Christina Pirello, bestselling author and Emmy Award-winning host of the PBS television series “Christina Cooks” joins the program to discuss her earliest influences and experiences and how they shaped her attitudes about food. Christina reveals what she learned about food from living in Italy, and how we can use food to heal our bodies, our communities and the world.

Episode Transcription

Intro: Welcome to Hidden Human, the podcast where we explore the stories behind the business leader. Get ready to hear insights from business leaders speaking candidly about how they became who they are today and the lessons they learned along the way. Now, here is your host, leadership coach and speaker, Kelly Meerbott.

Kelly Meerbott: Welcome to the space where we reveal our personal humanity to reconnect with our shared humanity. Let’s begin our conversation with Christina Pirello. Okay, I’ve had five minutes to talk to her and I’m already in love. I mean, Huff Po, this is the best way to describe her I think right now, “As one of America’s preeminent authorities on natural and whole foods with a radiant personality that only serves to make her message more powerful.” She’s a cancer survivor. She’s a mom. She’s a PBS loyalist, which I love. She’s a chef. She’s amazing. Christina, welcome to Hidden Human. I am so excited to have you.

Christina P.: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, so tell us what you do in a snapshot. I know you do a lot of things, but just give us broad strokes.

Christina P.: Yeah. Whatever we do in our business focuses mostly around education to just give people information, so that they can make the healthiest choice for themselves, for their families, for their lives, whatever it is that they’re choosing to do. So, we do everything from seminars all over the world to cooking classes locally to hands on weekend intensives where people learn how to cook healthy food. We have a small boutique travel company that focuses on wellness. Of course, I write cookbooks, and we do the TV show, Christina Cooks.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, 200 stations carry it. I love that you’re a PBS supporter. I was telling you before we got on the interview that, that was my first job out of college for PBS NPR, so they always have a special place in my heart.

Christina P.: Yeah, I love PBS.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I really want you to tell our listeners why. Okay, it would be really easy for you to go to Netflix, go to Amazon, go to You Tube TV, go to Hulu and sell your show to them. Why PBS? Why are you staying with them?

Christina P.: Well, it started in the very beginning when the show went on the air in 1998, which is a long time ago. We met with several networks because my producers at the time were like, “You should talk to Discovery. You should talk to the then, its infancy, Food Network.” And so, we went to these meetings in New York and I’m sitting with them and they were like, “We love you. We love your idea. Plant based is so great. Now and then, just throw a chicken breast in and we have a show.” I said, “Aren’t you kind of missing the point. There is no chicken breast.” So, we went back and forth in this meeting. I’ll never forget it. I was with Discovery and my producer said, “Well, you can’t just get up and walk out of the room.” And I said, “Oh, actually I can because I really don’t care if I do TV or not. I’m perfectly happy in my life,” so I get up and I leave. He’s like, “I can’t believe you just walked out on Discovery.” And I said, “I’m not cooking chicken.”

A friend of ours was working for Public Television and said, “You should present the show to them.” And I thought, oh, okay, so we presented to Public Television who I loved. It just worked out that right around that same time, perfect storm, they loved the idea, didn’t ask me to change my content. I was doing an event in Philadelphia for my first cookbook and I met Jacques Pepin and fell immediately in love with this man.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my God.

Christina P.: And so, we were talking.

Kelly Meerbott: Let me slow you down for one second.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Tell our listeners, for those of you who don’t know and are not in the food world, who Jacques Pepin is because he’s really-

Christina P.: Jacques Pepin is an iconic French chef on Public Television who cooked on his own, of course, and with Julia Child. He’s like talking to melted butter. He’s this lovely warm, like your dad, great guy.

We were sitting in the back of this room and I met him. I was a little star struck. He was asking me questions. I told him I was choosing between The Food Network and Public Television. He said, “Choose Public Television, you will never regret it.” And I thought, okay, there is kismet here, and he was right.

I choose Public Television and I never regretted it because they focus on eduction. They don’t expect me to hold up a bottle of something and say, I love something. It’s all about education. It’s not about the brands that you’re pouring into a pot. You can certainly talk about why you choose the quality you do, which is important to us. But, I love that I never have to, for lack of a better phrase, pimp out to a sponsor. The sponsors have been great. I took a one year hiatus, which has become a four year hiatus because it’s not my favorite gig. We are going back on the air this coming January though.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: Yeah. We’re filming starting the end of April.

