn't at the start of my journey. But then as I started trying to eat a little bit better, I was kind of realizing—I was like, ‘Oh, I really don’t like meat.’ And so, as I started eating more vegetarian—but being in the Midwest, rural Midwest, my options were really limited. We didn't always have the best produce. Going out to eat, I ate a lot of salad and french fries. [Laughter.] Or mushroom pasta. I feel like that was—it was either/or.

I'd been vegetarian off and on for various different reasons. Just because a lot of that where it was I didn't have access to everything. But when I got out to California, which was about eight years ago, it really started to kind of change even more my perspective on food that had already started in Illinois when I had joined a CSA, but it was a really unique one in that it was a u-pick. And so every week, you would go out and they’d have bags, and you could just really get your hands dirty. And the farmer who ran that was always around, always asking, available for questions. 

And so, that kind of really, again—that was the other push that I needed in a direction to really just fall in love with vegetables.

Alicia: Yeah.

And so, how did you get into writing about food and developing recipes?

Erin: Purely accidental.

I had a LiveJournal in high school. 

Alicia: Me too. 

Erin: Yeah, I think we're about the same age. 

And so, sharing your life online was already kind of ingrained a little bit. And so, when I started trying to eat a little bit better, I was just like, ‘I'm going to share my journey.’ I got a Blogspot. It was called Berry Delicious, right? I mean, really, nothing. 

And I had worked in restaurants. I had been both front of house and back of house. I knew that I really liked food. But I did not ever know that that was a path that I could take, just because I—growing in the rural Midwest, you didn't really know that that was something. 

So, I started the blog as just a way to share random stuff. And then I just kept going with it for whatever reason. I thought I wanted to open a bakery, ’cause, I mean, I feel like that's a lot of people's ambitions at some point in time in life. 

Alicia: Same. [Laughter.] 

Erin: And so, I was sharing a lot of baked goods. There's a group called Tuesdays with Dorie’s where we were baking through Dorie Greenspan's book, one of her books. And it made me realize, ‘Ok, this is kind of a cool community,’ even in 2008, I think it was. And so, I just kept kind of sharing what I was making. And it just continued to snowball. And for whatever reason, I stuck with it, just—I think it was just one of those things. It was my creative outlet during the rest of my college career.

And then when I started to work after college, then I decided that I was like, ‘No, I really want to try and pursue this bakery thing.’ So I started a job at a bakery, getting up at 3 o'clock in the morning to get to work by 4. And after a year of that, I said, ‘Oh, hell no. [Laughter.] This is not me.’ Although, the dream did not die then. 

So, I went back to grad school for music. I always oscillated between music and food. But the blog stayed with me for that whole time. At the end of grad school, I tried to buy a coffee shop and bakery and it was taking—the paperwork was kind of there. And then I got a job to teach college music. And the day after I got that job, the baker was like, ‘Ok, we're ready to move on.’ And so, I just kind of took it like, ‘Ok, this isn't where I'm supposed to be in life.’ So I taught college for two years, but was still writing about food. 

And then at the end of that time, was when I got my first cookbook deal to write about grinding your own flour at home. That was it. That was it for me. When I moved out to California, I was just in food at that point. 

Alicia: Yeah. 

What brought you to California from—

Erin: My husband's job.

Alicia: Oh, ok. 

Erin: We knew nothing. We had no family here. We knew nothing about the area. We just knew that we needed to change, and it was quite possibly the best thing to ever happen. 

Alicia: Awesome. 

When you began your blog in the aughts, it was a big time for lifestyle blogging. You've written two cookbooks, too, but it seems like you yourself, you keep yourself out of the spotlight a little bit. 

I was looking at the about page on your website. And it's about the blog. It's not about the person, which is like such a different thing, I think, with blogging. How did you kind of approach your—and how did it evolve over time, too?

Erin: Yeah, I mean, it was definitely really personal in the beginning. I mean, through many years, actually. Just, again, like you said, it was—that was what people did. 

I mean, there's a lot of conferences that revolve around how to do food blogging, and there's people who write food blogs or blogs about food blogging. And it's always like, ‘Make yourself a personality and make it about you and the food secondary.’ I would try that. I'd be like, ‘Ok, I'm gonna do this.’ You're told, ‘That's how you grow your audience. That's how you make money.’ And I tried it. And I was like, ‘I hate this.’ It made me deeply uncomfortable. 

