437: How Grief, a Diagnosis with MS, and a Biracial Background Shaped Marta Rivera Diaz’s Career as a Food Creator

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A blue photograph of Hibiscus with the title of Marta Rivera Diaz's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'How Grief, a Diagnosis with MS, and a Biracial Background Shaped Marta Rivera Diaz's Career as a Food Creator.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

Welcome to episode 437 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Marta Rivera Diaz from Sense and Edibility.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Kate Ahl. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How Grief, a Diagnosis with MS, and a Biracial Background Shaped Marta Rivera Diaz’s Career as a Food Creator

Every once in a while on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, we have an episode that feels like “required listening” for food creators. This is one of them! Bjork and Marta have a really thoughtful and moving conversation about the importance of finding your voice as a food creator and presenting your authentic self to your followers and community.

Marta grew up as a child of two active-duty airmen and as a biracial individual (she is half-Black and half-Puerto Rican). She was also diagnosed with MS in her early thirties. All of these experiences have shaped her as a person and as a creator. She speaks beautifully about the effects of her background on her personality and her work, and why it is so important to her to share recipes that reflect her heritage.

It’s a perfect episode for the week after Thanksgiving, as we all reflect on what we’re grateful for in our personal and professional lives. Don’t miss it!

A photograph of raspberry cookies with a quote from Marta Rivera Diaz's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads "Nobody has my voice."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Marta’s background impacted how she presents herself to the world (and why she’s working to change that).
  • How she found her voice and true self as a creator.
  • More about her culinary background and how she came to create Sense and Edibility.
  • How her diagnosis with MS in her early thirties changed the trajectory of her career.
  • How her seasons of grief shaped her approach to cooking and creating.
  • What D, E, I, A (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) is and how it relates to the food blogging community.
  • The difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
  • What advice Marta would give to her younger self.


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

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Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

Sign up for Clariti today to easily organize your blog content for maximum growth and receive access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing, 50% off your first month, optimization ideas for your site content, and more!

Interested in working with us too? Learn more about our sponsorship opportunities and how to get started here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti. If you’ve been frustrated trying to discover actionable insights from different analytics and keyword platforms, Clariti is your solution. Clariti helps you manage your blog content all in one place so you can find actionable insights that improve the quality of your content. Not only does it automatically sync your WordPress post data so you can find insights about broken images, broken links, and more. It can also sync with your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data so you can see keyword, session, page views and user data for each and every post.

One of our favorite ways to use it, we can easily filter and see which of our posts have had a decrease in sessions or page views over a set period of time, and give a little extra attention to those recipes. This is especially helpful when there are Google updates or changes and search algorithms so that we can easily tell which of our recipes have been impacted the most. Listeners to the Food Blogger Pro podcast get 50% off of their first month of Clariti after signing up. To sign up, simply go to clariti.com/food. That’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. Thanks again to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Marta Rivera Diaz from the food blog, Sense and Edibility. This is the perfect podcast episode as we come out of Thanksgiving Week and are thinking about what we’re grateful for and what we’re thankful for in our lives and in our careers. Marta has an amazing perspective on her life and food blogging, and talks a lot and shares a lot about her background and how it’s impacted how she presents herself to the world and how she thinks about sharing recipes online.

She shares a lot about how being a child of two active duty airmen and a biracial individual has shaped her perspective and how she presents herself. And she also shares about how her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in her early 30s changed the trajectory of her career. Marta chats more about how different seasons of grief in her life have shaped her approach to cooking and creating, and she explains more about how diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility can be a part of the food blogging space. This is a really thought-provoking interview. I found it super moving to edit and listen to. I think it’ll really impact a lot of you, and I think everyone will get a lot out of it. Without further ado, I’ll just let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Marta, welcome to the podcast.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Thanks for having me. It’s nice to meet you virtually.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, virtually. For some of us, this is the next step in the world of online interaction. We can see each other on Instagram, we can listen to a podcast and then we can have a high fidelity conversation like this. So it’s great to be progressing towards those actual in-person conversations.

Marta Rivera Diaz: And then when conversations when you meet in person, it’s like, “Oh my God, I’ve known you forever.”

Bjork Ostrom: “We know each other.” Yeah, exactly. It’s always so great to meet those people where you’re like, “I know how you sound. I know your conversational rhythms. It’s just that we’re actually conversing together.” So here we are. Excited to talk to you about your story, your journey, building an audience, but also some of the mindsets that you have behind your content creation and really around authenticity in being a creator.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: And I’d be interested even just to hear me describe it, do you feel like that’s an accurate thing when you think of what you’re most passionate about is voice, but also who you are and representing that accurately within the world? Does that feel accurate?

