Maria Rodale’s last name rings a few (happy cow) bells for most people.
Her grandfather, J.I. Rodale—considered the founder of America’s organic movement by many—founded the Rodale Institute in 1947 to study connections between organic farming and health and then created Rodale, Inc., which publishes a whole collection of wellness-boosting magazines, like Women’s Health, Runner’s World, and Prevention.
So it’s no surprise that she lived on a self-sufficient organic farm growing up. “It wasn’t so much that organic was a big issue—we just grew it ourselves and ate it and it was delicious. We raised our own cattle and sheep and pigs and vegetables, but it wasn’t extreme. My mother still went to the store,” she says. “But it was at a time when a lot of people were not eating like that, so we were considered odd ducks.”
Today, that “odd duck” sentiment has transformed into “forward-thinking,” and she’s carrying on the family legacy as the CEO and chairman of Rodale, Inc., where she recently created organic online shopping site Rodale’s.
“As a shopper, I was getting so tired of having to search and research everything,” she says. “My fantasy is that I can go into a store and not have to put my glasses on to read every label, to know that somebody has done that hard work for me. I want to make it easy for people to live a healthy, happy life, myself included.”
Here’s how she’s accomplishing that at home, in her Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, kitchen, where she also whips up recipes for her blog, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen.
How would you describe your personal approach to food? For me it’s really about balance and moderation and not obsessive anything. The way I describe my philosophy the most succinctly is that I want to eat as close to nature as possible. It means cooking, basically.
But do you eat 100 percent organic? When stuff comes into my house, it’s as organic as possible unless there’s a specific product I’m personally obsessed with. The Frank’s Hot Sauce you see, for example. There’s no organic version of that yet, or Miracle Whip, but 98 percent of my stuff is organic.
Which makes me want to ask about the Coca Cola… I debated about whether to keep that in there! It’s the FIFA World Cup Coke made in Mexico. It was World Cup fever. We are not soda drinkers, but to me a Coke every once in a while…it’s like medicine, or a cocktail. I don’t drink alcohol. And the Mexican Coca Cola, they don’t use high fructose corn syrup, they use real sugar.
Alright, so all of the fresh veggies. Where do you get them? I have some rotations I go on. We don’t have a Whole Foods where I live. So if it’s just a regular weekend, there’s a health food store that has the best produce. Then I go to Wegmans. Their produce is not that great. Then I’ll go to the farmers market—it’s on a Sunday morning in my town, and I get everything else there.
What’s in the bags on the second shelf? They’re all different flours that I use. Starting from the right, the blue is gluten-free, because my oldest daughter is vigilantly gluten-free. The next one is grits—I’ve not found an organic version yet. The brown is whole wheat flour, which I use a lot, and the next one is white flour, and then in the back are some unusual flours. I think one is a fava bean and ancient corn grain. I like to experiment with stuff, but I think it tastes better when it’s kept in the fridge.
And what might a typical dinner look like at your place? What I like to do is keep things pretty simple, so like the other night, it’s just me and my little one, and we made steak on the grill, corn on the cob with a little bit of butter, not much. We eat a lot of raw vegetables just put out. Those green beans, half of them my daughter ate at the farmers market before we even got home. A lot of the recipes on my blog are things I really make for dinner. It’s very comfort food-simple, but the ingredients are super good. I make a lot of salads.
Do you think it’s gotten easier, since you were growing up, to get organic food? I can assure you it’s gotten a thousand percent easier from the fact that I can get 98 percent of everything I need in the supermarket. And there are many more farmers markets and CSAs didn’t exist like six years ago. It’s complicated more in that you have more choices and labels, but if you’re focused on eating organically, it’s a glorious time, trust me. —Lisa Elaine Held