Liz Chadwick, Sterling’s Kitchen Manager (AKA the hard working woman who feeds all, also affectionately referred to as “Mom”) dishes about Sterling’s Kitchen, which AASHE recently ranked #1 in sustainable food & dining on the latest episode of Emergency to Emergence. Our conversation with Liz charts her own professional journey, explores the emotional potency of food, and details the dynamics of ethical and intentional food sourcing, all of which were amplified during the pandemic. Liz talks about how she collaborates with students and farm staff to create weekly menus, how food at Sterling connects individual experience, learning, and community life, and how to handle the heat of both the kitchen and our passionate discourses about food. It’s a delicious listen.

[03:19]-How does food make people feel; collaborating with students and farm to create menu  

[07:52]-more than farm to table; students living and growing food values in a constant community dialogue

[12:00]-dynamic sourcing of food; roots of kitchen culture are challenging monoculture and cultivating discourse

[13:27]-challenges of plastic and trash during a pandemic 

[20:11]-value of food to create a space for our emotional and physical nourishment; community and student engagement, incubator for student ideas

[27:15]-dialogue about hostility in kitchen culture; Sterling fostering energy of kindness and expressed in food served

Transcript

ELIZABETH CHADWICK TRANSCRIPT

OPENING CREDITS: [:

Welcome to emergency to Emergence, A podcast produced by Sterling college. I'm Nakasi Fortune and I'm Dakota La Croix. This podcast intends to engage in spirited, heart-centered dialog about intersecting, eco-social emergencies, featuring the voices and perspectives of people purposefully engaging in ecological thinking and action while fostering active community engaged responses that offer hope.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

And joining us today is Elizabeth Chadwick andLiz is a Sterling alum, and now director of dining services here, but more importantly, Liz and her team are the creators and curators of the delicious and nutritious meals we consume from our award-winning kitchen. Liz, it's so nice to have you joining us. What are some of your earliest memories of, you know, being in the kitchen and what keeps drawing you to that space?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

I think the guiding force behind being in the kitchen is to eat. So I've always just loved eating. So I was always in the kitchen. My family will attest to that. I just have a lot of vivid memories of, um, you know, cooking with my parents growing up and just being really excited about food and meal time, and it was like, I woke up to eat. I didn't like wake up to go play. So yeah. Um, I started working in the kitchens, when I was 15 and yeah, I was never, never left. I think, you know, there's just always another layer to cooking for me and being at Sterling is just another layer. Like I'm not, I don't foresee myself at the core of it.

I don't see myself at the peel, but. You know, it's just exciting that the layer that I'm in is after so many other layers of cooking.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

I mean, it sounds like there's such a kind of synergy and collaboration going on and at this feverish pace, and yet my understanding is you're using local resources, you're using seasonal ingredients. So there's kind of this duality of timing it sounds like. On the one hand there's this really fast paced kitchen, and yet you're very much in tune with a different kind of speed in life. Can you speak to kind of that relationship to these, these two different spaces?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that's, that's a great point. Cause I, I tend to think about what we're doing at Sterling a lot like that, cause yeah, you can, you can, from a surface, be like, okay, we're just putting food on a buffet line or packaging food up and like feeding people, but there's, there's so much to the system. It's, you know, it's a lot like nature in itself, you know, there's not just trees, there's, you know, roots, here's like mycorrhizae, there's all this stuff and it's the same with like cooking because you know, you don't just have to think about, you know, what's going to go on the menu and what do I have to order, but you also have to think about what will my food, how will that make people feel, you know? Does it create the optimum environment for people or is it just like food as sustenance?

So I spend a lot of my time thinking about that. I spend a lot of time, like sitting at a computer, like furiously going through what I'm going to put on Tuesday, because you know, this is going on here, and like, I can't get that or the farm doesn't have this, or the farm has way too much of this. It's fun because a lot of those things aren't from me, they're from, you know, the students and what the students want.

And that collaborative aspect of the kitchen is what really, that's what excited.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

So Liz, in your role as director of dining services, you're responsible for feeding the entire Sterling community, which takes food and its production very seriously. What does it mean to feed a community that not only sees eating as an agricultural act, but also an ecological one?What are the particular joys and challenges of that?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

The most fun part of my job is that all of the students, all of our community members, are actively engaging, learning, basically about what we are doing, and they're gonna be doing that later in life, and so they're learning about food.