Kelly Meerbott: Are you doing it in Philly?

Christina P.: Yeah. We’re going to be at the Restaurant School, so yes. We film on Sundays, usually when the school is closed, so I’ll let you know the days and you can absolutely come.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: It’ll be great.

Kelly Meerbott: That’s awesome. Christina, how young were you when you were drawn to food and the creation of food? I’m looking between the ages of 8 and 14, or earlier.

Christina P.: Oh, I was little.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: I was 8 or 9. The whole thing started because one side of my family is Irish, the other side is Italian. Both sides are for a lack of a better description, really loud and really loud.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: And for some reason, I was born with this massive noise sensitivity. I was tested for all kinds of stuff. They’re like, “She just doesn’t like yelling.” [crosstalk 00:06:04]. So, I found that in the kitchen, my grandmother didn’t allow any yelling or carrying on, so it was this peaceful, really well great smelling and all the great stuff came out of their, place. I fell in love at a young age because there was no nonsense was allowed in the kitchen, so it was like, okay, I’m cool with this. I love this. But then, I just fell in love. As my friend, Rachael Ray famously says, “Nobody really taught me how to cook. You just were expected to strap on an apron and help.” Everybody on my Italian side cooked, men, women, children. I just knew that, that was where I wanted to be for the rest of my life was in the kitchen.

Kelly Meerbott: Tell me the first dish that you made? Because I mean, you and I have a lot in common. I couldn’t how much it was as I was going through your bio because I come from an Irish and Italian family and you were saying, you were sensitive to noise and things were loud. I was like, yep.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: I mean, the best quote to describe our Italian family, and correct me if I’m wrong, comes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “We’re big eating loud noisy eaters in everybody’s business.” Right?

Christina P.: Yes, that’s exactly. I watched that movie and go, “Yeah, switch Italian and you’ve got it.”

Kelly Meerbott: Yep, yep.

Christina P.: It’s a yes, yes, yes. Everybody is in everybody’s business. My grandmother lived upstairs. I mean, there was certainly so much good as well, but the first dish I ever made, oh God, this will send all the vegans into pass out mode, was meatballs. The first thing I learned how to make were real good meatballs. If pressed with a gun to my head, I still could make a really good meatball. And then from there, my grandmother had a hand pasta roller, and I was just fascinated with it, so quickly my job became to make the sheets of pasta, or the sheets that became the ravioli, or whatever, whatever, so I moved to pasta really quick. My grandmother was the youngest of 17.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh.

Christina P.: Yes, yeah. They came from Italy in waves and she was in the last wave. Her English was a bit of a struggle. She would watch game shows while we were at school to learn English. And so we’d come home and she would say things like, “Today, we have fabulous prizes.” We’d be like, “No, Nonna, that’s not really English.”

Kelly Meerbott: You called her Nonna too?

Christina P.: Yeah, so we used to tease her. She was the funniest. But anyway, she would be upstairs and my mother would work part-time, but she’d get home a little bit afterschool, so we’d run upstairs to Nonna’s. She had cooked beans or pasta fagioli, or fresh baked bread. I thought everybody had that as afterschool snacks. I had no idea that if you said, hey, let’s have cookies, somebody baked them. I didn’t think you bought them in a store ever until I was really [inaudible 00:08:54] school and saw things like Chips Ahoy and Wonder Bread. I was like, wow, people actually buy food. We’re so weird. We make everything. Not knowing.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, right. Did your grandmother make, and again, my apologies to the vegans and the vegetarians, but did she make stuffed meatloaf?

Christina P.: Oh, man, and braciole, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: In [Eathland 00:09:21], we’d stay with my grandmother when my parents were on vacation or whatever. Anytime she made meatloaf on Sunday, she would make meatloaf sandwiches the next day.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: She would make it between this Pepperidge Farm White Bread, so that by the time you got to school the bread was all mushed into the-

Christina P.: It was like one big giant meatloaf glob, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I remember eating it and having all these kids in my class looking at me like you’re crazy, but it was the best thing ever.

Christina P.: Oh, God. We would go to school, I would trade food because I thought our food was smelly, right. My grandfather, my mother’s father was, I don’t know, he was my hero my entire life. He used to make, famously make, a cold spaghetti sandwich, so he’d take cold spaghetti from the night before and put it on fresh Italian bread, and then he’d crumble potato chips on top.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my God.

