Food sustains us – and it brings people together, too. Chelsea Colbath found that out when she brought her interest in eating and cooking in healthy ways online, as a professional blogger and food photographer. Danielle Robidoux and Gary Goodman talked to her about tricks of the trade, and about the power of connecting with other ethical eaters, online and IRL.
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Danielle everyday grocery store items like bananas, chocolate, coffee, these air, global commodities. They pass through a lot of people sands on their way from the fields to your grocery cart thistles. The stories behind our food podcast Podcast where? Expert guests share insider knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Robidoux, and I’m Kate Chess.
Danielle We’re your hosts. Hi, everyone. One here with Chelsea from Baked Greens. Also a member of equal exchange organizing work. Really excited Thio finally talk with her. I feel like we’ve been talking about it for such a long time. It’s nice to be here. And, you know, I follow you on Instagram, and it’s, like, so exciting to have seen you grow. I met you, you know, a few years ago, the first you’ll exchange summit and I was just chatting with Gary about how you know, you were talking about starting a pure business, so just really exciting to see how much it’s grown. Um maybe. Can you talk a little bit about that evolution from had, like when I met you And when you’re first starting to, like, kind of where you’re at now?
Chelsea Yeah, sure. So, um, when you first met me. I was still teaching. So I taught middle school history for six years, and I just did my food blog on the side for fun, like just a little project in the afternoons because I love cooking. And, um, I lived out in Western Mass where it’s just farmland everywhere, and all my neighbors were farmers, and my students had huge gardens, and some of them lived on farms, so I just felt really connected to food. But I was teaching and I was happy, and that was good. And so when I came to the first summit, I was really looking through the lens of getting kids engaged with this kind of work. And since then we moved. Excuse me across the state, and I quit teaching not necessarily on purpose, but just kind of happened, you know, Um, and my blog’s just really grew in tow, its own business, where I now do lots of freelance photography for companies and sometimes restaurants. And, um, I just feel like it took off, and I didn’t expect it to know. It was kind of like, Well, I think I’m gonna say a year off from teaching and see what happens. And then it happened. So So, yeah, Now I have my food log where I work on that full time, and then I do lots of photography on the side, which is kind of what pays the bills. To be honest, it’s been blogging is kind of a lucrative business. Um, where you have to do a lot of work for companies that aren’t really cos that I want to work with in order to make money. So, um, yeah, I do lots of food photography, which was something I knew nothing about when I first started, and I just kind of grown and evolved in. I feel like I’m pretty good now, but, I mean, you know, there’s still room, room to improve for sure.
Danielle Another question, too. I have is what kind of got you interested in coming to the summit? So, you know, obviously, I’ve had no us like a member of people exchange organizing work, and so can you talk a little bit about the way you were looking at it trying to for kids, but, like, really, how it could be useful to your audience as well, right? Like just trying to be conscious of the types of things that they buy. Because you really talk a lot about that on your food, blogger. And I feel like you’re really intentional about which cos you are tough, like encouraging people to use and even, like, a few cool post that I’ve seen you have, like, saying no to certain companies, right? Because I didn’t want to work with them. So I found out it was really interesting.
Chelsea Yeah. So I guess I’m not even sure how I heard of the summit at first. I must have. I mean, I was purchasing chocolate and other things from equal exchange for years, and I must have just got an email. Yeah, okay, sure. I’ll sign up for this. Um, but I think what drew me in was I feel like, um it could be so isolating to be passionate about food, justice and passionate about, like, sustainable agriculture and things like that and not feel like what you’re doing really is gonna make any sort of difference. And so I saw this group where I thought, like, wow, we could really do something together, so yeah, on my own end, I really try to be mindful about what cos I promote, and we’re not even promoting, like a paid way, but just sort of suggest that my readers would, um, would purchase from, But I just I think that it’s hard to get people to want to change. So I I just love the idea of this group of people from all over the country in the world coming together and trying to work together on campaigns or other things, which makes it a little easier for me to bring it back to my audience and say, Hey, there’s this thing happening you could do something about or you should really be mindful of not purchasing from whatever company. So it kind of helps me in a way to get this information to still down in a way that I think, just like the average person understands. Yeah, so, yeah, that’s been nice for me.