They're learning about where their food comes from. They're learning about the choices that they make, when it comes to food. So there's so many issues that they're constantly having dialogue with, so, it's, it in one sense, you could look at it that it's hard to provide food for a community that's so actively engaged in their food system, but I think it's, it's really enlightening because we're constantly having conversations with the students, constantly having conversations with the farmers, constantly having conversations with the instructors and just the community members and that collaborative model. Like not seeing it as a task at hand, it's more, just a constant collaboration.

While it presents a lot of challenges, I think it also, uh, presents a lot of opportunity for educational growth, not just as a student, but as a community member, a human on this earth, director of dining services.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

And what are some of the challenges that come with that?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Well, the more educated the students are more, they know about where their food comes from and what it does to them or how they can make it or grow it is that they, they catch every little thing.

They see every little thing they are. I don't want to say scrutinizing because that seems like a negative word, but they're, they're critiquing and observing every decision that we make. Because it not only does it like actively. Their experience. Um, but it also, it they're, you know, engaging with this education that they're embarking on.

So everything is like under a microscope, like every little choice from like, is there corn syrup in the jam? Why did we get these greens instead of those greens? I don't, I don't like Curry, you know, there's so many, so many facets, and you are kind of juggling all these issues that could be either, you know, food policy-related, um uh, food disparity related, and security-related, you know, lifestyle related.

There's so many, so many questions and so many opportunities for, you know you to make a wrong decision and it's not a wrong decision, it's just not the one they wanted at that moment. So I think that's the biggest challenge, which is just, I don't know. I think it's super fun because I love it when I get called out on something that they don't like. You know, it's, it's just another learning opportunity for me.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

You might be one of the few people who, who've ever said that.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Call me out!

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

Liz Sterling's kitchen in many ways is a farm to table operation. As you know, with 30% of what's consumed being grown on the farms and about 65% sourced regionally, often from farmers and food producers, with whom we have close relationships. But my sense is that we do this in a way that is a bit different than the operating principles of many of the farm to table eateries out there.. Talk to us if you would, about the principles that guide your food sourcing and why they matter.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Definitely. That's a great question. What sets us apart from being, you know, your typical farm to table eatery is that we're kind of released of the, I don't want to say the aesthetic of the food, because I think there's a lot of like style and fashion.

This might be dangerous territory to say this, um, in a lot of these farm to table eateries, like you're buying an a la carte meal, you know, you're expecting an experience, whereas at Sterling, these students are living an experience. They're living an experience for an elongated period of time. And they're also, they're learning about that experience. They're growing in their food values.

So I think our food decisions that we make, um, as a kitchen at Sterling is, you know, we're, we're guided by our principles and we really adhere to our principles, you know, and we, we have, you know, a higher standard of how we're going to operate. We're not at the mercy of a consumer per se. Like, yes, our students are consumers, but consumer in the sense of we are humans with an ecological footprint.

And so we're constantly engaging in that dialogue. And so, whereas like, I think you could craft a menu for an eatery or restaurant or whatever, and do it. And it's like fun. And you know, you're just trying to get people to eat it. But for us. We're getting meat from the farm, you know, in the fall, we're going to craft our menus around that.

Like what did we put up for vegetables? What are we growing? I'm constantly in conversations with the farm and garden team and going over, like, what is our plan? You know, what are our dreams? What are our goals for the season? And then, you know, the season happens and like half those dreams are completely different.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

So it's very alive and dynamic, so to speak.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Yeah. Yeah. And not to get, like, I feel like sustainability has become such a, you know, over laundered word, but it is actually, it's true. Like our approach to eating is sustainable. Like, that's the word for it? You know, we're trying to reduce our footprints.

We're trying to be as self-sufficient as possible as a community. And we're trying to also like honor the values of like, not just our land, but our bodies and our minds and so it's like this fully integrated, system when it comes to our approach to food. Whereas, you know, when you're pigeonholed into just person comes to eat, pays money, eats food, you know, drinks, wine, not to discount that I think I, I love, I love the farm to table movement.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

So, you know, you are in a very unique position in that you work in this, you work at the very same institution and you're in community with the very people who manage and work on the Sterling farm. How does that influence the work that you do in the kitchen?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

It brings, uh, a higher level of accountability, you know, as a community. You, you can't just like walk away from a situation. You can't, you know, you can't talk about a situation. You can't, you can't make decisions without thinking about what effect, like what ripple effect that will have on the rest of your community. So it's, it's a large task at hand, but it's also a lot more fulfilling because, you know, Like everybody has a part in this.

And that can be hard because yeah, maybe I don't want the farm to grow 900 pounds of lamb a year, but for the students, it's very important for them to see lambing season. It's important for them to, you know, raise these animals and like, and then when I like serve it in the dining hall, they're confused as to why there's so much lamb in the dining hall, but it's just an example of how dynamic and fun and you know, also like living in a community, you're not gonna agree on everything.

