SAPi Food Hustlers: Jessica Callahan
SAPi Food Hustlers: Breaking Bread with Fourth Circle Doula’s Jessica Callahan
Each installment of SAPi’s Food Hustlers will highlight locally minded people who are doing their part in the food business ecosystem. Whether they are running a Refugee Kitchen or scaling a food truck, we want to know what drives them!
In the first edition of Food Hustlers, we’ll highlight a woman who is a community food activist by passion and a food doula by profession.
Jessica Callahan was born in the rural countryside of Southwest Washington without an authentic dish of any nationality to be found within many miles. In fact, her most exotic self-served after school meal was rehydrated Top Ramen with slices of cheddar cheese thrown on top for good umami measure.
Raised by a salt of the earth mother who surrounded their country house with a garden acre of produce, she knew fresh from the dirt ingredients when she saw them, but not necessarily how to wield them.
Eventually, a move from the outskirts of the culinary desert of rural Washington and into the notoriously food-centric community-driven city of Portland, Oregon, led her on a self-paved path of food therapy.
Encounters with naturopaths and urban foragers, and a heightened desire to feed her growing family better (in both the nourishment and health sense), led Callahan to become a food doula.
Realizing that food had always impacted her emotional well-being, she began to wield food as a powerful tool of healing and support. From making witchy tinctures out of her urban Portland garden to sending baked cannabis confections out her back door to fellow moms in need more than 15 years ago, she has evolved into a sought-after Private Chef and Food Doula with her company Fourth Circle Doula.
Callahan has a created her own bespoke food ecosystem by forming a nexus of local farmers and community gardens and teaming up with other local changemakers to bring food equality to her current small town rural community in Toledo, Washington. Tasked with a mission to spread loving kindness by the plate, she is the food changemaker every community deserves.
So how does a loose and wild backwoods urban forager turn into a refined food therapist? We meet her mid-strainer at her kitchen counter while extricating tiny tomato seeds from last year’s preserves to find out.
Thank you for making time for us during dinner prep! Can you tell SAPi about your food hustle with your company Fourth Circle Doula:
A food doula can do a lot of things, but what I do as a food doula is more along the lines of being a private chef but with a real nurturing and therapeutic component. I am essentially a private chef except with the primary goal of nourishing and caring for you beyond just preparing the food.
Sometimes I prepare food in my client’s kitchen and sometimes in my own kitchen. Most of my clients prefer me to come into their homes because it has that extra freshness, and they are possibly able to learn in the process.
What was your food hustle before food doula work?
I started out as a postpartum doula, working to care for families when a new baby (or babies!) arrived. This had a heavy food component where I was nurturing new moms and families through a big transition time, preparing nutritious meals, and taking the time burden off their shoulders so they could recover and enjoy their new family.
I also had a cottage business many years ago making “herbal baked goods” that I felt were a real symbol of nurture and care. Actually, I still use herbs, just different ones!
I would never have said I was a foodie growing up – I think I just knew what food did for my feelings! I wasn’t exposed to a lot of different foods growing up at all. Then I had a roommate in Portland who was a super foodie and introduced me to a whole new world. Then entering motherhood, I wanted to go beyond using food for just nutrients.
A few nauseous pregnancies led me to learn how to do a good job on the few foods I could get in. That really kicked off a mission of food empowerment.
What kind of people are in need of a food therapist like yourself?
I’ve been so lucky to have consistently had clients seek me out through word of mouth. Most of the time its people who have autoimmune issues, allergies, Chron’s, or Celiac disease, where eating out or preparing their own food is really hard for them. They have to prepare every one of their meals, so I help them to follow their diet while giving them a break.
I have also had a lot of overworked parents who might have kids who are picky eaters who are over cooking one dish on repeat. I think what a food doula offers is support for food stress. For instance, reminders that mealtime isn’t just what they eat. It’s the sitting down, lighting a candle, saying what you’re grateful for, whatever it takes to create a nourishing experience, not just a meal.
I also feel like it’s part of the privilege of having the client base I have. My service makes a lot of difference in these people’s lives and sometimes the people who need it most can’t afford it. I try to think about other ways to give back to the community using my skills by dropping off food to people down with COVID, helping out at local farms, and volunteering with the local food exchange.
