by Sara Bavar
"The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."
~ W.B. Yeats
As the trendsetting food and travel writer guiding us to all things delicious and remarkable, Kat Odell is changing the face of healthy eating. She is the author of Unicorn Food - a cookbook filled with pages and pages of recipes so delicious they change the narrative on plant-based eating - as well as Day Drinking, a low-alcohol cocktail book that spares you the guilt of a pre-happy hour drink.
Published in Vogue, Elle Decor, Thrillist, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler - to name a few, Odell has been sharing her passion for gastronomy and the many hidden jewels surrounding it for many years. These days her main focus is highlighting the medicinal benefits of food. Having seen firsthand how various cultures incorporate food to heal the mind, body, and soul, Odell emphasizes the importance of wise dietary choices and their effects on genes and disease prevention.
Sara Bavar: You are a woman of many talents – entrepreneur, author, freelance food journalist, etc. What is it that inspires you and your direction?
Kat Odell: I am inspired by the world, and by food. And how food represents a culture. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, and it’s the unique people I’ve met, and their food culture that most inspires me. That could mean Buddhism monk/temple cuisine in Korea, and nixtamalized corn tortillas cooked over a wood-fueled fire grown and harvested by the person doing the cooking. Regardless of the people or culture though, food is the common language and it brings people together.
SB: As Editor of Eater LA what was your best discovery? Eater Drinks?
KO: When I ran Eater LA, I took it upon myself to dine out at least 6 times a week. And I am not exaggerating. I was out pretty much every night, sitting at a restaurant bar (my favorite place to be), chatting with whoever was nearby. That’s how I got information on all the new openings— because I always wanted the info first. Because of this, I became deeply familiar with the Los Angeles dining scene and was exposed to so many incredible restaurants. So, discovering all these places - especially tiny hole in the wall spots in San Gabriel Valley where nobody speaks English - was pretty amazing.
With Eater Drinks, running the site helped me dive even deeper into the world of wine. I’ve always loved wine, and it inspired me to start studying to take the level 1 sommelier exam.
SB: As a food journalist, what is it that you like to cover currently? What is important to share with the readers, given these uncertain times?
KO: I focus much of my writing on Japan. Japanese cuisine, drinks, everything. The Japanese just do everything better. Culturally, the Japanese strive to master disciplines, and so someone spends his/her whole life perfecting a craft - be it sushi-making or wood-carving. And the highest honor is to be called a shokunin, or craftsman, someone that does one specific craft and is an expert. That’s why everything in Japan is prettier, more delicious, more thoughtful, made with more respect, than anywhere else in the world.
Sadly, now, it’s hard for people to travel. But thanks to the media and shows and even social media like Instagram, one can be transported, virtually, anywhere in the world.
Day Drinking by Kat Odell
SB: What was the inspiration behind both Unicorn Food & Day Drinking?
KO: My first book, Day Drinking, was inspired by the low-ABV drinks trend that’s still happening now. Via my time at Eater and all the friends in the beverage world I have, I decided to ask some of them to share low-ABV cocktail recipes. I wrote 25 percent of the recipes in that book and the rest are from top bartenders around the world.
Unicorn Food is a plant-based cookbook inspired by my time living in LA and also my global travels. I am a huge believer in alt-medicine and the idea that food is medicine. Traveling all around the world I’ve seen how different cultures look at health. For example, in India, you follow your dosha and eat for your body type. Consuming roots and herbs has been a part of ancient cultures’ health and wellness regimen for centuries (such as Traditional Chinese Medicine), and it’s just now becoming a bit more mainstream here in the US. Ultimately, I believe that many of the diseases that people encounter later in life are preventable by diet. Right now, doctors are learning that we can turn certain genes on and off via dietary choices— and these genres determine things like illness. It’s totally revolutionary stuff. I have myself and Mike (Bagale) on a crazy supplement regimen. I changed it up a bit because of COVID, adding supplements like Zinc, Quercetin, upping our liposomal Vitamin C, taking NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) things like that. We always take a medley of mushrooms like reishi, chaga, and cordycep, plus adaptogenic roots like maca, Omega 3s, etc.
