Dishing on food, fitness, and starting your own business

Fine Arts, CCAD Fine Arts grad Alison Oakes of Naked Foods

An art education can take you to places you never imagined. After graduating from Columbus College of Art & Design, Alison Oakes (Fine Arts, 2004) earned an MFA in painting — and then parlayed her creative approach first into work as a personal trainer, and more recently into Naked Foods, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based clean food education, meal prep, and delivery business.

Although the parallels between the worlds of art and health might not be immediately obvious, Oakes said there is common ground between the two.

“Being creative with food and exercise is key to being healthy. Cooking is a creative puzzle of food groups, textures, colors, shapes, sizes, and nutrition that I have to balance in my head each time I am designing a meal and creating a new menu item. It's the same skills and method of thinking that I use when I'm painting. When I'm making a painting, I’m balancing, line, color, value, shapes, textures, and all the elements of design. So this particular skill set comes into play every time I’m in the kitchen,” she said. “We eat with our eyes first, so making the meals and recipes appealing to the eye is a huge priority.”

In October 2017, Oakes visited her alma mater to talk to Fine Arts students about her career and share some favorite recipes. Hear more from her on healthful living and creativity in the Q&A below:

You were a personal trainer for seven years. How did the evolution from art to physical health and fitness happen?

After graduate school, I wanted to focus on my health and to get into good shape and clean up my diet. College had a way of making it hard to have a normal balanced schedule for me. As I was on my own journey, I found that I was influencing my friends and family, and I found helping others with their fitness goals to be very natural and very rewarding. So I decided to get certified and become a trainer. All of this was happening while I was an Adjunct Professor at Pellissippi State Community College. I was not full-time so I needed to make extra income, and the flexible schedule and good pay of personal training were perfect. As time went on, I found I was affected and inspired by personal training, so I decided to train full-time.

Food has always been important to me. As I learned more about how terrible most of America eats, and how we lost sight of what real food is, I became very passionate about educating people.

I've tried every method of eating. As a young adult, I experimented with vegetarianism and veganism. I ate a ketogenic diet for almost a year (which means NO carbs), I’ve done strict paleo (no grain or dairy for six months), and I’ve followed many other specific methodologies. All have had their share of good benefits and challenges that helped me learn how the body processes food and how it can adapt to different circumstances.

In recent times I eat a very balanced diet: lots of vegetables and fruit, potatoes and some grains, lean meats, nuts, and seeds. I count my macronutrients to stay balanced.

What is Naked Foods?

Naked Foods is the smart solution for busy people in need of quick, healthy meals. We pre-package macro-balanced meals that consist of lean proteins and complex carbs that are accompanied by a rainbow of vegetables. Naked Foods began because many of my personal training clients knew I cooked healthfully for myself, and they begged me to cook for them one summer, so I did!

How does your arts education impact the way you work now?

Going through seven years of fine arts programs, you develop a thick skin to criticism! As visual artists, we go through so many critiques, countless hours of work being picked apart, which makes you be able to see your work objectively. This is a great skill in the business world. There's nothing worse for a business owner than not being to take criticism and learn from it so you can improve upon your mistakes.

What do you hope Fine Arts students got out of your presentation?

I hope they see the possibility of having a career in another field, that they can still be creativity fulfilled by choosing another path. There aren't enough professor jobs to fulfill all these students getting fine arts teaching jobs, so it’s important to open to other careers. I also hope to encourage students to consider entrepreneurism.

Alison Oakes shares her recipe for Hasselback apples on Knoxville's WBIR here.