Tallu Schuyler Quinn
A Nashville, TN native, Tallu founded The Nashville Food Project in 2011 at the age of 31. With fierce hope and an expansive vision, she shepherded the organization for a decade through an incredible evolution. What began from a modest church kitchen and a handful of volunteers delivering sandwiches to homeless camps morphed into multi-pronged, interrelated initiatives for food justice. Under Tallu’s guidance, hundreds of thousands of scratch-made, nourishing meals have been shared across the city. Then in July 2020, Tallu was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. She died from the disease on February 17, 2022. Tallu was 42. “As a very young woman, Ms. Quinn saw a desperate need in her city,” Margaret Renkl wrote in The New York Times in 2021. “Step by step, enlisting thousands of others in a shared mission, she found a vast array of ways to meet it.” Indeed, community beats at the heart of the mission Tallu helmed at The Nashville Food Project – “bringing people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.” Her vision for community food security in which everyone in Nashville has access to the food they want and need, is both radical and achievable. But she’s also been known to say that the “bringing people together” aim of the mission is its most radical claim. She believed good food is more than a basic human need, it is a human right, and it can foster more than good health – it imbues a sense of belonging and purpose. She demonstrated in her life and work that community built through food can highlight our interdependence with one another and the Earth while piercing through the loneliness, isolation and feelings of scarcity so often associated with poverty. Along with a boundless energy and open, accepting love for humanity, Tallu also embodied the values of the Food Project: hospitality, stewardship, justice, interdependence, learning and transformation. The latter she often spoke about with a “fiercest hope” that people and situations can change. An inspiring teacher, speaker, writer and leader, she could fire up a crowd to action, weed a raised bed or clean out a walk-in cooler with equal intensity. She championed and shared the joy, hope and love in difficult food justice work. But even as an uplifting visionary to all those around her, she wasn’t afraid to deliver a realistic picture too, ever empathetic and aiming to untangle the systemic problems that lead to the need for food justice work in the first place. But rather than fall paralyzed at a never-ending news cycle of “fires ablaze, a poisoned planet groaning beneath the weight of overpopulation, drought, displacement and centuries-old conflict and war,” she urged that “it's radical to stay active and believing that we as individuals or small communities can make a dent of a difference.” “I recently heard someone speak about the difference between hope and optimism,” she continued. “Optimism is a feeling, a mood. But hope is a decision, a choice. Hope is something to practice, and to be enacted. And when the invitation comes to attend to the problem before us, we can lean on what we have learned from our practice.” Tallu believed the work of the Food Project embodied that practice – local solutions to overwhelming global issues. “When you come here I believe you will find that the tangible work of chopping vegetables and digging in the dirt to the benefit of our wider community will ease your mind, connect you to others, engage your creativity, and offer a chance to give yourself again to that most important spiritual practice – hope.” Tallu lives on in the organization she founded, but also in her many eloquent writings. In another letter she reflected on TNFP’s approach recalling a Wendell Berry quote: “if it can’t be weighed, measured, or counted it doesn’t exist.” And while she recognized this as a necessary part of funding the work – the counting of meals, volunteers, numbers of garden plots and the weighing of produce, she challenged us to think beyond a charity mindset and the emergency food system. “But how do we measure the other stuff? How do we talk about the connections between us as what matters most? Starting your day with a purpose. What it feels like to be a member of a community who loves you. The mindful presence required when communicating with someone who speaks a language different from your own fluent tongue. The blessings before you when a meal begins. The excitement that rises up in you when you eat delicious food. The contentment you feel when well nourished.” She believed in community work and the importance of the harder-to-measure impacts – the meals shared together that can make our city and world a better place. After her cancer diagnosis, Tallu continued writing on her CaringBridge website even as her vision began to fail. While she continued to touch on the issues of her life’s work, she also delved even deeper into matters of love, family, grief, the body, death. She eloquently and honestly shared her thoughts in stories that are at once humorous and heartbreaking, clinging to life while also showing us how to let go. She taught those around her with her presence to the very end. At the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis, for example, she wrote a reflection that included this ending: “I understand that whatever pain our family is facing is only the flipped side of what holds us together in love.” Tallu's extraordinary writing during this difficult time of her life led to her writing a book. Her memoir, “What We Wish Were True: Reflections on Nurturing Life and Facing Death,” will be published in April on Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House. “Life,” she wrote, “will dash and devastate, all while handing you a damn dream come true.” Of her writing, Renkl of The New York Times says this: “She shares unvarnished accounts of the indignities of cancer, and cancer treatment, but invariably her essays are also deeply felt and beautifully rendered meditations on the gifts — yes, the gifts — of struggle. Of suffering. Of temporality itself. A spirit of generosity and flashes of wit shine through even her saddest words. “Taken together, these essays of living a spiritually and emotionally rich life in a failing body are nothing less than a master class in how to be fully human. In recalling the events of her own life, and in plumbing those memories for meaning, Ms. Quinn prods readers to find meaning in their own struggles, to recall the too often overlooked beauty in their own lives.” Tallu grew up in an artistic Nashville family with a songwriting father, Thom Schuyler, and artist mother, Sarah whose painting of Tallu’s brain inspired the cover of her book. Tallu attended Harpeth Hall School and later earned a B.F.A in Papermaking and Bookbinding from the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee. She loved working with her hands, its slow, focused meditative nature intersects with her quest for the divine. She received a Master’s of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University in New York, where she focused her studies on art, ritual and liberation theology. After seminary, Tallu moved to Nicaragua, where she lived and worked with poor farmers on food security projects using methods of agriculture that build communities and protect the land. But before seminary, her job in an urban grocery store in Boston opened her eyes to food injustices and food waste. Both profound experiences laid the groundwork for her vocation. After returning to Nashville, she helped run the local arm of Austin-based Mobile Loaves & Fishes. The Nashville Food Project grew out of those experiences. Tallu is survived by her husband Robbie, and their children Lulah and Thomas Quinn. She is also survived by her parents Thom and Sarah Schuyler and brothers Roy and Luke Schuyler. She loved to cook for her family and loved ones. She loved creating, studying papermaking and bookbinding. And she loved music, specifically the Indigo Girls who she had seen live, remarkably, more than 40 times. Despite working in an incredibly difficult field, she made the time and space for these joys even as she called on us to consider our own joys and power to fight in many ways against despair. “To be restored to wholeness, to stay hopeful that healing — whatever that means to us — is possible,” Tallu wrote. “I believe in these things. I believe in it for me, for you, and for all of humanity. And for this earth we have misused and abused…I think about how my purpose may be the same in death as it continues to be in life — surrendering to the hope that our weaknesses can be made strong, that what is broken can be made whole.” At the request of the family, gifts can be made in memory of Tallu to support The Nashville Food Project now and in the future. Donations will support a Legacy Fund to maintain the Food Project's operations and grow Tallu's vision for community food security in Nashville.Read more Read less
You're getting a free audiobook.
$14.95 per month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.