Marta Rivera Diaz: Yes, showing up unapologetically me.

Bjork Ostrom: And for you, has that always been a part of who you are or has that been a part of who you’ve come to be over time?

Marta Rivera Diaz: I think in the black culture, I’m half black and half Puerto Rican, and in the black culture we’re referred to as aunties. The older we get, the more we transition from being a sis to an auntie. And I think that as I became an auntie and embraced that role, I started really appreciating who I am as an individual, as a mother, as a person, as a friend, a wife, and started shrinking less to be accepted in different circles.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you tell me what you mean by that? When you say shrinking less, what does that look like?

Marta Rivera Diaz: So I was raised by two active duty airmen. So being raised in a military household is like its own social… It has its own social constructs where you’re expected to be very disciplined, you’re expected to behave in a certain way. And then if you come from a family who served during wars, it’s even more so because you shrink into yourself so that you don’t cause any ripples or no drama pops off, basically. So that’s how I grew up. And then growing up biracial was also… You showed up in one culture a different way than you did in another culture.

So growing up was like this potpourri of how to behave in certain situations. And it always involved me personally with my type of personality, shrinking into myself and just going with the flow so nobody pointed me out as the loud one or the ghetto one, or the undisciplined one or the bad kid. So that was the way I just grew up. It was just really hiding in food mainly, but just shrinking myself so that I wasn’t the one that stood out and perpetuated the stereotype of whatever stereotype existed.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Did you in the moment realize that’s what you’re doing or what was happening as you were growing up? Or was there a moment where you started to reflect and realize that? I think I’ve, even myself in my own as I grew up, you aren’t even aware of your own reality until you start to get outside of it a little bit and you look, you’re like, “Oh, interesting. I can look back at this and observe this about myself in this stage.” So what was that like for you? Was there a moment where you realized and then said, “Hey, I wonder what it would look like to shift and change this a little bit?”

Marta Rivera Diaz: My mother always labeled me as an old soul, so I always knew how to keep myself safe and keeping myself safe meant behaving in a certain way. So I was always conscious of the way I behaved. Even as young as eight or nine, I remember just knowing when I could behave a certain way, but then as I grew older, the desire to not give AF became very strong.

Bjork Ostrom: And did that come… Yeah, go ahead.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Where I lived my whole life being what other people wanted me to be and behaving how other people expected me to behave or not behaving the way that would disgrace my cultures. I would say around ’21, ’22 is when I finally hit that moment where I was like, “I’m okay with me and I need other people to be okay with me.” So that’s when I started really being unapologetically Marta and just showing up how I naturally showed up, and sometimes that was loud.

Bjork Ostrom: And can you talk about what happened when you did that? And my guess is there are people who are going to be listening who you’re probably speaking to who can relate to this in a very real way, all different sorts of life experiences, life stages, who maybe feel like whether online, and we can talk about that, or just in general, giving them permission to be fully themselves. And that can be, I think, for a lot of people, a really scary thing.

So what was it like for you and anything that you could share with other people to give some perspective or encouragement or even just to tell your own story of what that was like?

Marta Rivera Diaz: It starts out very scary because you’re so used to behaving in a certain way that when you break out of the mold that maybe society or your culture or your parents have put you in, you go buck wild and kind of go to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: So you have to learn. I had to learn tact. I had to learn that just because I think it doesn’t mean I need to say it, and if I do have to say it, there’s a way to say it where I don’t have to hurt people’s feelings just to get my point across. But it also was scary in that I did feed into a lot of stereotypes that people had. There was a lot of references to me being the sassy Latina or the fiery Spanish person, and I heard it a few times, the ghetto black girl. So it was difficult.

Bjork Ostrom: And you’re speaking to the complexity of these two different cultural considerations and you both of those.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Exactly. And then you have to consider that where you show up as Marta the black Latina, the black Puerto Rican woman in a Puerto Rican setting is not always the same as Marta in the black setting. So even navigating my different cultures, it became like a tightrope walk. But the more I embraced who I was, the more I demanded respect from people, the easier it became and the more people knew how to approach me and what I would tolerate and what I wouldn’t tolerate. I think if I were to give advice to somebody who is seeking their voice, it would be to find your voice and to know your heart stops. “I won’t tolerate this any longer. I won’t allow people to make me feel like this any longer.” There’s an empowerment in doing that, even online, because we all know that online, it’s a whole different society, online. People will say things that are just… They would never say it if we were sitting over a cup of tea, they would never say it to you.

Bjork Ostrom: But in the comment section…

Marta Rivera Diaz: Exactly. Comment sections are off the chain lately, and a lot of people will do it just to see how far they can get away with it with you. And not everybody’s equipped to speak up for themselves, and that’s where I feel like allyship is important. And I also feel like encouragement of other people is super important, to encourage people that you are better than allowing people to talk to you this way.

So I think just really finding out what your hard stops are as far as respect and what you demand for yourself and your dignity is very important. And that takes a lot of soul-searching.

Bjork Ostrom: And my guess is a lot of navigating. You’re finding it, you say, “Is this it?” Get a feel for it. “It doesn’t look exactly like that.” So you adjust, you change, and probably in some ways, an ongoing, ever-evolving process to figure out.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Always evolving, always evolving. Yeah, because tact came around 25, 26, so I feel bad for the people that met me between 21 and 25.

I feel really bad.

Bjork Ostrom: In those searching years.

Marta Rivera Diaz: They got the brunt of my trying to find myself.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. So what does that look like for you? You can talk a little bit about your following, your site. Would love to hear you reflect on what that was like to start that, especially as you talked about food being an escape for you, that being a really valuable thing. And then we can talk about what it’s looked like for you to find your true self as a creator and being comfortable putting that on display and talking about it, and even some of those boundaries that you create online as well. So take us back to the start of your site and your following and your journey into content creation?

Marta Rivera Diaz: Actually, I am a trained chef. I went to culinary school straight out of high school, always cooked, again, because both my parents were active duty. Somebody was responsible for cooking, and I don’t know that my brother and sister pretended they couldn’t cook or just didn’t like it, so it defaulted to me. And I was the youngest, so it was an odd entry into food. And unlike a lot of chefs, and unlike a lot of people who love food now, I had a very tumultuous relationship with food because we didn’t have a lot of money.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: So I really, at the age of nine and 10 years old, was trying to figure out how to stretch a very modest military income for five people. And doing that at the age of nine or 10 years old is insane to think about.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Not only the idea of you thinking about how you’re going to make meals for your family, but also make meals with the restrictions around budget that exists.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: For a 10-year-old, I would imagine that does things to how you process the world and-

Marta Rivera Diaz: It really does.

Bjork Ostrom: Resources and food.

Marta Rivera Diaz: I didn’t really grow up with that love of food, like, “Oh, I remember my grandmother making this,” and it was a very anxious time for me figuring out how to cook food. But it also equipped me to have empathy for people who… In this day and age, we can speak to this today, where people are struggling to make ends meet and put a meal on their table for their families. But that was my intro into food, and I went to a vo-tech high school where they teach you trades as part of your curriculum. And I obviously went into the culinary arts program and went on to culinary school, and that was my entry into food. I’ve always worked either in restaurants or with some kind of catering business or something. So I developed a passionate love for food and food, especially international food, international recipes because of my military background, my multicultural background.

And in 2010, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which wasn’t a huge surprise because three of my family members had already had it. Two of my aunts passed away from it. My mother was in the process of passing away from it, and I was her full-time caregiver. So this was something that I knew, I knew what happens with MS, and at the same time, I was diagnosed with a non-ruptured brain aneurysm. So that’s a lot at the age of 32, 33 to reconcile, especially if you’re a chef, right? Because multiple sclerosis takes your hands, takes your ability to walk, and I need those to be a chef.

So it was at that moment that I said, “I’m a homeschool mom of twins, married to an active duty army soldier. I’m a caregiver to a paraplegic, but what have I done with my passion to cook?” And nothing, I had done nothing. So I self-published a cookbook, which I call My Ugly Baby because it is, I look back on it now and it’s hideous.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yeah. Like all of our first of anything is

Marta Rivera Diaz: Embarrassing to look at now, but it’s my baby. And when my friends and family started reading it, they were like, “You’re the Erma Bombeck of food writing. You make things funny. You have anecdotes, but you also give recipes that make sense.” I never knew about blogging, had no idea what it was.

Bjork Ostrom: When was this time wise?

Marta Rivera Diaz: It was after my mom died, so it had to be about 2014, 2015.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Marta Rivera Diaz: And it was just like a friend of mine said, “You need to start blogging.” And so I did it, and again, Ugly Baby, blog was horrible, but I came up with Sense and Edibility because my mom’s favorite author was Jane Austin, and her favorite book was Sense and Edibility and finding a name for a blog is very difficult.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Marta Rivera Diaz: It’s super hard because it has to be catchy, it has to be cool, it has to make sense, but Sense and Edibility just literally fell into my brain and I was like, “This is perfect.” And so that’s how my foray into food blogging happened. And from there, it was just like this trajectory of just opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, and I attribute that to showing up unapologetically in every single room I walked into. I was just going to be me.

And I built a following based on that because they knew that when they came to my site, I was going to give them what they were looking for, but I was also going to teach them something to walk away with. You know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting to hear you reflect on being fully human, fully you, especially as we enter into these broader considerations in the world of content and creators, and what does it look like if people can get their answers from artificial intelligence? And it’s like your story is a great example of one where it won’t matter because people are coming to connect with you and your story, and that being something that is uniquely yours and therefore irreplaceable. It can’t be auto-generated because of how closely connected it is to you and how valuable that is for the following that you’ve built and the people who interact with you, which is awesome to see.

I want to go back to that season that you talked about. You were navigating this MS diagnosis, a brain aneurysm, caring for people in your life, these sandwich years where it’s like parents and kids. How did you get through that? That would be a lot. And continue to think about doing the thing that you want to do. Just to get through it is one thing, but then to get through it while also pursuing this creative endeavor is another thing. What was that like and how did you get through it?

Marta Rivera Diaz: I’m the type of person that takes my mind off of my problems by doing stuff for other people. There’s a book called The Five Love Languages. One of my love languages is gift giving and acts of services. Those are my love languages.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yep.

Marta Rivera Diaz: So my husband deployed frequently during those years, and it was just… I knew other moms that had younger kids. I know how to cook, I can cook. So if I can make a meal for somebody to alleviate some of the drama that they’re going through, that took my mind off of my problems. And it also allowed me to do what I love to do. And it also made somebody else happy. And it also showed my kids. Even the taking care of my mother showed my children, this is what you should do as you grow older, you should give to other people. You should provide what you can for other people. You should stop thinking so much about yourself because I think in my case, if I were to focus too much on all that reality all at once, when you get a diagnosis like that at the age of early 30s, you have to grieve your previous healthy life. And it was a process of grief. And if I stayed in that grief, I knew I would be of no good to anybody around me, including myself.

So I think getting through that was sending cookies down range to my husband’s soldiers and making food for people who just had kids and just teaching my children and myself, that giving is a lot more productive than wallowing in my sadness. Don’t get me wrong, I wallowed for a minute.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: I grieved, and I think that was important in order for me to move on, but that’s just how I dealt with it, was just giving to other people and doing for other people something that I knew I was good at.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Marta Rivera Diaz: And building furniture. I like building furniture too.

Bjork Ostrom: And furniture, okay. Yeah.

Marta Rivera Diaz: I built a lot of furniture.

Bjork Ostrom: May or may not apply to other people. It feels like one of those seasons, if that’s an outcome of how you process, suddenly you have 14 chairs in a room or something.

Marta Rivera Diaz: I’m not a great measurer. I had a lot of snafus, but…

Bjork Ostrom: But what I love about it is, number one, the acknowledgement of grief and not to gloss over it. Not to say like, “Well, you just got to look on the bright side.” It’s like to acknowledge and we’ve had seasons of grief to just say, “This is really hard and that’s okay, and it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to experience that grief.” And also then to say almost like, “Where’s the output? What are you going to do then? Where are you going to direct your energy as opposed to letting it swirl inside? How do you find a way to channel that?” And it sounds like for you that was thinking of others who had needs.

And I think there was part of it too, even within that where it acknowledges everybody has this stuff that we’re carrying and then to acknowledge that, but also to acknowledging it, also looking to help them, it feels like that just seems like such a positive outlet for energy in a season like that.

Marta Rivera Diaz: I have a saying that grief is like the IRS. It’s always going to come for you.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s no way to avoid it.

Marta Rivera Diaz: You can’t avoid it. You may put it off for a few years, but if you’ve been through a traumatic event or something that is devastating to you and you just keep plowing through life, grief will come back to claim itself. And I feel like it’s healthy and I feel like we need to talk about that more where it is okay to grieve something because it means you have once loved something and you’ve lost it. And however you grieve is the way you grieve. But you have to go through it, you have to walk through it. And that’s just the way I chose to walk through it. But yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And I think for people who are listening who have experienced those seasons can relate to it. And for those who haven’t, like you said, inevitably in life there will always be hard things. And so to have that as kind of a thought to put in your back pocket for when those seasons do come up because we all experience them to different degrees. And to your point, what it is a contrast of the before and after, the before being something that was good and that you loved and that was wonderful. And grief is losing that, which points to this, the fact that it was this wonderful thing that you loved, whether that be a person or an experience or a season of life. And so I think that’s great.

And so much of it too is for us… I was just having this conversation with somebody else here who stepped into the office, a creator, was talking about a season in her life, Lindsay, my wife, were all talking about it. So much of what we do is who we are and what we bring every day. And so there’s, on one side, you can talk about tactics and strategy and things like that. But on the other side, it’s like how do you be fully you, the healthiest version of you every day? Because that’s going to be the best version of whatever it is that you’re creating. If you’re not in a good place, it’s really hard to create things that are wonderful. Before we continue, let’s take a moment to hear from our sponsors.

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP, specifically a new offering they have called Cultivate Go. And as business owners, I’m talking to you, one of the things we need to get good at is thinking about how we invest in our business. And as someone who publishes content online, one of your most important business assets is your website, but there’s a problem that a lot of us run into when we think about investing into our website, that it seems like there’s really two options. You have the DIY, figure it out on your own, get really frustrated, spend a bunch of time, or pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a fully customized design and theme developed. But what if you find yourself in-between those two options? You’re a successful and established blogger, or even a new blogger who wants to invest in the best options, but you don’t have a budget of tens of thousands of dollars.

That’s where Cultivate Go comes in. Cultivate Go is an offering from a company called CultivateWP, co-founded by Bill Erickson, an incredible developer that we’ve worked with in the past before we had our own internal team, and Dwayne Smith, an incredible designer. And for years they’ve had their calendar filled doing these fully customized sites, but they realized that there’s hundreds of bloggers who want that same level of technology but didn’t have that budget.

And that’s where Cultivate Go comes in. It’s a semi-custom themed design and white glove site set up. That means that your Cultivate Go site can compete on an even technological playing field with the biggest food blogs in the world, you choose one of the core themes, you customize it with your logo, your brand colors, your typography, and then the CultivateWP team sets it up on a staging environment and it can launch your site within one week, and the cost is $5,000. It’s that perfect sweet spot for anybody who finds themselves in that in-between stage where you want the best of the best, but you don’t want to have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get it. If you’re interested in checking that out, go to foodbloggerpro.com/go, or just search Cultivate Go in Google.

And so as you reflect on yourself as a creator today, what do you feel like are the most important elements that you’re aware of and try to be present to that helps you be the best creator you can be?

Marta Rivera Diaz: One of them is understanding that sometimes, and you may have to bleep this out, you need to sit your [redcated] down and just stop because I’ll speak for myself, but I know somebody can relate. I am always looking at food in the sense of, “I need to shoot this for the blog, or I need to shoot a reel for this.” And sometimes I just want to cook something just to sit down and eat it with my family. And it’s okay to do that. And there’s so many times where I have to say to myself, everything doesn’t need to be content. Everything doesn’t need to be recorded for social media.

Sometimes being present in the moment and just enjoying my family heals me and helps me and reinvigorates me and gives me the energy that I need to make it through Q4 or whatever quarter I’m in. And I think it’s important that people understand that while this may be the life that we’ve chosen or the profession that we have chosen, there’s more important things in life than a recipe. And we really, I think as a society, need to get back to understanding that there’s more important things going on in our individual lives and in the world as a whole that it’s more important than ranking for pumpkin pie, spice blend.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Marta Rivera Diaz: When you really get down to brass tacks, everybody is going through something and that’s why it’s so important for me based on what I’ve been through in the past, it’s so important for me to guard my piece, whether that’s online, whether that’s in my comment section, whether that’s in real life, day-to-day life, it’s guarding my peace because I know what it feels like to suffer, and I know what it’s like to not be able to walk for however many weeks. And I know what it’s like to see my husband break down in tears when the doctor tells him that this is a possibility.

When you compare it to that, me dropping ranks because Google decided helpful content was something they wanted to focus, it’s kind of like, okay. And maybe somebody listening to this has not been through that yet, but we’re all going to go through something in our lives that really needs to shake us up and make us say to ourselves, “it’s okay if I don’t rank for that apple pie recipe.”

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. One of the things I think about, and Lindsay and I have had these conversations is how do you, as best as possible, tie purpose into what you’re doing? And so there is meaning behind the work because I think there’s two directions you can go. You can go in the direction of, “I want to rank for this thing. I want to dominate search engines. I want to build a huge following,” which in and of itself, not bad at all. It’s great. It’s a lot of what we talk about. I think people have their varying levels of interest in actually doing that and getting into the nitty-gritty details of it.

But I think where it becomes extremely powerful is when that’s attached to a purpose and the purpose is beyond just traffic or followers, but instead, it’s like impact in a certain way. And I know for you that exists on some level, and I’d be interested to hear you talk about it. As we were trading some commentary back and forth about the podcast, you talked about being a lifelong military family member, a veteran, you said you’re wife of a 100% disabled retired army veteran, a black and Puerto Rican woman with multiple sclerosis, a stent in your brain repaired from a brain aneurysm, and then you say, “I’m basically a poster child for why D, E, & I needs to be a thing.” Can you talk about that as a purpose for you first, for those who aren’t familiar, what D, E, & I is, and then why that brings some purpose to you and the work that you’re doing beyond just followers and views?

Marta Rivera Diaz: I will lead with, I am not an expert in D, E, & I.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: But I live D, E, & I every day. And now A has been added to that, which means accessibility, so diversity, equity and inclusion, and now accessibility, which is something…. Accessibility should be something every content creator should be aware of already because we should be focused on accessibility and making our sites and our content accessible to everybody. But yeah, when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I think there’s just this misnomer that it’s supposed to be just about letting people of color have their moment, but only a moment.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Because there’s actually been conversations that I’ve been a part of in the blogger sphere where it seemed like we were getting too much of a moment after 2020, and it became unfair to people who were not people of color and they were missing out because we were now being highlighted.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: You can think what you want. I had some words. There were words exchanged, and rightfully so because it’s that cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation. Bjork is a very Scandinavian name.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Marta Rivera Diaz: So like lutefisk, I know you guys. Scandinavians love that.

Bjork Ostrom: Lutefisk feeds, it’s part of our growing, up the Cambridge Lutheran Church.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Yes. And I can’t even begin to pretend I even understand that.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Right? As a black Puerto Rican woman, I didn’t grow up in that environment. If I’ve tasted it and I like it, I can appreciate your culture. I can’t appropriate it and come and say, “This is now mine and I’m going to make it better, or I’m going to elevate it or I’m going to do this.” When you say finding purpose, you can have a goal. When I first started following Pinch of Yum, I told my husband, and it probably drove him crazy, “You should be like Bjork, he does all this stuff. Look at all this technical stuff he does.”

Bjork Ostrom: Come on. You like Google Analytics, don’t you?

Marta Rivera Diaz: He’ll be like, “I can’t stand Bjork, and I don’t even know the man,” because I wanted him to join my team.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: It’s not for everybody though, but we had a purpose, and the purpose was we wanted him to be able to, after 26 years of serving our country, to be able to chill, to relax, to chill out. And I found that this could be that vessel, this could be the way we did that, but it required a lot of effort on our part. So that was my goal. But in doing that, I also wanted to introduce people to foods that were lost in the Puerto Rican culture and foods that a lot of people kind of distanced them from in the black culture. And so that became a dual purpose, getting Hector, my husband to finally be able to retire and rest, and also introducing recipes that have been lost or that people didn’t grow up being able to make because their mothers didn’t make it or because their grandmothers never wrote down a recipe.

So mine was dual purpose, but then we started getting into the whole, now we’re competing with everybody for everything. And after a while, it becomes exhausting. I really couldn’t care less about Google and SEO, but I have to.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.

Marta Rivera Diaz: You know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: And I think so many people can relate to that where it’s not what you want to be doing, which is thinking about ranking and thinking about how you can rank higher, but also, it’s a function of the business that literally feeds your family.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Literally.

Bjork Ostrom: Runs your business. And so then you do have to be aware of it, and that becomes then something that you have to be aware of. And as a creator, that’s not a great spot to be in because it’s like you’re not working in your area of greatest desire, but you have to be. So I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. And even the idea of this dual purpose and saying this is something you have to be aware of now because it’s a component of your business.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: So in that sense, there’s purpose and an interest in it, but also, these desires that you have, to find a way to provide for your family so your husband can retire or to surface these recipes that are really meaningful. And then what does it look like in the world where somebody’s doing keyword research and sees it as a low competition keyword and then creates a piece of content around it? And I don’t know the answer to it and-

Marta Rivera Diaz: It’s a vicious circle.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure, other than to just acknowledge. And I think everybody can relate to some degree like, oh, it can be exhausting.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Integrity is huge, right? Integrity is huge. And if your whole goal, like you said, is to, “I want to rank for everything and I want to make millions of dollars,” do you, but for me, that’s not what it’s about. For me, it’s more about maintaining my integrity and the integrity to my cultural recipes. And in doing that, I’m also introducing people who don’t really know about my cultures. I’m introducing that. So I have to maintain my integrity in order to do that. And you’re basically becoming an ambassador of your cuisines.

And yes, sometimes it hurts to see you being outranked by people who are not a part of that culture, but that has nothing to do with what my focus is, which is bringing integrity to the recipes that I want to put out for people who are looking for these recipes that they grew up eating and can’t get anymore because grandma died or mom died.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It almost feels like one of the… And I’ve been thinking about this even for myself because I think one of the things that for any creator to some degree happens is you have things that live in your head rent-free, so they have that phrase that you hear often. But I feel like one of the things that often happens is our world and the world, and I’m speaking about this in the context of our world, the things that we do day-to-day and the world of whatever industry you’re in.

And one of the things that I think for myself, I’d be interested if you can relate to this that I’m trying to do, is figure out what can I control in my world? What’s important in my world? Even what am I after? Really defining that well and trying to do whatever I can to just stay focused on that. Because if you start to get into the world, and I heard you allude to this a little bit, you can get lost in it. It’s like that movie with, I’m trying to think, George Clooney where they’re out in space and then he gets… I forget. George Clooney and another famous actor, but he gets cut from the thing, and then I think he’s just floating in space. Spoiler alert for anybody who watches it, but you can get just lost in it. And I’d be interested to hear you talk about how do you continue to refine your skills around staying focused on your world?

Marta Rivera Diaz: Yeah, understand something. I was raised by two people. My mom was born in Puerto Rico, but raised in Bushwick, in Brooklyn, New York. My dad is from New Jersey. I was raised by two people from the New York metropolitan area. I am as type A, high-strung, neurotic as it gets. I’ll make a problem in Minnesota, my problem, right? It’s a lot, and that’s why I think Hector and I balance each other so well because he’s born and raised in Puerto Rico, super island, super chill. Whatever happens, happens. So that’s a very difficult struggle for me is to get out of my head, stop making the world’s problems my problems, and to focus on what I can control.

And one of the things that has become my mantra is that nobody has my voice. Nobody has my technique of cooking. You can have techniques, culinary techniques, but I have certain things that I do that nobody else can do. I have recipes and ideas in my head that nobody else has, and I can’t control what everybody else is doing, whether it’s the world, whether it’s my kids, whether it’s my husband, I can only control what I can control. And that plays on repeat in my head. When I start finding myself spiraling and saying, “Oh well, this is outranking me,” it’s going to do what it’s going to do. But as long as I put out content that is true to who I am, I’m doing it with integrity, I’m doing it with a purpose in mind to benefit other people, it’s going to bring me success. And this is coming from a pessimist. I am the ultimate pessimist. So for me to even have that change of mindset and to say to myself, “It’s going to work out.”

I think also goes back to trauma, and it goes back to what I’ve endured. It’s worked out. Most people that have brain aneurysms find out when it’s too late. I was blessed enough to be able to learn about mine for it to be operable. Am I really going to get upset that a turkey recipe outranked mine? And I know everybody doesn’t have that experience, so they can’t really fall back on it, but everybody has a moment in time where they thought they were at rock bottom. They either climbed their way out of it or they’re climbing their way out of it. And that is a great way to really focus on what’s important.

And yes, SEO is important to us, keyword resource is important to us, good content is important to us, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s going to go away as soon as something really drastic happens to us.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Marta Rivera Diaz: And we shouldn’t wait until that drastic thing happens to us to really start appreciating what we have in life right now. I want to be a millionaire, but I’m going to appreciate the fact that I have a roof over my head.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. And that feels like such a hard, but such a great perspective to have. We’ve talked about on the podcast before, this is a book that I haven’t read, but it feels like one of those books where the title is essentially the book.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: You can get everything out of it just by reading the title-

Marta Rivera Diaz: Reading the title.

Bjork Ostrom: But it’s called The Gap in the Game and the whole idea, and I think it’s written towards business owners, maybe entrepreneurs even, but this idea that so much of what we can do, I think just in general as humans, but also I think as business owners, and to some degree it’s what feeds us because we continue to strive and push, but we have this tendency, I think as people to look at the gap, which is this space between where we are and what we want, and that changes. It gets smaller or bigger over time, but what we don’t look at is the gain. And the gain is all of these things in our lives that are such incredible gifts and such blessings, whatever word you want to use.

But it’s so easy to see the gap and almost always, the gap is smaller than the gains if you really stop and look at it, but it’s hard to see that. It’s like we’re always facing the gap, but to turn around and to look at the gains is a really powerful thing to do. And it feels like that’s a little bit of what you’re saying is to recognize the gain as opposed to just seeing the gap.

Marta Rivera Diaz: It also helps to surround yourself with the community that is very authentic with you and is not afraid to put you in your place when you need to be put in your place in a loving way. Because just Saturday I was out with… We went on a couple’s date and we were talking about My Ugly Child, my little book.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Marta Rivera Diaz: And I was really downplaying it. It was just like, “Oh, it’s stupid. And I’m so embarrassed.” And Hector looked him in and he was just like, “You know what? You really worked hard to achieve that.”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.

Marta Rivera Diaz: “And you achieved something that a lot of people don’t achieve.” And my friends were like, “You need to stop talking down about yourself. You need to stop doing that.” And that is where when you can’t do it yourself, that’s when your community steps in and they say, “You are not going to talk bad about my friend because my friend’s good at this.”

Bjork Ostrom: And their friend being you.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Yes. And their friend being me, right? And I would do the same with them. So I think yes, I tend to focus way too much on the gap and not on the gains. So that was actually something that you just dropped into me that I need.

Bjork Ostrom: All right.

Marta Rivera Diaz: So good job, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: All of us. It’s all of us all the time. I think all of this is going to be really encouraging to people. And like I said, so much of what we do, it’s headspace, it’s our own perceptions, it’s our own beliefs. It’s like the heaviness that we carry, whether manufactured in some ways or very real like we talked about with grief and the things that we experience in life. And as we become better about understanding ourselves and navigating that, I think what we do is we can create in the world in a more powerful way. And that’s awesome, especially if we have that purpose behind it. So it’s really cool how that all ties in with the conversation.

I’d be curious to hear as we wrap up, what would your reflections be if you had a conversation, let’s say with that person who was 21 or the person… Yourself at 22? Knowing what you know now, what you’ve experienced and knowing that there are people who are listening who could be impacted by those words as well and are maybe in some similar situation, whether exactly or even just a little bit similar, what would your advice be to your past self?

Marta Rivera Diaz: First, my first bit of advice would be to stop listening to people who… Stop listening to everybody, I would say. Because there’s people that feed into you negativity because they want you to fail. And then there’s people that feed into you because they care about you and they want you to succeed. And a lot of times the negative people blared in my ears where the people speaking positivity into me, I ignored because I was so busy listening to the negativity.

Me now, if I could go back in time, I would probably shake the 21-year-old me and say to stop focusing so much on pleasing everybody at the expense of pleasing myself, at the expense of making myself happy because I gave up a lot of my career, especially my culinary career, to be the perfect wife or to be the perfect mother or the perfect daughter. And in doing that, I built a lot of resentment towards the people who I was supposed to be perfect for. And I lost out on a lot of good years where I could have been honing my craft and developing different things.

So I would definitely tell people, if you have a passion for anything, it doesn’t even need to be content creating, but if you have a passion for something and you know that you were made to do it, because we have this feeling that we were created to do something, pursue it, even if it’s on your off time. I used to tell military spouses this all the time when I would give talks was to, yes, you can support your military service person, but you also have to cultivate your passions and you have to feed into those things and you have to develop them so that you can remain healthy and whole inside. And that applies even more so now in this day and age where everybody is stressed out and everybody is dealing with mental health issues or mental health struggles.

I would definitely tell 21-year-old Marta that it’s okay for you to be happy and it’s okay for you to be selfish sometimes and do what you want to do as long as you are being… Your integrity is intact and you’re not harming other people in the process of doing it. It’s okay to be happy. There’s no guilt in being happy and in doing something for yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. That’s huge and I think that will resonate with a lot of people. Marta, for people who want to follow along with you, your journey, connect with you, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of those folks listening, what’s the best way to do that?

Marta Rivera Diaz: So I am on social media everywhere as @SenseandEdibility. It’s all one word, @SenseandEdibility. And on some like Twitter where I’m really ratchet on Twitter, I actually…

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a good place to be that.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Twitter and Pinterest, I’m @EdibleSense. But the most, I call my site senseandedibility.com my living room. I want people to come in chill, be nice, and just learn more about me and about authentic Puerto Rican and African-American recipes and Afro-Caribbean recipes that are obscure. So I want people to eat the foods that their grandmothers and their grandfathers and their moms and dads were eating. So my sight is my baby and it’s a pretty baby this time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, love it. Awesome. Marta, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, sharing your story. I know a lot of people will be impacted by it. I know I was and excited to stay connected moving forward. So thanks for coming on.

Marta Rivera Diaz: Thanks for having me.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there. Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We hope you enjoyed this episode. I wanted to let you know that we are in the middle of a Cyber Monday sale and it ends tomorrow on the 29th. And with this sale, you get a $100 off of an annual Food Blogger Pro membership and access to a goal setting call with Bjork. It’s a great deal and you can learn more by going to food bloggerpro.com/cyber. And what I really love about this deal is that you will be a Food Blogger Pro member for an entire year. So you get access to all of the awesome content we have planned coming up.

For instance, we have a Ask Bjork anything Q&A on December 14th, a new course about blogging with a full-time job on the 21st. And then next year we have Q&A about qualifying for an ad network coming up. We have a course all about advanced Pinterest tips and so much more. It’s going to be a great year and we would love for you to join us. So if you’re interested, you can sign up at foodbloggerpro.com/cyber. There, you’ll see a whole sales page where you can get more information about what’s all included in the membership as well as a place where you can sign up for this deal. But again, it expires tomorrow at 11:59 PM Eastern Time. So be sure to act quick if you’re interested. Otherwise, thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next time. And until then, make it a great week.

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