Danielle That’s what I really like about your block to. I feel like all your recipes air really simple to write like you’re like, You could make it in an afternoon and it’s you know, sometimes recipes get so complicated, like who the heck has time thio things you know like for it to be, like, different. Really interesting, but like still, like, easy for someone to just make you know.
Gary How much work does it take for you to come up with a recipe?
Chelsea Oh, my gosh. Um, it depends. You know, sometimes things are just flowing organically, and I I’ve been making some snack for myself for weeks, and I just finally look, do it right down, and it’s done. But yeah, sometimes it can take months because you try something and it doesn’t work. And then other things get in the way. You tried again and and the ovens for something, you know, you added too much something or, you know, textures wrong. So you can a lot of time definitely goes into creating recipe. Um, probably a minimum from start to finish. Like if I already knew I was gonna make the recipe, I had it nailed. And I have to photograph it, edit it, getting on my block. I mean, we’re talking. Ah, full day of work. Usually it’s spread out. You know, I make it so that I’m not just doing one single recipe and at and block posted one day, but yeah, it definitely. I think a lot more goes on behind the scenes than the average person going to a website for a recipe realizes. And the reality is that’s kind of like free work. You know? I’m doing it for the larger good of my my block again to build a following, and it’s gotten me so many opportunities. But yeah, the average block you go to for a recipe, it’s just a just a person doing it because they enjoy it, you know? So, yeah,
Danielle How was your process For, like, working with different companies? Do you have ones that you’ve always kind of worked with?
Chelsea Yeah, it could be hard. To. I don’t want to say, like, have values. What? It can be hard to really be like, firm in your conviction and then try to go work with a company who maybe is, like, not so transparent about what they do. And things get a little dodgy. And you’re like, Well, I would really love to work with you and take pictures for you or create a recipe for you. But all your stuff is in plastic and I’m not really into that or, you know, how do you source your almonds or whatever. So, um, yeah, sometimes a lot of companies just come to me. So I’ve been fortunate that I don’t have to do so much of the outreach on my own. But there is a lot of vetting that happens. Peanut wants to be a part of this conversation. So yeah, Sometimes I reach out directly to companies I feel like chocolate is a place that I am constantly reaching out to because it can be a little tricky to figure out what chocolate companies were doing things really ethically and really well. But a lot of times the ones they’re doing it while our very transparent about it. So, um, that’s been somewhere that’s been easy for me to just reach out to and see if I can do some work for them. But a lot of times companies come to me, and I just tried out, but I’m not someone who, you know, always send me a free bag of popcorn, and I’ll promote it on social media like that doesn’t really do anything for me. And I feel like that doesn’t really do anything for my followers and my readers to just be like, Oh, great. She’s buying this. So I’m gonna buy it like I don’t know. I’m kind of over the influencer the world, you know, where you just it’s you. Yeah, huge and s, I don’t know, it’s hard. It’s hard to be part of this industry, but also not really love every part of it. So, yeah, What?
Danielle What do you think is like one of the biggest things that consumers kind of misunderstand about, like the natural from its world and like like you mentioned packaging. But it’s also what ingredients are in certain things, like different certifications like What would you say? Maybe get the most like enquiries are confusion about from people that follow you.
