Eat to live or live to eat? Either way, Alex Palmerton knows that an essential part of living is right there on your plate. As a universal necessity for every being on this planet, Alex believes that eating not only brings us together, but the manner in which it is done also sets us apart — it builds community and tells the world (and whoever is lucky enough to be seated at your table) who you are and what you stand for. It is this philosophy, along with a strong desire to rebuild the life of her choosing following her beloved father’s passing, that has inspired Alex to start her own business — a creative consulting company called The 5th Sense. Without further ado, let’s dig in!
**Psst! Be sure to stay tuned for Alex’s Foodie Guide to Atlanta on the site tomorrow!
- Age: 25
- Location: As of July 9th, Denver, Colorado. Previously Atlanta.
- Education: Public school all the way through! I ended at UNC-Chapel Hill. I majored in journalism & mass communication and minored in creative writing. The highlight was studying for a brief semester in Italy and creating my own food and the media course when I returned my senior year.
- Field of Interest: Food communications, specifically food-centered media and marketing.
- What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? I am very decisive; I have an extremely clear picture of what I like and don’t like. That doesn’t mean I’m not open-minded, but it keeps me very intentional with my own work, relationships and hobbies. And ordering at restaurants.
- What Inspired You Today? Today and everyday, Humans of New York. If you’re not following Brandon on some form of social media yet, you’re seriously missing out. The stories he shares are heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny, down-right depressing — it’s an emotional rollercoaster. But they always leave me thinking and challenging the way I perceive others and their experiences. I cried my eyes out reading this one a couple of months ago.
- What Are You Currently Reading? I’m always picking up an old favorite, A Fork in the Road, which is a compilation of prominent food critics, chefs, writers and tv-personalities sharing their most poignant food memories. It was edited by the former editor-in-chief at Saveur. I was lucky enough to attend a reading of some chapters in New York a few years ago and feel very attached to it.
- Are You Working On Any Projects That You’re Particularly Excited About? Everything in my life is so new right now, so it’s all exciting! I’m moving across the country, and I’ve started my own business doing freelance copywriting and social media work, primarily focusing on food, beverage and restaurant brands. It’s called The 5th Sense. I like to say we craft the content you crave.I’m also writing a book that I hope to pick back up when I’m more settled here — It’s the book I wish had existed when my dad died in January. It’s going to be about grief in your 20s. The rough title is “Grieverse: a 20-something’s guide to reversing grief and getting on with your life.” Some of my first excerpts/ideas are on Medium right now.
Questions + Answers
The articles you’ve written for Medium on grieving the loss of your dad are so honest, direct, and completely without pretension. Has writing about your experience helped you to better cope with your loss?
Those are actually three ways I would describe my dad, so really, thank you. That means a lot.
Growing up, while other kids had hobbies in athletics or arts, I was always writing. My brain is a scary place, and getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper has always been cathartic for me.
Writing about this whole experience has helped me more than I could have ever imagined, though. Throughout the short six months from my dad’s cancer diagnosis to death, my thoughts and emotions were everywhere (and they still are, most of the time). Writing them down forces me to tackle each one as they come, and it provides a nice outlet to look back and reflect on them later.
I write mostly for myself, but I do think there’s an incredible power in sharing it with others. I wrote the first piece about my dad when I was up all night trying to google articles on grief that I could relate to, but there was nothing that spoke to a 20-something who had lost a parent — especially a father/daughter combo. So I made it myself, hoping no one would have to feel as alone as I was again. Since then, I’ve interviewed friends in similar situations, and I hope to turn it into a book down the line when I have a bit more perspective on the whole ordeal.
As you’ve rebuilt your life in your father’s absence — new city, new husband, new dog, new business — how has your father’s presence manifested in these recent endeavors?
Ah, he’s in everything I do, so much so that it’s made many familiar places and things in my life too painful to endure anymore. My dad and I spoke every day, on my way to and from work. There’s an inevitable hole in everything that I do now.
One sleepy day in February, about a month after he died, I mindlessly fell back into my routine and tried to call him on my way to work. Big mistake, clearly. Crying over the backdrop of his voicemail on bluetooth, I pulled over and realized trying to live this same life with the same routine was going to kill me. The hole in my life was too apparent. I scribbled on a piece of paper (now on Medium), “I don’t want a hole in the wall. I want to knock the entire thing down. I will never be the same. Why should my life be?” And that started me on this crazy quest to change everything. Bless my husband for going along with all of it.
My dad always taught us that stories were more important than stuff, and I watched that come to fruition when he was so at peace with his diagnosis. After everything, he could still smile and say, “I’ve done so much with the 59 years I’ve been given. I don’t have any complaints or regrets.”
I want that peace for myself. I know that it’s a long way away, but I’m working towards it by building this new life on top of the goals my dad and I often discussed: moving away, starting my own business.
They were all things I planned for myself “down the line,” but I realized, why not now?
I’ve been a planner my whole life, and even that couldn’t stop what has happened to me this past year. Now I’m just trying to let go and focus on getting out of my comfort zone so I can have more of those “story moments” like he did.
Your emphasis on the unifying power of food and drink and its ability to break down barriers reminds us a lot of Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic, Jonathan Gold of the LA Times. In your opinion, why is food and drink such a powerful and unique promotional medium?
Eating is the only thing that every person on this planet HAS to do every day yet still does it so uniquely. Rooted in history, family, culture, science–it’s a really passionate subject for a lot of people! Including me, clearly.
Most of all, preparing and sharing a meal with others is so powerful. You’re literally saying, “here, have a piece of me and what I’m about.”
You can tell a lot about a person by what they do or do not put in their bodies. That’s what makes the marketing side of it so personal and exciting. Restaurants and food companies, like anything else in the culinary landscape, are so rich with stories. I really do live for helping people tell them. I started my business on that very idea!
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
People ask me this so often that I put it in the FAQ on my website.
Summer tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt. Salmon crudo. The juiciest of cheeseburgers (my dad’s or one from Shake Shack). Home fries. Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. A bottle of Meiomi. Probably a Cheez-It or ten.
For many, starting your own business requires being comfortable with a certain level of self-promotion. During our interviews with other accomplished young women, this is often cited as a bit of a challenge. Did you experience that?
I feel so strongly about this, so I’m glad you brought it up!
I think everyone experiences a certain level of shyness or self-doubt, but if you don’t believe in yourself and your ideas, how can you expect anyone else to? To survive as an entrepreneur, you have to be your biggest advocate.
I wish I could look at all of the women who shy away from discussing their dreams and tell them, “It’s okay to dream big. It’s okay to be proud of yourself. It’s okay to share that with other people.”
It’s kind of the reverse Golden-Rule: Do unto yourself as you would like others to do unto you. As women, we need to treat ourselves better if we want others to do the same. What do you have to lose by being your biggest fan? I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say, “How dare she be so proud of her hard work!”
Who inspires you?
Alex Hawkins– She beat stage 3 lymphoma last year and has an incredible job at The Weather Channel, which she continued to work the ENTIRE time she was in treatment.
Molly Mayo— One of those people who endlessly followed her childhood dreams. When we were six, she said “I want to be a director,” and she actually did it — she went to film school at SCAD, moved to LA, the whole nine. She’s super inspiring!
Megan Carden— My brother’s girlfriend. They’re road tripping across the US right now (from Tennessee to Alaska!) They’re almost to the Arctic Circle now. My brother is an adventure photographer so they’re ice-climbing, hiking all these cool mountains, etc. She’s totally fearless. (and they’re blogging about the experience at chrishigginsphoto.com)