I think that homogeny of culture is, is dangerous and like it's like a, it's a monoculture. If you're all just, yeah, we all bring on everything. So that, that discourse that happens really. I don't know. That's the roots of what we do at the kitchen. It's like constantly having. That conversation and everybody's a part of it and everybody feels a part of it.

It's just so much more fulfilling than going to a grocery store buying, you know, lettuce and just being like, I got it from local. Great. I know that Gwyneth like sweated for eight hours in the greenhouse, weeding this lettuce.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

I also imagine the limits would create some limitless possibilities as well.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Oh, gosh yeah. Yeah, that's my, that's what I was thinking about earlier, before I, we, we got into this talk, is that, um, I think because I haven't, I have some control, but not all the control over it. It forces me to reframe and restructure the choices I make when it comes to creating a menu or thinking about what the students are going to want to eat.

And I just keep discovering new recipes and it's like really cool, because there's, you think there's only one way to make lamb? There's so many ways to make lamb.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

What are some of the other pressing challenges that you face in your line of work? Specifically within the ecological context?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Oh gosh, plastic. Probably two or three weeks before the pandemic had hit I sat down with, um, these folks from the pledge free from plastic campaign, and we took a picture shaking hands of how, you know, we don't use single serve plastic at Serling college, which anybody who went through the line at Sterling before the pandemic knew it was just like, you weren't unwrapping anything, you weren't putting lids on anything. And so for me, yeah, the biggest struggle is just how much, you know, I don't want to say trash, but how much trash we're generating. And I can like every time, we're in delivery model and I'm, you know, putting together 72 of just one component of a dish, not just, you know, the whole dish, so it's not like one container for person. There's like three containers per person, and so you times that by 82 and that's just one meal. I can't even like imagine. So you times that not just by one meal and by one institution, but then you times it by every institution is now doing this.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yeah.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

So, it's hard for me to grapple with the amount of, I dunno, like plastic and trash we generate, but I mean, I have hope that there's a lot of innovation that's coming out of this experience, even though it's basically out of survival, but.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yeah, Liz, that's an, that's actually an excellent point, and I hadn't until this very moment considered that. I think in when, when I was crafting that question, I was thinking more along the lines of, you know, shortages with supplies and that type of thing, but now that you've mentioned the amount of plastic that is being generated right now, it really blows my mind because that is definitely a conversation that needs to be had.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Yeah, and I think. You know, all of us in the industry are definitely having that conversation. We have been having that conversation since, oh, I don't know, like April. Yeah, but it's just like hard to, I guess, as some, as a consumer, I think it's hard to see that, you know, so I think the real struggle is how do you even bring that up, you know, to people? And how do you have that dialogue with folks about, Hey, like now that we're trying to do all these things, look what this externality is, you know, that we've created another problem

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yup.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

In an attempt to create a solution, so for me, my like systems brains, just spirals, way down. And yeah, I mean, we've definitely adapted. You know, we had that first semester now we have the second semester and we just did things a little bit differently. You know, I pared down the menu and made it so that people were only getting two things each instead of being like, oh, I want to make the thing that we used to make, but that would mean four containers per person.

So I've, while we're in delivery, I make sure that the menu has, you know, dishes that are only two components or one component. So that way we can, you know, just reduce our footprint a little bit, even though. It's still there.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

Do you think Liz, this is bringing about a conversation that perhaps we were already having, but it's just being magnified? I think of that hearing back in the day about that, um, floating island of plastic, the size of Texas in the world. And I struggle every time I use a container. Do you feel as if covid is showing us what was always there?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

I always liked to look at it from both sides, but I think it's hard to. I think there's a lot of people that are actually ignoring it, you know, for the sake of that might be a bold statement, but for the sake of like safety and sanitation and which I'm not, I'm not against at all by any means, but I think there's a safety in ignoring it.

You know, because you can say, oh, I can consume all this plastic, you know, but I'm just being safe. Like I'm, I'm doing my job, and so for me, it's, I, I think there are a lot of conversations happening around trying to improve the situation. And then I also think that there are just a lot of conversations that aren't happening at all, because you know, there's already so much to talk about.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yup.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

And yet the last thing anybody wants is to be like, oh, okay, like global pandemic and all these other problems here through plastic on top of it. I think a lot of it is framing. So we can focus on the trash island in the ocean, or we can focus on the things that are happening. Like you should go down this Google rabbit hole, which is there's this guy who builds basically his houses out of the trash in the oceans, and that's that's super cool. So I think. I don't know if we could like amplify that, the framing of that idea, or just the way that it like notion that, you know, we can focus on the bad or why don't we focus on what is actually good coming out of this, which is, you know, keep the energy towards like innovating ways to reduce and reuse, recycle all that.