Chelsea Yeah, so it is really confusing. And I feel like there’s a lot of gray area and there’s a lot of choices you have to make, like, should I buy something that’s packaged in glass but were shipped across the world versus this thing that was freed locally but is in plastic, even though sure, the plastic was probably made somewhere across the world. But, you know, it’s kind of there’s a lot of tough choices to make which intervals of you’re well aware of, Um, but a lot of my readers really just want to know how it’s affordable. How can you possibly afford toe? I eat all organic or just to buy so many of the wellness products on the market, And I think the reality is the wellness industry is so over complicated. You know, it’s kind of it’s a business, and they’re trying to make money, and a lot of times it’s kind of wrapped up in, like diet culture and trying to get people by a new diet or weight loss product. But, um, for the most part, I think you can really keep it simple. You don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a week or month, or you don’t depending on your family sides on healthy food. Like, really, the basics are not expensive if you’re looking at like beans or rice or even look across the globe. But like staples that people eat, you can still find them at a higher quality for an affordable price in us at least, um, so, yeah, I think just keeping it simple is really like my big message, because I don’t I don’t think you need all the medicinal mushrooms And, like, herbal supplements, which, if you walk in my pantry, you’ll find plenty of them. But, like, those were fun, But you don’t need them right now. So yeah, I think so many people want to know how you could possibly afford. And I’m like, I don’t live on a giant budget. I’ll have some huge business like it’s just me running this and s O. Yeah, I think just really trying to think about the staples that you need And then, like, buying broccoli instead of buying, I don’t know, like some fancy vegetable out of season, you know? So, yeah,
Gary it’s interesting. Is what sort of brought you two even doing I Okay. I’m gonna make a bog and start putting recipes up about, you know, I’m assuming you probably already. We’re doing this at some level anyhow, but then you’re suddenly decided. Oh, I’m gonna share this with the world. What brought that about for you?
Chelsea Yeah. So I don’t know. I’ve always loved cooking, and I have a really big family, and I feel like everybody always wants my recipes. You know, everyone’s always asking for things, and so Eventually, it kind of just click nothing reading food blog’s for years and love them and always kind of felt like, Well, you know, there’s already hundreds of other bloggers doing what I’m doing. There’s no real value in me spending my time when I was already teaching full time and even before that, working on my masters like I was busy. You know, I didn’t I didn’t need to spend my time doing this. But then I think eventually I just felt like I was called to do it. And I had so many people asking for recipes. I felt like I had a somewhat unique perspective on cooking and especially my take on, like, healthy food, which is definitely simplified, sort of very minimal approach toe eating. Well, so yeah, I just I think one day I just finally, like, figured out what WordPress waas that was spent, like a day you tubing and just trying to teach myself how to build a website and then waited this fire in my soul like a camera and she gets out. So So I did it and yeah, it’s still it’s still a process. Sometimes there are things that I’m like I have no idea how to do that. And, you know, you can hire someone, or you just You just you two bit right. You just spend six hours on YouTube and then you figured it out.
Gary If you hear a lot of founding store founder stories stuff it’s so simple.
Danielle I like I’m gonna do this. Yeah, yeah.
Gary If there’s always this, like chaos, Yeah, is, you know, everybody has to start there.
Chelsea Yeah, It’s not a very exciting story. That wasn’t not some big moment. It was just like, I have no idea what I’m doing. And and I somehow figured out and people, you know, if you ask me toe build a brand new website today, I’d be lots. I don’t Don’t ask me. Listen, I don’t know how I did that, like I made it happen, but it was. But I can figure out my web site, so I feel like you know, it’s working.
Danielle Can I ask you a little bit? About what? Maybe gotten you interested in equal exchange. I know we have, like, a big presence in Western Mass, but then do you think about us differently? After kind of getting more involved in, like, the organizing work. Or did you know that we kind of had that focus before when you’re buying?
Chelsea No, I had no idea. I have no idea. Um, I think I grew up on the cape. I’ve been in Massachusetts pretty much my whole life, so I feel like I was new. Equal exchange existed. And then in my adult life, I was purchasing your products. But no, I I always I mean, you’re very good about labeling everything with, like, the farmer who grew it, an information about just the work that you’re doing. But I never really knew that there was any sort of, like, deeper activism going on. So So yeah,
Danielle yeah, I think it’s hard to like working with people across the US and, like people will go to an event and then they’ll be really excited, and they’ll have a lot of energy, but then having that be sustained and you staying connected, So but we do have our upcoming summit. It’s gonna be June 5th 26 in Massachusetts and Norton, Massachusetts that week in college, so hopeful listeners will tune in and be able to attend.