Christina P.: He’d send me to school with this sandwich, and it was like your carbs had carbs.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: Oh my God. Yeah, they were just. He actually got me hooked on coffee because he was literally my hero. He would be going to work in the morning and we were at their house or whatever, I’d be upstairs in the apartment, and what I remembered was he’d make a mocha, an entire mocha of espresso. That mug would be filled and that was his coffee. He drank it black. I just remember his spoon, the noise of his spoon cooling it off in the morning. I’d be like, “Pop, come on. Pop, let me taste it. What is that? Let me taste it,” because it used to smell so good.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: So, then I tasted it the first time and I thought, oh God, this tastes like paint thinner. I looked at him and he said, “You’ll get used to it,” and I did. I remember as a child, I might have been maybe 8, and I was a terrible eater, ironically. My mother said to me, “What do you want for breakfast?” And I said, “Well, I think I’m going to have coffee with Pop,” and I got cracked so hard. “You will not drink coffee before school.” “Okay.”

Kelly Meerbott: That’s funny.

Christina P.: But, that’s how we were.

Kelly Meerbott: You and I were blessed with having this influence of multi generations, which I think really sculpts and molds you.

Christina P.: Oh, hugely.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. We know that our Nonnas and our, I mean, my mom’s mom was Grammy to us, so we know that they had influence on us, but what does your mom and dad do? What did they do as…

Christina P.: Well, my mother was a stay at home mom, but a part-time art docent at the local art museum.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh, wow!

Christina P.: She took school trips on… school groups on tours. She loved art. She really, really loved art. My father, and this always makes people laugh, was a butcher and actually was the greatest influence on me becoming a vegetarian and not because he was bad at what he did or whatever. Apparently, we got the best of the best. But, I was probably about 13 and my father, we always joked, and my father was like a golden retriever. He was always incredibly happy to see his kids even if he’d seen us a half hour ago.

My dad came home one night and we were all around the dinner table. We had friends over and family. You never knew who was coming to dinner at our house. My mother always cooked for 10, or 12, or 15, or whatever. My dad said to my mother, “I have a chance to make a lot of money if I work in a slaughterhouse for a couple weeks.” My mother said, “You know, take it if you think you want to do it,” dah, dah, dah. They had this long conversation and he decided to do it. So, a couple days later my dad leaves for work. It was a Saturday because we were home from school and we were all outside, and he left.

An hour later my father’s car pulls back in the driveway. He walked right past us like we didn’t exist, and we were shocked. It was like, wait, is that our father? He didn’t say hey, what? We run in the house after him and he was at the table. My father is 6’2, pure muscle, Irish. He played football in the army. He had a body built of labor. [inaudible 00:13:32] good whole sides of cows, and whatever. He’s at the table. He’s a puddle of tears. He’s saying to my mother, “I can’t. I know we need the mother. I can’t, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t look in their eyes and kill them. I couldn’t do it.” I thought, that’s it, I’m out. I’m out. I never ate meat from that day forward. [crosstalk 00:13:53].

Kelly Meerbott: How young were you when that happened?

Christina P.: I was about 13.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh, wow!

Christina P.: I was about 13. I went fully vegetarian at 14. In our house at that moment, we were vegetarian for a couple of months.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: And then meat slowly came back into the diet, and I was like, no, I’m out, I’m not. I can’t eat a living thing because I also felt like I was okay. I had enough nourishment. I had pasta. I had pizza. I was good without meat. I didn’t love it. Plus, it made my father insane, which at 14, that’s your job. I was a terrible eater, so anything that allowed me to eat less was great. I was a terrible eater.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay, so you’re going from meat to vegetarian.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Of course, my ego mind, as you said, “I don’t want to eat a living thing,” and my thought was well, aren’t plants living, so how is that different?

Christina P.: Yes. Yeah, it is, well yes. There is an argument to be made that you pull the broccoli out of the ground and it was happily living its little broccoli life. It’s just that it’s lower on the food chain. We believe it’s not sentient.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh, gotcha.

