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Food Advocate: Karen Le Billon @karenlebillon, author of French Kids Eat Everything

Our mission at Foodtree is to connect people with great food. With this in mind we’re highlighting individuals and organizations we think do a fantastic job of contributing, promoting, building, and transforming the food system. We call them Food Advocates. Would you like to participate? Fill out our interview here and we’ll follow up!

Today we chat with Karen Le Billon, author of a new book coming in April called  French Kids Eat Everything: How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters. 

Tell us about yourself:

I’m an author, teacher, proud mom of two–and an accidental healthy kids food advocate!

As I’m married to a Frenchman, our family divides its time between Vancouver and France.

When not in the kitchen, I’m a professor at the University of British Columbia — where I teach on environment and sustainability issues.

Tell us about your project/business:

A few years ago, our family moved to France for a year. At the time, I wasn’t interested in food, my kids were very picky eaters, and cooking (and eating) were a source of family stress.

But living in my France inspired us to re-invent the way our family eats. We learned lots of great tips and tricks, as well as recipes, for making food fun, healthy, and less stressful. My kids now eat everything (well, almost)! And the kitchen table is the happiest place in our house.

I was so inspired by this that I ended up writing a book, titled ‘French Kids Eat Everything’, which will be published by HarperCollins in April 2012. The book tells the story o f our year in France, interwoven with recipes and practical how-to information: notably, 10 French Kids Food Rules that the French use to raise happy, healthy eaters.

What is your earliest memory about food?

Good question! Warm apple strudel, made by my mother, hot out of the oven. It was a family ritual every Sunday, and I can still smell that wonderful, sweet, roasted apple smell.

What’s most important to you when it comes to buying food – local, organic, fair trade, GMO-free, etc?

Supporting local stores and farmers markets. I avoid supermarkets–except for non-food essentials.

When balancing the trade-off between local versus organic, I go for local first. We also feel that it’s really important to support local farmers. I WWOOFed for many years, and still help out on my godparents organic garlic farm on Vancouver Island.

Fair-trade is important — but it’s also important that this doesn’t remain a niche, and that the entire food system becomes more ‘fair’.

What is the one thing you’d like to see change about the food system?

More urban gardening – Peter Ladner’s new book on the Urban Food Revolution is really inspiring.

What is special about food where you live? What’s one thing you would change?

We’re tremendously lucky in Vancouver to have fresh produce to eat year-round, and a large and committed group of local farmers and food producers.

One thing I miss, though, is local maple syrup (can’t have everything, I guess).

Something I’d love to see is more locally produced honey. There are some beekeepers in the region (and even in Vancouver) but it would be great to see more.

What are your favorite ingredients to use when preparing a meal?

My French mother-in-law’s ‘go-to’ ingredients: garlic, parsley, shallots, butter (or olive oil), and white wine — it’s amazing how many different tastes and savors you can create with this simple list. And you can grow all of these wonderfully in BC.

For a BC-based unusual ‘favorite’ ingredient, I love kombu (seaweed harvested off of Bamfield, the natural origin of ‘glutamate’ — added to foods, it enhances their taste in a subtle yet wonderful way).

What are your favorite foods?

Garlic. My godparents have an organic garlic farm on Vancouver Island, and we love to re-invent dishes with their garlic — roasted, steamed, pureed, sauteed, marinated….The possibilities are endless.

Blackberries. We love to roam through Vancouver parks and alleys in summertime, for our local harvest. Sometimes we make jam…but sometimes we just smear them on fresh baguette. Heavenly. And I make a mean blackberry amaretto cake.

Kale. The perfect winter vegetable, in soups or stews or stirfries. But my favorite recipe is ‘stamppot’: a Dutch dish involving boiling potatoes and kale together, then mashing them up. Yes, this results in green mashed potatoes!

Quinoa. The first time I saw this plant was at Dan Jason’s (Salt Spring Seeds) farm on Salt Spring Island — where it grows wonderfully. High in protein, a beautifully subtle yet complex taste. My kids prefer millet though!

Other than food, what are you particularly excited about right now?

Music: I’ve been discovering a lot of amazing new French singers lately, including Zaz (think Edith Piaf with a gypsy-jazz inflection).

Jivamukti Yoga: A fascinating approach to yoga, originally based in New York–very attentive to food and environmental issues.

Tell us about a food-related project that has inspired you:

The Farm to School movement. They link farmers with local schools: kids eat better, learn about local foods, and farming, and farmers benefit too — the kids are so enthusiastic about food, once they encounter it in their own backyards.

Where can people find you both online and offline?

You can find me online at

Facebook: Karen Le Billon

Tweeting @karenlebillon

Thanks for taking part in our Food Advocate series! 

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