With bold, full color photos, emotional, complex essays, and simple but communicative illustration, the newly published Nourish has ambitious aspirations. Co-founder Alyssa Kearns hesitates to call it a cookbook, because while it began as one and recipes dot its 122 pages, the stories told within aim to do far more than teach the reader how to prepare certain dishes. Using food narratives to highlight Seattle’s community organizers, the paperback tome — per its introduction — hopes to “ignite a fire in your heart and on your stove.”
Kearns and her four co-founders saw Seattle’s Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police movements in the national spotlight over the last year and wanted to feature the people behind the scenes, the ones often left unnamed. Each of the ten chapters of the book is from the perspective of a different organizer, kicking off with a story by another co-founder, Nica Sy.
Sy relates how the dichotomy between her hometown of Kent’s welcoming, multicultural community and the municipal government’s vision of it inspired her to help establish ForFortyTwo, a BIPOC youth collective focused on combating systemic racism. Between her story and her recipe for bubble tea, a full color photo in a grocery store illustrates Kent’s diversity in condiment form: Caribbean adobo, Chinese chili crisp, Thai curry paste, Filipino vinegar, and Southern American hot sauce.
“Nourish imagines a world where everyone feels safe, seen, and fed,” says Sy, by creating a space and platform where those leading the movement could document their own histories. Organizers from groups including Queer the Land, King County Equity Now, and Free them All WA tell their personal story, demonstrating the deep connections that food shares with social justice activism. For some, it represents comfort or healing, for others a way to connect with family or colleagues. In the stories of Nourish, food shows up as a marker of history, safety, or identity. The recipes for hot pot, shiro wot, and chicken adobo, among others, come from the storytellers, often approximated from family favorites handed down through generations.
The skill with which Nourish tells these stories becomes all the more impressive when considering the timeline: Sy and Kearns are undergraduates 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 to come out of the class include 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 together the book — racing to find contributors, take photos, edit, and design it — in just two months, so it could publish during the academic quarter.
“It is not an entirely safe space for us to be two women of color in the business school,” Sy says of her and Kearns’s experiences. That pushed them and their group to focus on creating a business that would make an impact on the community, specifically through a social justice lens. After floating through a variety of rejected ideas, including candles and Masterclass-style videos, they landed on the concept for Nourish.
“We were told that, ‘Oh, it would sell better if you have an exact sales pitch,’” Kearns says. But the final product evolved out of certain labels — like cookbook or coffee table book (“We don’t want it to just sit there,” points out Sy) — into something that told a more complete story and encouraged more empathetic bonds and relationships between the community and the organizers, Kearns explains.
In creating that new type of book, the group began to dream about what else Nourish could be — and do. “It’s by the community,” says Sy. “And that took precedence over trying to fit it into something for the sake of a business school class.”
The pair met in a gender, women, and sexuality studies lecture class their freshman year at UW when they bonded over their mutual love of the band Born, and will graduate in the next few months. Both agree that the Creating a Company class became their favorite they took while at school — and that it will shape their futures.
Neither knows what they plan to do after they graduate nor what part Nourish might play, so for now they will celebrate the book’s release and finish up the class. The book is on sale now, on their website and at Third Place Books and Resistencia Coffee.
“What really excites me about it now that we get to hold it in our hands is the idea that this can serve as an archival document,” Sy says. “These stories are printed and so many people get to hold them and have them and hopefully this is something that can be carried on into the future.”
- Nourish [Official]