The woman behind the annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner at the White House, Tanya Steel, recently joined Clean Plates as Editorial Director. Clean Plates is a lifestyle, wellness, and food website which follows five basic principles: embrace bio-individuality; choose real food; eat more plants; if you eat meat, know the source; and reduce toxins. Through Steel’s direction, the site advocates for food with quality, sustainably produced ingredients.
Steel brings experience ranging from the New York Times, Epicurious, Bon Appetit, Mademoiselle, and Food & Wine, where she won a James Beard award, Steel has published two of her own books, Real Food for Healthy Kids and The Epicurious Cookbook.
Tanya’s passion for food and service started at a young age when she learned how to cook and took an interest in Julia Child. This carved the path for her career as a food writer and then a food advocate, teaching kids to practice a healthy lifestyle through what they eat. Food Tank had the chance to speak with Steel about her journey, current work, and inspiration.
Food Tank (FT): How did food become a passion to you?
Tanya Steel (TS): My mom, god love her, is not a good cook, something I figured out early on. She grew up in Africa and never learned how to cook despite having a Russian mother who was an excellent cook, so when we moved here from England when I was little, I discovered Julia Child on PBS. I began watching her show, The French Chef, mesmerized and began cooking as a kid. I was soon cooking for the family, something I do to this day. That’s part of the reason I am so focused on getting kids into the kitchen—so they can learn from an early age how to feel confident in the kitchen, how to eat healthfully and affordably and to explore the world through your palate.
FT: What inspires you to cook and eat healthily?
TS: I realized in my 20s when I was at Food & Wine magazine that it was just as easy—in fact maybe more so—to cook and eat healthfully. I also really am drawn to the taste of freshness. While I love a good stew from time to time, I truly crave fresh veggies and other things that are au natural such as nuts and dried fruit and yogurt, so it’s pretty easy for me to feel satisfied and satiated. I also realized a long time ago that fewer ingredients and less cooking time often spell better tasting foods.
FT: Being as busy as you are how do you make the time or wellness and healthy food?
TS: I do feel like finding that balance is critical and for me, having some alone time to walk a few miles and listen to music is a great way for me to center myself. Being in nature is my true balm and just being able to see trees and greenery from my home windows makes me happy and calm. And, I would argue that generally, healthy foods take less time to prep, so that part’s easy.
FT: Your work in the past was often involved with philanthropy. Can you talk to me about the intersection of food and causes and how that’s important to you?
TS: Even as a child, I was very driven to give back, especially to other kids. I am keenly aware that I am very lucky to have my health and a wonderful family, so the rest is gravy for me. I get so much more back from people than I put out when I work on my passion projects, whether it’s meeting my amazing winning kids at the White House event, raising money for food banks, or spreading awareness of a multitude of causes, usually around health, hunger, and sustainability. The older I get, the more important it is to me that I make as much of an impact in whatever small way I can, one person at a time, to help them feel as healthy, happy, strong and valued. I do this both professionally and personally: My work at Clean Plates helps me spread awareness about health and wellness which helps others. My next book, Food Fight (National Geographic Kids, 2018), will also hopefully engage, educate, and inspire kids. I partnered with the Canadian government and a few other partners to create a healthy foods curriculum and contest that help spreads the word in that beautiful country. In everything I do, I try and make a difference.
FT: Your background is primarily focused on food. What drew you to the Clean Plates wellness and lifestyle brand?
TS: I love Jared Koch’s mission and founding principles of helping others to eat, cook and be healthy as easily and affordably as possible, providing real solutions for real people. Clean Plates is devoted to the idea that good health starts at the plate. It’s growing fast, and it’s such a pleasure to help water it, as it were every day.
FT: What is your day-to-day like as an Editorial Director of Clean Plates?
TS: I do a myriad of things, large and small, both the forest and the trees, which is typical of working in the digital environment. Editing, writing, producing videos, meeting with healthy food companies, interviewing visionary leaders in the space, as well as doing more public things like moderating panels, or giving talks—all of those things are typical of my day.
FT: How do Clean Plates take on social or environmental issues concerning food or health?
TS: We are focused on featuring people, products, and places that are leaders in these efforts. We are also planning some major events and initiatives that will focus on these pillars. Stay tuned!