What does a typical day/week look like in the life of an acclaimed food doula?
Honestly, I don’t cook a lot during the day. I tend to cook later at night. Like all small businesses, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the day doing admin tasks like menu planning, I try to stay fresh all the time. It’s a labor of love to chase ingredients from farms, co-op groups, and a community “grow to give” exchange. I also live on a cattle farm, so that’s easy to source from.
This summer, Callahan helped to form the grassroots Toledo Neighbors program which saw residents from all different walks of life teaming up to revitalize the local food bank and create a local food exchange.
You are recognized as one of your community’s food changemakers- where is the system thriving in your community, and where does it still need fertilizer?
I think it’s fortunate living in a rural community where everyone with a yard is growing something, even if it’s just some tomatoes in the front. Luckily in the Northwest, we don’t deal with drought and growing our own food can ease the burden on the larger food system.
People in this community really care about food access for everyone. It seems to be a great uniting force, and there seems to be no political divide. It really helps our humanity.
For example, the Toledo Neighbors community group grows food specifically to give to anybody. With that group, the emphasis is that you don’t have to be low-income to come to get food; it’s for everybody. It’s a nice way to exchange and stay local and take the stigma out of donated food. No, you don’t have to be low-income, communities share food.
What we need help with is finding an easy way to shift the other resources that make it difficult for people to utilize the free food resources. They have all these fresh fruits and veggies for dinner but don’t have the hours of cooking and cleaning up to invest. We need to make family work schedules more manageable so they aren’t pulling up to the fast food place out of survival.
It shouldn’t be a burden when you get beautiful farm-fresh produce. We try in our community groups to get already prepared food out to people to ease the burden. People can’t just eat out of cans forever.
What are your favorite food rituals for making your own meals, and do you have hard and fast kitchen rules for your family?
I think because I love to cook always that I probably have a rhythm that involves starting with a clean kitchen and putting on my podcasts (any NPR or Marc Maron).
We meet at the kitchen island, and my family eats while I’m still working. I’ll kind of eat and work on one side, and we’ll talk. I love that time.
You lead both your professional and personal life with an onus of “Loving Kindness,” do you think kindness can be edible?
I think there is alchemy in the food that drives feelings and love. I think it’s vulnerable to want to care for people like that, to put all that into the food you make for people truly out of love. It’s not vulnerable to just boil everything that is grown and put some salt on it and say: “here are your calories”.
I think cooking is the ultimate act of kindness. It doesn’t really take what I perceive to be too much work. It’s very natural, pure, full, and good. I feel like you can take whatever feelings you’re having, and you can go into the kitchen and come out with a love meal.
I really love making people feel cared for and nurtured. Words are harder for me. I’m a real serious introvert. Food is my love language.
What is the strangest/fun request that you have gotten as a food doula?
I did have one client who ate rice pilaf and zucchini noodle lasagna every single day for nine months.
What’s a piece of advice you would give a future food doula?
My piece of advice is that loving-kindness is not just for your clients but for yourself. You need to maintain your boundaries. If I knew what was ahead in my career, I would do it all over again.
To finish our interview can we ask you some rapid fire foodie questions?
SAPi’s Rapid Fire Foodie Questions
Whose food hustle do you respect?
The Black Forager, Alexis Nikole Nelson
The best food scene in the world?
It’s a tie between The Berlin Food Hall and Chungking Mansions food stalls in Hong Kong.
Best music to cook to?
Any dance music.
Farthest you’ve traveled to get a special ingredient?
Nutmeg from Amsterdam and peppers from Guadalajara.
Most prized kitchen tool?
A gift from my Auntie Ann, a Le Creuset cast iron pan that is now 20 years old.
Go to potluck dish?
Salsa Verde Enchiladas
What do you eat when you are too tired to cook?
Bananas and Cereal at least once a week.
Cuisine that is missing in your local area that you would love to see?
Any real Asian cuisine. And really anything not of this continent.
Best food you’ve never eaten?
Real French pastry.