Chelsea Yeah, I heard about it. I got my email and my little mail. It wasn’t pamphlet, whatever it is. Little Mailer.
Danielle Oh, yeah, And another thing, too, is we re energize. The Java jive was well, so it’s kind of a publication, like four members of the organizing work, so people really like it. We’ve gotten a lot of, like feedback.
Gary Spontaneous question. What do you think might be some of the biggest issues in food in the food industry in the U. S. Right now, from your perspective, you know, need their natural foods or just in general,
Chelsea that’s a big question. I think some of the biggest issues and well, first of all, labeling is so confusing to the average complete a consumer. I feel like it’s hard to just pick up a package at the store and know what all these words means, like natural, something free. Like even the labels like organic and fair trade are aren’t as reliable as they once were. So, like that’s one big issue is not being able to just look at a box quickly and no like, is this in line with my values? Um, and then I feel like there’s a really a big lack of understanding of where food comes from, and I think that’s surprising about the U. S. But there’s so many people who don’t, like, really know where their produce is grown or what it would be like to work on a farm or what a farmer actually needs toe run their business and not go bankrupt and make ends meet. And he didn’t like seasonality. There’s such a lack of understanding that you may be wouldn’t find strawberries in January. Well, maybe what from Florida. But regardless, you know your food is coming from all over the world, so there’s really no season. But wherever you live, there are things that that only grows certain times of year, and it wouldn’t really make sense to buy them in the dead of winter. Or or, you know, in July you wouldn’t be buying cabbage or something. Whatever, Um, so I think, yeah, people just are kind of lacking that information about where food is grown and then and then the seasonality of it.
Gary It’s sort of interesting because our last last podcast we have this with Charlie from Boldon Meet, and he was talking about this concept of people being disconnected from where their food comes from and you know his. His effort was to try to bring people closer to the farmers and says a couple of support farmers and local communities. And then people take better care of farmers and that in the land and the place that they’re in when it’s in their neighborhood, in their backyard and when it’s disconnected its way out here in the middle of the country. Yeah, and it’s all just showing up in the supermarket, especially for us, like in the Northeast. But that happens with a lot of our food. There really is this huge disconnect and you’re not. You’re not understanding where that comes from, how it’s being produced, What are the waste products that are coming out of it so like yet they’re seasonality, and there’s like another component to where you’re just not. You’re not really understanding food in the same way. I
Danielle think there’s also less farmers that air out there, right, because oh, yeah, you had more towards industrial agriculture, and there’s just literally less farmers, so you’re less connected. But obviously, in western Mass, you’re saying you know there’s farmers near you, but I think that’s on purpose, Right? Grocery stores want a consumer to go in and not understand seasonality. Yeah, like not no that they want to be able to walk in as as consumer. We want to be able to walk in and I want asparagus today. I want broccoli, like whatever it might be and to not being paying attention. Thio, What time of the year is this actually a good thing to buy? I think there’s that purposeful kind of not educating are making people where those types of things is that can you think of? So this is kind of a little bit going the actual time of four, But can you think of, like, a specific example of where companies maybe wanted to work with you? But you’re like, No, I can’t come because of X, y or Z. And maybe how is it hard to navigate that?
