The Hippest Hippie | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Food + Drink » Food + Drink Features

The Hippest Hippie

Local entrepreneur Taraleigh Silberberg builds a brand


Published April 28, 2009 at 4:47 p.m.

In the sunny kitchen of Taraleigh Silberberg’s Burlington home, a hand-lettered “Nourishment Menu” hangs on the fridge. But the “menu,” decorated with doodles, isn’t for one of Silberberg’s Thursday-night potluck dinners or the “Holistic Health” classes she teaches. The 31-year-old — self-dubbed “the Healthy Hippie” — describes it as “a list of 20 to 25 things that you absolutely love to do,” she explains. “You keep it with you all the time. If it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and you’re craving sugar but you’re not really hungry, you could get the nourishment from your soul instead of a doughnut.”

Silberberg’s own to-do list offers options such as drinking a cup of tea, heading to the backyard to use her hula hoop, and donning a “feather boa and dancing around.” That’s the sort of wholesome, whimsical personality with which the New Jersey transplant infuses her bimonthly rag, The Healthy Hippie Magazine. Each issue features musician interviews, Silberberg’s lifestyle tips, and recipes for nourishing fare such as “candy bars” made from dates, nut butters and berries.

Silberberg isn’t sporting a boa when she welcomes me into her home to teach me how to make crisp kale chips sprinkled with sea salt and cayenne pepper — one of her favorite snacks. But she does wear stretchy yoga attire, a thick hip belt of silver sequins and a colorful feathered band wrapped around her dreads.

To some, “hippie entrepreneur” may still sound like an oxymoron, but Silberberg is indisputably both. Besides publishing her free magazine with three business partners, the college dance major and graduate of NYC’s Institute for Integrative Nutrition teaches workshops — a recent one guided participants through a rigorous 10-day cleansing regimen — and sells handmade jewelry made from found objects and braided strands of old T-shirts.

Although it’s not Silberberg’s sole focus, food plays an important role in the Healthy Hippie philosophy. Her parents, who also self-identify as hippies, raised her as a vegetarian. But “I was really unhealthy,” Silberberg recalls. “I had horrible allergies and sinus infections.” At 22, faced with the prospect of nasal surgery, she decided to try a less invasive approach — a sea change in her diet. “I started eating local, happy grass-fed meat and dairy and cutting out the wheat and sugar. I haven’t had a sinus infection in nine years,” she exults.

While she embraces the health benefits of burgers and chicken, most of Silberberg’s recipes spotlight the usual suspects: tofu, tempeh, brown rice and tahini. Still, she gets occasional blowback from folks who expect hippies to be vegetarian, if not honey-and-egg-shunning vegan. “Sometimes I’ll post a recipe on the website that has meat in it, and people will say, ‘I thought you were a hippie? Hippies don’t eat meat.’”

The opposition doesn’t faze her. “I explain my stance, and either they understand or they don’t agree,” Silberberg says. “I’m a more productive member of society now that I eat meat. I won’t die for a cause.”

Still, it’s a little startling to learn which area restaurants she frequents with her accountant boyfriend and magazine co-owner, Daniel Weathers. Although Stone Soup and City Market’s hot bar make the list, the first eatery Silberberg mentions is The Scuffer Steak & Ale House. Why a family-oriented sports bar? “On Wednesday night they have 50 percent off hamburgers, and they’re organic, so I love that,” Silberberg raves. “I get avocado and no bun on my burger, a baked potato with Cabot butter and a side of vegetables, too.”

Other favorite spots include Sweetwaters, Sneakers Bistro, New World Tortilla and Penny Cluse Café. One of the pies at Bite Me shares her Healthy Hippie moniker. “We go out to eat a good amount because we really like to support the local economy,” says Silberberg.

It’s a far cry from the days when the petite, olive-skinned woman sold Blow Pops she’d purchased at Costco to finance her travels with a Phish tour, and made a habit of trading burritos for concert tickets. Silberberg has led more than a few lives, as professional hippie, as Phishhead and as ... cheerleader?

Yup — after graduating from college, she cheered professionally for the New Jersey Nets and was a tumbler for the New York Knicks. “I was totally a dancer; I was a personal trainer; everything I did was physical,” she remembers.

