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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

This is Jill Sheppard Davenport

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Jill Sheppard Davenport. Photo credit: Henry Spencer

With over twenty years of experience directing, managing, and implementing health and nutrition-related programs, projects, advocacy, and public policy, Jill Sheppard Davenport combined her many talents, experiences, and expertise to co-author a new book. The book, Better Broths & Healing Tonics, was just released on November 8th and has already been very well received and reviewed. This is Rutherford spoke with Jill Sheppard Davenport, who grew up in Rutherford, about her new book, her career, and her fond memories of being raised in Rutherford.

TIR: Why did you decide to pursue careers in both Public Policy (with a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and Nutrition (with an M.S. in Nutrition from Maryland University of Integrative Health)?

Jill Sheppard Davenport: I’ve always been interested in making the world a more just place. I’ve also always been passionate about food justice or ensuring people have access to healthy food. While growing up in Rutherford, I volunteered at food pantries and soup kitchens and wanted to find more sustainable ways to help ensure every family could afford consistent access to healthy food. Those interests guided my career path. My first job out of college was with the NYC anti-hunger nonprofit, City Harvest, where I organized a public policy campaign in support of food access. My first job after studying public policy was with the anti-poverty nonprofit Oxfam America, where I worked on a public-private partnership with the food industry in support of health and economic development.

Then, when health issues became personal for my family, I got ultra-curious about clinical health, especially mental health. After researching the subject extensively, I realized the most promising answers to promote mental wellness came from understanding how food and nutrients impact our biochemistry and genetic expression. This lit a fire in me to work on both system-wide health solutions in public policy settings, and to work with individuals, and with institutions providing health services to people directly. I saw the large gap between our current model of healthcare, and the ways I believe healthcare can be more effective, so I decided to do something about it by becoming a clinician.

With that dual training in place, I launched my public health consultancy focused on healthcare innovation, called Just Health, and also a private nutrition practice focused on nutrition for mental health. It’s been a gratifying ride!

Photo credit: Karen Herb

TIR: You recently teamed up with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, author of Younger You, which focuses on taking years off a person’s bio age through nutrition and lifestyle. Now, you’ve co-authored Better Broths and Healing Tonics. How did the two of you meet and decide to collaborate?

JSD: I always wanted to write a book about “food as medicine”, or how food interacts with the many systems and pathways in our body to produce a certain health outcome, like lowering inflammation, improving cardiovascular health, reducing depression, or promoting gut health. With our busy lifestyles, it’s so easy to de-prioritize health needs until things deteriorate to the point where we can no longer ignore them (no guilt, been there!) I realized that for the information to be practical and actionable, it needed to be in a cookbook.

At the same time, my co-author, Dr. Kara Fitzgerald was conducting research on epigenetics and how food can interact with our genetic expression to promote healthy longevity. I worked early in my career as a nutritionist in her clinic and we decided to take on the project together to achieve my goal of sharing ways to use food as medicine and her goal of helping people take years off their bio age through nutrition and lifestyle. It was a win-win and now readers get the best of both!

TIR: The cookbook is very comprehensive and is catered to all individuals based on their unique dietary needs. How did you find ways to make this cookbook inclusive for all?

JSD: Honestly, my own healing journey led me through so many styles of eating to support my gut health, immune system, mental health, and more. It was quite the feat to gather all the cookbooks I needed to utilize special diets, from gluten and dairy free, to low-FODMAP, vegetarian, paleo, and autoimmune supporting. I was also so focused on what I needed to exclude from my diet to be healthy, that I didn’t realize how much faster I could reach the finish line if I also focused on the healing foods to include. This book seeks to right that wrong!

I want food as medicine accessible to everyone, no matter what kind of diet they may follow. The result is a cookbook where every recipe – from base broths to healing herb and spice boosts, to smoothies, mains, soups, sides, and even sweets and treats – is tagged with the special diets they work for to remove the guessing game. My hope is that the tagging system makes things easier for families who have varied needs or helps out the dinner party host who has guests with certain sensitivities.

Each recipe includes variations for things to swap in and out to make just about every recipe, hopefully, work for everyone, and ensure that those who can eat everything don’t feel limited. The majority can also be made vegetarian depending on the base broth you choose.

Jill presenting on nutrition for mental health. Photo credit: Trisha Nakano Bhagen

TIR: In your own life, how have you seen nutrition affect your physical and mental health?

JSD: For so many years I took for granted that I would always have my health. Then, stress happened, upsets happened, demands on my time happened, and I traveled and got exposed to different things. Problems eventually emerged for me, like poor gut health, eczema, depression, pain, fatigue, and more. I might have looked healthy on the outside, but I knew that I was living far under my capacity and set out to discover just how healthy I could become again.

