Changing the way we think about food
Wednesday, Nov 23, 2011
Shane Valentine delivers his presentation, “The State of Food in America.”
Entrepreneurs Chantal Valentine ’96 and her husband, Shane, believe people are the key ingredient when it comes to cooking a scrumptious meal.
No, the Whitman alumna and her business partner/husband aren’t cannibals. The Valentines, who recently visited Whitman and Walla Walla, said their favorite meals depend on many different elements, such as fresh ingredients from organic gardens and locally grown meat from sustainable farms, but the most important element, they agree, is the company of family and friends.
“I like cooking for people,” said Shane Valentine, a speaker and activist who gives eye-opening presentations about how the food children eat is the wrong type of food. He has presented for major companies such as Starbucks, Chevron, Whole Foods Market, The American Heart Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Sharing the emotional component of cooking. That’s what makes a meal special for me,” he said.
Chantal is the co-author of the popular “The Baby Cuisine Cookbook,” a collection of recipes from around the world that the couple hopes will create a “solid foundation of healthy eating habits.” She said what promoted the innovative cookbook was having a baby, and having no idea what to feed her.
“Shane has a culinary background and went to Johnson & Wales Culinary School, but he was literally scared of what to give her. Baby Food was not a class in culinary school.”
Despite striving to change the way Americans think about food, the couple also simply enjoy the tactile art of cooking. They are foodies.
“Anytime we can get our hands mixed up in garlic, that’s what I love,” Chantal said, revealing the enjoyment she derives from the tactile art of cooking. “Of course it’s also about beautiful ingredients, putting it all together, and smelling the smells.”
Chantal echoes Shane’s sentiments about the importance of preparing meals for a group of friends or her family, which includes three children under the age of three.
“Our first night at Whitman, we cooked with 10 students. We all sat around preparing a meal together. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Valentines returned to Whitman on the invitation of the Development Office and the Student Engagement Center. Chantal and Shane, recently featured on food guru Jamie Oliver’s web site, were asked to speak about the success of their company, Alina’s Cucina, and to present their striking multimedia presentation titled “The State of Food in America.”
“We mostly speak to parents, so at Whitman, we were talking to college students,” Shane said. “Even though students don’t have kids, they will one day. So I wanted to hopefully rally the students to join the food movement.”
Shane describes his food movement as examining where the food you eat comes from and what’s in it. The movement is not only about switching to organic foods. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy, he told students.
“You can make an organic Twinkie,” he scoffed.
The Valentines strived to get Whitman students to create a culture of food in their home and to think about why the U.S. has a rising childhood obesity epidemic, which is closely related to how multinational food companies market their processed foods.
“Most people look at food as an afterthought,” Chantal said. “Some people spend more time researching what cell phone they will buy rather than whether or not what they just ate was processed food.”
The engaging couple reminded students that food doesn’t have to come in a box, shrink-wrapped and overloaded with processed chemicals. But this was not the entire reason the foodies traveled back to the liberal arts college. Whitman routinely invites vibrant, entrepreneurial speakers to campus as an example of the many places a Whitman education can lead students.
“It’s hard to know what the next step is after a liberal arts education,” said Alyssa Breetwor ’12. “I’m interested in nutrition and starting my own business, so when I found out Chantal was a Whitman alumna, I was excited to hear about how she became an entrepreneur.”
Breetwor already has experience managing her own business. This past summer, she ran a personal training company, and she is currently training an adolescent who is at high risk for Type 2 diabetes. Running a business made her think about whether or not she needed to enroll in business school after graduation.
“Before I went to hear Chantal talk I was feeling overwhelmed as a senior, wondering: ‘What am I going to do next? Am I equipped to enter the work force? What job do I want to have?’ But I left the talk feeling more secure. Chantal made it seem like it’s OK not to know.”
The fundamental takeaway from the Valentines’ enthusiastic discussions was that the path to success is different for everyone. Chantal sites her Whitman experience as a prime example.
“A school like Whitman helps you find what you’re passionate about, because you’re exposed to so many different subjects and perspectives,” Chantal said, emphasizing that she started out as a math major and had no idea she’d become a published author working to change the way Americans feel about food.
“I didn’t go to business school,” she said. “From my perspective, I didn’t need it. It’s different for each person. What’s important is that you find something you love and take risks. Strive to be socially conscious when making your decisions, because then others will align themselves with you.”
Chantal Valentine excites the kids about fresh food.