By Stephanie Peterson
I was raised with my feet in dirt and my hands in bread dough. My father is a church gardener and my mother is a whole grain baker. Consequently, there was never a lack of experience in growing and creating food during my adolescence.
Despite the rich life I had with close family ties, I found myself doubting my worth based on the severe self-consciousness I felt financially. We were poor. There was no way around it. I could always count on a Christmas tree being donated from the church or a bag of hand-me-down clothes from a cousin. Instead of appreciating these kind gifts of love and charity, I despised them.
The first time a snotty kid at school called me poor, I cried. I didn’t like my worn clothes or the weekly pot of beans. I hid my home life from school friends, doubting they would accept me had they known how little we had. I would often deflect play dates as to avoid having people see my house. Home was never a cardboard box, but rather modest. It was a sore subject for me. I didn't appreciate my home for the haven of love that it was. I'm embarrassed I ever felt that way.
I didn’t appreciate the fact that my mother could stretch our food budget to fill the bottomless pit that was my teenage brother’s pie hole. I didn’t want to take over the cooking so mom could go to work full time, but I did. That was an epic turning point. I finally began accepting myself, not based on financial station, but by my creativity and strength of character. Mom had empowered me to make a real difference to our family. I was contributing. I loved taking the weekly food menu and making it work on our budget.
I began recognizing that I had some skills other girls my age severely lacked. It was eye opening. It was enough to inspire me to pursue a career as a professional chef. As a college student I discovered I loved to create amazing new foods on a very small income. Culinary school gave me some powerful skills.
This carried over to a newlywed's budget and a young mother’s budget. As a young mother I had a great desire to be home with my children full time. I had the skills to make that a reality. There were many mothers I met who needed the same skills I had. Little did I know that my childhood of rich food and financial obscurity would become a great stepping-stone toward empowering others in similar situations.
Accepting that our monetary station was not who I was, changed my world. I’ve learned that wealth and poverty are relative and that there are many complex and varying levels of emotional and spiritual destitution as well as physical financial situations. I have accepted that I am able to change lives by helping people shift their paradigm when it relates to food. I’ve become a cheerleader in things spiritual and physical.
Now I garden, use solar cooking, create healthy food from whole grains and organic sources in a financially responsible way. It has become who I am and what I offer the world. We’re not poor, compared to some. We're not wealthy compared to others.
How do I know I’ve finally accepted myself? I’ve been blessed with the ability to perform cooking segments on local television stations for the last year. This is huge. Last month when a TV crew asked to come to my home, I flung open the door with welcoming open arms and showed the reporter how and where I live.
Our home now is not unlike any of the homes I had as a child. I knew full well that half a million people in Phoenix would probably be watching…and I didn’t flinch. Isn't that what accepting ourselves is about? It’s exposing what and who we are, unashamed, no longer carrying the emotional weight of self-doubt. It's finally being able to say, "welcome home"…to yourself.