Linda Watson has been a dot com CEO, a software gaming engineer and a politician, but the real power and pleasure, she finds, comes in tying on a flowered apron and showing folks they can eat fabulous food, get healthy and save the planet, all on $5 a day. "Or less," adds Watson, who heads Cook for Good.
Raleigh-based Watson launched the nonprofit back in 2007, when she was seeing cracks in our food system. Why should a head of kale cost more than a bag of fries? What kind of message was that? What did that mean for our health and economy?
"I got interested in the food stamp challenge," she says. "I'd been vegetarian for years and I thought, if people would just cook for scratch, they could be having amazing food for almost no money." Almost no money, in SNAP terms, translates to $1.25 a meal. She spent one week trying to feed her husband and herself on a food stamp budget. "It was miserable." Watson spent another twelve weeks figuring out how to make it work. The result is her book "Wildly Affordable Organic."
"Wildly Affordable Organic" features recipes that maximize fresh, organic produce with the help of pantry-friendly, stretch-your-dollar wonders like dried beans and whole grains. Most of all, it features what used to be known as home economics. Cooking from scratch and cooking with the seasons means not wasting a scrap or a cent, and there's nothing old-fashioned about it. We've lost these basic kitchen smarts through what Watson calls the corporate deskilling of America.
"My mom was part of that whole big revolution of going into the work force for the first time." Like other women, she bought into the propaganda of the 50s, that "processed food is cleaner and more modern than cooking yourself." Watson remembers childhood meals of canned soup, "bologna sandwiches on white bread, macaroni and cheese with ketchup," and sopping up her mother's pot roast gravy "with piece after piece of Wonderbread."
You won't find pot roast or Wonderbread in "Wildly Affordable Organic." The recipes, like Watson, are vegan. "The environment was the tipping point. And health." There's a third reason Watson advocates a meatless diet -- it translates into true home and national economy. "We could hugely reduce the amount of money we spend on food packaging, on health care," she says. "We could spend that on taking the country green, to insulate our houses, have a good solar program, public transportation, have the health to ride a bicycle, plant a vegetable garden, have real food in schools again."
Through Cook for Good, Watson teaches home cooking and home economy at food banks, farmers markets, co-ops, nutrition assistance conferences, shelters and high-end markets. "People needs information about nutrition. Who doesn't?" she says. "I'm learning new things all the time." Her favorite new trick is getting that last little bit of goodness from a fresh lemon by grating the zest. "Great in pancakes," she says.
Yeah, but is Watson really happier in her apron, teaching people how to cook beans than she was as a suit-wearing CEO? "Absolutely. I've found my calling," she says. "It brings together food, connecting with others, doing good for the planet and helping people take control of their own lives."
Love Me Slender Oatmeal
from "Cook for Good," copyright 2013, used by permission
1/4 cup dried coconut
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons finely ground flaxseed
1- 1/4 cup water
1 sweet red cooking apple, such as a Gala
1/4 cup maple syrup or sorghum
1/4 cup raisins (40 grams)
vegetable oil for the pan
Heat oven to 350°F. Oil heart-shaped cake pan and line with parchment cut to fit. (You can also bake this in an 8x8 baking pan or 9-inch cake pan.)
Put coconut in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process for about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup oatmeal and pulse five or six times. Put mixture in a medium bowl with remaining oatmeal, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
Put flaxseed and 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe container. Heat until very warm, about one minute on high. Stir to develop eggy texture.
Dice apple while flaxseed mixture cools. Add flaxseed and remaining water to oat mixture, stirring just enough to combine. Stir in apple and raisins. If you're in the mood, use your fingers to arrange apples so most of the red peels show.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until oatmeal cake begins to pull away from the edges of the pan and is firm to the touch.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Keeps covered at room temperature for about four days.