Chelsea Yeah, um, I think I was saying to Gary before we started. It actually happened, is very often on, and it is hard, and it’s particularly hard because the companies that want to pay you the most money to do the work I do are the companies that I really don’t want to work for you. Yeah, you know s oh, it’s tough. Especially because there’s so many companies that I love working with their families. I love working with, like, small family businesses and farms, and and they’re not people that I want to charge a ton of money or not because I don’t value the work idea where they don’t value it, but because I know the reality of the work they do. But, um, yeah, I think over the summer, there was some campaign Pepsi was doing that they really wanted me to work on, and they were pretty relentless in contacting me. Like I thought I said no, I contacted me and I was like, You know, Pepsi. I really I want your money. But no, I’m not like I can’t do it And it happens a lot. I mean, even just like Wal Mart. And, um, there’s even smaller companies that send me stuff. Sometimes I wonder how people get my address, but sometimes I just get a lot of stuff from companies in the mail. Well, which sometimes freaks. Yeah, which sometimes trying to complain. You know, sometimes it’s nice when, like chocolate shows up on my doorstep. I’m like, Okay, you, however you found me, I’m happy about it. But, um, other other companies and, like, I don’t even I guess I’ll just donate it to the food bank. Like I don’t know what to do with it. And this box of pasta isn’t a real example. But this big box of pasta is not something I’m going to accept in exchange for work. So it was a value of sending me this, you know, a currency. All right, Right. Yeah. So it’s, I don’t know. It is hard because I feel like the majority of the work if you just happen to look a TTE a handful of other people who are bloggers or who make their money on instagram, which is actually a place where you can make a lot of money. Surprisingly, they’re usually promoting companies that are just not ones that I’m really interested in working with. So it’s tough because, Yeah, I have to say no a lot of the time. And then I’ll see my friends or my peers, like, you know, they’re making the money that I didn’t make. But, like, you know,
Danielle I think that’s what keeps your followers, though, is that you know, if you stay if you stay at them? Yeah, What you’re believing? That’s why that’s why those people are following. Yeah, they want that.
Chelsea Yeah, it’s just it can be hard sometimes.
Gary When you even before we started, you’re miss mentioning that Still
Chelsea a lot. There’s a lot of
Gary hundreds of bags of this in, like, you know,
Chelsea Yeah. Yeah, a lot of times, If I’m doing photography, work for a company, all really need, you know, one or two or three packages of whatever the product is, but they tend to send cases of things, which is nice again. I don’t want to complain about, like, having an abundance of food, right? But at the same time, like how much trail mix can one person eat s So it’s kind of like I think they do it to be nice, and I appreciate that, but at the same time, it’s like, this is too much. Yeah. So, yeah,
Danielle I wish I had that problem, Mr. From
Chelsea Full of Eyes. Yeah. Later, it’s It’s we’ve cleaned it like like boxes of stuff like trail mix is really want. I have a love chocolate covered things means nuts and stuff
Gary you mentions going thio cleaner food or like simple arrest warrants. You just talk a little bit about, like where you think the benefit of that is.
Chelsea Yeah. So, yes, I’m kind of the The whole philosophy behind my block is just recipes that require minimal ingredients and simple techniques like I don’t I don’t want to complicate health food, Right? Um but I think it is not only easier toe cook for yourself, but I feel like it’s more enjoyable. Toe actually make something out of produce and whole grains and things that you can just buy that are don’t have ingredients themselves, but are a natural whole food product and then cook something out of, as opposed to, like, pulling something out of the freezer and microwaving it. Which, of course, I do sometimes because I’m a human
Danielle and, like, you know, I was busy. Right? Convenience
Chelsea is convenient, but yeah, I feel like the question I ask myself is like at what expense? Like, who’s a convenient for, you know, like, yes, it’s convenient for me in the moment. But is it convenient for the planet? Is a convenient for like the workers who package this product or the farmers or whoever who produced it. Um, so that convenience is kind of like, uh, lie because it’s really just convenient for you in the moment. But like nowhere along the line was a convenient and producing it, So yeah, I think moving away from convenience foods, I mean, reality is they’re full of a lot of food that you don’t really wanna be eating, like to make them last on the shelf for years isn’t really something that is great for your body. But, um, at the end of the day, it’s you can eat whatever you want. You know, I’m not here to, like force people to eat healthy food. But I think if you convey you it as something that’s like not only nourishing your body but like great for your wallet, it doesn’t have to be that expensive and taste really good. You know, if the meal that you could make yourself with, like, 10 ingredients that you already have in your pantry is tastier than what you could get at the convenience store, Even the grocery stores like Well, that’s a Witten to may so
