To the savvy home cook, Julia Turshen is a rock star. In addition to creating Equity at the Table (EATT), a database for women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people in the food industry, she’s also the bestselling author of four cookbooks. Her newest, “Simply Julia,” combines health and comfort in a way so many of us need right now, but this project is not only a collection of recipes—“Simply Julia” is a love letter to food, to community and to Turshen’s wife, Grace Bonney.
Even a cursory look at Turshen’s body of work reveals her profound devotion to and love for her wife, an affection that never gets less refreshing. When we spoke, the conversation turned from food to love to writing and back again, the topics inextricably linked at the core of Turshen’s new cookbook.
“My whole life I’ve known I wanted to work on cookbooks,” Turshen said with a smile. However, her work is not strictly devoted to the science of cooking, and she attended Barnard College to study English instead of pursuing culinary school. When asked how writing and cooking intersect, she said: “Cookbooks are storybooks. My favorite part of cooking is knowing the story behind it. Words help us articulate stories about food, and food gives stories layers and texture.”
These layers are what set “Simply Julia” apart from the growing utilitarian tilt of some food writing. Even in my own limited home cooking experience, I’ve noticed a push toward function, with food as fuel to keep us going. Coupled with the continued proliferation of diet culture and moralizing certain foods as “good” or “bad,” many people view food as an obstacle to be overcome, rather than as a celebration or source of joy.
In her spectacular Bon Appétit article “How Writing a Cookbook Helped Me Break Free from Diet Culture,” Turshen describes how her wife compared diet culture to “The Matrix” (an extremely gay and trans film directed by two trans women), and how breaking free of its comfortable, smothering hold allowed her to view her body and her relationship with food differently.
“We are all steeped in diet culture,” Turshen said. “I was a part of various communities that didn’t challenge or actively encouraged dieting. Diet culture isolates us. It makes us compare ourselves to each other, and a big part of feeling healthy is feeling connected.” That sense of community is vital to Turshen’s books, which focus not only on feeding the ones you love, but feeding revolutionary movements and social change as well.
“The impetus of Equity at the Table,” Turshen said of the project, “was seeing the long history of racism and misogyny in the food industry. I was having a lot of conversations with friends in food media, and hearing gatekeepers say, ‘Well, I just can’t find any people of color or LGBTQ+ people to hire.’” EATT seeks to combat this line of thinking by providing a free-to-join, free-to-use digital directory for those overlooked by the overwhelmingly straight, white and male food industry.
When asked how food colors her relationship with Judaism, Turshen said: “My entire relationship to Judaism is made completely of food. We joke in my family that we’re not religious or secular Jews, but gastronomic Jews, and food ties us so closely to Jewish identity.” Perhaps this is why “Simply Julia,” though not a strictly Jewish cookbook, feels so Jewish. It’s like a warm hug, as personable and pleasant as standing in the kitchen with your family as you swap stories.
Turshen’s skill and intelligence shine through her words and photographs—as well as her recipes—making her newest book a balm for those of us who sorely need it.