With bold, colorful photos, emotional, complex essays and a simple but communicative illustration, the newly published Nourish has ambitious goals. Co-founder Alyssa Kearns is reluctant to call it a cookbook because while it started out as one and the recipes are 122 pages, the stories in it aim to do far more than teach the reader how to prepare certain dishes. The paperback volume uses food narratives to highlight the Seattle community organizers and, according to its introduction, hopes to “light a fire in your heart and on your stove.”
Kearns and her four co-founders saw the Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police movements in the national spotlight in Seattle last year and wanted to introduce the people behind the scenes, who often went unnamed. Each of the ten chapters of the book is from a different organizer’s perspective and begins with a story by a different co-founder, Nica Sy.
Sy shares how the dichotomy between her hometown Kent’s welcoming, multicultural community and the vision of the city government inspired her to found ForFortyTwo, a BIPOC youth collective focused on combating systemic racism. Between her story and her recipe for bubble tea, a color photo in a grocery store shows Kent’s variety of spices: Caribbean adobo, Chinese chili crisp, Thai curry paste, Filipino vinegar and hot South American sauce.
“Nourish envisions a world where everyone feels safe, seen and nourished,” says Sy, creating a space and platform for movement leaders to document their own stories. Organizers from groups like Queer the Land, King County Equity Now, and Free them All WA share their personal story and demonstrate the deep connections food shares with social justice activism. For some it means comfort or healing, for others it is an opportunity to connect with family or colleagues. In the stories of Nourish, food appears as a marker for history, security or identity. The recipes for Hot Pot, Shiro Wot and Chicken Adobo come from the storytellers, among others, often adapted from family favorites that have been passed down through the generations.
The ability with which Nourish tells these stories is even more impressive when you look at the timeline: Sy and Kearns are students at the University of Washington, and the book is the culmination of their two-quarter class with the Foster School of Business, Creating a Company. (Previous Seattle food companies that emerged from the class included Joe Chocolate Co. and Sugar + Spoon.) While other teams created a hoodie brand and a water kefir drink, Sy, Kearns, and three other students put the book together – Race to Find contributors, snap photos, edit, and design – in just two months, so it can be published during the academic quarter.
“It’s not a completely safe place for us to be two women of color in business school,” says Sy of her and Kearn’s experiences. That led her and her group to focus on starting a business that would impact the community, particularly through a lens of social justice. After moving through a multitude of rejected ideas, including candles and masterclass-style videos, they landed on the concept for Nourish.
“We were told, ‘Oh, it would sell better if you had an accurate sales pitch,” says Kearns. However, the end product evolved from certain labels – like a cookbook or coffee table book (“We don’t want it to just sit there” , emphasizes Sy) – something that told a more complete story and encouraged more empathetic bonds and relationships between the community and the organizers, explains Kearns.
In creating this new type of book, the group began to dream about what else Nourish could be – and do. “It’s from the community,” says Sy. “And that took precedence over trying to fit it into something for a business school class.”
The couple met in a class on gender, women’s and sexuality studies in their freshman year at UW when they bonded over their mutual love for the band Born, and will graduate in the next few months. Both agree that the Start a Business class became their favorite class they attended in school – and that it will shape their future.
They don’t know what they are up to after graduation, nor what role Nourish might play, so they’ll celebrate the book’s release and finish class for now. The book is available now on the website and from Third Place Books and Resistencia Coffee.
“What I’m really excited about now that we can hold it in our hands is the idea that this can serve as an archive document,” says Sy. “These stories are printed and so many people can keep and have them and hopefully this is something that can continue into the future.”