Alumni Horizon Award Recipient Social Activism through Eating Well

Alumni Horizon Award Recipient: Social Activism through Eating Well

Donna McKinnon - 20 September 2016

As we look forward to Alumni Weekend (Sept 22-25, 2016), the Faculty of Arts is proud to share the stories of our inspiring alumni award winners!

Leanne Brown ('07 BA) practices good citizenship every day. While many aspire to make socially positive changes, the Alumni Horizon Award recipient has already improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of low-income families with her book, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. The free publication, a nutrition-packed cookbook for food insecure individuals, recently surpassed one million downloads. And it was not her first cookbook.

According to Adam Rozenhart ('04 BA), Brown's friend and former colleague at The Gateway, "Leanne has always been deeply passionate about how we break bread together as a community."

Brown attributes her interest in social justice to her early experiences at the U of A. It was here that she focused on Religious Studies as a way of understanding the organizing principles and values of society. Following the completion of her BA, Leanne worked with then-city councillor Don Iveson ('01 BA) as a research assistant, and later, as deputy campaign manager. It was while working for Iveson that Brown observed first-hand the issues around food policy, food insecurity and poverty.

It was also during this time that Brown self-published the first of three cookbooks, including From Scratch, a beginner-level vegetarian cookbook, and Velo Fare (co-authored by fellow alumna Sarah Chan ['03 BA]) - a celebration of cycling, farmers markets and home cooking.

In 2012, Brown entered the MA program in food studies at New York University. Her interest in food policy and social justice led her to her thesis project, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. Hoping to put the cookbook into the hands of the people who needed it most, in particular those receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits (otherwise known as food stamps in the US), Brown offered the book as a free download on her website. It has since been downloaded more than one million times. She calls it her "accidentally-on-purpose burst upon to the food world."

Her life post-graduation is about meaningful and life-changing action. With the PDF version of Good and Cheap a viral hit, Brown turned to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to finance a print run of the book, where it became their #1 cookbook. She used a "buy one/give one" model, so that people who bought a book could then give another copy to a family in need. Over 70,000 printed copies of Good and Cheap have been given to people in need. The second edition of Good and Cheap became a New York Times bestseller, and Forbes Magazine declared Brown a 2015 Top 30 under 30 (Food & Wine).

When she visited the U of A in October 2015 to promote Good and Cheap, she donated a copy to the Campus Food Bank for every book sold. This is a common practice for Brown's events across North America.

Recently, along with co-author Tina Faiz, Brown published a new cookbook, one she calls "her love letter to Edmonton." Edmonton Cooks: Signature Recipes from the City's Best Chefs is already a local bestseller.

"Edmonton Cooks includes the recipe for the Sugarbowl's cinnamon buns," she says. "I can now make them in my own kitchen in New York, which is a great nostalgia trip!"

Brown is working on - you guessed it - another cookbook, while continuing to positively impact the lives of everyone around her.

"The U of A is where I made lifelong friends and where my attitudes about public service were really shaped," she says. "It is deeply touching to be recognized."