Authenticity and All-Natural Living with Lily Diamond of Kale & Caramel
If you follow food blogs, you’ve likely come across Lily Diamond, known for her gorgeous and deeply heartfelt blog Kale & Caramel. More than just a collection of recipes, Kale & Caramel is a space where Lily shares nourishing food, all-natural beauty tips, deeply personal meditations and stories, self-care practices, and more. A social justice activist, Lily also recently co-founded What’s Your Story, a forthcoming book and podcast whose first season shone a light on women in politics. Lily’s writing and authenticity are remarkable, and her words are almost always exactly what you needed to hear. Below, Lily shares more about her personal history, the philosophies that define her work, how to eat to feel good, and more.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing. How has growing up in Hawaii informed your current approach to self-care, food, and storytelling?
Growing up on Maui was an immersion in incredible beauty, deep sensorial awakening, and the complexities of identity, race, and community. I was fortunate to grow up knowing the lull of the ocean, the power of the mountains and the forest, and the necessity of getting my feet and hands dirty on land that sustained me and our family. Hawai’i taught me to look first to the land around me, to respect the earth, and to respect native cultures and traditions.
At the same time, growing up on land that was relatively recently colonized, I was deeply aware of my whiteness from a very young age. A cultural and sociopolitical reckoning is still taking place there. All of this embedded in me a desire to look deeply at the experiences and perspectives of all humans—not just my own—and to practice radical empathy on a daily basis. Checking my privilege, and making conscious choices to use that privilege to uplift the voices of those who have been marginalized, is a daily practice.
My hope is that this attention to the earth, to personal health and wellness, and to empathic storytelling is present in everything I do, both on my website Kale & Caramel and on What’s Your Story?, the podcast I recently launched with author and activist Rebecca Walker (which is also a forthcoming book).
What drew you to a career path that is largely lived in the digital sphere?
I never imagined I would be living my business life online, but as a writer in today’s era of digital fixation, I was funneled into a career as a blogger in 2012. Friends coerced me into starting Kale & Caramel while I was living in San Francisco working as a copywriter and editor, and the rest is history. The blog was born at a time when Instagram was just beginning to chart its path to ubiquity, and the PR and marketing industry was discovering their use of it as a highly effective marketing tool.
As my online presence grew, companies began to reach out about native product placement in my writing and recipes, and after a year of exploration, I realized I could make just as much a business of that as I already had in my work as a writer and editor. By 2014, a couple publishing companies had written to me about the possibility of working on a cookbook with them, which, as a writer who’d spent her whole life seeking out publishers and begging them to showcase my work, completely floored me. The digital sphere had actually given me the agency to define my own work and niche in a way that was highly beneficial to the broader trajectory of my career.
Within a year, I started working with a literary agent and we sold Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table at auction to Atria/Simon & Schuster, which is a hybrid memoir-cookbook that charts the course of my healing after my mother’s death.
Finally, while the freedom of working online has always appealed to me, I will say it’s also introduced me to an incredible community of likeminded humans who I regularly meet with in person. Our digital worlds have become very much IRL.
Your knowledge base is so extensive. How did you become such an expert in all-natural living?
My mother was an herbalist and aromatherapist, and both my parents were lifelong students of plants, healthy living, vegetarian cooking, and natural healing. From the time I was young, my parents taught me that plants were our allies, and that what we put in and on our bodies directly affected our overall health. My parents also owned and operated a successful body care and spa product company together, so I learned from them how to use essential oils and all manner of natural body and beauty products to care for my skin.
Moreover, living in the verdant climes of Hawai’i, we were able to grow a great deal of our own food and spend a considerable amount of time outside. Hawai’i’s state motto, ua mau ke ea o ka āina i ka pono—may the life of the land perpetuated in righteousness—was a constant reminder that I must always be a steward of the land I live on. That its health is my own, and vice versa. That meant it was important to cultivate a strong awareness of ways in which I could live in harmony with the planet, both in how I ate and in what I put on my body.
What made you decide to start Kale & Caramel?
Cooking and storytelling have always been important parts of my day-to-day life—from the time I was a kid. In my early twenties, a couple friends began badgering me to start a blog, and I finally acquiesced (despite having no clue what a blog was, nor ever having read one).
It seems like there’s a new eating trend gaining popularity every other week, and it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what’s a fad. What advice do you have for people trying to find a style of eating that makes them feel good?
I’m very much of the Michael Pollan school of thought: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I think food should be simple, clean, and a source of joy. Anything that becomes an obsession can ultimately turn into a source of anxiety or fixation, so I try to keep my thinking around diet, food trends, and food should's and shouldn’t’s as light as possible. I listen to my body—what makes me feel good hours after I eat it (not just in the moment), I let myself play in the kitchen, and I don’t take it all too seriously. I also constantly push myself to try new foods that scare me, because I don’t ever want to feel that I’m making my decisions from a place of fear—about food or anything else in life.
What advice do you have for people who want to incorporate more natural foods and body products into their lives, but find such approaches too expensive?
There’s a myth that’s been perpetuated by the hyper-capitalization of wellness that the more expensive something is, the better it must be for us, and the more highly coveted it should be. I completely reject this notion. Many of the healthiest foods and body care products can be found in our kitchens and pantries, requiring no extra expense.
Instead of expensive supplements and adaptogenic powders, try upping your intake of vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables (spinach, kale, dark leafy greens, berries, pomegranate, cabbage, sweet potato, carrots, I could go on). Shifting your diet in the direction of these nutritional powerhouses will immediately up your health game.
As for body care: I wash my face with honey and moisturize with single source oils, and doing so saves me literally hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year. These two practices alone are all you need for radiant, glowing skin (there’s science behind it, trust) and they’ll save you a ton of money.
What’s one important change someone can make today to start living a more natural lifestyle?
Stop worrying so much about what everyone thinks of you—it’s a complete waste of time.
What’s a dream you have for your future?
Scaling my business in terms of bringing on employees has been a consistent challenge for me—it’s difficult to know how and what to let go of control over when you’re used to doing everything on your own (and you’re a perfectionist, sigh). I’d love to see myself grow and let go of the reins a bit in that regard, so that my business itself can grow in all the ways it’s ready to!
You have such a wonderful perspective on self-care and self-love (such as one of your Instagram posts about how self-care doesn’t need to be some expensive, elaborate thing). Where does this attitude and perspective come from?
It’s a combination of the way I was raised and my reaction to the hyper-capitalization of the wellness industry I mentioned before. As I watched people fall prey to the advertising industry’s attempts to convince them they need to spend hundreds of dollars on a face mask or body oil that I could make myself for a dollar, I knew I had to speak out. I’ve lived most of my life on a tight budget, and the idea that you have to be of a certain socioeconomic bracket to access—or even worse, deserve—wellness or self-care, is both tragic and deeply incorrect. We need inclusivity in the worlds of wellness and self-care as we do in every other arena.
If there’s just one message people take away from your work, what do you hope it is?
That you’re not alone. That your voice is important. That you have everything you need right now, exactly as you are, to make healthy choices about your life and your body.