Aliza Sokolow is a food stylist, photographer, baker, and soon-to-be published author whose passion for food has given her followers a lot to smile about in these uncertain times. But don’t call her an influencer. “I prefer the term impactor. I don't consider myself an influencer. I think it's a weird term,” said Sokolow.
And she’s not wrong. The coveted (and elusive) blue verified check mark next to her name on her Instagram profile didn’t simply come to be because she takes beautiful pictures of food. Although her pieces in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times may have given way to becoming verified, Aliza Sokolow’s body of work is just part of what makes her so impressive. So how did Sokolow make her introduction to the world of food styling? Architecture, of course.
“I studied to be an architect at UC Berkeley and I graduated at the height of the 2008 recession. I couldn't find a job doing anything,” said Sokolow. One thing she did know, however, was that her career wouldn’t be in any traditional form of architecture. But the four years spent learning about the craft and armed with a minor in industrial engineering were not all for naught. Sokolow knew her understanding of practical design, backed by her knowledge of physics and science, in general, would lead her to her purpose. It would come by way of Hollywood, first.
“My first job out of school was as a set design assistant for a food TV show. I saw that there were all these food stylists there. So I walked in and I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is food architecture,’ said Sokolow. What came next was what truly opened the door for her to a new world. She worked as a stylist on Emmy Award-winning Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Soon, her work as a food stylist began to be featured extensively in commercials for major brands and publications. Today, you can find her images displayed at restaurants from coast to coast. Last summer, she completed work on Evan Funke’s American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta, a 2020 IACP Awards Finalist for Food Photography & Styling. Now, Aliza is working on her most personal endeavor: a book titled, This Is What I Eat, which is set for release by Random House and Harmony Rodale in 2022.
In the book, Liza, a five year-old girl, learns about healthy foods and how your family gets them. It focuses on colors and shapes of whole foods like vegetables and fruits and how important it is to put food grown from the earth into your body to make you healthy. Sokolow’s mission to write about health and wellness for a young audience stretches back over a decade ago to experiences she had while working on TV. Sokolow noted, “When I worked for Jamie Oliver, I had a lot of firsthand experience with kids in schools, focusing on children's health. So that's that's the basis of my book, and I can't wait to get it into people's hands. A lot of parents are always like, ‘My kids don't eat vegetables or fruit. And I'll say, ‘Well , let's see how we can get your kids excited about eating produce through colors and things that are more relatable and tangible to them.”
Connecting with people on a level that makes sense to them is truly the key to getting the public to eat healthier and also, expand their palettes. “Food waste is a huge problem in America and I think more and more people are opening their eyes to trying fruits and vegetables that they may never have thought about eating or didn't even know existed.”
Food insecurity is also an opportunity for people to expand their eating repertoire. Especially low-income communities have been affected by this lack of healthy food access, but Sokolow is hopeful this will change. “There are a lot of really great organizations [that are addressing this problem]. There’s a place called SÜPRMARKT that goes and buys seconds from produce companies and farms.” In turn, these markets sell to communities with little access to healthy fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the price that you would find at a big box grocery store.
While she may not regard herself as an influencer, Aliza has certainly helped positively influence people to expand their horizons on what a meal should or could look like. Especially plant-based diets, which is a major focus of the art she shares on her Instagram account. Ornate arrangements of nutritious whole foods can make fruits and vegetables appetizing to even the most picky of eaters. And not just for photographs, Aliza certainly approves of plant-based diets and its ability to change positively change health, fix environment and resolve issues in the economy.
“Eating plant based is great for so many different reasons. It's great for the environment and it's great for climate. One of the things I love about New York so much is their commitment to composting and farmer's markets. When you support farmer’s markets, you're giving people jobs to be farmers. Truly eating plant-based and supporting that,” says Sokolow.
Eating healthy is more important now than ever before. While the presence of coronavirus has likely permanently altered the way we interact, COVID-19 has also changed the way that we must take care of ourselves, and therefore, how we eat. Sokolow has an important take on this:
“Eat the cake. Don't deprive yourself, but just don't do it every day. I think moderation is really important. But you are what you eat. So if you're eating things that make you feel good, everything else is going to feel better.” While a healthy diet may not prevent you from getting COVID, staying healthy gives you a far better fighting chance against the virus if you contract it. COVID has clearly had an impact on people’s interaction with food, as well. “I think it's [COVID-19] caused people to get into the kitchen a lot more and see that cooking can be fun and it's important to know exactly what you're putting into your body.”
Aliza Sokolow is poised to be a leader in a food revolution, guiding a message of the importance of a healthy diet by reminding us that the most nutritious food is also the most beautiful, and by making us all aware that food knowledge is power. Aliza said it best: she’s not an influencer…she’s an impactor.