Posted by Melanie Trainor
What do you get when you combine food events, publications, websites, and podcasts with a community of culinary leaders, activists and chefs? The Food Voice is the brainchild of food experts, Louisa Kasdon and Ilene Bezahler.
The two joined forces in 2017 to create a new platform that produces content and inspires conversation to advance public engagement in our food and health system.
Louisa and Ilene come from a passionate culinary background, earning substantial success and professional achievements.
Louisa is the former owner of three restaurants, has authored over 500 articles on food topics and started her event company “Let’s Talk About Food” in 2010 to stimulate conversations about what we eat.
Ilene left the corporate world to work at Boston’s last working farm years ago and launched Edible Boston Magazine in 2005 to help support the local food community.
Through each of their journey’s we get a different taste of the industry and now they have teamed up to produce a place to share their experiences. We recently asked the ladies a few questions about their organization and partnership. Here is what they had to say.
Please share with our readers what inspired you to pursue a career in the food industry.
Louisa: For me it was a total accident. I grew up in a home where food was just not important. If my mom could have fed us Special K and takeout Chinese every night she would have been relieved. As a family, we were all about politics and current events. But in college, my boyfriend was constructing a restaurant for his roommate in Harvard Square. The chef was French-trained and very serious. I started watching. One day as I watched he was madly adding things into a big glass jug. I asked him what he was doing, and he said, “Making salad dressing.” I was floored. I didn’t know you could make salad dressing! I thought it was born in wishbone shaped-jars. But suddenly, I became fascinated by cooking, that elemental process of turning raw ingredients into delicious meals. By the time I started grad school, I’d convinced my roommates that I would cook my way through Julia Child every night if they would foot the bill for the groceries! I think we all thought it worked out well! But I was the friend who threw great dinner parties, not a professional. And there is a chasm between the two. Much later, I opened a series of Boston-area restaurants with my husband. That was enough to teach me that I wanted to write and advocate for food and the food system, not cook professionally. So, I became an editor and an author and an activist. But my heart beats with those who get up every morning and take on that hard, painstaking work of fielding a team and running a restaurant.
Ilene: I grew up in New York, with parents who were food obsessed. My mother cooked all through Julia Child's recipes and didn't care that we were children and only wanted pizza! In my mid-40s, I left the corporate world and was hired by Allandale Farm in Brookline, MA to help run their retail store and expand the wholesale business. This experience brought me full circle to understanding how food is grown, not just how it is prepared in a kitchen. As I was approaching my 50th birthday I realized that working on a farm was a great experience, but I now needed to teach others about the importance of local food. Edible Boston was the vehicle I created to do that.
With two independently successful businesses, how did starting The Food Voice become part of your collective vision?
Edible Boston offers a gorgeous print way into the food conversation and Let’s Talk About Food creates and curates community engagement events about food in our world.
Each of us has been advocating for progressive food for over a decade.
We realized that by combining our two sets of skills we could have greater impact on the food system in New England. Together we could create a powerful multimedia platform that could reach more people across the region and raise the profile of the many people and organizations who are doing good work for progressive food.
Name three primary food issues you strive to bring awareness to through your organizations?
Making Food Healthy, Fresh, Sustainable and Accessible
Advancing Culinary Literacy - i.e. cooking!
Supporting the true cost of good food
Good food isn’t cheap and we should quit pretending that cheap food is good for us.
What drives your passion for culinary advocacy?
We all eat. And as a result, we all have a personal stake in our food system and its future. Let’s Talk About Food is focused on delivering in person event-driven experiences for the public because we believe that engaging and educating people about food makes us all better citizen eaters and willing to work improve the quality of our food system in all its dimensions. Including what we put on our own plates!
Ilene is passionate about local food and the people who create it. Her work, as the creator and publisher of Edible Boston, has been a major force in creating a public profile for the people who grow, fish, and create our local food. She is passionate about supporting local food and local food people. Her role and her publication’s role in creating awareness and demand for artisanal food products was central in creating the proliferation of Farmer’s Markets all over our area.
What are some of the challenges you face in making changes within the food industry?
One of the biggest challenges is that people have gotten very accustomed to paying less than food is worth and not paying anything for information or journalism. It’s a real problem. We’ve created a culture where everything is free or close to it. We wonder what the future is for the people who work hard in food and for those who want to tell their stories.
Describe one of your most memorable dining experiences – where were you and what made it so special?
Louisa: I have been so lucky in my life. So many amazing food experiences. Was it the time in a small village in Senegal, where they butchered the cow and served me fresh from the oven entrails and Fanta Orange? Or dinner at the most perfect bistro in Paris? Or fondue in a huge cast iron pot at the top of the mountain on Swiss National Day with yodelers harmonizing around the fire? Or just one uneventful meal at home with my family. And no one crying.
Ilene: I agree with Louisa, there is no one experience. It is like asking which is your favorite child. One memory that I will never forget occurred when I was 17. My parents took me to Lutece in NYC for a graduation dinner. My parents knew André Soltner and when we were given menus, Chef came over to our table to talk to me about food. He asked what I liked and then prepared a special dish. Veal with morel mushrooms. It was the first time I had tried morels and between the special treatment and the taste, I've been in love with them ever since.