This is what a food genius looks like...

Amber Stott with tomato eyes.
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Friday, May 2, 2014
Author:
Jodi Mulligan

Welcome to another in a series of profiles of emerging and established leaders in our community. Our featured leader for this Q&A session is Amber Stott, Founder and Chief Food Genius at the California Food Literacy Center. Amber is also a recipient of the Legacy Feast 2014 Award in the Environmental Category. The Valley Vision Board of Directors focused on young leaders under the age of 40 this year who stood out for demonstrating boundary-crossing leadership, employing innovative approaches to old problems, and collaborating with others to achieve a shared vision. We are excited to feature Amber for this month’s Leadership Profile because she exemplifies these qualities…

Q.  You have become a leader and Chief Food Genius at the California Food Literacy Center. What drives you to do the work you do?

Albert Einstein said, "Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act." Many years ago, I stopped reading anything but food nonfiction. My mom was a librarian and my dad a principal--they raised me to be curious, to yearn for knowledge. I have always been passionate about our food system, yet the more I learned, the more I found broken, and I had to do something about it. Knowledge is power. The more we understand our food system, the more empowered we are to make healthy choices for our bodies and for our planet. Being food literate is about being invested. I want everyone to know as much as they can about our food system! Once they understand it, they're certain to be inspired to fix it. When we start with our kids, we're ensuring a future of invested individuals who will act to build a healthier community. 

Q.  In your blog Awake at the Whisk you explore a “conscientious locavore life.” Give us a brief look at what that means in your day to day.

I try to eat as locally as possible from our region's amazing farmers and from my own backyard. I don't buy orange juice--I squeeze my own from the tree in my backyard. I often work 12-hour days, so I know what it means to be busy. But I make a scratch meal for breakfast and dinner every day--and lunch when I can. It's all about planning, building great kitchen habits, and knowing how to cook. It's a lot faster to grab 5 ingredients from my fridge to make a veggie-stuffed burrito than it is to drive 5 minutes to the local taqueria, wait in line, and drive back home again. Plus, I get to chat with my husband while I'm cooking--and eat higher quality ingredients. My lifestyle is all about being practical, saving money, and experiencing the best flavors growing right here.

Q.  The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation named you a “Food Revolution Hero.” Can you tell us two or three simple things we can do in our own lives to be food revolution heroes at home?

1) Eat food in season. It costs less, because it's more abundant. And that's when it tastes best! If you want to learn to love fruits and veggies, eat them when they taste their best. In Sacramento with our year-round growing season, we have no excuse to eat any other way. One of my second graders described the way a blueberry tastes in winter. "The skin is all baggy," she said. A fourth grader described the way a peach tastes in summer. "When you bite into a peach in summer, the juices all come out and spill onto your chin." 

2) Try one new fruit or veggie each week. Over time, you'll find many new favorites--and you'll become a food adventurer! 

3) Be mindful of your food purchases. When we waste food we waste the water it took to grow it. Agriculture is the number one use of water in our region. The number one food wasted? Vegetables. Let's commit to wasting less food. Instead of jumping into an all-salad diet today, just try one new veggie this week. Another new veggie next week. By making small changes, we're more likely to be successful--and less likely to throw veggies in the compost.

Q.  If you could pick one thing that most inspires you about this region, what would it be?

The food! We live in paradise! Also, the food movement. The innovation, collaboration and energy are inspiring! 

Q. For the young people out there following in your footsteps, what words of wisdom could you impart to help them strengthen their community and economy? 

Words alone won't do it. Knowledge must be practiced. At Food Literacy Center, all our classes are hands-on. I want to *show* youth how to cook. Cooking is the most important thing we can do to improve our health and local economies. When you buy packaged food from a big box store, on average, the dollars circulate only twice in the community. Also, you have no control over the ingredients in that food--no control over the amounts of sugar, salt or saturated fat. When you purchase local produce from your farmer or locally owned business, those same dollars circulate six times in the local economy. And you control everything that goes into what you're cooking. This is especially important when you're talking about youth who live in food deserts. We have to start thinking long-term. We cannot continue to watch hunger in America grow. We need to focus on smart strategies that teach people. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach *kids* to fish--and to cook--and how to shop for the cheapest seasonal produce--and you'll create healthier families for generations to come.