Searching for the Land of SaltAileen Suzara
Oct 02, 2013 Blog post. Courtesy of the author. Kitchen Kwento
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Aileen Suzara is a land-based educator, eco-advocate, and cook. She was born in Washington, raised mostly on the Big Island of Hawai’i, and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her family spans the Philippines and North America, and these places define her. While she has spent years working towards building healthier communities, sustainable foods, and environmental justice, she also carries a torch for storytelling and its abilities to inspire, move, and transform. Currently, she is in the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of public health and nutrition. She is exploring the potential to lift up traditional Filipino-inspired foodways as one solution towards chronic disease that will also boost ecological health and the livelihood of small farmers. This goal builds on years of cooking, eating, growing food, conversations, and learning from many cultural and agricultural bearers.
When I was eight years old, I told my parents that I wanted to grow up to be a farmer and chef (and not a doctor, which is what they had hoped for). I’m still not sure where that desire came from, but it stuck. It was around this time that I also “discovered” my first Filipino cookbook, a falling-apart book brought overseas by my mother when they migrated. That was the start of a lifelong exploration into food and culture, and the rediscovery of a nearly-lost culinary legacy in our family.
I have always been fascinated by the cycles of the natural world, and I sought to learn everything I could along the pathway between soil, seed, plate, and self. While an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, I dropped out of pre-medicine to pursue an environmental pathway. I continued to circle around this love for food, its connection to land, and a desire to pursue healing in a different pathway than medicine.
Four years ago, I finally took a leap and trained as a natural chef. Wanting to know if food was the right path, I went on to win a Filipino food cook-off, which I read as a sign from the universe to keep going. However, I soon realized cooking alone could not fulfill a deeper calling to reconnect to the literal roots of food. I wanted to farm, so I continued on to train in agroecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s beloved Farm and Garden apprenticeship program, and I completed a second year in practice, living in a yurt, teaching, growing food, and raising chickens and goats on a small-scale organic farm. That yielded my absolute, deepest sense of connection: growing what we ate, feeling the movement of the day and the seasons, that tired yet satisfied feeling in muscles and bones. It deepened both a sense of honoring but also outrage at the status of growers in this country, whose handiwork feeds everyone.
- Born: Pasco, WA, USA
- Based: San Francisco, CA, USA