2017 ADRIANA PRIOLEAU
PROGRAM COORDINATOR, SUSTAINABLE FOOD CENTER
Adriana’s work at the Sustainable Food Center in Austin, Texas, which involves dual language cooking and nutrition education, seems as if it were designed exactly for her. Which is why we were so surprised to learn that she came to it by fate alone. It makes us wonder if perhaps fate doesn’t act alone, but instead embodies a community of relationships and experiences that help to guide us along our path.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. My grandfather had a farm (rancher and gardener) south of Monterrey, in the town of Linares, and we would visit every summer. It was a completely self-sufficient farm – cows, chickens, meat. He made his own cheese, and had fruit trees. My grandparents were my mentors.
How did you get your current good food job?
Growing up in Mexico, I didn’t know that community gardens existed. In Mexico, families used to grow their food at home. I had herb pots but didn’t know about community plots until I was in the United States – my husband and I drove by one and I asked him what it was. I found my current job through a friend I met at Sunshine Community Gardens in Austin, TX who told me that Natural Gardener, an organic gardening store, was looking for temporary workers. I worked with house plants in the hoop house and loved the fresh air in the space. I learned how plants clean the air much better than filters you can find in buildings. After that I started working in the vegetable section. My friend later told me that Sustainable Food Center (SFC) was looking for a coordinator in their The Happy Kitchen/La Concina Alegre® program, and suggested that I would be a good fit for the program.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Growing up, cooking at home helped me see that fast food and things you can buy are really empty of the care that you get from your family. My sister asked me for help with healthier eating for her son (my nephew) and I started helping out. I had learned to cook at home growing up and knew that food cooked in schools wasn’t healthy, so I helped cook soups and healthy foods after school. I always tried to teach my nieces and nephew how to make healthy food and they would help me make salads, rice and beans. Today, as teenagers, they can assemble an entire dinner themselves.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
My only obstacle was me. After being laid off from an engineering firm, I was waiting for my old boss to call me back to my position. The economy was bad and I stopped working in December 2008. It took him two years to call us back for work, and by that time I was already at SFC and enjoying my work here. I decided I did not want to go back into engineering, that I wanted to continue my position at SFC as the Happy Kitchen Coordinator, managing the herb garden for the kitchen, coordinating community cooking and nutrition classes in Spanish (my native language), and school and community outreach. I teach people about nutrition and why it is important to start your children while they are young so they get a good start in life. Your body needs to work the way it is supposed to work. If not, by the time you are 40, your body doesn’t work.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
My boss in the engineering firm maintained a very positive environment in the office. There was never any blame when a project didn’t go well. He understood, and helped us understand, that mistakes happen. To get everyone in the office on Monday, he had a meeting at 7:00am and if you were late, you had to buy everyone else breakfast. He also ensured that we had good technology and computers for our work. He gave us all of the software and hardware we needed to do our jobs, which made me happy.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
The need for more healthy, fresh food options. Something interesting happening in Mexico and India is that home cooks prepare a dish, post about it that morning on Facebook, and then travel around serving it to folks. This is very different from the food truck model, where you cook inside the truck and have several menu items to choose from. This way, people get a healthy home cooked meal and it changes every time.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Kitchen tools, gardening tools – things you can use to do something for yourself that will feed you. I learned from my grandfather when I was little, having chores on the farm. It was a lot of work, but even when you are tired in the afternoon, you can look back and see all of the things you accomplished.