How Doula Latham Thomas Cooks Intuitively

"I think about nutrition as a life force."

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Latham Thomas is the founder of Mama Glow, a support system for women and families during pregnancy and beyond. She offers doula care at every stage along the childbearing continuum, and has worked with women including Alicia Keys and Christy Turlington. We visited Latham at her colorful home in Brooklyn to discuss the misconceptions around doula work, why food plays a critical role in her practice, and how to make her go-to grain salad.

I started my career path of becoming a doula after the birth of my son, who is 15. I had a really great natural experience, and it was so incredible and profound delivering him there with midwives. Right afterward, I was like, “I have to protect this experience for women."

What that looked like for me was really going down the path of nutrition support. The doula path came much later, but now it's the biggest piece of my business. I wanted to help women reclaim their bodies as sacred and understand the mechanisms of labor and delivery, which is something that I feel like so many women aren't afforded in our culture.

I spend a lot of my time in postpartum doula work cooking for my clients, making food for them and their families, but also teaching them before the babies arrive how to maintain a healthy pregnancy. I had a vegan pregnancy. I think that people should eat whatever they desire, but all of us could use more greens and plant-based foods. Plants work really quickly on our systems. They communicate with our cells.

I think about nutrition as a life force. If I want to sleep, what do I eat? If I want to grow a baby, what do I eat? If I want to recuperate or recover postpartum, what do I eat? If I had a C-section, what do I eat? If I'm breastfeeding, what do I eat? It’s not just, "I'm hungry; I'm going to reach for this." Food is critically important.

I think about nutrition as a life force.

People tend to think that doulas are for the rich only, the people who are in the one percent — or hippies. But this is a path that many women have followed for thousands and thousands of years because women have always supported women in birth, right? So, it's nothing new. The biggest misconception is access, who doulas are for, and that they’re not for everyone. And they can be for everyone. My aim with Mama Glow is really to help democratize doulas, so that everybody feels they can have one, no matter their financial bracket.

We need to reframe the way we think about doulas, as not just for birth work but also for people who are moving through life transitions and birthing other aspects of themselves. We need to expand what the face of doula work looks like. Having someone who's a nonjudgmental presence is important. In our culture, we tend to misstep with that. Doulas support you at life transitions — into new motherhood, but also when you know you're experiencing loss or a miscarriage. I’ve attended abortions. And my work isn’t just for women. Obviously, it's for families, but it's also a pathway of holding someone's hand as you're crossing a river — holding them while they're moving into a new stage of life. When we think about that, everyone needs that kind of support.

We need to reframe the way we think about doulas.

A doula is more like a soulful life coach, a spiritual life coach, somebody who mothers you in a way that you probably wouldn't get in a professional coach relationship because there are different types of boundaries involved. Because there's physical support, advocacy, and education, there are so many other touch points involved in our work that, to me, make it deeply more intimate.

Personally, I love cooking. I've been cooking since I was small because my grandmother had this huge kitchen, and I would sit on her countertop. Every time we came over there was food. It was always hot. There was always a cake or a pie on a cake stand. Even when nobody was planning to come over for entertainment, it was just there. I also grew up in Oakland with a garden next door. I never bought lemons until I got to New York; I picked them off the lemon tree. 

Eventually, I started cooking. And it was really because my mother was a single mom, so she would have me cook for my sister and myself, and then for her when she came home from work. I have a gift that I can go to a restaurant and taste something and identify it. Then I can just go and make whatever it is at home.

In California, a lot of the foods that I learned to make early on were Mexican and Central American. I learned how to make a lot of things from the African diaspora. Cooking is something I do pretty much every day. My son loves cooking, too, so he will help me. Now he cooks for himself. Sometimes I'm like, "Oh, I can smell smoke," but it's all good.

In Deep Cut, I made kale, farro, and mushrooms into a grain salad. It also has black-eyed peas. No matter what kind of dish I make, I always infuse it with something that feels like an homage to my heritage. Black-eyed peas are a food in the African American community, but also really Caribbean, too. Peas represent prosperity.

No matter what kind of dish I make, I always infuse it with something that feels like an homage to my heritage.

I start by sauteing garlic in olive oil. I love fats. The main thing to think about when we're eating anything with greens is that the nutrients and greens are fat soluble, which means that you can only access them if you eat them with fat. So, if you're eating a salad, you have to have an oil, or an avocado, to help you actually assimilate the nutrients.

Once the garlic starts to get fragrant and brown, I add in red bell pepper, which I really love for color and flavor. I let that cook down. Then I add the black-eyed peas, which have been soaked. I add in the legumes, cover them up, and let them cook down a little bit. I add the mushrooms after that. And you can decide, again, any way you want to do it. You don't like mushrooms? Don't add them. I let those sweat and then I add in the greens. And I use dinosaur kale, which I like because of the texture. I cut the kale into ribbons and then rinse it really well. Then I salt and add my grain of choice. I also add in pepitas; I get them fresh and toast them on the stove in Small Fry, and they brown really evenly. That happens with good cookware, obviously.

I love the cookware. It's so beautiful. My kitchen feels really soft and feminine, and the cookware is complementary to that — clean and beautiful in its design. I also like that on the inside of the pots there are measurements. They're easy to store properly. They’re light but sturdy. Even my first time using Great Jones, I felt like I was already used to the pans. They’re easy to work with and beautiful.

Photos by Paul Quitoriano

What I also thought was so nice is you can just bring it to the table and display it. It's beautiful enough to sit on the counter or be a part of the experience of serving. To me, that's important, too, because in New York City nobody has extra space to have serving utensils.

Instead of trying to cook in a way where you're following every step and making everything perfect, I suggest trying to figure out what works for you today — and maybe tomorrow. Maybe you're pregnant now and you can't stand kale. So, always do what you feel makes sense for you and cook intuitively. It’s about what I’m feeling in the moment and also what the moment calls for — who's here, who's eating. I think we have to be more attuned to that.