Um instead of just being like, well, it's a problem. You know, cause I think that that mentality is kind of flourishing right now. There's so much going on in the world, like just without a pandemic and so much, you know, fire out there and hostility and a lot of great conversations happening and a lot of really bad conversations happening.

So sometimes the best way to have a conversation is just to do something, you know, and, and that manifested for me by being like, okay, The menu is going to look like this for these two weeks, and then everybody's gonna to have going to get these, you know, eco-trainers, you know, these reusable eco-trainers, and if they want to ask why they can ask why, you know, I'm not gonna force them to, but maybe I can display and maybe we can, you know, see that plastic -is a problem.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

What do you think is the value of food in creating a space for nourishing more than simply the body?

I think that really is the virtue of food is that we, you know, we eat to survive, but, um, I think it also creates a way for like our soul to survive. That might sound a little esoteric, but one thing that I noticed when we went into this pandemic is, or not only went into it, but when we, you know reopened the school and a lot of students were coming back with so much anxiety, such like, I mean, I'm going to say trauma, cuz it really is its own form of trauma, and the number one thing that can set you off when you are in that corner or like feeling that way is something as simple as food, you know, it's your basic needs. It's kind of like putting covers on, you know, someone who's cold, you know, that, that, that was what we were trying to do. The food that we provide is not just like nutrients. It's not just calories. It's, you know, it's that, that blanket that's like keeping somebody warm. So food is here to like protect and make you feel safe. It shouldn't create more anxiety when you're already drowning in it.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

What foods keep you emotionally feeling...

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

oh, that was my...

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

...replenished...

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

that was going to be my next question. I was going to say,

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

You guys are going to fight over questions.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

What food is your blanket?

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

Well said Nakasi.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

I can't say coffee can I? Oh man. Um, you know, I haven't eating a lot of curry lately. I mean, I think five days out of seven, I'm eating Curry. It's just like, uh, it is like, it's literally a blanket.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Cooking is very much about relationships and, and culture and all of these other things come together. How do you try to bring diverse meals into, your menu planning and, delivery?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

To answer that question? I think it's, it's more, I, I just do a lot of listening, and I think that that's really important if you're gonna, the only way that you're gonna like bring in all the pieces is just to listen. Cause it would be totally not correct for me to just be like putting something on a menu and assuming that I know how to make it.

So before I like put anything on a menu, I like that had to come from somewhere other than me. Yeah, I just, I try to have the kitchen be, you know, or the menu. And I say it like as I there's a lot of I in this, which I think it's more of a, we we're very collaborative in terms of our menu and not just with the staff members, but the students it's like, the kitchen is a voice for the students.

You know, every item that's on that menu is there because that's what they want, you know, or what they need. That creates a lot of dialogue. When you do just throw a dish on there that you have no idea how to make and you screw it up royally like it is a tough conversation, but it's actually one of my, this is going to sound crazy, but it's one of my favorite conversations, cause there's, you know, opportunity for learning

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yeah.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

In that situation, and I that's like such a magical thing for me in the kitchen at Sterling is that situation can happen. That dialogue can happen all from a menu item.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

How is community coming into play, in the past present, and how do you see it in the future in regards to these conversations and these collaborations?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Yeah, that's, uh, that's, that's a good one. That's, that's huge. In the past something that was really, really exciting, and in terms of like community involvement, I'm a huge advocate for it. I think, you know, strong communities really make a heck of a difference. We had three folks coming in and using the kitchen to start kind of basically like a little incubator, um, Jess Scribner, who's an alum. She kind of, she got her perogies basically off the ground in our kitchen. And, uh, we had the Hannah Pierce from Pierce's pasture poultry doing apples. And it was just cool. We, we have this facility, we have the space, you know, why are we should totally like, just everybody should be using it, you know, obviously with, with some control.

Um, and then the pandemic hit and all that had to stop. So it was just kind of like this huge, huge, schism of, you know, it felt like a cavern came between us and our community. You know, we were able to help by donating a bunch of ingredients that weren't going to get used.

And at that point we had no idea what was going on. So like, that was a way for us to connect with our community. It's it's hard. Cause we're, you know, our main focus right now is feeding the students. And I'd like to have that conversation. I think with folks about how we can reintegrate like community into our cuz.

