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Tallu Schuyler Quinn just radiates a beauty of giving and creativity that can’t help but draw you to her. When interviewing her for today’s FACES, so much she said struck us as golden thoughts to ponder and live by. We especially love this (which has come up a few times with our featured FACES so we hope it’s starting to penetrate!): “I think perfectionism is a real killer of our dreams–for women especially.” As a person committed to making a difference, an artist and the director of The Nashville Food Project, Nashville is a richer city because Tallu lives here. We are proud to feature her today in our FACES of Nashville weekly feature.

Where did you grow up?

I’m from Nashville. I spent about 10 years away, going to school and working and feel lucky to be back. I ended up marrying a man I knew as a teenager. He is also from Nashville, and we love living close to our families. Actually, a few months after we became engaged, he and I were watching some of his family’s home videos that he’d converted from Super 8 film to DVD. There was one clip of his very first swimming lesson at age 2. He’s in the middle of the pool, looking terrified, wearing a bubble and holding his teacher’s hand. About two minutes into the movie another little swimmer comes into view. It was me! But we didn’t meet again until we were in the same Sunday School class in high school.

For those unfamiliar with The Nashville Food Project, is it possible to give a quick overview?

Sure! The Nashville Food Project is a local nonprofit that addresses the problems of hunger and food insecurity in different homeless and working poor neighborhoods in Nashville. Every day of the week, we load two food trucks with healthy meals, fresh produce or food boxes and deliver them to one of about sixteen locations in Davidson County. We serve homeless veterans, single moms and their children, working poor couples who live in daily-rate motels–anyone living in poverty who could benefit from gifts of healthy food. All our food is nutritious and fresh, and most of it is reclaimed or gleaned from farms or farmer’s markets. It’s an awesome place to volunteer if you love to cook, love to garden or want to serve residents of our city who are living in the margins. We involve over 600 volunteers each month and the opportunities are diverse!

I read that you received a BFA in Papermaking and Bookbinding, then went on to achieve a Masters of Divinity and now you are entrenched in food! Does working with your hands make you feel closer to God?

Cool question. I think when we choose to do things by hand that we could otherwise buy or do with a machine or appliance, it takes us more time to get it done. And for me, the time spent doing something with my hands helps me slow down, and slowing down inevitably leads to a more thoughtful, reflective and grateful me. And gratitude always leads me to God. I do love to use my hands. There is something about working with my hands that really satisfies–maybe it’s this?

Do you think that if people gave time to work with their hands and creative talents that a giving lifestyle emerges?

Totally. Our kitchens at The Nashville Food Project are brimming with creativity and flexibility and our volunteers are some of the most generous folks I know. I think cooking from scratch the way we do requires the use of ones hands because nothing is pre-made. Making use of whatever fresh foods are coming in on a given day requires tremendous creativity and flexibility. Friday’s meal for a hundred people was beef and venison over quinoa with vegetables, a kale, tomato and garbanzo salad and a peach/berry crisp. The ingredients for this meal were sourced and gleaned from over 18 different friends, farms and the food bank. Because we’re cooking in such quantities, using the leftovers that are available to us and asking volunteers to do it, there is always creativity. And anyone who’s worked in our kitchens knows we don’t waste anything–we ask them to use paring knives to cut away every useable part of a gleaned peach or tomato. So often we are using the food that a farmer wouldn’t be able to sell and would otherwise throw away.

Are there parallels from your work with poor farmers in Nicaragua to The Nashville Food Project?

Yes and no. All poor people I have had the chance to work with have so much ingenuity and creativity, usually out of necessity. That said, there are some significant differences between the hunger issues facing rural people as opposed to those living in the city. In Nicaragua, I was working mostly with families who were inextricably connected to their land. Their land is their greatest asset and is part of the fabric of their own bodies and their own stories. And land is so closely connected to food production. Here in Nashville, I would argue that a lot of our broken economy and human brokenness can be attributed to how our urban environment hinders the health of our land and therefore the health of our bodies.

What is your favorite thing about Nashville?

It’s home. It’s what I know and where I am known. I also love the Bluebird Cafe, The Contributor, Plaza Art Supply, McKay Books, Green Door Gourmet, Beaman Park and that place on 8th Avenue that always smells like fresh bread, even when you drive past in your car.

What would you change about Nashville if you could?

A greater communal emphasis on re-purposing what some no longer find valuable but others may. Obviously in our organization we do this with food, but other cities have some incredible initiatives for putting scrap to use (scrap exchanges or creative reuse centers) and offering it to artists and kids and community members. Finding a way to reuse what others discard is the best!

What books are currently on your bedside table (or in your Kindle)?

The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornell West about their recent poverty tour of the United States, like eight books about breastfeeding and a fruit tree catalog.

Where is your favorite place to eat out?

For date nights, we love City House and Margot Cafe. For a lunch spot, I visit Kalamata’s in Green Hills. I love the friendliness of the people who work there.

We often ask what event our FACES of Nashville is looking forward to in the upcoming months in Nashville. We are assuming that yours is the delivery of your baby! As an artist, did you get artistic with his/her room?

This little babe is due to arrive in two weeks. We are so excited to meet her. In her room, we’ve hung a lot of beautiful artwork by people who will be in her life–my mom and other artist friends. Right now my husband and I are working on a lightweight mobile made from small pieces of the most gorgeous soft driftwood we found on our recent trip to the beach.

Best piece of advice ever given to you?

That often–not always, but often–what we are here to do is more important than how we feel about doing it.

Person who has had the strongest influence in your life?

My mentor is a Catholic nun and professor at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. Her name is Janet and she’s in her late sixties. She is one of the most faithful and quietly prophetic people I know. I remember one afternoon she came over to my apartment for lunch and asked me what my plans were after school. At the time I was doing some private catering for some wealthy families on the Upper West Side, so I danced around the possibility of continuing that work or trying to expand it. She stopped me in the middle though, and said, “No Tallu, I mean what are you going to do about poverty?”

Any advice you could give to someone with a passion but scared to “go for it”?

I think perfectionism is a real killer of our dreams–for women especially. I can only give advice because I have the lived experience of being too scared to go for things I really wanted, out of fear that I wouldn’t go for them perfectly. Perfectionism can prevent us from being the best versions of ourselves, which is ironic, if you think about it. In our weaving studio in college, one of my professors painted the words “Leap and the net will appear” in huge letters on the wall. She didn’t use a pencil before she started painting it. I loved that.

Name three things you can’t live without (excluding God, family and friends).

Good chef’s knife, Cetaphil face soap and ice water, heavy on the ice. I cannot get enough ice lately, because I think I’m a little iron deficient this late into my pregnancy. Does this happen to everyone?

Thank you Tallu! And thank you to Ashley Hylbert for her wonderful photography showcased each week in the FACES of Nashville feature here on StyleBlueprint. For more photos from Tallu’s shoot, see Ashley Hylbert’s blog.

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About the Author
Liza Graves

As CEO of StyleBlueprint, Liza also regularly writes for SB. Most of her writing is now found in the recipe archives as cooking is her stress relief!