Christina P.: Vegans feel like the cow is… The cows are mammals. They nurture their young. They nourish. They’re very close to us on the food chain, which is why back in wet nursing days we used cows milk was because it’s pretty close to human milk in terms of some of the proteins and sugars. But at the end of the day, it’s a being that doesn’t choose to have its little throat cut. This is really going to sit well, but I am not what’s known as an ethical vegan.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: I didn’t do it. Initially, I did it at 14. I was like, I don’t want to eat cows because we have to kill them. Got it. But then, I became this total junk food vegetarian. I found out that the cream in Oreos didn’t really have any cream, so they were actually vegan, soda, vegan. I was like, yes, I’m in. So, when I left home at 18, I said to my mother, I turned to my mother and said in a very snippy teenage way, “If you want to spend your life chained to a stove go ahead. I’m out.”

Kelly Meerbott: Isn’t that funny, though?

Christina P.: Yes.

Kelly Meerbott: Let’s think about that.

Christina P.: Yeah, yeah because my mother was also a hippy’s hippy, so she was always lecturing me. She was always reading Prevention Magazine. “Oh my God, we cook our broccoli too long. Oh my God, this is how you should pick a fresh tomato.” I would just roll my eyes and think, oh my God, could we talk about something other than food. Good God, what’s with this house? So, she put something into my DNA. So, I left home exhausted from this woman and went to college, and spent a year in Italy traveling around eating baguettes and coffee and changing my [crosstalk 00:16:41] view of the world and food.

Kelly Meerbott: That’s all you ate in Italy?

Christina P.: Well, not much more because I was broke.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh gosh, okay.

Christina P.: I went to Italy with my younger brother on a two week… He was in the marching band, so I was 21 and he was a senior, 17. So, he came home from school one night and said, “We need chaperones for our trip to Amsterdam.” They were competing in a contest and they were going to go to two other countries, Germany and Italy. And so, he said, “I need chaperones.” And I said, “I would love to do it. How much do you need?” “$300.00, but you’re too young. They’re never going to do it.” So, I went to one meeting and they gave me 10 17 year old boys to chaperone and I thought, okay. I was four years older than them.

But the parents on the trip would lose their minds because they’d say to me, “Where are your boys?” “At the bar with me, we’re fine.” They had a great time. I took them to their first museums. And so long story short, we’re sitting at St. Mark’s Square in Venice at the end of the trip and I said to my younger brother, “I can’t believe that I spent $300 bucks. I’m here in Italy and I’m going back.” And he said, kidding, “Don’t. What are they going to do come and get you?” And I said, “You know, you’re right,” so I stayed. I stayed.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh.

Christina P.: I went back to the hotel and said to the guy, “I want to stay in Italy. Do you know where I can find an apartment?” And he said, “We have an apartment at the back of the hotel.” He said, “Can you do anything?” And I said, “I can cook and I can throw pottery.” Then he said, “Well, then you can get a job,” so I stayed there for a year before I came home.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my goodness.

Christina P.: I loved it. I loved it. I loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. If you’ve never been and [crosstalk 00:18:23].

Kelly Meerbott: I lived in Florence when I was 19.

Christina P.: Okay, so you know. I lived in [Ponte Ciade 00:18:28].

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my God. Holy cow, this is crazy. Okay, we are definitely cosmically connected somehow.

Christina P.: Yeah, absolutely. What I discovered was we have a huge disconnect in American, even then. That was 40 years ago.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay, what do you mean?

Christina P.: Well, I just thought, this is a culture, Italy was a culture that loved food.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: They loved where it came from. They loved the quality. They loved cooking. It occurred to me at that young age, we’re an eating culture. We don’t care what it is, we’ll just eat it.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: If it’s not moving and it’s on our plate, we’ll eat it. We don’t care where it came from, who made it, how good it is, we don’t care. In Italy, there was this passion and commitment for what it was that reminded me of my grandparents, and so when I came back I was in culture shock with our food again. I just thought, yeah, we don’t have a clue. We don’t have a clue, and that was way before. So, then when I turned about 24, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer at 47 and she died at 49. [crosstalk 00:19:36].

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry.

Christina P.: I just remember as I watched her fade thinking, oh man, if I ever get this I’m not doing this. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m not doing this. I was diagnosed three months later with Stage 4 terminal leukemia.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh.

