Light, Love, and Loam with Kate Weiner

Mar 6, 2020 | by Hawnuh Lee

Kate Weiner is a hot cup of tea for the soul. I want to pour this conversation into a thermos and carry it with me for motivation and warmth. Kate is the founder of Loam, an organization of artists and activists united against the climate crisis. Through printed words, conscious community experiences, and a recently launched podcast, Loam encourages the cultivation of sustainable practices and fosters intersectionality across movements. 

I spoke to Kate about the importance of beauty in an activist’s toolbox, taking care of yourself so you can take care of others, and community as an essential element of sustainability. I invite you to brew up your favorite steamy beverage and get cozy with this one, my loves. 

What is Loam?

We describe ourselves as a movement of creative and compassionate environmental activists, artists, educators, and entrepreneurs who are committed to cultivating resilience and regeneration in our communities. We publish an annual magazine as well as workbooks throughout the year. We have in-person workshops, which are cherished opportunities for the local community to connect face-to-face, and to learn about skills in service of ecological regeneration and social justice. We have a podcast called Loam Listen, and we are also in the process of creating a community center, Loam Home, which will be a physical structure that we hope will be a somewhat permanent and nourishing container for conversations on climate regeneration. 

You must be busy maintaining all of these different channels!

I am but it feels so important right now. It’s also not just me—it is a collaboration of a much larger community. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but more often than not it’s incredibly nourishing because I’m working with people I love for a cause that we all deeply care about. 

Tell me about how and why you created Loam.

The seeds for Loam have been within me for a long time. I was fortunate to meet people over the course of my life who reflected back to me the value of creating spaces where art is celebrated as a legitimate catalyst for change. 

One transformative experience happened for me when I was in college and feeling incredibly passionate about environmental activism, but also feeling like I hadn’t yet found the right space for me to explore that idea. I didn’t relate to it through science, even though I think that aspect is incredibly important, it just wasn’t my personal entrypoint. I struggled to feel like I had a place in the movement. I also felt like my love and commitment to beauty was seen as superfluous. Loam emerged from the need to create the kind of container that I wasn’t finding. 

The moment that really got me was when I was taking a dance class where we had to embody the life cycle of a flower. It was totally ridiculous and amazing at the same time. I got so into it, and I think in that moment I fully understood how embodiment and creative expression could help us understand actual issues. That, more than anything I’d ever read in a paper or listened to in a lecture, helped me understand what a flower goes through. There was something about that experience that was so fulfilling and joyful, but also very moving, that really confirmed for me the need to have joy be a part of the work that I do. 

Since then Loam has had many evolutions, but it’s always been interdisciplinary. We’ve always been passionate about intersectionality, showing up to do the work, and being of service to others. Now especially it’s about exploring many different mediums to create community—to be reflexive and responsive to the needs of the people who are part of this network. 

Why is beauty an important part of activism for you? 

For me beauty is a way of honoring nature and everything that she gives us—a way of showing up in reciprocal relationship to our world. There are so many things in our day-to-day lives that are not designed to be beautiful. You walk around and there are these strip malls, and ways of construction and consumerism that are decidedly not beautiful. In that sense they are dehumanizing because they are not acknowledging or affirming the part of us that loves and lives in beauty. I wanted to create an antidote to a world that wants to turn us into consumers by cultivating space to be creative and beautiful, and to see that as a valid and legitimate tool. It’s also important to acknowledge that there are many different ways to read what beautiful is and what it means. Beauty isn’t necessarily curating a gorgeous space, beauty isn’t something you can spend your way towards.

What does community mean to you and what does that look like for Loam?

Community to me means showing up in service of the people and places you love when it’s easy to do so and when it’s not easy to do so. I think community is about commitment, consistency, and compassion. Community is everything. I recently had a forum for Loam Home, and a friend shared that one of the worst things that we can do for the environment is to be alone. When we’re alone we’re more likely to spend time scrolling through Instagram or ordering stuff online that we don’t need. Loneliness breeds behaviors that ultimately don’t nurture ourselves or the earth that we are a part of. But community creates a container where we can begin to cultivate practices that benefit the wellbeing of our world.