Gary and then also, you learn howto cook with those ingredients. Yeah, but I think it’s huge, like going back to, like, local agriculture. But even when stuff is in season, if you don’t cook regularly used to putting those types of recipes together and you’re not naturally good at coming up with recipes, it’s such about having access to those feet as knowing howto use them. Because if you don’t know how to use them, you won’t. You won’t buy them. Use them
Chelsea and it’s hard. Anderson and food waste is such a huge issue, too. I mean, you have people you can go out and buy tons of produce a grocery store, but if you don’t use it, you know what’s the point like every week you’re throwing away? I don’t know, the kale you bought them. Don’t buy the kale. You’re not gonna use it. Yeah, that’s what I think. Um, see, essays are great, like farm shares. Of course, you have to be willing to, like cook with something unique. But if you just get a box of produce every week or every two weeks or whatever and you’re committed to using it, it’s fun. to just see like, Oh, it’s the middle of July and there are blueberries in my box. I didn’t know that blueberries grew in July and Massachusetts, like, you know, So I think that could be a cool way to get connected. If, of course, you have a farm nearby that does it. But a lot of times you confined. There are farmers who will, like they do, um, see essays. Ripple drive across the state and they’ll meet you at other places, so you don’t always have to have, like, a neighborhood farm to do it. But that is a fun way to kind of see what’s in season where you live and just, like, really understand where your food comes from.
Danielle So where do you see things going next? What’s here? That’s a recipe
Chelsea next. Well, my next recipe. Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been into cauliflower lately, which I know the whole world isn’t cauliflower, but not in the sense of like, let’s turn your favorite delicious carbon to cauliflower. But we’re just like I really love cooking with cauliflower or so, Yeah, um, maybe some sort of soup or something, but yeah, this is the whole the whole thing with the recipe processes, like sometimes it’s just me thinking like, wow, cauliflowers delicious and let me see where I’m gonna go with that in two weeks later, there’s a recipe out of it. Or sometimes I know like I’m making peanut butter stuff. Chocolate cookies tomorrow, like this has happened. And I can’t live another day without this
Danielle thing. This is happening, right? Sometimes I’m like,
Chelsea I don’t know. We’ll see what happens in a few weeks.
Gary So before we, uh, close up, I just want to ask you Is there anything you’d like to share with the audience that you think is interesting or important for people?
Chelsea Yeah. So I guess I would say what I really wish people knew is that it’s not so difficult to engage in your local community and to be active in your community that, at least for me, you know, there are farmers out there. I confined seasonal food. There are people in your community who are doing the work that you’re passionate about, and you really just have toe try to find them for me. I’m so worked out that I have equal exchange who’s doing the work that I also want to be doing. But that there really are there people out there doing what you’re interested in? Before I was blocking, I had no idea what I was doing. And then here I am. You know, um, there were lots of people on the way. He supported me. And then I feel like I can kind of use my platform to get my mission across, but, um, yeah, it’s just so helpful to find people. And there, there, you know, it can be isolating toe work from home to work for yourself or even wherever, Wherever you work. It can feel really, really isolating. But I think it’s possible to find that community in that group of people who can work towards whatever it is. Do you love?
Danielle Great. Well, thank you. Great. I’m excited that I get to meet peanut person. Thio seen lots of dog photos, so
Chelsea she’s calm now. But
Gary thank you for talking with us
Chelsea thanks for coming, so glad you did.
Danielle This was fun.
Danielle See you at the summit.
Chelsea Yes, yes.
Danielle Thanks for listening to the stories behind our food Podcast by people Exchange A worker-owned cooperative love this episode. Please subscribe rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit Equal Exchange dot coop to join the conversation, purchase products and learn more about small scale farmers and the global supply chain. This episode is produced by Gary Goodman with hosts Kate Chess and Danielle Robidoux. Join us next time for another edition of the Stories Behind Our Food.