Then Silberberg tore her ACL on the court, which she calls “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Unwilling to exile herself to an office cubicle, she resolved to make her living by helping people get healthy physically and emotionally, using food as a medium.

Silberberg met Weathers, the reason she moved to Vermont, at a Phish show. Like many who toured, they both frequented a web-based fan forum, where they rubbed virtual shoulders. “All the girls had crushes on him,” she remembers. When they met, Silberberg was in another relationship: “I had boyfriend blinders,” she jokes. When that ended, the twosome quickly realized they had a perfect match. Silberberg relocated and started the magazine just a few months later.

The Healthy Hippie recently made the transition from a single-color matte format to a full-color glossy. It’s not the food co-op press organ some might expect from its title; Silberberg is open to different, even potentially jarring, voices. When a guy named Jay Planer, lead guitarist for a New York band called Unexplained Bacon, started satirizing her web-based “Hippie Tips” with his deliberately crass “Man Tips,” she invited him to contribute to her fledgling publication. In the first issue, which came out in January 2008, “Unke Celery’s Man Tips” appeared across from a segment called “Ask The Horny Hippie.”

Planer’s advice on how to handle an argument with one’s girlfriend was enough to harsh any feminist’s mellow. He wrote, “A good ‘schticking’ will generally tame her immediately … Girls use sex to make us go to craft fairs, their girlfriend’s pottery exhibit, shopping etc., so why can’t we use it to get what we want ... i.e., some flippin’ peace and quiet!”

But in general The Healthy Hippie is more dharma than Dane Cook routine. The current issue sports a serene cover shot of an almost-blossomed sunflower and offers articles on kombucha — a fermented tea drink — eco-friendly travel and “Phishstories,” including one of Silberberg’s own.

Silberberg never stopped being a Phishhead: Her next project is a collaborative cookbook inspired by Vermont’s most famous band. She got the idea after perusing a friend’s tome on “phan art.” “I thought, Why not do one on phan food together?” she recalls. “I was running on the bike path, which is where I get all of my really good ideas, and I happened to have my phone, so I texted it to myself so I wouldn’t forget.”

When Silberberg interviews bands, her questions often stray into the culinary realm with inquiries about favorite meals and recipes. In a similar fashion, her cookbook will meld melodies and meals. Contributors will put their recipes in cultural context, explaining whether the offering is “a family recipe, or were they stoned at 4 o’clock in the morning and came up with some inspiration,” Silberberg says. She’ll donate a portion of the proceeds to food banks in the towns Phish tours.

When it comes to her own recipes, Silberberg is fairly casual about ingredients and methodology. It wasn’t until she figured out that cooking doesn’t have to involve umpteen ingredients and steps that she embraced the art. “I realized cooking can be really simple and it’s really fun,” she says. For example, “When making brown rice, you don’t need to put in a specific number of cups of rice and water. You just put an inch of water above the rice and that’s it: It’s so much easier.”

For someone who’s “passionate about food and sharing food,” a natural next step is to conduct cooking lessons in her home. Silberberg hopes to draw intimate groups of about six students, who’ll help her prepare the food. “Then we’ll sit down with candlelight, a bottle of wine and music and enjoy the meal.” The first menu will be an exotic spread of “coconut milk soup, Taraleigh’s special Indian sauce over brown rice and black-bean brownies, and kale salad with tahini,” she speculates.

Right now, nutritional counseling is keeping Silberberg in the black. The magazine, while growing, is not a cash cow. “We’re making a little bit of money each time, and it’s building, but it’s not something anybody makes a living off of yet,” Silberberg admits. But she’s convinced the Healthy Hippie brand will take off. “When you’re doing the right thing and you’re on the right path, the right people always come to you and the right opportunities always come to you.”

One thing the Healthy Hippie doesn’t lack is positive energy. If that Law of Attraction stuff really works, expect to hear lots more about Taraleigh Silberberg. “We eventually want to have books, a TV show and a radio show,” the crunchy capitalist explains. “It’ll be like the Rachael Ray of hippies.”