Like when we used to throw this big, huge pancake breakfast, where everybody from the community come in and it was just like endless pancakes. It was worse than I- hop. And I think we miss a lot of that. So I think in the future, you know, as we start to kind of build our footing, I think that's going to be a guiding talking point for us and like a focus. How can we re-foster, you know, that, that community piece, you know, is it getting people back in the kitchen to start their own ventures? Or is it, you know, maybe throwing a community dinner?

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

What gives you cool. What are you hopeful about?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

I think the thing that I'm most hopeful for. And this just might be my own personal hope. Like I can't speak for everybody, but, um, I'm really hopeful for just a level of positivity to return. You know, I think we just, seeing how low everyone got morale was so low, not just with staff, faculty, students, just us as a community, us as an entity. You know, we dealt with so much. And so no fault of anybody and like the negativity that we experienced, you know, I think when we use the word negativity, it just sounds like a dirty word and I just I'm, I'm looking forward to, and I'm really hopeful that we can start fostering more of that like positive energy.

Maybe it's like the students coming back in the kitchen, that's just a baby step. So just that, yeah, that emergence into, not just everybody's waking up, but they're like, this is gonna sound cliche, but their hearts are waking up too.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

This dialogue that you were talking about having outside of the Sterling community, does that translate back to the food you're making and the community that you're currently in?

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

I think it translates in the, in the fact that the food that, the food that we make is, you know, it's. It's a piece of us. This is like outside of our community, but just in the cooking community, there's a lot of really interesting conversations happening right now. Um, but actually Kenji Lopez offered up this really good dialogue about, hostility in the kitchen culture and how we've we've, um, celebrated this idea that, you know, the environment in which we cook has to be this aggressive and like, Like battle field and this huge dialogue happened where it, it, it doesn't have to be that way. We didn't need as cooks to be berated or to be, you know, growing up in these, hostile work environments and, you know have it be glorified. And the fact that a conversation like that is happening gets me really excited. So in, in the kitchen we operate like a family, I don't put myself above anybody in that kitchen and nobody, you know, puts themselves below me or above like, we're just, there's none of that because I mean, in the kitchen, I like to foster and not just like for students, a place of inclusivity and, you know, just kindness. Everybody says that, like, you know, it's all about the, the energy and the feeling and the love that goes into your food. But I, I totally subscribe to that and I think that's a true thing, and I think the energy that we bring into the kitchen and that we foster as like a team, and as collaborators that is always going to be expressed in the food that we serve. And so I make it everybody's priority or I try to make it a priority for folks to feel like comfortable and loved and cuz then when someone eats our food, they're going to feel comfortable and loved.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yup. Yup. I always tell people. You can tell when a dish is made with love and when it's not.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Yeah, when someone is having a real bad day.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Yeah, You really can tell and how that food tastes, how it just, how it greets your body, you know. Yeah.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

I mean, when they say food is medicine, it really is. You know, I think that's our, that's our goal. In a global pandemic, maybe we can cure the pandemic with our food. I mean, we can't cure everything, but we can at least make it a little better.

NAKASI FORTUNE: [:

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to join us. You've shared some really incredible wisdom and dropped some knowledge on us. So thank you for, for shedding light on that and, for hopefully sparking a conversation or deeper conversation on, you know how we can reduce our waster, our plastic waste. Um and you know how we can use food to heal us in more ways than one.

DAKOTA LACROIX: [:

Yeah. This was a special conversation. Thank you for it.

ELIZABETH CHADWICK: [:

Yeah, thank you.

CLOSING CREDITS: [:

If you enjoyed this conversation, do come back for the commendation. We'll spend a few more minutes with our most recent guests identifying the specific works that inspire them, so you can root further, draw new sources of nourishment and connect to the emergence of vital possibilities.

And before we come to a close Sterling acknowledges that the land on which we gather, places now known as Vermont and Kentucky are the traditional and unceded territories of several indigenous peoples. The Abenaki in the North. The Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Osage people to the south. We also learn in, and from a range of landscapes that belong to other indigenous peoples and more than human kin. As we seek deep reciprocal relationships with nature, we have respect and honor the place-based and cultural wisdom of indigenous ancestors and contemporaries. Words of acknowledgement and intention, are just a first step. We must match them with acts of respect and repair.

Thanks so much for listening, you can subscribe to Emergency to Emergence wherever you listen to podcasts. And very special thanks to Sterling alum Fern Maddie for her musical creations. For more information on how Sterling is advancing ecological thinking and action visit www.sterlingcollege.edu. If listening is prompted something new to emerge in you, we invite you to share your thoughts as a written message or voice recording, which you can send to [email protected]

Until next time, this is Emergency to Emergence.


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