While Leanne Brown was working on her master's degree in food studies at New York University, she decided to create a cookbook as her final project. The goal was to show others how to cook on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget of $4 a day.
After the free downloadable PDF of her book, Good and Cheap, went viral, Leanne decided to create a Kickstarter campaign to fund a print version. She raised $144,681 (well beyond her initial $10,000 goal) from 5,636 supporters, making it the #1 cookbook ever on Kickstarter. (And the second print edition is a New York Times bestseller.)
It's clear Leanne has an important message to share, and people are really responding to it.
I chatted with Leanne amid her hectic book tour schedule, and she shared some special insights about cooking, healthy eating, and generosity:
1. Share the love.
Her book is still available as a downloadable PDF, making it free for anyone who wants it. For each hard copy of the book purchased, another will be given to someone in need via various organizations in the U.S. and Canada.
"I love giving gifts, so this is such a cool thing to be able to give someone. I feel like Santa," Leanne says.
2. Knowledge is power.
On her book tour, she's been able to do cooking demos everywhere from morning TV shows to shelters, showing people how simple affordable food can be.
"Just showing people ideas they haven't thought of, like avocado toast, can be eye-opening for them," says Leanne. "Nobody's actually a bad cook; they just don't have much experience."
3. Food is complicated.
Leanne understands that the problems surrounding food in the U.S. and around the world are difficult and diverse. She's made Good and Cheap a tool that can be used in a number of ways, by many different people: from a student on a budget to a family of four on government assistance.
"There are so many issues around food, but the problems are so individualized there's no one fix," she says.
4. Courage is key.
"It takes courage to try to cook, especially if you're on a budget. If you don't have experience cooking something like dried beans, you worry that if you spend money on the ingredients and fail at it, you'll have nothing to eat."
Cooking is a risk, but having a few tools can help you conquer that fear. "Fear is not knowing, but the photos [in the cookbook] are key in helping people with that fear. If you can see a dish, it gives you a much clearer idea of what you're doing."
5. Healthy food shouldn't be boring.
"I think we need to rethink our idea of heath food and define food by what it is rather than what it isn't. Ultimately, we just need to eat more fruits and vegetables," says Leanne.
"For some people, health goals can actually get in the way of their healthy eating. People tend to try to 'make up' for eating fast food by cooking bland, boring, 'health' food. This makes cooking a chore, and therefore, they have less motivation to do it.
"Cooking as penance lets Pizza Hut have all the fun, but if you make your version of pizza, it's automatically going to be much, much better for you than Pizza Hut."
6. Cooking is empowering.
"I always loved food and cooking. It's therapeutic for me and it's when I feel most confident — it almost makes me feel bad-ass. It's such a good feeling and it's meaningful to be able to share that.
"We only have a few basic needs, and to be able to feed yourself is powerful. It's not just about making the food and having that control over your money; it's also about introducing joy into every day.
"Cooking should be a source of pleasure and nourishment — not fear and worry — regardless of income but especially if you don't have much money."
7. Humble ingredients can be delicious.
Her favorite recipe from the book is Chana Masala.
"I wanted to share it with everyone once I got good at making it. It's the simplest, most humble ingredients transformed into something magical, healing, and rich."
Find out more about more at leannebrown.com.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Matter