Renee Avalos- The Hands that Feed You
Posted by denisegoitia | Filed under The Hands that Feed You
The Hands That Feed You
Renee Avalos was born in the United States, but both parents were from El Salvador. Before the revolution, Renee and her brother would spend summers in El Salvador with their great
Renee Avalos jarring beet kvass
grandparents who ran a coffee ranch and store. Her family members would roast the coffee right there, grind it, and pack it into little hand-rolled paper cones for sale to the community.
Attached to the store was a corn mill, and people would bring their nixtamalized corn to grind into masa. There was also an indoor-outdoor kitchen with a wood burning stove that was essentially a large cement box, open on one end so you could build a fire in it, and with a grate on top where you could cook. Everything there was community oriented and this impressed Renee deeply. She still remembers the smells of the smoking stove, roasting coffee beans, and fresh milled corn, and believes these early experiences made a lifelong impression on her relationship to food.
After the revolution, she no longer went to El Salvador but was surrounded by lots of family gatherings here in California that featured Salvadoran dishes including tortillas, beans, rice, yucca frita, sopa de pescado (fish soup), arroz con pollo, braised oxtail, Salvadoran salty cheese, and curtido. The family events were increasingly celebrations of life, since everyone had suffered so many losses in the war, and those who made it to California were welcomed gratefully.
As an adult, Renee had an awakening into the ecological implications of our food-system. She started shopping at Rainbow Grocery and started thinking about how the food she ate was grown, and where, and by whom. Her newfound consciousness led her to study nutrition and cooking at Bauman College, and to spend several years as a vegetarian. When her mother became ill with cancer, Renee started cooking healing organic meals for her mom. This turned out to be a very tender, simple, and meaningful interaction during an incredibly stressful time. Renee herself was experiencing so much tension that she wouldn’t eat for days on end. Her aunts pressured her to eat their traditional, Salvadoran meat dishes, and Renee found that even a bite or two was profoundly grounding, and she gradually let go of her vegetarianism.
For the past twelve years, Renee has worked as a private chef, and one of her primary clients has been the filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia. She has loved this work and found it rewarding on many levels. What attracted her to the Three Stone Hearth Cooking and Culinary Traditions Program (CCTP) was an increasing interest in nutrient-dense cooking, traditional diets, and food preparation in the context of community. She’s not sure where it is leading, but believes she is where she needs to be and is enjoying surrendering to the experience.