I had learned by then about how our genetics interact with food, stress, and lifestyle, to either promote health or disease (the basis for the field of epigenetics). So much of our health trajectory we can own. For me, combining personalized nutrition (meaning, what works well for one person may be different from what another person needs), along with practices like mindfulness, good times with good people, yoga, and time in nature (because health is about everything we ingest) revitalized my health. Since then, I’ve continued to eat for the health and life I want to have, and to my surprise, I’m eating more deliciously than I was before. Healthy food can be ridiculously delicious.

I feel the need to clarify that, of course, not all health problems can be reversed by food alone. Yet, a surprising amount of what’s most common (both mental and physical) are diet-related chronic diseases. Using food as medicine can often make conditions a lot better and sometimes reduce the need for medical interventions altogether. Even the adult body has this amazing capacity to heal. I see it happen all the time for my clients.

TIR: Can you tell us more about the base broth recipes that are important components in the recipes in the book?

JSD: Nearly every recipe in the book starts with a broth – plant-based, or bone broth, which gets infused with health- and flavor-promoting herbs and spices to boost the nutritional power of every dish. The Better Broths System teaches how to make a base broth with just ten minutes of hands-on time and use it in meals, beverages, and treats all week. Some base broths are savory and some are sweet. They’re not sugary sweet, but flavored with cinnamon, cloves, orange and more, so they work in things like our Warm “Latte” Blend and Lavender Infusion. The idea is that broth-based cooking makes it easier to cook food that tastes good – because all the flavor imparts to your meal – and it’s the perfect medium for packing in nutrients while keeping things simple. I’ve found that broth-based cooking speeds things up in the kitchen.

TIR: There are so many recipes with important factual information regarding the health benefits of each ingredient, even desserts. What was the most challenging part about putting all of these recipes together?

JSD: So many challenges! First, I wanted to develop a bunch of recipes that could be made with ten minutes or less hands-on time and still support things like immunity, gut health, stress, anxiety, arthritis, detoxification, and blood sugar balance. Those super quick recipes kick off the book with infusions, tonics, and blends. We designed them for busy parents, kids wanting a quick snack, the person who wants to eat for their health but has limited time or energy, or the person who doesn’t love to cook.

The team and I tested over 900 broth-recipe combinations to figure out the flavors that work best. We also wanted to create great-tasting multicultural recipes that people love to get when eating out, like Pho, Thai Curry, and Mexican Mole, along with familiar staples like meatloaf (ours is great), Chicken Chili, and Cream of Mushroom Soup, and remake them into versions that are health-promoting and can work for everyone, even those who need to avoid gluten or dairy, for instance. Plus, I knew the book needed sweets and treats, so we created Strawberries ‘n Cream Ice Pops, Coconut Milk Rice Pudding, Apple Spiced Pancakes, and even a Citrus Fizz Mocktail, all infused with healing ingredients, and even kid-tested and approved.

TIR: Now that the book has been released this week, how are you feeling about the culmination of this project?

JSD: After three years in development, it’s thrilling that the book is finally in print and available for people to use. As of now, after just four days on the market, I’m excited it’s become an Amazon #1 best-seller and their top new release for Healthy Cooking. Knowing that people are interested in this information and that the work will reach so many people, makes the days, nights, and weekends I devoted to it worth it! My biggest hope is for readers to learn easy, doable ways to fold healthy foods into their routines. My end goal? To help readers discover their healthiest selves so they can have many years together with loved ones making memories, enjoying life and the world, living to their full potential, and of course, sharing great food.

TIR: You grew up in Rutherford. What did you enjoy about living in Rutherford?

JSD: Now that I’ve lived in many cities and countries when I come back to Rutherford, I appreciate it even more than I did while growing up. I loved biking to friends’ houses, having easy access to Memorial Field, our great schools and teachers, the quick train or bus ride into New York, date nights on Park Avenue, and easy rides to the beach. I also love New Jersey radio! I made amazing friends and appreciated that we could basically go wherever we wanted and feel safe, and carefree. After my recent search to buy a home, I appreciate the beauty of Rutherford, the houses, the trees, and the character. It’s a special place!

TIR: How did your upbringing influence your current career and life choices and goals?

JSD: My parents, Bonnie and Stuart Sheppard, led by example by volunteering, seeking out careers that help others, finding ways to help people in their everyday life, and standing up for what’s right. This made it easier for me to navigate life choices because I had those values as my compass. We also shared great food together- from homemade pot roast and bouillabaisse to chicken soup and chicken cacciatore, made with home-grown Jersey tomatoes and homemade broth. Holidays were family, friend, and food-centric, and there was always room for one more at the table. So, I’ve always valued the magic of food.

If you’re interested, here’s where to buy a copy of Better Broths & Healing Tonics. Or, head here to learn more about the book or see different buying options.

If you’d like to stay in touch about nutrition or public health, or you’re interested in bringing food as medicine to community health initiatives, please drop me a note on my website, find me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Instagram

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