It's been about the food first. It’s never really about me. And I like it like that. Because also, again, I don't feel I need to share my entire life on the internet. I like having kind of the dichotomy between who I am on the internet and who I'm—I'm the same person, but my lives are a little bit separate. 

It's interesting, because it's—again, things evolve over time. And when I started, it was just about sharing my journey. But then as time went on, it was like, ‘Oh, people can make money from this. Oh, people can make a lot of money from this.’ And that becomes the focus for so much of what you feel you're supposed to be doing, where it's like, ‘Ok, I'm creating content. I'm creating recipes to satisfy Google.’ That's how we end up with thousands of e—or thousands of recipes for basic cashew cream or something like that. Just things that ‘Do I need to reinvent the wheel?’ And I kept feeling this pressure to, just to make money. So, I didn’t like that, either.

Alicia: Yeah. 

And now you’ve—you took time off and now you are launching Cook Casual. Can you kind of tell me how that happened? You took a break, and you decided to launch a new vehicle. And it's really awesome, and people are really into it, it seems. But what kind of inspired this new trajectory?

Erin: So, a lot of it was kind of the burnout from blogging. I knew I wanted to quit for years, like three years ago. My husband had to talk me out of it all the time. I'm like, ‘I'm gonna burn it down. It's time to burn it down!’ It's a lot to run a website. Even just the tech behind it, it can be a little intense. And then on top of not really feeling I'm creating content for myself. I'm creating content to satisfy SEO results. 

And then the other thing that really kind of pushed me over the edge was the partnerships, sponsored content, which is a huge industry. It’s probably one of the main advertising industries at this point in time, because people, they see the benefit of having a personality online say, ‘No, this is the product I use.’ 

I tried to be the most conscious I could about the partnerships that I had. It just got to be over time that even the company was like, okay, no, I like working with you. But it really limits what I can talk about. So if I had a company that was selling grains and flours and all of that, all of a sudden, I felt I couldn't talk about the local products that I was using. Just because then I worried like, ‘Are they going to be mad at me that I'm saying, ‘No, you should also buy flour from this other place?’’ 

And so, it kind of just really got to me where I didn't know what to do. And how to make money anymore, which is not always—I mean, unfortunately, the society we live in is—it’s a little necessary. So it's like, ‘How do I still do what I love?’ At least, I thought I loved, which was really trying just to excite people about eating vegetables, right? 

I don't care if people go vegetarian, right? I want people to eat less meat. I don't want to do it through fear. We're told, like, ‘You have to eat less meat because of climate change. You're all gonna die.’ It just seems very fear-driven. And I mean, I have a 6-year-old. He won't do anything through fear or stuff like that. Positive reinforcement essentially. 

So I stopped the blog, because I was like, ‘This is not sustainable for me. I hate it.’ And so, I just let it be for a while because I was gonna take it offline. But then I realized—I was like, ‘I still use a lot of the recipes on that website.’ So I'm still trying to figure out what—it just sits there. 

And so, I took time off. I wasn't even sure I wanted to come back or do anything, because I was with my son for the past year and a half. 

Alicia: One second. [The mailman came.]

Erin: ‘Kay.

Trying to remember where I was now. I was at home. Yeah, I was at home for the pandemic. Because my son wasn't at school. And so, I was just trying to figure out what comes next. What kind of career do I want? But what I kept doing was just sharing what we were eating pretty much every day, because I was still cooking a lot. I actually feel like I was cooking more during this time. And so, I just kept sharing what I was doing on Instagram. And of course, people on Instagram are always like, ‘Recipes!!!’

I was like, ‘No, I really love being in this space. I love creating food.’ It always comes back to I love creating food that inspires people to eat more vegetables, right? I do want it to be something that is really positive, that's really, that I want people to engage. I want someone to eat something that I've made and say, ‘Oh, this is delicious’ and then go ‘Oh, wait, is this—this is vegan, right?’ To have that realization that you don't need to eat meat to have this beautiful food. 

And so, I kind of kept just trying to figure out like, ‘Do I go back to a blog?’ I tried Patreon for a while. And it just felt like a really weird platform for me. I kind of felt in debt a little bit because it felt like, ‘What do people expect from me on this platform?’ And I could never get a hang on what I wanted everything to feel like on that platform. So, that lasted maybe four months, and I was like, ‘This isn’t for me.’

Ok, so then I decided that I really—I missed print. I've done the two cookbooks. I've experienced what that is, and it's a lot. I know you're writing a book right now. So I feel like any books are a lot. I am a very tactile person, and so I love the idea of holding something in my hands. But the idea of doing another cookbook was just, I don't—for various reasons, didn't really seem what I wanted to be doing. And so I was like, ‘Ok, well what can I do?’ 

