The bean queen

A former politics major runs her own food-education business while also chairing Slow Food USA. But what is her favorite food?

By Edward Weinman

Food activist Katherine Deumling ’96 doesn’t have many rules for what you should be eating. Her only advice is to eat good food.

“I’m a big fan of eating what you want, as long as it’s not processed,” Deumling said.

As the owner of Cook With What You Have, Deumling teaches classes about healthy cooking. She develops curriculum for early Head Start parents, advocates for Community Supported Agriculture farms and teaches in local wellness programs in Portland, Ore. Deumling is also chairperson of Slow Food USA, an international grassroots movement devoted to linking “the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”


KATHERINE DEUMLING '96

Deumling said running her own business and overseeing an international organization wouldn’t be possible if not for the liberal arts education she received at Whitman.

“It’s the liberal arts mantra of interdisciplinary studies and learning how to think creatively that has been a big part of my success,” Deumling said.

“At Whitman, I was mentored in an intellectual and creative way. I developed an interest in the inner workings of organizations, their capacity for growth and why people in organizations either work well together or don’t work well together.

“Building effective teams and inspiring people around an idea is exciting to me. I guess you could say I’m kind of a geek.”

What she has done with her Whitman education is anything but geeky. In fact, while studying abroad on a Watson Fellowship in impoverished areas of Italy and Mexico, she began to understand the cultural importance of food, which then opened her eyes to the importance of eating “good food.”

“I lived in Calabria (Mafia Land) and cooked for a Fellini-esque family when I noticed the symbolic and religious significance of food. I lived in Mexico, where I saw how environmental concerns affected biodiversity. Good food depends upon where you live in the world, your culture and heritage.”

Deumling quotes the tagline of Slow Food USA to make her point. “Eat food that is ‘good, clean and fair.’”

By “good” she means flavorful. By “clean” she means food produced while making sure the protection of the soil, water, air and longevity of the planet are taken into account. By “fair,” she means the food was harvested and processed under proper labor standards.

While Deumling doesn’t have many hard and fast rules for food, she does argue that for health reasons and the sustainability of the environment, people should eat as much unprocessed food as possible. She tells her students to try to cook from scratch.

“I’m loath to say we have to make everything homemade. The world doesn’t work that way. But I advocate for cooking things that grow year round, which include produce, meats and eggs.

“Being connected to the community, I encourage my classes to seek out the wonderful things that grow locally. People might get bored with carrots and broccoli, so I give people the skills to cook everyday foods that are in their kitchens” in exciting and tasteful ways.

But, specifically, what food does Deumling champion?

“Beans. Right now I make lots of beans. They can revolutionize what people eat. If you get into the habit of cooking beans (in quantity) and have them already cooked in the fridge or freezer, you can use them whenever – adding to salads, burritos, soups, for spreads. Whatever. Then you have an endlessly adaptable and cheap item at the ready.

“It’s not sexy, but I’m the bean queen.”

Recipe

Tomato-braised collards with beans

From Bryant Terry's "The Inspired Vegan."

Any dish where I can toss in previously cooked (and often frozen) beans to make a meal that tastes like it’s been simmered for hours that very day, in little time, makes me happy and a bit smug, I’ll admit. I think most any bean would be good in this preparation, so don’t sweat the details.

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches collards, leaves and stems, well washed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 serrano chile, sliced thinly (optional) use ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you don’t have a chile
  • Salt
  • 1 generous cup dried tomatoes (see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3-4 cups cooked white beans (lima/butter, cannellini, navy or even pinto would all be good)
  • 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • ¼ cup chopped, fresh parsley (optional but very good)

Directions

Put the dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid.

Thinly slice the collard stems and set aside. Cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the collard stems and cook for 2 minutes. Add the leaves and cook for 2 more minutes. Drain well. Put the soaked tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice, vinegar and 1 cup of soaking liquid in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. In a large pot heat the olive oil and add the onion and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and serrano and sauté for another 3-5 minutes until just beginning to brown. Add the tomato mixture and cook for 20 minutes until it begins to thicken, stirring frequently. Add the reserved collard leaves and stems, the broth and the beans and simmer on low heat, partially covered for 30 minutes. Stir in the parsley, adjust seasoning and serve.