Loam shows up for community by creating space for conversation through our publication and podcast. We also bring those conversations home through workshops, retreats, and events that get our community together. It’s so easy to live online now and we want to be disciplined about counteracting that. We create beautiful spaces where there’s bouquets of flowers and delicious food to savor—it’s a sensuous experience in that it invites you into a relationship with your senses, where you get to be a human with other people.

You’ve mentioned to me before that you draw inspiration from your Jewish heritage. Can you tell me more about that? 

I grew up going to a reform temple and I always felt connected to Jewish culture. I also grew up in New York and went to school in Connecticut and so I always felt like I was understood in my Judaism. Then when I moved out west and there were far fewer Jews and Jewish culture wasn’t braided into the mainstream, I suddenly realized how much I hungered for those rituals—for that community. It wasn’t until I was taken out of my surroundings that I realized how profoundly these Jewish rites and rituals had impacted me.

Rosh Hashanah is one of my favorite holidays. It’s this beautiful time where you’re celebrating the new year in relation to the seasons. Similarly, Sukkot is this lush celebration of the harvest, where you’re invited to sit outside, eat under the stars, and celebrate the fruit of the season. It invites you into conversation with your food system. From Tu B’Shvat, which is about planting trees, to Passover, which is an invitation to celebrate spring, there are so many ways that the Jewish holidays ask you to be present to the earth as she is right now. That has been deeply impactful to me in that I want there to be room for ritual and ceremony in my life. I want to have these intentional times where I’m with the world I’m in, savoring good food, celebrating with friends, and reflecting on what has been.

I’ve gotten to have wonderful secular Rosh Hashanah and Passover celebrations with friends too. I think people are craving ritual and the comfort of feeling like for this night you get to eat outside or you get to do some deep reflecting on social justice (which is a big part of Passover). Or on Shabbat you get to check out of your tech and you’re in a supportive space to do just that. I think as someone who is very much culturally Jewish and feels aligned with the secular aspects of it, I’m also increasingly committed to honoring how important those rituals and ceremonies are to my life.

Tell me about the role that food and cooking plays in the Loam community. 

Food is an incredible connector. Learning how to cook for yourself is a beautiful expression of self care, and learning how to cook for others is a channel for affirming communities. Especially given our emphasis on celebration and joy, it’s important that food be a part of the conversation.

We want to create publications and projects that inspire people to embody environmental activism in their everyday lives, and food is one of the most accessible and delicious ways to do that. Rather than talking about food from the mindset of scarcity or depravation, we want to make it about how you can eat in a way that reflects your values. And that’s a question that only you can answer. It’s important to us that we connect people to the resources to do that by highlighting farmers, chefs, and activists within the sustainable food movement who are illuminating the importance and vitality of local foods, of community powered agriculture, and of eating with intention and respect.

How do you navigate being a media organization focused on sustainability when so much of media is about consumption?

Before I started Loam I would read a food blog and be like, ‘This looks so delicious, but I want them to be talking about climate change.’ Or I would open up a beautiful guide of flowers and then hunger to know how the flowers are being sourced—wanting to feel like there was that follow through. I want to create media where there is that follow through.

When we’re sharing a recipe for an autumnal risotto, we’re inviting people to reflect on what’s available in their region. There’s the photo of a golden risotto crowned in nasturtium and borage, but we also trace the roots of where the food is coming from, and why we’re choosing to create this particular meal. Or when we’re talking about an avocado toast, we acknowledge that monoculture crop farming of avocados can be devastating to monarch butterfly populations. We encourage you, if you’re eating avocados, to be mindful about where they’re coming from and to do the extra research. For all of the content we create we want to provide the context.

What keeps you working in print?

I think the embodied aspect is really important. That’s why in person workshops and print publications are the heart of Loam more so than anything in the digital realm. Being online just dehumanizes us. I feel like if I spend too much time on my screen, which I sometimes have to do for work, I snap out of it three hours later and I don’t feel like a human. I haven’t done anything with my hands, I haven’t looked at anybody’s eyes.

