Get Summer Rayne Oakes started talking on one of her favorite topics – healthy eating, sustainability, climate change – and she’ll hold forth as long as you like. The Ivy Leaguer (Cornell University) can name-drop the Devonian Period and jump to a discourse on evapotranspiration all in a matter of minutes.
All along, you can see the wheels turning, as the Millenial with a model’s good looks keeps working out how the story of her life (spokesmodel, environmentalist, businesswoman) might translate to a much greater good. Oakes is the definition of a serial, and social, entrepreneur who’s found, through no fault of her own, perhaps her greatest acclaim in the fact that she tends to more than 600 plants, and at least one pet millipede, in her Brooklyn apartment. But let’s not get distracted.
Oakes came to Asheville this week to sign copies of her new cookbook, SugarDetoxMe. (She’ll be signing at Malaprop’s at 2 p.m. Saturday in downtown Asheville.) The book offers practical guidelines on how to cut that sweet-tooth craving. It’s packed with good information and sensible recipes, all presented with an Instagrammer’s eye. Her visit was orchestrated in part by Josh Dorfman of Venture Asheville, the local Chamber of Commerce’s arm focused on boosting entrepreneurship. Turns out that Oakes and Dorfman are old NYC buddies, and Dorfman had Oakes speak at a couple of meetings of like-minded business folks.
Follow along as I tried to keep up with Oakes during an hour-long conversation at PennyCup Coffee in downtown Asheville earlier this week:
On the connectedness of her various projects, including SugarDetoxMe
Oakes: I look at my life as connected. For me, all the projects fall under the umbrella of sustainability. It’s all part of a system, although we often don’t think of it that way. The sugar detox started as a very personal project, not even a side-hustle. I wanted to put myself out there to keep myself honest, and people started writing in. I realized it was a much larger issue.
Personally, I don’t like to showcase problems. I like practical solutions, and this book is really born out of the that. It’s a faux cookbook. All you need is a really basic set up and learn some really good hacks along the way. I’ve had people who have reversed their diabetes. It’s completely reversible with diet.
People were looking at me weird for making a salad at breakfast this morning (with food from farmer Justin Aiello at Olivette Farm). We’re so immersed in the Fruit Loops world that we don’t think we’re creating a problem on down the line. Our mindset should be to heal ourselves. It should be empowering. The process is progress.
On whether technology can save use
Oakes: It’s not all going to be solved with technology. Technology often takes us away from getting our hands in the dirt and getting to the nature of what need to happen.I think we’ve moved past the changing of the light bulbs phase and I don’t think technology is going to save the world. Humans are going to save the world. (After an explanation of how she went door-to-door in her neighborhood to get signatures on a petition for a curbside composting program, Oakes continues.) People don’t know they can be empowered. We have to get savvier, more active. We have to talk to one another.
On climate change and thinking big
Oakes: When I think about arguing about whether climate change is real or not, maybe we should appeal to people on another level. That’s where my work is – meeting people where they’re at. Climate change is an issue that is far larger than what a few privileged people can tackle. Can we start to do something exciting and interesting and large, and that is capable of addressing something as grand as climate change? We’re going to lose things. We need to own up to la ack of responsibility as a human species. Then there’s an ability to think larger and learn from others and partner with governments and organizations to band together for large-scale change. We need to organize. These are things not enough of us are thinking about and dealing with.
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