Christina P.: And I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me. This is like a bad Lifetime movie. Are you kidding? So, I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to do treatments because they didn’t offer me much hope. They just said, “We’ll try a few things and maybe you’ll live longer than six or nine months,” and I thought no, no, no. I’m 26 years old. What are you kidding me? A friend of mine introduced me to the man who is my husband today who introduced me to macrobiotics.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: And said, “I know that you think you are vegetarian, but do you eat sugar? Do you drink soda?” I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” And he said, “So, this way of eating is more whole and unrefined.” And he said, “You can get your health back in the kitchen.” I thought, well, the kitchen I know. The kitchen I can do. The food was weird to me, miso and soy sauce and very Asian. I thought, oh God, this is okay, whatever. In two months, I was in remission.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my God.

Christina P.: I went in and out of remission for nine months and then after 14 months was cancer free.

Kelly Meerbott: This is Kelly. Thanks so much for listening to Hidden Human. We love having you as part of our audience. As a Thank You gift from us to you click to to download our free white paper, 7 Insights on Leadership from 20 Years of Coaching Executives. That’s K-E-L-L-Y Thank you so much for being part of the Hidden Human family, and make it a great day.

Christina P.: I was cancer free in 1984, so it took me a year, a little more than a year, and that was then. I have no recurrence ever since.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my God, Christina.

Christina P.: He’s Italian. I’m Italian. He’s 96% Sicilian, according to his DNA, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh, God bless you, sister.

Christina P.: Actually, he’s weirdly calm, and so I don’t know if it’s really Sicilian blood because it’s like, wait, what? We, of course, eat a much more Mediterranean style diet because that’s our ancestry. Everyone has to eat for who they are.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: And if you look back at your grandmother’s food, you’ll find whole grains, beans, vegetables, whatever.

Kelly Meerbott: Yep.

Christina P.: They might use olive oil, or they might use whatever. We adapted more to a Mediterranean style of eating.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: We still use miso for digestion and things like that, but that diet has served us incredibly well for 35 years now.

Kelly Meerbott: Christina, tell me something because I think I know what macrobiotics are, but I want to make sure we’re operating from the same contacts. Can you define it for me? You know my husband’s a chef and I’ve been fascinated with food my entire life, but and haven’t always had a good relationship with it.

Christina P.: Me neither.

Kelly Meerbott: I don’t really think I know exactly what a macrobiotic diet is.

Christina P.: If you were to talk to people who don’t know macrobiotics they would tell you, oh my God, that’s that weird rice and seaweed diet where they eat miso soup and you have to stand on your right foot and stir clockwise under a full moon because the energy will be wrong in your food. And certainly you can go that route with macrobiotics. But what macrobiotics is simply stated is whole unprocessed foods, seasonal when you can, cooked appropriately for your condition.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: That’s it.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: It requires a little bit of influence from Chinese medicine or any folk medicine.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: That believes that if you eat a certain food it has an effect on the body. My grandmother used to boil fennel bulbs if we had a stomach ache and we would drink her tea.

Kelly Meerbott: Yep, yep.

Christina P.: In Asia, it was we use miso. We understand that carrots nourish the intestines. There is a bit of Chinese medicine thrown in. But if you really look at it you go, well my grandmother thought that way about food.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: It’s not so weird. Although, there seems to be this penchant within macrobiotics to make it as weird as possible, which I don’t understand why because it’s a simple, lovely way to eat. It allows you to have total freedom. When I was studying macrobiotics one of my teachers said, “If you don’t know what a food does in the human body, you have no right to eat it,” and I thought, harsh, harsh.

Kelly Meerbott: Ew, but true. I like that though.

Christina P.: Right. But then he explained how most people walk around not knowing why they feel the way they do.

Kelly Meerbott: Yep.

Christina P.: But if you know that chocolate ice cream is going to give you a headache for two days and you said, I don’t care, I want it. At least when you get the headache you know. Okay, I gave myself a headache. It is really applicable to America now when we have no idea why we feel as bad as we do, but we’re slowly waking up to being sick and tired of feeling sick and tired and we’re looking at food now for the first time in a very long time.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. It’s interesting because as a coach to high performers and high level executives I’m not going to tell you who this person was, but let’s just say there was a very high level chef here in Philly who wanted me to coach him and he and his team. He was talking to me about how he was overweight and he had talked to a nutritionist. And I said, “Well, I think you’re thinking about food the wrong way. You think about it for pleasure and you’re really a high performance athlete, you should be eating for performance.”

