We met Nathaniel Crawford after drooling over his recipes and food photography on his blog TermiNatetor Kitchen. Nathaniel, a person who stutters, kindly took a few moments to let us in on his world of culinary blogging and shared his experiences cooking, pursuing photography, and living life as a person who stutters. Once you’re finished reading his insights below, be sure to check out his mouth-watering creations on TermiNatetor Kitchen. Bon appétit!
National Stuttering Association: Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live, and where do you go to college?
Nathaniel Crawford: My name is Nathaniel Crawford. I’m a 20-year old food blogger, recipe developer, photographer, writer, business owner, and person who stutters. I’m a Central Illinois native, born and raised in a small town ten minutes east of Champaign-Urbana. I’m in my junior year at Eastern Illinois University studying Family and Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Hospitality Management and a minor in Business Administration. (Go Panthers!).
NSA: What’s next for you after graduation?
NC: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I’m the type of person who wants to do so many things in life. Even though I’m a person who stutters, I still have an extroverted personality. I love working with and being around people. That determination of overcoming the challenges of speaking and communicating drives me to keep speaking. I love the hospitality industry, so working as an event/wedding planner for a large chain hotel would be fantastic. I also see myself becoming a business owner and overseeing a variety of different companies in the food/event industries. My dream job would be to travel the world working with, photographing, and writing about food (maybe even write a cookbook or two).
NSA: We love your blog TermiNatetor Kitchen. What inspired you to write about food and your experiences with stuttering?
NC: My journey with food started almost by accident. I found myself enthralled with the culinary world the summer after I graduated high school in 2013. Throughout my previous years of public education, I had hated my voice and the way I spoke. I felt broken. It felt like an uphill fight just to say the word “hello.” After graduating high school, I was beginning to lose myself and who I was as a person. Somehow, in the midst of my darkness, I found food as my guiding light and solace. It happened slowly then all at once. I had fallen in love with food. What I love so much about food is its enticing ability to bring people from all walks of life together. Everyone eats. That means everyone can connect. Put a steaming pot of homemade chicken and noodles on the table with a side of seasoned mashed potatoes and the conversations come flowing outward. I find inspiration in the way food works like that.
Fast forward a year, I posted my very first piece of food photography on my Instagram account and Facebook page. Using nothing but my iPhone camera, I uploaded a rather unappealing picture of a dark chocolate cookie, not expecting anything more to happen, but I was wrong. The outpouring of likes and interest from friends and family was unimaginable, so I kept going. Life gave me a 360* turnaround. The food bug had gotten to me, and I was hooked. Then on January 1st, 2015, I took a leap of faith and officially launched the blog TermiNatetor Kitchen. I promised two things to myself when starting the blog; 1) I would share my love of food, and 2) I would be open about my stuttering. I knew that I wanted to be honest with my readers. I was tired of hiding from my stuttering. I wanted to break the walls of fear I had built for myself and start speaking out. I wanted to pave a new voice for myself.
NSA: What is your favorite dish to make and why?
NC: That’s a hard question to answer. In terms of baking versus cooking, I would much rather cook a New York strip steak than bake a cake any day. On the other hand, I love photographing and styling baked goods over cooked ones. It’s a never-ending battle! There is something about the combination of butter and sugar that just makes everything better.
My favorite dish to cook would have to be Cheeseburger Soup. This soup is, without a doubt, the best soup I’ve ever had/made. It’s rich, creamy, and horribly unhealthy, but devilishly delicious. My family and friends request it for every dinner party I host. Serve with freshly toasted baguette bread dipped in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and it’s going to be a good time.
My favorite sweet to bake would have to be any rustic fruit Galettes. They’re essentially a reformed pie. The crust is flaky and buttery while the filling is warm and sweet. With a Galettes, you can fill it with any fruit, filling, or savory combination you can imagine. The freeform, imperfect state of it speaks to me. It shows me that food doesn’t have to look “perfect” to taste exquisite, it just has to simply be.
NSA: Who taught you how to cook?
NC: My biggest culinary influence would have to be my mother, who on the blog (and sometimes in real life) I refer to as Momma Crawford. She is one of the most knowledgeable bakers I’ve ever known. Whenever my cookies fail to rise, or my milk begins to curdle and burn, she is always there to save the day or simply just laugh at my culinary woes. I remember warm Saturday afternoons, the two of us baking desserts and singing along to the musical soundtrack of “Chicago”.
NSA: Is there anything you don’t know how to cook but can’t wait to learn?
NC: French cuisine. Maybe mastering the perfect coq au vin or learning the science behind a silky chocolate mousse. There’s a sense of grace and finesse that comes with the French cuisine. I would love to learn more challenging French techniques and dishes while on my culinary path. I feel as if it’s the pinnacle state of a culinary artist. I hope to learn to blend the classic nature of French cuisine and the hominess of Southern comfort.
NSA: Throughout your experiences with stuttering, have you used any coping mechanisms that others might find useful?
NC: As I mentioned before, after graduating high school I went through a rather tough time emotionally. In school, I had put my faith in people who didn’t care about me. I cared too much about what other people thought of me and my stuttering. I was so embarrassed about my stuttering that I tried so hard to hide it from everyone, and it was eating me alive. The pain of not finding joy and acceptance with myself and with my stuttering was doing a lot of harm.
What I’ve found to work is really more than a coping mechanism, but rather a state of mind: the art of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is being able to come to terms with your stuttering and take a proactive effort to use it in a more positive and forward thinking light. Sounds impossible, right? How could I ever see my stuttering as an asset? How could stuttering ever help me become a more effective communicator? I believe one of the answers to those questions is self-acceptance; the act of changing the mindset in the way you – and you alone – see yourself and your stuttering.
I can recall the exact moment I started on the road of self-acceptance. It was my sophomore year of college. I was sitting in my summer speech class. In a hot, stuffy room surrounded by a handful of complete strangers, I was mentally hyperventilating. In my hands, I grasped my first speech. The topic: A three to four-minute speech on my stuttering. As I walked up to the podium, sweat seeped out through every pore of my body. I could feel my heart rate flutter a mile a minute. Almost on the verge of choking, I gave my presentation and…I BOTCHED IT. It was by far the worst speech I’ve ever presented. Period. It took me three minutes just to get through the introduction. I had to skip through the entire rest of my speech and start at the conclusion just to keep in time. I was horrified and humiliated. I felt like crying at that moment, and sitting in my car after class I did. I wanted to drop out of class, school, of life even. At that moment, I hated my stuttering more than anything. I thought it was over for me. What happened next was unthinkable. I mustered up the courage and decided to go back to class the next day. Over that eight-week summer speech class, I met some of the most amazing, kind-hearted, open people I’ve ever encountered. Their openness and acceptance of my disability was powerful. Towards the end of the semester, one of our male classmates (who was an impeccable public speaker) said out loud, “I hate speaking after Nate because he has such a good voice”. It was like being hit by a train. “A good what? A voice?” I never, for a second, thought I had anything close to a decent voice, nonetheless a good voice. For the first time in my life, I was being judged not for my fluency but on my effectiveness. At that moment, I knew my voice and I were destined for something far beyond my stuttering. I learned in that class that just because I was dysfluent didn’t mean I was ineffective.
NSA: What advice could you give to others who stutter?
NC: Always remember: You’re a human being. You’re worth so much more than how fluently you can say your first name. Are you going to have tough days? Oh course! We all do. I wish I could honestly say that I don’t have a single negative thought about my stuttering or that I’m not self-conscious at times about the way I speak, but those thoughts happen. What we have to remember as communicators is that the meaning behind the words we say are more important than the way the words come out. Never forget that confidence is power. Take that hate and negativity and channel it into something more, something empowering.
There are so many good, honest, kind people out in the world who will give you the time to say what you want to say. If you feel like you have to hide your disability because of someone else’s dim-witted, closed-minded opinion, then they’re not people who you need to be associated with. True friends will be there for you, let you speak your mind, and allow you to be comfortable in your own skin. I am so blessed to have surrounded myself with some of the greatest group of family and friends I could have asked for.
Just because you have a disability, doesn’t make you disabled. Find good people. Find your voice. Stuttering does not define you; you define the stutter.