Brenda is the woman responsible for Bali Buda health food shops and restaurants, and is also a practising midwife. She talks to us about health, organic food, and the future of Bali.
Brenda, where are you from and what brought you to Bali?
I am originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. In high school I had a strong urge to get out of my town and applied with the American Field Service to go overseas as an exchange student. In 1986, at the age of 15, I ended up in Surabaya, East Java. Kind of the shock of my life!
What inspired you to put roots down in Bali?
I didn’t ‘discover’ Bali until about five years after being in Java. Eventually I decided to stay in Bali. I think it’s the incredible creative energy of the island or something even less articulate. It works for some and it doesn’t work for others. So far it has worked really well for me. I’ve been in Bali for 20 years now.
When did you become involved in natural foods and the role it plays in our health? How did Bali Buda start?
I was a relatively sickly child. I remember a lot of trips to the doctor and a steady consumption of antibiotics. We ate the typical American diet of the ‘70s and ‘80s; varieties of fruits and vegetables were few and far between. Eventually, for some reason I had a tug towards a healthier and natural lifestyle. I started bringing yogurt and fruit for lunch – my friends thought I was really strange for that back then! I started looking for information at the library on organic, natural foods and so began my journey towards a healthier lifestyle. I wanted to incorporate it into every part of my life, even natural beauty products. I try to walk my talk.
Having permanently moved to Indonesia many years later, there were a lot of natural products, but not so many organic ones. I wanted these to be readily available for my family, so in order to do so I created a market so that farmers could supply the demand.
Having started very small with one employee, Bali Buda has now grown to six stores and cafes with over 170 employees.
It is really important to me to also educate our employees and to encourage them to live healthy lifestyles, so a lot of my work is focused on them in order that they might be more effective in their jobs and lives outside of Bali Buda.
Do you believe our current system of food is making people sick? What can we do?
Yes, I agree. To me, the obvious solution is to eat local, natural foods, to get involved in farmers markets and make square-foot gardens at home. It’s simply a matter of personal choices, nothing too difficult to actually do. You just have to do it!
Does Bali Buda source local food? Who is responsible for the recipes and what’s on the menu?
Yes, we have always preferred to source locally first and supplement with imported products. All of our produce is local. Rather than buying our own gardens, we have supported Ibu Kartini and Bali Organic Association in reverting over 40,000 hectares of land in Bali back to organic farming during the past 15 years. The farmers that sell to us have cut out the middle man and lead very good lives. That is an amazing accomplishment!
The menu has been created by myself and an ex-business partner, as well as visitors passing through Bali, and even sometimes the Bali Buda crew. We pay attention to and cater to trends but have our own philosophy of not being too extreme on anything, so we do have some good pro-biotic meat on the menu and we still believe in cooked food.
What are some of your favourite things to do here when you are not working?
In my alternate life I am a midwife. I love to study midwifery, educate and of course do hands-on work. I am the first legally licensed expat to practice midwifery here in Indonesia and I am very happy about this.
Although I don’t do a lot of gardening myself, I support many initiatives like permaculture gardens, organic associations, etc.
I guess my favourite pastime is learning about sustainable living from conception to the end; the full cycle. I also love to share knowledge, so when I am invited to a seminar as a speaker I get to travel and to know other parts of Indonesia as well. It’s definitely one of my favourite things to do.
Name a place in Bali you love to go and why.
I love most to be at home. We have made our home our favourite place to vacation. I like to go hiking or trekking to places where we can connect with nature and local cultures. I love visiting other islands and outlying communities and to look for heirloom food sources and traditional foods that are new to me.
If you could create your dream community, what and where would it be?
My dream community would be right here where I am. It’s a traditional Balinese village and it is my dream. We are active in sharing information on better environmental practices and this is the only thing I would like to see improve here. Everybody knows each other and looks after each other to a certain extent. It’s beautiful!
How do you see Bali evolving?
Well, Bali looks to be evolving into the original expat’s worst nightmare. Those of us who came here 20-30 years ago came because we loved the villages, cultures and pace. We integrated and became part of the society’s fabric. Currently, expats are moving here for completely different reasons and honestly, it’s a little scary. It seems that there are people now taking notice of the future possibilities and are more willing to take a stand for or against these. At least it’s not pure apathy. But we’ll see, won’t we?
I am doing all the things I love. I plan to continue sharing and providing midwifery knowledge and care. We have a third birthing clinic in progress as a social enterprise.
I also want to increase healthy food options and sources, making Bali Buda natural products more available to more people nationally. I really love hanging out with my kids; there are seven of them so it’s almost like a little community in itself!
Lastly, look forward to a name change coming your way soon. In order to make Bali Buda more inclusive to the people of Indonesia, we are slightly changing our name to Bali Bunda. Bunda means mother in Indonesian and the values and wishes a mother has for her family are the same we hold true for our customers.
Thank you, Brenda! For more information, please visit the Bali Buda website.