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: He looked at me like, first of all, I was crazy. And then, second of all, then it was like, oh my God, she’s right.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: That’s really what it is. Over the past three years I’ve released 70 pounds and I did it through working out and stuff like that, but I still haven’t gotten the nutrition piece right because I feel like I use it as a crutch. In the Italian culture, especially the Italian American it like, if somebody dies you eat, somebody wins-

Christina P.: Graduates, you eat. You have a birthday, you eat. It’s Tuesday, you eat, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, it’s the love language, so there is a muddled relationship with that.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: How did macrobiotics help you, or eating the way you eat now, not only basically cure your cancer, but how did it help your relationship with food? What was it before you discovered the macrobiotic diet? I know you were picky.

Christina P.: I went from picky in college to being sort of bulimic.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: I would go on these junk food binges and then take 75 Correctols to make sure I didn’t gain any weight because I was an athlete.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: So, I was as dysfunctional around food as a person could be because I wanted to stay a certain way because I was volleyball swimming. I was a jock. But I also didn’t really understand food except from the standpoint of my family. When I look back, I had really thrown the baby out with the bath water because while they didn’t really understand nutrition, my grandmother knew that if the food was fresh, she got it at the farmer’s market, it was in season, and she cooked it well, it would nourish her family.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: Regardless of what it was. Yes, we ate tons of sugar and tons of white flour when they baked. They also made sure we sat at the table and ate our vegetables. The great irony was, my mother, because my grandmother lived upstairs we had a huge garden, our entire backyard was garden. They would pick fresh food and cook it. My mother sat at the head of the table every night with a cup of coffee, a cigarette, and whatever chocolate was in the house. We had to eat the fresh zucchini, the fresh whatever. Because people often say to me, “Well, if your mother was so health conscious, why did she die so young?” Because she just was always dieting and she wasn’t dieting on the right thing. I grew up my entire life coming downstairs to Jack Lalanne on the little black and white TV in the kitchen, “five, four, three, two, one.”

Kelly Meerbott: Yep.

Christina P.: She had the body of a 40s pin up girl after having four kids, but she didn’t nourish herself in a way that was normal.

Kelly Meerbott: Right.

Christina P.: My dysfunction around food came from her and I didn’t pay attention to my grandmother enough when that all started. My mother would have a salad with no dressing, so that she could have a hot fudge sundae after. That was the mentality I grew up with as a teenage girl.

What macrobiotics taught me was, if you understand food there are no limitations on you. You don’t have to think about every bite. You don’t have to get in the shower with self loathing every time you have dinner. The overarching theme is if you chew it well, you can eat as much as you want. If it’s plant based, you got a lot more leeway. And then you remember things like, if you add cheese to something you’ve just doubled the calories. It all blends into this understanding of, does the food I’m choosing serve the purpose of my life? Yes, I want it to be delicious and yes, I want eating to be sexy, that’s why Mother Nature made it that way, but does it serve the purpose of what I want to be tomorrow? And that becomes a bigger thought for me than God, I really want that Twinkie.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: Not that I want Twinkies, but you know what I mean.

Kelly Meerbott: No, I know exactly what you mean. For those listeners out there that may be struggling with eating disorders, what would say to them about macrobiotics?

Christina P.: Macrobiotics can do two things. One is a light side and one is the dark side. In macrobiotics, we say, “Everything that has a front has a back.” Macrobiotics attracts a lot of people with eating disorders because depending on how it’s taught to you, it can see rigid and restrictive. Sometimes that’s what an eating disorder really wants.

Kelly Meerbott: Yes.

Christina P.: Oh great, I can only eat boiled rice, okay. Oh, I can only eat Kale, ah, no oil. But that’s not what macrobiotics is. That’s a misinterpretation of whoever taught it to you, or their misinterpretation passed on to you. Macrobiotics is, in my opinion, completely freeing, completely freeing. I never think about calories. I don’t think about should I have this, except in terms of what do I have to do today? Do I need to be strong? Am I at the gym? Am I jumping on boxes tonight? What am I doing that I need more protein, or more fat, or less, or whatever?

Kelly Meerbott: So, you’re eating for performance?

Christina P.: What’s that?