And that's how I kind of came to the zine format. because it allowed me to do something tactile that people can hold, but also still give people the digital option. But then using that as a way to support all of the information that I share on Instagram, whether that is kind of off-the-cuff meals. I like to share a lot of articles, because I do think that to be really informed about what we're eating, you need to know what goes into that food. 

Moving to California, that's kind of what changed my entire perspective on everything. ’Cause,

we’re living through climate change right now here. There's a fire that’s right up the road that's destroyed tens of thousands of acres. Every day, we have to check our air quality, because I don't know if I can open our windows or not driving from north to south along the 101. You see all, so much of the food that is grown in California for the rest of the country. And you start to question like, ‘Ok, well, what about those workers?’ Just being in California is being at the heart of a lot of food issues. And to me, it's unacceptable to separate what we eat from those issues. The zine allows kind of my ability to share some of that. 

I think that's—[Laughter.] Sorry, think I went on a tangent there. 

Alicia: No, no, it's really useful to hear that, because I think—it's funny, I'm actually talking to a class at Penn State this Friday that's going to be—it's literally a class about, I think, independent creation. They're now teaching the journalism students how to be their own, I guess, business because everything is so broken. 

And it's really interesting to hear about how someone recovers from burnout, having a successful blog, it becoming not what you want anymore, and how do you go, move on from there? That is a huge question. And I think, I mean, people will think of this work that I would say we both do around food as maybe not as significant as food policy or something like that, where it's—we are talking to people about how to live in your daily life about food. And I think that that's such a significant thing, but it also takes so much out of—it's so much work. It really is so much work. [Laughs.] 

Cause you just started doing reels and stuff, right? Yeah, I hate it. I hate it. I mean, I'm finding a little bit of a creative—I'm finding my own way in it I suppose, but I only am doing it to make Instagram happy. My feed is unrecognizable to me at this point, which I shouldn't have—I shouldn't care about anyway. My engagement is so low, even though I'm doing these stupid reels and they take forever. And so, it's like, ‘Why? What am I supposed to do?’

Instagram doesn't matter as much, I guess. I do recipes, but it's not my bread and butter. And it's more of a bonus thing. And then, people get my essays and interviews in their inbox. So I don't—and that's where I need people to engage, not necessarily on Instagram. But at the same time, I'm not an idiot. I have to be extremely curated on all social media. On Twitter, I'm—I say whatever the hell I want. But on Instagram, it's like—it's just such a weird platform, I think. 

It started out so easy and fun. Now it's just like, ‘Why is this?’ I'll never make it part of my real work. It's bonus content, I guess. I don't have the capacity, nor the interest, to make a slideshow in Canva about different things. But also, I just see it as so ephemeral. And they can change anything at any time. There's no reason for me to invest that much in it.

But yeah, I mean, it's interesting. 

Yeah. Go, go. 

Erin: I kind of felt the same way with the blog, too. Google Search would do updates, and all of a sudden you'd go from getting 100,000 hits from Google Search a month to 50,000 And people would lose lots of money over this, and it was just always this—in Facebook groups I was in, people would be freaking out. Or Pinterest. People drive a lot of traffic from Pinterest, too. I hated the reliance on one platform to do that. 

It's interesting, because I remember being, I think, at IACP, the culinary professional conference a few years back. And people were just bashing food bloggers, right? Because they were like, ‘Well, they're not real food media people,’ and all this stuff. People try to really say, ‘Well, they're not professionals.’ And what I come back to is that, you know, bloggers are meeting people in their home. They're connecting with the people who are cooking meals every day. They have extreme influence. 

And that's one of the reasons, too, that I felt that I needed to start sharing more as well, was because I have people's ears. People trust me. I think that it's important to take that, to not take that responsibility lightly. And so to just move away from all of that—I mean, as much as you can, ’cause obviously social media is still a huge part of any self-promotion. 

Alicia: No, it's really difficult to walk—I don't know, to be a person on social media. 

I noticed you did this. You created a different account for Cook Casual, and—instead of kind of folding it into your own—your account. Was there a reason you made that choice?

Erin: I couldn't change my username. [Laughs.]

Alicia: Ok. [Laughs.]

Erin: Yeah, so once you're verified on Instagram, unless you have an inactive Instagram. 

