Hi. I'm Tina.
I’m an Italian-American, big hearted and always bright eyed, brunette who buys herself flowers every Sunday because in this life, the only guarantee we have is that we can treat ourselves well.
Grocery shopping and cooking get me excited. And nothing gets my motor running like fresh produce and sharing how to pick out perfectly plump, juicy peaches and ample avocados from the market.
When I'm not getting lost in farmers markets procuring produce and experimenting in my kitchen with freestyle cooking and recipe free ingredient riffing, I've been helping people learn what it means to feel good on the inside.
I ate for love. I ate to feel loved. I ate so I didn’t feel lonely. I can begin and end it there, but I’ll give a little more details.
My love of food was born inside of me, you see, mom told me on the day I was born I went to reach for her nurses pizza and I totally believe it. Mom also reminds me that my first word was happy. I totally believe that too.
Growing up I lived in one big house with 11 people and it was beautiful insanity. Italian immigrants, mainly men - my mother, grandma and I the only women.When I was born my oldest brother was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Tommy was in and out of the hospital, leaving me in my grandparents care - or with aunts, uncles and friends of the family. Food was the way in which I was shown love. Lunch at school, sure, lunch with grandma at 3pm. Dinner at 5pm next door, dinner at 9pm with grandma, sure. Every opportunity I had, I said yes to food. I call it my life of double dinners.
Until the days came in pre-k where we were weighed weekly in our pre-k class. My mom was instructed to help me lose weight. From that point on I dieted and was told to lose weight; instructed through Weight Watchers which was the most popular means at the time of 1984-1985. It was also the boom of packaged food. I quickly learned to request apples, fat free hot dogs and Quaker granola bars for meals.
From Weight Watchers to South Beach, Fit America, Blood Type, Paleo, Food Combining and Personal Trainers. - I did it all. I spent my life eating my feelings for reasons I won’t get into now and dieting to solve it, which it never did. At 20 years old I did something so un-Tina - I left my home in Brooklyn and moved to a farm in Connecticut for 3 months in the Summer of 2001. I arrived in my dad’s 1991 Plymouth Voyager. I was sweating. It was hot. I was regretting my choice.
When I close my eyes I can still see the farm and the mailbox - that mailbox - a tease, slightly visible across the long stretch of grass from the Grants little blue door where I used to stand staring out into the gaping field of green. Without moving, I could feel the tingle of chafing thighs as I thought about what it would take for me to approach that mailbox at 289 lbs. In many moments throughout life I thought of steps as miles and miles as impossibilities, but everyday I conquered it. My thighs rubbed with accomplishment. Yes, thighs can feel accomplished.
Along with walking, there were quiet nights on the farm - and this is where I found cooking. There was no dining hall, neighbor or automatic refrigerator and pantry re-stock courtesy of my family. I was forced to change the relationship I had with food. I had to get the groceries myself, choose them and learn how to select them and what to do with them. I would come home from work at 5:30pm and prepare meals of my childhood from memory, making lentils once a week until I taught myself how to make something else. I remembered the taste of my grandmother's lentils, speckled with carrots, celery, onions, green escarole and just the right amount of red pepper - always finished with a snowy mountain of pecorino. My love for cooking began with 1 pot of beans. Hot beans in the summer.
The summer of 2018 marked 17 years since I've been back to the farm where Carolyn. I haven't stopped walking, cooking or learning about food and our complex human relationship with it since that morning on the farm.
Everyday I wake up thinking about how important it is for me to use my story to help people who seek change regardless of weight. How important it is for me to build a community where kids and families like mine can go to be educated about food, emotions, habits and choices.
Living our healthiest life is not about weight - I carried the weight of my emotions and when I uncovered them - I found a light.
I’ve gotten emails about friends pursuing passions, buying themselves flowers and changing careers all because I opened my heart to share my story. I didn't find love in the club. I also wonder who might be reading this that gets my Usher reference. I’m single, I cook for me, for guests when they can come to my table - I remind myself I’m worth the work. I found love in myself and in my kitchen.
All that stuff about loving yourself being important, as you are and where you are, it's true. And today I’m living out a hope to inspire change and bring a little brightness and truth into the world.