Kelly Meerbott: You’re eating for…

Christina P.: I eat for performance.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Where do you get your inspiration for what you make, Christina. I want to say to everybody, Christina is self taught. I mean, from what I’ve read about you, you’re another Rachael Ray. You learned as you [inaudible 00:31:04].

Christina P.: Right.

Kelly Meerbott: You’re not a technically trained chef. Right?

Christina P.: No, no. I mean I did finally study pastry because that’s what I loved. And now, of course, I don’t do it because it is what it is. My inspiration was always my mother.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: I would always  say, “My mother taught me everything I wanted to be and everything I didn’t.” Today, I would say it’s every cookbook I get my hands on I find some kind of inspiration. There is an Italian television network that we don’t get in the States and it’s called [Aleche 00:31:39]. We would say, Alice. The chefs on these shows still stand there and cook. Our Food Network shows have become coliseum competition of running around and you’re thinking, what are they doing? Or, we watch people decorate cupcakes and think, really? But on this network, it’s sort of like Italian PBS. Chef after chef stands there and cooks something and takes you through the steps. You don’t even have to speak Italian. You have to just watch them cook. I subscribe to the magazine, which costs me a fortune to get it here, but I find something in every single issue that I either want to adapt, or teach, or cook, or understand better, or I still find my inspiration in Italy I guess is it.

Kelly Meerbott: Gotcha. Okay, all right. What’s your favorite comfort food right now?

Christina P.: Oh God, there is two. One is pasta with fresh basil pesto.

Kelly Meerbott: Mm [crosstalk 00:32:40].

Christina P.: The other one is a millet and red lentil soup with tiny diced veggies in it.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: That sounds amazing.

Christina P.: If I could have those two things everyday it would make me a very happy girl.

Kelly Meerbott: For your great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren they may be listening to this years from now, what wisdom would you have to impart for them, Christina?

Christina P.: Eat more vegetables. Eat more vegetables. If you change nothing else about your diet, eat vegetables. Figure out a way to add them to what you’re currently doing and you’ll see that you start to feel better. And as you start to feel better, you’ll be inspired to do more. And to do everything you can to make a lighter footprint on our extremely overburdened planet.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: Which is one of the main reasons I push so hard for plant based eating now.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. It’s amazing the effect it has on… It’s such a chain. I mean, we are so connected. I don’t know if you’ve watched it yet, but there is a drama, sorry, a documentary on Netflix called, One Strange Rock.

Christina P.: Yes.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. I think it was the second episode. The first one was all about breathing and what it takes to produce oxygen that we need to survive on this planet. But, what’s so fascinating to me is how alive everything is on a planet when you see it from the astronauts’ view and how connected we are.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: And how a sandstorm over Africa all of a sudden shows up on the coast of South America. It’s amazing.

Christina P.: It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to think that there is one human walking on this planet who thinks we don’t have a responsibility to this environment that supports our life. How do we not have a responsibility to take care of it? How do we ignore this? We can’t ignore this. We’re at such a tipping point that it’s a little scary.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: I pray my great-grandchildren are here and the planet is not on fire, that we’ve figured out a way in either my generation or the next one to take care of her in a way that allows her to support seven more generations of life, which is what the Native Americans did best.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Christina P.: They thought seven generations out. We have such a responsibility to our children, to our community, to our neighbors. We live in a city and every week I look at the trash being put out, and I’m not be any means judging anybody, but I think, good God, do you clean out your house every single week? How could you have this much trash every single week. You got to be kidding me. We got to figure out a way to compost to put some nourishment back in the planet instead of always taking.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, yeah.

Christina P.: Ironically, everyone knows the statistics that if every man, woman, and child in America went meatless for one day, one day, not one week, one day, one meal out of one day would be like taking four to six million cars off the road.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my God. That’s crazy. I didn’t know that was-

Christina P.: So how do we not do that? How do we not do that?

Kelly Meerbott: Exactly, exactly.

Christina P.: If you listen to this and somebody listening goes, she’s nice, but she’s nuts. There is no way I could go meatless. Go meatless for one meal. I don’t care if it’s breakfast. Go meatless for one meal, and you’ve made an impact. You’ve made an impact.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, yeah.

Christina P.: Imagine going meatless for a day, or you choose two days a week, we could change everything. According to the statistics from the World Health Organization, if we went more toward plant based, we could stop climate change right where it is right now. But, what’s the chances of that happening because food production as we know it is the second greatest polluter after fossil fuels.