So, it's funny. So, it's my initials. Ella is my initials. And I regret that every single day. Primarily because there's Deliciously Ella. I'm not sure if you're familiar with her, but yeah, huge, right. And so, I cannot count the amount of times I would get invited to events in the UK because people—I would get confused with her a lot. 

To start fresh, to build something from scratch, I wanted to completely divorce myself from what I was doing, because it—people on the outside probably were like, ‘What is she doing?’ But to me, it felt like such a difference. I needed that switch, I needed to say, ‘No, this is something new. It's something that is not what I was doing before. It's not just a food blog.’ I want to create something that really engages people.

Alicia: Right, right. 

And how did you kind of get to your style? Because people think of vegetarian food—and I think that this is even in contrast to how people think of vegan food—but people think of vegetarian food as like a very 1970s thing. Macrobiotics and just tons of cheese. And not a lot of nuance and freshness. But hopefully that's changing.

But your style is super fresh and vibrant. You share so much about your own garden, that your gar—what you're growing. How did you kind of develop that style not just in recipes, but in photography? How did you develop your gardening skill as well? [Laughter.]

Erin: Full disclosure, this is my first year having an actual garden. I used to do pots. I'd have a bunch of pots in the backyard. 

So it started with that CSA, just because it got me to have my hands in the dirt. It was just something about being able to go out every week and connect with the soil plants and be like, ‘I know where my food is coming from. I'm picking it.’

And then moving to California, I remember the first time I walked into the co-op here. Honestly, I just froze because the produce section was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Anything you could possibly want was in that produce section, and all of a sudden it was like, ‘What is this magic?’ Where I'm at there's, you can pretty much go in any direction and there's the farmers’ market almost every day. And so, just having that proximity to all of this beautiful fresh produce. 

It's kind of like, ‘Ok, well, I'm not going to layer it with a bunch of cheese.’ I don't want to hide it. I don't want to act like I'm trying to hide it from a 5-year-old. I have probably overused the word beautiful too much, but I am just completely inspired by the produce that I want to really showcase it the best I can. And then having that added layer this year of being able to grow my own and really—I’m like, ‘Ok, I need eggplant for this?’ Just walk out to the garden. It's a really freeing feeling to just have that. 

And so, I am really inspired. I love cookbooks. I mean, as you can see, that's pretty much that entire shelf behind me. And I think that one of the—trying to think the right word, access to cultural cookbooks. I think that that is also one of the other things that really pushed my cooking over the edge was that there are so many other cultures that do vegetarian cooking amazingly well. Using different spices and flavors and, or just vegetables in general. So many cultures treat them with such respect and have such great flavor behind them, that it started to really inspire me to kind of blend what I've been doing up until—I really started diving more into cookbooks, and in bringing a lot of that knowledge into cooking. 

And then just, it's odd to think of some positives to come out of the past year and a half. But cooking three meals a day of just stuff that I wanted to cook. Just being like, ‘Ok, what sounds good? What can I make today,’ I think, has really pushed me over into this territory that I can really make my cooking my own and run with it.

Alicia: And what can people kind of expect from Cook Casual that might be different from what they got from Naturally Ella?

Erin: So really, the inspiration behind the zine, it's not—the zine is pretty much purely recipes. Because again, I just wanted that tactile experience. But the way I structured the recipes, I really wanted it to be as though people were coming over for a meal. One of the things I love doing is that when I have people over for dinner, I really make sure to try and balance the meal out. 

I have a really specific memory of when I was at this fancy restaurant downtown and I was going on this farmers’ market tour with the chef, and they brought us back and they had prepared a meal and everyone else got this beautiful fish with beans under it. And I literally just got the pile of beans. And I'm not complaining, I love beans. But it was literally just beans and oil was my main course. And I was like, ‘Really, dude, you couldn't have done-’

It always felt to me that being a bit like the vegetarian meal was always the second thought, right? It was always the like, ‘Oh, what can we shove on a plate for the vegetarian? I'm so sorry, what was the question? 

Alicia: Oh, no, what can people expect from Cook Casual that’s different? 

Erin: And so really how I build out the recipes is it's like I go with a main course and two sides. And I'm always trying to balance texture, flavor, protein, ’cause that was another thing that I always felt lacking in vegetarian meals, right? How am I having a balanced meal? 

