By Ed Diokno
A Filipina American healthy food advocate was named the winner of the 2016 Thomas I. Yamashita Prize.
Aileen Suzara, 31, is a Bay Area-based natural chef who focuses on sustainable foods and who works to encourage healthier eating by teaching garden and farm-based workshops, developing sustainability educational programs, and hosting community pop-up dinners.
The Thomas I. Yamashita Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding young social change activist in California. The award of $2,500 honors a person whose work transforms the existing social landscape – often in subtle and previously unappreciated ways – and serves as a bridge between the academy and the community.
She is an alumnus of UC Santa Cruz’s Farm and Garden Agroecology Apprenticeship program, and recently received her Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from UC Berkeley.
Suzara’s blog, Kitchen Kwento (Tagalog for “stories”), documents and shares stories on the relationship between food, people, and the land. Aileen is a first generation Filipino American who grew up in California and Hawai’i.
“I had a semi-nomadic childhood — born in eastern Washington, then moved on to Texas, Florida, and the Mojave Desert. We ate more canned minestrone soup, Spam and microwave dinners than “authentic” Filipino food in those days,” she told Off The Menu: Asian America.
As a public health nutritionist, she delves into health inequities faced by Filipino Americans, including diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Healthy Filipino food might sound like an oxymoron and some may call Suzara’s recipes “inauthentic,” she replies:
She is an advisory member to the Filipino American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity and an eco-culinary educator with Sama Sama Cooperative, which works to “reclaim language, culture, and land-based traditions.” Another recent endeavor was launching a youth-run kitchen site for the Ceres Community Project.
She is hard at work on Sariwa (Fresh), a sustainable Filipino foods business that connects traditionally-inspired diets and entrepreneurship as a tool for change. Developed as a pop-up restaurant at Berkeley’s Eat.Think.Design health innovations course, Sariwa is now a proud participant in the La Cocina women’s food incubator.