Camila Bianca Casanas is a badass. She is also a holistic chef, herbalist, wellness practitioner and activist (among other things). The California-native uses food to explore our connection, and often disconnection, to the food systems we rely on, and offers a smart and tasty critique of a failing system. Her cooking includes whole seasonal foods, and her discourse includes insightful comments concerning the colonization of food and the resounding impact this process has on community. Camila’s food is driven by her creativity and a deep desire to replace harmful food systems with a more supportive and community-focused alternative.
Madre caught up with Camila in Los Angeles and asked her a few questions about her craft.
(Photos by: Adrienne Diaz and Sarah Bennett)
How would you explain what you do and who you are?
This question is always so hard for me to answer, sometimes because I’m so multi-faceted creatively. But some of the titles I claim are holistic chef, folk herbalist, food decolonizer, writer, earth tender, space holder, and producer. As far as who I am goes, I’d say I’m someone who follows their heart at all costs.
How did you discover your passion for food?
Being half Cuban, half Mexican means cooking is seriously in my blood. I remember being like 5 years old helping my abuela press tortillas or being in Miami for the holidays standing over a pot of arroz con pollo and plantano maduros. Food has always been something I got excited about, I’ll geek out at a deli, farmers market or a street food cart – food excites me at any capacity. Up until college I was really into mixed media art and painting, but somewhere down the line following that, cooking became my primary creative outlet. It feels really good to be where I am now in my relationship with it.
What is the importance of food?
Food is healing. Like, at all capacities. Food is cultural, it’s memory building, it’s love making, it’s the harmony between the elements and our planet. Food is vital sustenance of our existence.
How does food relate to colonialism?
The waters of my passion for this topic run deep, and it would be impossible to concisely and swiftly unpack most of what I want to say. However, it’s important to understand how political food is and the way ancestral-socio-economic factors directly dictate the way we as humans in the modern world interact with and consume food. Some food straight up wouldn’t exist if not for colonialism. But more crucially on the other side of that, colonialism has made a massive imprint on keeping underserved communities especially unwell. And my work is to figure out a way to change that.
How are you exploring food and food systems to change old models and relationships we have with food?
For me it’s really all about starting dialogue around the nuances of food structures as they exist now that will begin to foster a change in our apathy. I hope to inspire folks to seek deeper understanding of where our food comes from, how it gets to us, and whether or not our planet is nurtured or affected during that process.
How should we be eating?
Seasonally. I usually won’t make blanket statements about the way the people should eat but seasonality is huge and widely ignored by the general public because of convenience and a lack of education on that particular topic. Culturally we’re entrenched in having access to pretty much anything at anytime – and that theme is very present in the food industry. By eating seasonally we support the rhythms of nature, our bodies, local farmers, and a reduction in carbon footprint.
Do you have a favorite food?
Literally any kind of fruit, it’s such a sensual and feminine experience. Especially with some raw unfiltered honey on top.
Least favorite food?
Anything that wasn’t made with love.
If you could share a glass of mezcal with anybody, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I have to think really hard about this question because if I could I’d throw a party and invite Angela Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Oprah, and Shawn Stevenson to turn up with some Madre Mezcal and play dominos. But if I had to choose one person it would Anthony Bourdain. He’s inspired me so much to look at food in a culturally and emotionally nuanced perspective. His influence allowed for me to understand food outside of just a restaurant kitchen earlier on in my career. That’s been essential for building my foundation of cooking with heart and soul and love.