My dad is a third generation printer and my mom is a writer so I grew up in a house full of books. I was lucky to have so many beautiful publications to hold and to experience the power of print. When you’re sitting with something print you’re making a moment of it, you’re making an experience—it’s such a beautiful invitation to get back into our bodies. Everytime I share a new print publication, I always encourage our readers to go read this outside on a picnic blanket with a beautiful spread of ripe figs and tapas or whatever it is that feels sensuous and luscious to you—read Loam in that kind of situation. I don’t think having it online would invite that same kind of embodiment.

How do you take care of yourself as an activist?

One of the most devastating byproducts of our mainstream activism culture is that we reward burnout. That is just replicating capitalist modalities of success and productivity. It’s so important for us to be disciplined about fighting against that, and one way to resist is to take really good care of yourself. For me that means I always prioritize sleep and good food. That’s a luxury I have because although I work a lot I am in charge of my schedule, so if I need to sleep in I can. When I draft out my budgets I make a lot of leeway for good food because my sense of resilience is far stronger when I’m eating lots of nourishing plant-based meals. Those are things that are worthwhile investments to me because it translates to greater resiliency, calmness and joy, which I think is important to preserve at all costs. A great account I follow on Instagram, @onbeinginyourbody, has a post that I love about the distinction between self care and self keeping. Self care has been co-opted by consumerism, but I think self care is in no way contingent on what kind of beauty products you have access to or what kind of adaptogenic herbs you can acquire. Those are not part of it. Nor is self care about watching TV every night because that feels comfortable to you. I really resonate with the practice of self keeping as noticing what you need so that you can show up in better service to others, and also in that you continue to take care of yourself on a much deeper level.

Do you have any recommended reading for the Closed Loop Cooking community?

I have two books that have changed my life. They were both before and after moments for me. The first is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which is one of the most gorgeous books I’ve read. She is an indigenous scholar, botanist, and writer, and the book is an immersive exploration of what it means to live in reciprocal relationship with the earth and with each other. That book totally shook me up. Not long after that I read Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown, who is a total badass, and also has a great podcast called ‘How to Survive the End of the World.’ This book is so energizing. It is one of those books where you need to own a copy—I was scribbling ‘yes!’ in the margins the whole time. It is such a good resource for activists right now.

A favorite recipe to share

I think risotto is one of the most sensuous foods to make. I think it’s an exquisite act of self care because it takes time and you have to be really present when you stir. And then you get to eat this creamy dreamy meal. There is something that goes into the care to make risotto that feels like a deep act of love 

Delicata Squash & Roasted Apple Risotto

Risotto is simple and sensuous fare that grounds you in the present. It teaches you to notice, to tend, to nourish. This particular risotto—kissed with a kick of turmeric from the Diaspora Co.—is an opportunity to celebrate early fall abundance. Delicata squash, roasted apple, and shiitake mushrooms make for an umami-rich dose of plant power. I love to honor the last crop of edible flowers by crowning this bright gold risotto with peppery nasturtium petals and nutrient-rich leaves. Create the space to transform cooking into ceremony by standing a bouquet of bodacious dahlias by the stovetop and setting up a shallow bowl of figs for you to savor as you stir.

Ingredients

1 delicata squash
1/4 lb shiitake mushrooms
4 apples
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 cups vegetable broth
Turmeric
Nutritional Yeast
Salt to taste
Rosemary
Nasturtium Flowers & Leaves

To-do’s

  1. Dice the squash, mushrooms, and apples, drizzle with olive oil, rosemary, and salt, and roast in an oven at 350 until golden brown.  
  2. As your bodacious bevy of autumnal goodness roasts, splash olive oil into a cast iron skillet and toast the rice for several minutes. 
  3. Pour in a 1/2 cup of vegetable broth into the skillet and stir until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue to stir in a cupful of broth (persistent stirring is the not-so-secret sauce to sumptuous risotto) as well as a sprinkle of salt and palmful of rosemary. 
  4. When your risotto is cooked through and creamy, enrich with several heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of turmeric for color. Stir in your veggie goodness and crown with a tangle of nasturtium flowers. 

Thank you for sharing these potent words with us, Kate.
Experience more of Loam on loamlove.com and @loamlove on Instagram. 

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