Since joining the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture three years ago, Juliet “JuJu” Harris has found her passion and dream job. The Oakland, California native serves as the organization’s SNAP Outreach Coordinator providing cooking demonstrations and guidance through Arcadia’s Mobile Market to increase knowledge and application around the preparation of seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs to recipients on food assistance programs. “I am not a nutritionist, I don’t talk nutrition. I talk how to manage food and eat well on a budget. My philosophy is that you can eat healthy on a budget. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive or difficult,” says Harris who once served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay where she met her husband.
As the author of the Arcadia Mobile Market Seasonal Cookbook, Harris’ shares a glimpse of her food journey that also included enrolling in the WIC program as her family made ends meet on one income. “I was using all of the WIC goodies. Back then it was very dairy heavy, a lot of milk, a lot of cheese, peanut butter, orange juice eggs,” recalls Harris. The popularity of farmer’s markets and emphasis on healthy eating has expanded with many food assistance programs encouraging redemption for fresh fruits and vegetables. The cookbook teaches the basics and how to take simple seasonal ingredients and make a great meal.
Long before Harris found her passion for food, she enjoyed “untraditional Black women roles” as a firefighter, lumberjack and trail maintenance worker due to her love of the outdoors. Her first husband’s Italian grandmother was her inspiration behind learning to really cook. Her husband said no one cooked better than he and Harris was out to prove him wrong.
She was also a nanny and that experience, she says, exposed her to different foods and continued to fuel her interest in cooking and exploring different cuisines.
Her mother, being from Virginia, moved back to the east coast and Harris followed. Over the years she would alternate between being a stay-at-home mom and working jobs focused on teaching other mothers how to take care of themselves and family through healthy cooking and eating; something she previously did while in the Peace Corps. “From my own experience with postpartum syndrome, I really understand that a woman really needs to take care of herself to be able to take better care of her family,” says Harris. Seeing the tangible benefits from those who took her class added that additional spark for the journey and confirmation that the messaging was getting through.
She started with Arcadia as an intern over a summer for the Mobile Market which eventually turned into a permanent position. Now you can find Harris out and about in the community conducting cooking demonstrations at the farmer’s market which inspired the cookbook that is now in its third edition. Sale proceeds go toward the distribution of the book to WIC and SNAP recipients. “If people don’t know what something is, they won’t eat it,” says Harris which is why she is so passionate about what she does. After watching her, mothers are both amazed and excited to try something new for their families.
“Part of this work is dispelling this myth, this preconception that people who are lower-income don’t care about what they eat, ” says Harris. And the fact is they do.