In this episode of The Feel Good Effect, we’re talking with bestselling author, Julia Turshen! She shares how to cultivate a daily habit of connection with food, with yourself, and with others. Julia also shares a glimpse into her newest cookbook, Simply Julia: 110 Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food.
Listen in to the episode or read the article for all our made-for-real-life tips!
creating a daily habit of connection with healthy comfort food author julia turshen
meet guest & food author: julia turshen
Julia has spent her career writing cookbooks, not only her own books but also collaborative books. You may even have some on your shelf already at home.
Julia’s newest cookbook, Simply Julia very much responds to where she is at in her home-cooking life right now. She has been and continues to be a daily home cook – caring about food, where it comes from, and how she feels when she’s eating it. And also – like many of us may have felt this year – finding herself getting tired of cooking.
Simply Julia holds space for all of those things that come up for us in the kitchen & daily life. These recipes come from her home kitchen, and her hope is to make home cooking feel calmer for people.
“Part of the definition of healthy eating is feeling connected.”
comparison traps & defining our own measures of success
Comparison is the thief of joy. Being a cookbook author is hard, especially if – like many of us – you struggle with comparison. You are pitted against other cookbook authors on rankings and “best of” lists, on top of social media comparison factors. Asking you to measure yourself against the success of others.
Julia tries to focus on going back to the work that is important to her, which helps her to not compare herself against others, and instead she can be appreciative of the work others are doing. It’s really hard to not get caught in comparison and Julia admits that she doesn’t have all the answers. But she does come back to these words and this truth that, “there is room for all of us”.
One lesson that has been really valuable for Julia has been realizing that all the things that set up to compare ourselves against others (e.g. ranking lists, social media numbers), only isolate us. So instead, Julia tries to have different measurements of success. Instead of measuring her success by her book ranking, she focuses on, “did I help one person figure out what to make for dinner today? Did I help someone feel supported in their kitchen? Or give someone an idea of how they can use cooking to give back to their community?”.
When we can choose how and what we choose to measure, we can help dissipate that comparison anxiety. Julia is also reflective when it comes to congratulating others on their accomplishments, choosing her words intentionally to keep highlighting those values-based measures of success.
“It’s happy here, it’s safe here, it’s nonjudgmental here and I want you to be here with me”
on healthy recipes & who we see represented on cookbook covers
The subtitle for Simply Julia is “110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food”. Putting the word “healthy” on the cookbook was very intentional and a lot of thought went into it.
Julia is a home cook who writes recipes for other home cooks – not someone with an online or media presence. For her publishers to put her at front and center in a society that prizes celebrity was a big deal for a number of reasons.
Besides being a celebrated cookbook author – Julia is also a proud, out, gay woman. Representation and visibility matters. Putting herself out there as a proud, out, queer woman is important – as was not looking like the typical portrait on the cover of a healthy cookbook. The cover of Simply Julia is her in her kitche. With little pieces of her in present the details of the photo, something she hasn’t really done before. All of her intentionality is aimed at getting a message across that, “it’s happy here, it’s safe here, it’s nonjudgmental here and I want you to be here with me”.
Next time you’re looking at cookbooks, ask yourself what the imagery used suggests about what’s considered “healthy” and what outcome is being promised. If the promised outcome is only one tiny version of what it looks like to be human, that can be really damaging.
“Healthy does not equal skinny, fat does not equal bad”
the cookbook includes more than just recipes, including an essay on the worthiness of our bodies
The recipes in Simply Julia are so accessible and well-tested. If you are a home cook and you want something that won’t let you fail in the kitchen, trust in Julia’s recipes. There are also lists, notes, and essays in the book, one of which that stands out is an essay on the worthiness of our bodies.
There are a few of these short essays in the book on topics that Julia wanted to spend more time talking about than the short blurbs preceding a recipe would allow. The essay she included titled, “On the Worthiness of Our Bodies” is the most meaningful to her. It’s about body image and an honest reflection of someone who wrote a healthy cookbook but has also struggled a lot with her relationship with her body.
Despite not having shared the book with many people yet, this essay has come up in every conversation. The feelings of not feeling great about your body are deeply personal as well as so universal, which has some freeing power to it.
Julia felt it was important to be truthful and transparent about that piece of her journey. For so long, Julia tied up her self-worth with her weight. She felt a sense of pride when she lost weight, which wasn’t related to who she was as a person, and a sense of great defeat and shame when she gained weight, which has nothing to do with who she is or her health. Embracing the truth that “healthy does not equal skinny, fat does not equal bad” took a lot.
Julia attributes much of it to support and encouragement from her wife, Grace. Much like the Matrix, diet culture is something we made up. We can be intentional about the people we keep close, the words we are hearing regularly, and the books we buy. Within the context of a “healthy” cookbook, it’s important to have recipes and include the context of how food fits in with our feelings.
“There is a version of life where you don’t have to feel bad about the body that you’re in”
Robyn Conley Downs
tips for small shifts in the kitchen to encourage more ease (and create connection)
Always having a container of cooked rice in her refrigerator has been a huge shift. This habit goes for whatever your go-to base is (rice, pasta, veggies). It’s really a habit of knowing that she’s going to be making rice anyway, so why not double, triple, or quadruple it and let it serve her for the rest of the week? Then, when it comes time to make a meal, she already has that one step checked off the list. Keeping the base plain means it can go in lots of different directions. Think about your future self and what you’ll need – and you can build in a small shift like this for your own home cooking.
Another game-changing habit is what she does when receiving food as gifts (e.g. honey, maple syrup, wine). Julia takes a piece of masking tape and labels the item with the name of the person who gave it to her. Then, six months later when she opens it, she remembers who gifted it to her kitchen and she can reach out and thank them for the work they put into it, fostering a sense of connection.
Part of Julia’s definition of healthy eating is tied to feeling connected. It’s not about the number of calories, sugar, fiber, or protein, it’s what is the possibility, the potential for connection.
“When we’re honest and we’re vulnerable, what we feel is connection”
the story behind the book: simply julia
The recipes in Simply Julia are steeped in story and have been rigorously tested by herself & others. In addition to food photos, which sometimes are dishes served on her grandmother’s dishware, there are many personal touches too. Including her handwriting, old family photos and photos of friends who she talks about in the recipe.
Although her book is deeply personal, Julia constantly thinks bout the readers and what they will get out of it. She takes the possibility of people investing in her book and in ingredients very seriously – and wants people to have a really good experience of reading & making her recipes.
what does it really mean to be healthy?
“To be healthy is to feel free”
Julia Turshen is the bestselling author of Now & Again (named the Best Cookbook of 2018 by Amazon and an NPR ‘Great Read’), Feed the Resistance (named the Best Cookbook of 2017 by Eater), and Small Victories (named one of the Best Cookbooks of 2016 by the New York Times and NPR). She also hosts the IACP-nominated podcast called ‘Keep Calm and Cook On.’ Her forthcoming cookbook, Simply Julia, will be out on March 2, 2021. Julia has coauthored numerous cookbooks and has written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Saveur, and more. Epicurious has called her one of the 100 Greatest Home Cooks of All Time and The New York Times has described her “at the forefront of the new generation of authentic, approachable authors.”