Anyway! With Unicorn Food, I wanted to write a book of simple and colorful recipes (because eating colored foods is much more healthful than white foods) to show that healthy food, pretty food, and delicious food are one the same. So there are tons of wellness-supporting supplements here from medicinal mushrooms to detoxifying algaes, low GI sweeteners like yacon root which I absolutely love.
SB: Both you and your husband, Mike Bagale, are very dedicated to healthy eating as a way of saving our guts. How much of your work would suggest that our poor gut health is attributed more to the cultivation of our primary foods than to how we eat as individuals? Essentially who is more responsible, big agro or we as individuals?
KO: With regard to gut health, more and more science is coming out now that’s linking it to EVERYTHING from our mood to overall well-being. We are worse off in the US because Big Ag companies use a weed-killing produce called Round Up aka Glyphosate (it’s not so common in Europe, for example) - which is terrible for us humans- it destroys the cut and is linked to cancer. However, it’s also awful for the soil on this plant which is absolutely vital for growing food. And what’s scary is that even foods that are sold as “organic” from places like Whole Foods, still contain Glyphosate. And to make matters WORSE, not only is Glyphosate in our food, but it’s in the air. Much of our exposure comes from just breaking and air pollution. Bad stuff.
So, unfortunately, we need to work with the state of the world or the country we live in and make the best-educated choices we can. That being said, it’s still someone’s own responsibility to make smart decisions. Shopping at farmers' markets, knowing WHO is growing your food and their ethics, as opposed to simply buying a product marketed as organic. With regard to gut health and glyphosate, the chemical makes our gut lining weaker and more permeable, which leads to so many issues - toxins leaking into one’s blood streak, leaky gut….
Unicorn Food by Kat Odell
SB: What would you say is one of the most disheartening problems in the food industry, especially in the US?
KO: Honestly, glyphosate is a huge huge problem. The rate at which doctors dispense prescription medication is a huge problem. Do you know that in the US, doctors are required to take ONLY 12 hours of nutritional counseling in their whole career? It’s CRAZY. You are what you eat and that 100 impacts your health later in life. But doctors are not taught that. I am a big believer in functional medicine which takes a more holistic look at a person and seeks to address the root of the product rather than popping a pill to mask that product. It doesn’t solve the underlying issue. And the truth of the matter is that doctors (and health care companies) make money on sick people, not well people, so… we need a paradigm shift. Doctors get paid to cure people, not mask their issues with terrible drugs.
SB: What do you think will be future trends in food? How will COVID impact the direction of these trends?
KO: The health and wellness market is growing in the US, and even aside from COVID, I believe this is the future. And with COVID, people are now more concerned than ever about health also that’s only propelling this market forward. Ultimately, people need better tools to be educated on healthy eating (this is starting to happen). We’ve already seen the rise in people shopping for organic ingredients from farmers' markets - this is just the beginning. The more doctors understand people’s bodies and how they work, the more information will get out and people will be better educated on making smart decisions with regard to their health.
SB: What do you like to focus on today?
KO: Lately I’ve been baking - a lot! Working on perfecting my sourdough.
Hot Sloth Hot Sauce
SB: As a woman always on the road, how is it staying in one place during the recent months?
KO: Feels strange! For the last decade, I’ve been mostly on the road. BUT actually I like the change and more time to sleep! Mike and I are still traveling - but now within the US. It’s nice to jump from place to place after spending a month there. You get to know the city better.
SB: Can you tell us a little about Hot Sloth?
KO: Hot Sloth is a collaborative product (our first, with more to come), between myself, Mike, and a single varietal olive oil company based in California called Pot d’Huile. We’ve made both a CBD and THC hot sauce that’s neon pink and flavored with some of our favorite ingredients including miso, shiso, umeboshi, and habanero. So it’s heavy on the umami! We plan to officially launch the product in about 2 weeks.
To our readers - for more information on how to get your hands on a bottle or two of Hot Sloth, visit us.
Click here to learn more about the talented Kat Odell.
Read more DLISH interviews with change-makers in the world of Food: