Skin Food Revival - An interview with Megan Bre Camp
[Apri 2021, by Alexzandria Compton] Megan Bre Camp’s lineage of pursuits is as thick and rich as the tallow she works with. With a background robust with art and life intertwined with a personal history and ancestral connection that runs as deep and wide as the care she puts into her work, you could almost say that these layers are truly what gives Summer Solace Tallow the body that it does...
AC: In your own words, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Hello! I’m Megan Bre Camp, an Asian American woman, mother of two lovely daughters, wife to my husband Brian, and owner and founder of Summer Solace Tallow, regenerative skin care and home goods product line based in North Oakland, California. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska then transplanted to the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 19 in 2004.
My father is a military veteran who raised me as a single parent. His family is indigenous to the Central Highlands of Vietnam, known as the Montagnard (what the French called them- "mountain people"), of the Sedang tribe. They are coffee and rubber tree farmers, weavers, and humble animists living in their ancient matriarchal society. My mother is Irogot, part of a group of indigenous minorities from the mountainous countryside of Northern Philippines. I studied Culinary Arts and Hospitality at the University of Anchorage Alaska and Horticulture and Permaculture at Merritt College in Oakland. I managed and cooked in various San Francisco Bay Area kitchens, including Standard Fare and Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley, as well as the kitchen of a French confectionary where I worked as a chocolatier.
I founded Summer Solace Tallow in the Spring of 2014 with the innate intention to revive and preserve the traditional and sustainable use of pasture-raised Cattle tallow fat for skincare, soaps, and candles. I work with and source from local Northern California ranchers and farmers for their exceptionally pure, high-quality organic ingredients like Cattle suet from Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales Bay, organic Calendula flowers from medicinal herbal farms in Sonoma, Native Extra Virgin Olive Oil grown by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in Capay Valley, organic clays, grey sea salts, hand-harvested Mendocino seaweed, teas from Leaves and Flowers in Berkeley, and exquisitely transcending organic essential oils, absolutes, and attars.
It’s been common practice in recent years to be in favor of utilizing more botanically centered body products, but SST is beautiful and unique in the sense that it also relies on locally harvested tallow for its base. Tell us more about your journey towards founding your body care business and any “AHA!” moments leading up to your decision to center it around the beauty of tallow.
My journey from growing up with my Indigenous father in Alaska, being immersed in the outdoors to creating magical summer gardens that fed my imagination, to be a hardcore vegan/vegetarian to a lover of free-roaming animal products was a life-changing one, for sure. From my teens to mid-20s I went from vegetarian to vegan, then raw foodist, and finally locavore. Working in many vegetarian Raw and Buddhist kitchens in the Bay Area, I didn’t eat seasonally, but I did eat organic. I loved going to Rainbow Grocery in SF to shop vegan/vegetarian, but most of that food was processed and packaged, not sustainable.
"Everything that I've done in regards
to food, nature, and career, I feel,
goes back to my ancestors."
When I spent a Summer homesteading in Maine in my mid-20s, I was exposed to young radical farmers and long-time ranchers who were raising their own animals, harvesting them, letting them graze off of the land. These farmers fermented foods, they foraged and ate seasonally. That opened me up to the idea of farming and ranching. I started studying horticulture and permaculture and began working at a community-supported kitchen in Berkeley called Three Stone Hearth. I was introduced to traditional diets and the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. My mind was blown! Grass-fed butter is good for you, fermented foods are nourishing, bone broth can heal your gut. I was inspired and thrilled about learning and practicing how to make nutrient-dense foods.
I had an epiphany - I wanted to work with grass-fed fats like beef tallow in the form of skincare products and blend them with the best local ingredients for healing the skin. Time passed, and I worked in other food-related jobs as a baker and as a French chocolatier. There is where I really learned attention to detail and how to slowly melt fats, butter, and chocolate. I spent over 2 years in chocolate production. I loved the solitary aspect of my work and space. I loved taking care of my machine, tools, candy molds, and keeping my station immaculate.
One day, sitting at my holistic dentist’s office in Berkeley, I revisited the idea of working with tallow I'd had years before, and this time I was motivated. I quit my job a few days later and dove right into creating a line of tallow-based balms, soaps, and candles.
The place in which my husband, daughters, and I reside in a converted storefront in North Oakland. It is 1,400 sq. ft., and we call it our Viking ship. It serves as an escape from the busy, congested street in Oakland just outside the door. It's a creative commercial space with several lofts and areas for us to create dwelling and studio spaces. I wanted to utilize the front area for a retail and production space for the tallow products that I was developing.
I had the conceptual idea of the product line on a Wednesday, created my blends during the week and into the weekend using all of my intuition and intention, then on the following Thursday went to downtown Oakland, created a fictitious business name, applied, and received my business license and seller's permit. On Friday I created an email address, a website, and went out to a couple of shops who then became my first stockists. It was a brushfire of uncontrolled energy and excitement getting it all together (I am a fire sign!). I had nothing to fear and nothing to lose. This was my calling!
Everything that I've done in regards to food, nature, and career, I feel, goes back to my ancestors. Nature, farming, integrity, respect, and connection to the land, seasons, and environment are and will always be a part of me. Even when I was a rebellious teen choosing the city over the country, I returned back to the land and found contentment. My roots were calling me home.
Vegetarianism was my way of seeking spirituality and looking back, it was inevitable. It was a rite of passage as a teen, but also important in shaping my culinary career. Because of it, I sought out natural foods and all things organic. I had the responsibility of cooking for myself which also is the revelation for using ingredients from the local environment. To create a sustainable, low-carbon, and water footprint, it’s wise to think about ingredient sources, the hands that have labored and their quality of life, how far the ingredients travel to be processed, packaged, then delivered to you. Learning about sustainable, seasonal, and traditional foods and food-based ingredients took me further into understanding that the Earth's systems function necessarily with animals, and taught me that we can incorporate well cared for, pasture-raised animal foods into our diets in a holistic way.
Continuing to work with tallow, hand-crafting each product and tuning in to their ingredients, their terroir, and our local season, and teaching others about the holistic benefits of animal fats, is where I belong in my career and with my commitment to environmental responsibility.
"Grass-fed and Pasture-raised tallow fat are rich in vitamins
and nutrients that most plants can not possess.
It is very much like our skin and is readily absorbable."
Summer Solace Tallow is celebrating 7 years since we first started. I am grateful for the challenges, triumphs, and all of the emotions and energy that go into establishing your vision of what the world needs right now and giving it life, love, and recognition. A simple way of life is how I grew up and defines who I am. I understood that my intense passion for preserving the use of pasture-raised tallow fat on the skin would have a business model of Slow Growth, which I embrace and celebrate the seed which is slowly growing into a deep-rooted Slow Body Care Movement. Small positive actions turn into a collective river of change.
What was your introduction to homesteading in Maine, and who or what influenced your decision to follow that journey?
My sister and I decided to meet up there in Bangor at an herb and flower farm called Rebel Hill for the Summer to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It was such a fun experience! We were set up in a little cabin there in the woods and got a really good taste of what it was like to homestead. We went fishing by the lake, fermented cabbage, and other vegetables from the farm, cooked over the fire, and ate fermented bread and local cheese. We did also take a few necessary trips to the local organic co-op for other goods, but for the most part were able to sustain ourselves off of the land, which was really satisfying. I met so many inspiring people there who were living slow and sustainable lifestyles in tune with the land and its seasons and was absolutely motivated to carve my own path along similar lines, knowing that in some way holistic animal husbandry was a major part of my future. There was definitely a soul connection between growing up in rural Alaska and my experience in Maine. Being in Bangor felt both like a new awakening and walking down memory lane at the same time.
