What a fresh cherry taught me about raising my future children

Tabi Musselwhite
May 16, 2017 · 6 min read

A rural southern girl’s food journey

My love for food started early

I grew up in a small mill town outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The textile mill that had once employed nearly every family in town was slowly closing down. My mom, who was only 19 when I was born, worked double shifts and side jobs to keep the heat on in our single-wide trailer. She was a total super star mom and always tried to be a healthy influence — even with limited resources and little to no education about what was actually healthy.

I remember thinking it was so fun to try and keep up with her doing 80’s “Buns of Steel” videos in the living room, or arguing with her that we couldn’t have macaroni and potatoes for dinner because her rule was “only one starch.”

Our neighborhood grocery store was the local Food Lion — terrible florescent lighting and mostly boxed processed cakes, chips, and soda with a small, less than desirable produce section. The oddly orange-colored government cheese my mom bought with food stamps was miles away from the real thing. But as a kid, I didn’t know any better.

I was happy with bologna sandwiches so long as I got to run around the yard and ride my bike up and down our dirt road. I have the fondest memories of my childhood—lots of swimming in ponds, sunshine bleached hair, bike rides with neighborhood kids until dusk, secret hide outs and trails in the forest, and catching fireflies. It wasn’t until The Great Cherry episode that I realized how much I still had to learn. In a single moment, pandora’s box flew wide open.

I was 18 years old when a friend of mine plopped a fresh cherry in my hand after school. “What’s this?!” She looked at me like I had six eyes, and said, “A cherry, duh!” I had only ever seen the neon red bar cherries that came in a jar or on top of a cheap ice cream sundae. I remember being so confused that it didn’t taste at all like the cherries I knew. It had a pit, was disappointingly unsweet, yet was somehow still enticing. With a thousand mile stare, all I could think was: What else didn’t I know?

A strong local community, paired with my church, and best friend Emily who refused to leave me behind, led me to be the first woman in my family to attend college. I got a double degree in Children’s Book Illustration and Marketing. However, the insatiable curiosity from that fresh cherry still seeped into my thought and ultimately led me to one of the most pivotal decisions of my life.

When I was twenty two years old, I wanted an experience that would pick me up by my shirt collar and slap me in the face. And boy, that is exactly what I got when I decided to study abroad in Southern India. My eyes opened to a different and beautiful world that I didn’t know existed. I came back from my travels with a greater appreciation for life, food, culture, learning, and diversity. It wasn’t one of those “I went to India to find myself” kind of stories… It was fascinating, heartbreaking, difficult, scary, freeing, smelly, hot, unknown, with expansive personal growth. I knew that in order to learn more, I needed to leave North Carolina.

After I graduated, I decided to make a change. I gave away all of my belongings and crashed on friends’ couches to save up enough money to move to San Francisco. Luckily my friend at the time, (and now loving husband) offered to drive me across the country! So off I went with a cute boy, two boxes, and $700 in my pocket.

A few months after getting settled in California, I went for a hike that dog-eared another milestone in my culinary awakening. My new friend Jess and I were hiking in Point Reyes when we stopped at a small un-maned farm stand with an honesty box. I’d never seen anything like it! We gathered a few vegetables for dinner and dropped some money in the box. Jess is an amazing cook and taught me a lot through the years, but that evening she just threw the veggies in the oven with olive and salt. I have never had a more delicious and satisfying meal in my life. I kept asking her what she did to the vegetables, and she just kept telling me, “Nothing!” I didn’t believe her. No vegetable I had eaten had flavor like that. Once again, mind blown.

Fast forward a few years and I was making a name for myself in the Oakland bartending scene. I had also been stalking a small nutrition focused college in Berkeley for 2 years, nervously wanting to pull the trigger and switch gears. With the unlimited encouragement and support from my biggest fan — my husband — I finally decided to quit bartending (I will always miss it!) and dive into the world of food. The culinary program went far beyond flavor. I learned how to make the healthiest stuff on earth taste amazing.

When I finished my program, I had no clue what I wanted to do but knew that education was my primary goal. How do I take this knowledge I had been collecting for years and inject it into my community? The pursuit of health is my passion. To me, health is all-encompassing—exercise, mental health, and nutrition all have their role to play. Of these, I knew nutrition was how I could contribute most to my community.

Today, I approach my goal with both love and fear. My southern roots equate food with love, nurturing and taking care of people — it brings me great joy to cook and create community by offering nutritious food to others. Fear, because I am deeply afraid for the health of my family and community due to the food that a lot of them eat on a daily basis—whether it be not having enough time to cook, a lack of education, the confusion from big food marketing, or the impossibility of distinguishing the real food from the fake “food” on grocery store shelves. In a world of constant fad diets, it’s so hard to know who to trust. Through all of my digging I’ve come to the conclusion that the key is real food from real people.

After graduating from the nutrition program, I was so fired up to spread the gospel of healthy eating to everyone around me! A friend of mine gave me a flier for Josphine.com, a brand new food start-up that connects home cooks to their neighbors to share food. And poof, there was my avenue to nourish and educate my community. But as I write this, a new development is changing my entire notion of what it means to “feed people.” I am growing a little human!

I’m currently eight months pregnant, and now more than ever, I’m fiercely concerned with the health and wellbeing of my city and community. I truly believe in my heart that the love of sharing food is one of the most fundamental demonstrations of care, vulnerability, and nurturing. I think of all the children who live in my extended community who eat like I ate when I was a kid — parents working hard, trying the best they can, but lacking the education and resources to nutritiously feed their kids. Josephine lets me share the wealth of food resources and knowledge across the board, across town, and across cultures. But closer to home, Josephine gives me hope that my kids will grow up in a community where they have a connection to real food and the people behind it.

My first Josephine meal!

The Dish

Musings on slow cooking a company in a world built for the microwave @Josephinemeals #withcare


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Tabi Musselwhite

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The Dish

The Dish

Musings on slow cooking a company in a world built for the microwave @Josephinemeals #withcare