And so, I really orient the recipes. There's four sets of three recipes that are meant to—people can make them as a meal. It's how I would serve them. Because I do really try to keep in mind—if I have a rich dish, I want to balance it with something fresh and maybe a bit acidic, and then something that maybe has a little bit of heat to it. And so, the recipes are kind of oriented towards that. But at the same time, they don't have to be prepared like that. 

And then I just try my best to make sure that—because the way I cook is very component based, right? I constantly have all these sauces and other things in my refrigerator. So I want to inspire people to be like, ‘Ok, well, you can make this one thing, but then you can make it five different ways. Using this one thing five different ways and create completely different awesome meals from it.’

Everything I feel like I've been doing comes back to this inspiration side of things, just to be like, ‘It's awesome.’ I want to look at eating less meat as a glass half-full kind of thing, right? We don't need to compare it to the meat dishes, right? It can be its own thing. It doesn't need to be compared to anything. It's completely just live like this. 

My son and I have conversations about the idea of eating meat. So, we're primarily a vegetarian household. My husband was not. I remember the first time I made him breakfast with whole-grain pancake mix and made my own maple syrup. He was like, ‘What is this? What is this weird stuff?’ And so, over time, though, we, as a family, have grown into eating this style, to the point of—my son, the other day, he's like, ‘Wait, there are people who eat meat every day? What?’ And I looked at him and I was like, ‘Yeah, dude. Society.’

To realize, though, that change can happen. My husband's like, ‘You can use me as an example that we can eat less meat. And it doesn't have to be a bad experience.’

Alicia: No, for sure. Yeah. 

I mean, I've had that impact on my fiancé as well, I guess, where he doesn't really eat any meat unless someone is eating something he would like in front of him. Then, he’ll share with people. If my family was eating lamb chops, and he loves lamb. And of course, I'm like ‘Uch’ about that. But I can't tell him what to do. 

Of course, the occasional meat, I guess, makes people realize that it's like, ‘Why would I do this every day?’ I think once you make that consciousness shift to ‘I don't eat meat every day of my life,’ when you do eat meat a couple of times a year: Why would I need to do this every day? This is enough.

Erin: And you know, too, I think that it really helps with the idea that when you do eat meat, it should be something that is special. 

Alicia: Special, yeah.

Erin: Yeah. And it should be treated as such. And you should source it as such.

I have a lot of respect for people who buy whole animals and—if you're going to eat meat, do it well. And I have a lot of respect for that. Because again, I'm not naive to think that we're gonna be a planet who doesn't eat meat. 

Alicia: Same. [Laughs.]

Erin: Yeah, right. 

And so, I actually really love seeing when people talk about that. And there's a dairy that I get some yogurt and halloumi-like cheese from. And they're very much trying to steward the land. They talk about that. You can tour. I want to see more transparency, and more support of farms that are doing that, whether that's meat or dairy or eggs or any animal product. Just because I think that that's really the key forward or the path forward. 

Alicia: Yeah, yeah. 

And I've noticed that you use your platform a lot to talk about different political and social justice matters. I saw you respond in real time to some criticism, that was—it was really interesting. And it's funny, because I think I talked to my friends about when that happened. And we were like, ‘Oh, wow, she's really cool’ about you. 

The food world is really conservative, and really, sometimes sort of anti-political in some ways, or apolitical. And people really try to keep those things quiet, despite how much these things are tied to our foodways and our ways of cooking and our ways of talking about cuisines.

And so, how did food and politics become connected for you? And how did you decide to kind of be open and transparent on your platform about your own politics and concerns around social justice?

Erin: I think again, moving to California really played a key role in that. Just because, again, I feel to be here, it's really hard. You can't ignore it. I mean, you can. People do. 

There's many different facets to why I've chosen to do that. The other one was, I know that this tends to be something that people get really frustrated with me about. When I say I actually have a problem with people who are really, really on the vegan train, animal-rights style. Because I'm like, ‘Ok, great. I'm all for animal rights. But what about the farmworkers?’

It just seems to me we throw away a lot of other things that are really important. Because  without farm workers, we don't have our food. We're in a huge drought right now in California. Many of the reservoirs are at the lowest they've ever been. Groundwater is drying up. There's communities that don't know how much longer they're going to have water. 

And agriculture here in California, I think, accounts for something like 40 percent. I like throwing out statistics, but not always know the exact amounts. I think it's around 40 percent of water usage on a given year. And so people are always talking about like, ‘Well, agriculture needs to use less water,’ but at the same time, it's—we're feeding people. What is happening here?