Kelly Meerbott: I mean, I’m not surprises, especially when you’ve got companies like Monsanto.

Christina P.: Exactly, and DuPont.

Kelly Meerbott: I won’t even go into… But that’s a whole nother podcast.

Christina P.: Which is a whole other documentary you must watch called, The Devil We Know.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh really? Okay. I watched Food Inc.

Christina P.: It’s about Teflon.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. All right, I’ll watch it.

Christina P.: It’s about the chemical that’s in Teflon, which is currently escaping my consciousness. But there is a chemical in Teflon that they knew from the 1940s when they used it to create Teflon, they knew it was toxic and cancer producing. Today, although Teflon is no longer made by 3M, DuPont took it over because people want non-stick pans, or whatever, and it’s in Scotchgard. It’s in the stuff we spray on our sofas and in our clothes that are stain resistant. They did a study. The chemical in Teflon is found in 99.8% of the population even if you’ve never eaten on non-stick cookware and in all of our waterways. The end of the documentary says, here are these two companies who have literally poisoned the planet and almost every human and there is no consequence. Think about that.

Kelly Meerbott: That’s unbelievable.

Christina P.: Yes.

Kelly Meerbott: Let’s end on a high note.

Christina P.: Yes, please. Sorry.

Kelly Meerbott: No, no, no. You can’t have the light without the dark, so I get it.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: But I just wanted to bring up your foundation and the work you do with them, so could you tell us about that real quick?

Christina P.: Yeah. In 2008, I started going into schools with a Philadelphia organization called, Eat Right Now. We would go into elementary schools and do healthy snacks for kids and little classes. They’d make hummus wraps, and they’d dip strawberries in dark chocolate with almond milk. They would have a ball. I would come home from these events and they’d be really inspired, and then I’d say to my husband, “You cannot believe what they feed these kids.” And finally he said to me, “Oh my God, just do something about it. Quit complaining. Do something,” so we started the non-profit.

What we do is raise money, so that when we go into a school, it doesn’t cost the school any money because they don’t have the budget to bring in somebody to teach healthy snacks, so we are able to self fund the programs when we go into schools. We find the most underserved, the most depressed schools and go. We partnered with Campbell Soup for a while to go across the country with healthy snacks. Yeah, so that’s what we do. That’s what we do.

Kelly Meerbott: That’s incredible. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. I usually like to end with three rapid fire questions, so are you ready?

Christina P.: Okay, yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. What’s on your playlist right now?

Christina P.: Andrea Bocelli’s new album, Si.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. What books are on your nightstand?

Christina P.: I’m reading a book right now called, The Life We Bury.

Kelly Meerbott: Ooh.

Christina P.: Yeah, by Allen Eskens.

Kelly Meerbott: Final question, what are you most grateful for in this moment right now?

Christina P.: Everything. Everything.

Kelly Meerbott: Good, good.

Christina P.: Challenges, opportunities. I live a very blessed life. I’m grateful for everything.

Kelly Meerbott: Lessons and blessings, sister. Right? Everything has a lesson or a blessing.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: If somebody is interested in reaching out to you or watching your show that’s coming back, which we’re so excited about, what channel is that going to be on locally in Philly?

Christina P.: Locally, it will be Channel 12 Public Television.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay.

Christina P.: And also on the Create Network.

Kelly Meerbott: Awesome, okay. How can people get in touch with you?

Christina P.: They can go to, and go to contact us. It goes to my office. The office sends me anything that seems like my eyeballs should be on it. They’re very good.

Kelly Meerbott: Awesome. Christina, I adore you. I really do. You’re such a great force. I’ve learned so much from you. I hope that everybody out there has really understood and learned something new about macrobiotics. I know I certainly did. It’s just great when people are vulnerable and real because that’s what we want to see. It’s really our intention to our listeners that this podcast inspires you to go out and have authentic conversations to deepen the connections in your life.

Christina P.: Yeah.

Kelly Meerbott: Christina again, thank you so much.

Christina P.: Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure. I hope I get to meet you in person.

Kelly Meerbott: You will. We will make that happen. We’ll talk offline. Thank you so much and make it a great day.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Hidden Human, the stories behind the business leader. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Kelly and the services she provides, visit Thanks so much for listening. We’ll be back soon with a new episode.