We love that you work with local ranchers and use the term “locavore” as a way to describe yourself and your lifestyle. Can you elaborate more on this term, as well as your relationship with the folks who help supply your tallow and herbs?
I was first acquainted with the term "locavore" through Jessica Prentice, the founder of Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley. I managed the production kitchen there for a while, and it was during my time there that I experienced the major shift in consciousness that set me on my current path. Despite its rapidly increasing popularity now, the concept of locavorism isn't new at all. Eating locally sourced foods was standard up until the switch to industrialized food processing. Being a locavore means consuming foods coming from your local area (within an approximate 150 mi. radius), as well as seasonally and sustainably. Shopping at your local farmers’ market, and supporting small businesses like whole animal butchers and artisan cheesemakers is a great way to both support the local economy as well as improve the health of ourselves and the earth. The purveyors from whom I source are just as committed as I am to regenerative, carbon farming practices, and ethical animal husbandry. I believe we all have to be on the same intuitive wavelength and work together in order to achieve our goal of a healthy community.
What kind of framework have you developed that ensures you source and maintain only the highest purity of ingredients for your product?
The ingredients for Summer Solace Tallow have always been held to the highest standards, the same standards I apply to the foods that I eat and provide my family with. Our tallow balms are designed to be food for the skin, which is why it's so important to us that we source from sustainable ranches, farms, and other local food businesses from within the San Francisco Bay Area.
What made you decide to eventually pursue skincare over culinary?
I love cooking, and learned how to at a very young age. My mother lived in California with my half-siblings, and when I would visit in the Summers I'd watch her cook and then emulate when I returned to my father in Alaska, where cooking quickly became my responsibility. I got a job as a barista when I was 15 (this was in the early 2000s and the beginning of the Food Network celebrity chef era), and because I enjoyed it I thought I might have the self-discipline to work in a professional kitchen and decided to go to culinary school. Suffice to say, I didn't do well in the cutthroat, tense, passive-aggressive environment that is the norm in a professional kitchen. It was when I was working as a chocolatier that I was able to slow down and be truly creative. I enjoyed the emulsification process, using softer ingredients, and having to take time. When I was working at Three Stone Hearth, I would use tallow to help heal my dry, overworked hands. It was then that I realized I could create a lovely, healing tallow-based balm for the skin.
Who were your top literary hero’s when it came to directing your beauty and lifestyle choices? Any book suggestions, organizations, or experiences you can suggest for our readers who are new to embarking on a more sustainable and holistic way of living?
Sally Fallon and Rebecca Burgess are the two names that first come to mind. Two of Fallon's books, Nourishing Traditions and The Fourfold Path to Healing: Working with the Laws of Nutrition, Therapeutics, Movement and Meditation in the Art of Medicine co-written with Dr. Thomas Cowen are constant sources of inspiration for me in the realms of holistic nutrition and wellness. And then Rebecca Burgess is someone that I greatly admire & have had the pleasure to work with through her nonprofit organization Fibershed (I'm a producer-member of the Northern California Fibershed and run the Fibershed booth at the Temescal Farmers' Market every other weekend). Her book Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy is an absolute MUST read for anyone interested in delving deeper into a more sustainable and holistic lifestyle. One other favorite of mine was put out by Reader's Digest back in the '80s and is titled Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills.
What does true beauty mean to you? In your eyes, what makes someone or something “beautiful”?
True beauty to me is mindfulness in nature.
Every day we are inundated by products whose ingredients we can’t pronounce and produced in a way that not only dramatically affects our global environment, but also our physical and emotional landscapes. With a holistic mindset and an intuitive connection to the land and its inhabitants, we are all positively touched by the grace of Megan’s process whether we realize it or not, something that is so joyfully beautiful and genuinely freeing about a regenerative way of life.
If you are interested in pursuing a slower more sustainable beauty regime, Summer Solace Tallow soaps and candles are included in our limited edition spring gift sets. The full assortment can be purchased online, or sourced locally at the weekend Temescal Farmers Market.