And so, for me to be living here, it just kind of felt wrong to not share about it. Because I know when I lived in Illinois, I didn't really pay attention. When you're not in a space, it's much easier to ignore what's happening, for better or worse. 

I already had this audience that in some way already does care about food, right? They follow me because they're either trying to eat less meat. They just want to eat more vegetables. Any of this stuff, right? They are people who are already looking at the way they're eating. And so, I felt like I could continue to provide more information to really get people to think more about ‘ok, well, so you're thinking about what you're eating. Now, let's talk about where it comes from, the transparency behind that.’ I think that's such a big thing, because it's so easy to just assume we're always going to have these things. But that's not necessarily the case for many reasons. 

So yeah, I think that it's really important to talk about that stuff. And yeah, it's not always popular. Because people don't really want to be challenged. A lot of people don't want to have to think about it. They have the privilege to not to not have to think about it. And that's tough. Because I think pretty soon we're all going to have to think about this, as climate change continues to change how we view the world. How we grow things. I know that there's a lot of farmers right now who are struggling. I've just read, I think, an article recently about almond orchards. They just walk away from the land. There's no water to do anything. 

I think that as we go forward, it's only going to be more important to know about these things and what's going to happen and any ways that we can kind of help to maybe mitigate that.

Alicia: Sure. 

And this is wildly different topic. But I wanted to ask you about pizza and how you got into making pizza, because you make the most gorgeous pizzas. And I really want to get one of those ovens. But I haven't taken the plunge yet. [Laughs.]

Erin: I love cooking with fire. And that's one of those things that I feel I wasn't always—it's not something that I would have just randomly picked up. Especially, I feel anytime anyone sees a woman cooking over fire, they're like, ‘What is happening here?’

And so, I had already kind of started really getting into making pizza. It's something that we eat weekly. There wasn't really not a great pizza place near us. And so, it was kind of a necessity to try and figure out like, ‘Can I make something delicious here?’ And then I started researching the oven, and I was like, ‘I'm just gonna do it. I'm just gonna do it. It sounds like fun.’

And I regretted it for about six months. Because I was like, ‘This is horrible. I can't figure this out at all.’ Since it’s something that we do week after week, I just kept figuring it out. And now, it's my favorite thing that I look forward to every week, just ’cause there's something really fun about throwing wood in the back of an oven and churning out a pizza. 

People love pizza. And so, it's a really easy way to also show people creativity in vegetarian cooking. My pizzas are not traditional. I will throw that out there. My pizzas are not traditional. But I think that it can be really fun to play around with toppings and ingredients and the seasonality behind it. 

It's an easy way to show cooking in a seasonal setting, and kind of get people excited. Because people—it's so funny. I feel I should just become a pizza account, because those were the most engaged posts on my Instagram because people love pizza. And so I found it a really easy way to showcase kind of, again, more inspiration for eating vegetables. 

I'm like, ‘Do you need the oven? No, you don't. You can make great pizza in your regular oven. Is it a lot of fun? Hell yes, it is a lot of fun.’ [Laughter.]

Alicia: Well, I think you've sort of answered it, but I'll ask anyway. For you, is cooking a political act?

Erin: So, it's so funny. When I read that question, I just kind of chuckled because I know over the past year and a half in food media, it seems like people are like, ‘Well, duh. Why would you need to say that?’

But it's interesting, because anytime—it kind of goes back to what you talked about, what you asked about earlier, where it's anytime I post stuff that's not necessarily directly related to food. It could be something like immigration, right? People are like, ‘Why are you talking about this? Stay in your lane. Stick to food. Yeah, yada.’

But at the end of the day, so much comes back to food. Obviously, immigration is tied to food. And so, yes, food is extremely political, I think, because of where we're at across the board. And I think that's why it's important to keep talking about it as such. I think a lot of people in food media know it is, but to the average person who is just a home cook, they haven't made that mental switch yet, necessarily. They haven't looked at something that they're cooking and been like, ‘Ok, what all goes into this?’ 

And so, I think it's really important to continue talking about food through that lens. Because I think the more we do, the more we can change, kind of potentially have impact, essentially, because demand drives supply. And so, the conglomerate food companies aren't going to change until people demand it. And so, I think the more that we can get just the average home cook to be thinking about this stuff, I think the better chance we have at some sort of impact. 

Alicia: Yeah. 

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. 

Erin: Yeah, thank you for having me.

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From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy Podcast
A weekly food and culture podcast from writer Alicia Kennedy, who talks to writers, chefs, and more about their lives, careers, and how food fits into it all.