There’s nothing we love more than checking in with our grads to see how they’re improving their own health, the health of their families and (sometimes) the entire world. Today, we’re chatting with Amanda Maguire, graduate of the Spring 2014 edition of the Culinary Nutrition Expert program.
What motivated you to take part in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program?
I have always had an interest in health, having grown up with parents who made it a point to lead by example through their plant-based, active lifestyles. This interest increased dramatically in college when I was working at my university’s library and happened to pick up a copy of Fast Food Nation, and then Omnivore’s Dilemma, and then another book and another. I couldn’t get enough, and about three years ago, when I was feeling stuck in a soulless 9-5, I knew I wanted to enroll in a more formal culinary nutrition program and make a big career change. The only problem: that program was surprisingly difficult to find! I was only able to locate two schools in the entire country that had plant-based, health-focused offerings I would consider. Unfortunately, they also required major moves out of Boston, they were extremely expensive, and they would have required that I give up my day job to do them. I did ultimately give up my day job for other reasons, but I would not have been able to do that and pay tens of thousands in tuition.
Needless to say, I was so thrilled to find the Culinary Nutrition Expert program. I already knew from reading UnDiet that I liked Meghan’s super passionate approach to food and life, I could take the classes from home and on my own schedule, it was vegan-friendly, and the price was very reasonable. Sure, it’s still an investment, but when I think about everything that was included, it’s really quite a steal.
How did the CNE program change your perspective on health and cooking?
I went into the program firmly committed to veganism from a health, environmental, and ethical standpoint. And I left the program still firmly committed, but with a much more open mind in realizing that diet is not one size fits all. From a health perspective, I’ve learned that what works for me may not be ideal for someone else, and what works for someone else may not work well for me. Whole foods, plant-based eating is an excellent general foundation, but optimal eating is nuanced.
As far as cooking, Meghan and I are very much on the same page: simple, unfussy, delicious. When we work with fresh, organic, unprocessed ingredients, there really is no need to get overly complicated. The food speaks for itself.
What has been your best culinary nutrition creation?
Since I have a very persistent sweet tooth, I’ll go with something sweet and say my Ginger Turmeric Dark Chocolate Cups with Maple Orange Cashew Cream Filling (how’s that for a title?!). I chose chronic inflammation as my area of focus for the CNE program and with this recipe I wanted to show that eating an anti-inflammatory diet need not be about restriction or skipping dessert. I wholeheartedly believe that eating this way can be fun and joyful, and yes, even include a little (dark) chocolate!
The recipe was based off of my Dark Chocolate Vanilla Maple Almond Butter Cups, which were one of my first forays into homemade chocolate. They are just insanely decadent, but still really easy. If you ever want to impress someone, make them homemade chocolate!
What was the most rewarding part of the program for you?
That is a tough question to answer, because all of it was rewarding in different ways. Where I did learn quite a bit was in simply doing the written assignments and seeing which felt exciting and effortless, and which less so and more like work. Meghan is so passionate, open, and honest in sharing what’s worked for her and what hasn’t, and her advice, in particular, about identifying areas of personal brilliance and being bold and authentic, especially resonated with me. Throughout the CNE program, we talked a lot about doing the things that give us boundless energy and joy and not forcing ourselves to trudge through work that we feel like we should be doing. It may sound like stating the obvious, but sometimes we need to be told to have fun! This sense of joy was something that was missing for me big time when I was working for the income and stability alone. It feels so amazing to be going to bed excited for the day ahead, mind racing (in a good way) with possibilities, and waking up knowing that I get to do the soul-satisfying work I dreamed of for years.
What’s next for you?
I’m ready to take my blog, Pickles & Honey, to the next level! It’s been a labor of love for the last almost three years and I’m shifting my mindset from hobby to business, while being mindful that each decision I make feels true to who I am and not simply what’s most practical. I think I was scared to say that out loud pre-CNE program, but I’m putting it out to the universe now! I want to make a name for myself, to pursue food writing and recipe development, to continue to build my truly wonderful community of readers, and to write a beautiful, plant-based cookbook, photographed by my very talented husband, Aaron.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m someone who struggles with clarity in knowing what I want to do, because I have to make a conscious effort not to do what’s put in front of me or what I think I should be doing if those are not things that really excite me. The CNE program gave me the insight I needed, but more than that, I’ve found the confidence to charge ahead and not be afraid to pursue or ask for what I want.