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The Power of the Plate

5 yogi chefs, impassioned by their principles and practice, are changing the way America eats.

By Susan Piperato & Charity Ferreira

Feed the World

Cat Cora | President and founder, Chefs for Humanity | Jackson, Mississippi

Known to Food Network viewers as a TV host, cookbook author, and the first (and only) female Iron Chef, Cat Cora has become equally known for her humanitarian efforts. In response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Cora founded Chefs for Humanity, a grassroots organization modeled on Doctors Without Borders, that raises money and marshals resources for emergency aid and hunger-related causes throughout the world. "I feel so blessed in my career that I have both an obligation and a desire to give back," Cora says. "I wanted to build a place where people could come and talk about ideas: How do we end hunger? How do we get better nutrition in public schools? What happens when there is a crisis and people need to be fed?"

Last year Cora teamed up with the United Nations World Food Programme to raise funds for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, donating $10,000 of her own money and asking fellow chefs to match it. The organization raised $100,000, and Cora went to Haiti to help distribute food and develop plans for sustainable agriculture and nutritional education.

Through Chefs for Humanity, Cora wants to help children in the United States and around the world who need more food, better nutrition, and an infrastructure that can provide them. "Chefs are nurturers—that's what we're born to do," Cora says. "We care about people; we care about feeding them."

Cora turns to restorative and Yin-style yoga practices to balance all of the attention she directs outward. "I see yoga as helping me understand my intentions for my life a little better," she says. "My life and career are fast paced, so my yoga is more of a peaceful place where I go to center myself."

Everyday Green

Louisa Shafia | Founder, Lucid Food catering and consulting | Brooklyn, New York

A summer spent working as a cook at a yoga retreat in Maine in exchange for room, board, and Kundalini Yoga classes showed Louisa Shafia her career path. "Everyone loved the food, and I loved the experience," she recalls. She enrolled at New York's Natural Gourmet Institute soon afterward and went on to hone her eco-friendly cooking style at Millennium, an upscale vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco's theater district. "The menu was completely oriented around seasonal, local food," she says. "And we composted everything—there was no waste."

Shafia opened Lucid Food Catering in 2004, with the goal of making fine catering sustainable. Her commitment to buying local ingredients; using reusable, recyclable, or biocompostable tableware; and running a waste-free kitchen allowed clients like the US Green Building Council and the Small Planet Institute to host events in keeping with their green values.

Today, Shafia works as a consultant for food businesses that want to adopt greener practices. She is the author of Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, and she teaches cooking classes to private clients, organizations that include groups of CSA members, and low-income New Yorkers at farmers' markets and community gardens.

Cooking with fresh, local produce, Shafia says, supports small farms, which is crucial to preserving open land and protecting the environment from factory-farming practices. "I feel like my role in the national dialogue about food is to show people that fresh food is delicious and easy to make," she says.

Shafia, who practices Kundalini and vinyasa yoga and meditates daily, credits her practice with quieting her mind and refreshing her perspective. "That rest lets me recharge my creative powers. After a good yoga class, I have ideas for recipes, for my cookbook, and for menus, Everything just seems to flow."

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March 2011

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