Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County’s Wise Wonderful Woman of 2016
Cristina Ferrare is many things to many people—an accomplished author, television host, chef, entrepreneur, wife, mother, grandmother, friend and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County’s Wise Wonderful Woman of 2016.
A long-time advocate of women’s health and wellness, Ferrare was recently honored at the sold-out BBSVC’s 8th annual Bags, Bling and Bubbly Champagne Luncheon held Oct. 24 at Las Posas Country Club in Camarillo. Ferrare was recognized for her continued gifts to the community, including her current work with friend Maria Shriver’s The Women’s Alzheimer’s Challenge.
The BBSVC recognizes “women who have had an impact on other women… Ferrare focuses on women’s wellness, women’s health and women’s advocacy,” says BBSVC spokesperson Danica Selvaggio. “The initiative she’s doing with Maria Shriver is specifically focusing on women’s brain health.”
The former international supermodel and spokesperson is “honored and humbled” by the award.
A captivating speaker, Ferrare was asked by long-time friend Shriver to become involved in The Women’s Alzheimer’s Challenge, which “recognizes that women are at the epicenter of the global Alzheimer’s epidemic and challenges organizations to do cutting-edge research on women’s brains to defeat this mind-blowing disease.”
Charismatic and engaging, Ferrare is the perfect person to help spread this important message. Raised by her Italian family on a Mediterranean diet rich in fresh ingredients, she was inspired by her grandmother, who was a chef, and “became fascinated with what kinds of foods affect your body.” From an early age, she has been a champion of healthy cooking and eating and now shares her enthusiastic love of life and healthy living with a vibrant community of fans.
A bestselling author of cooking and lifestyle books, Ferrare is also a beloved veteran of television. She hosted “Cristina and Friends,” co-hosted “Good Morning America” and “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee,” hosted “A Big Bowl of Love” on the Oprah Winfrey Network and served as co-host of the Emmy-nominated “Home & Family” for the Hallmark Channel from 2012 through 2016. On CristinaFerrareCooks.com, she shares recipes and health and decorating tips, all with a healthy-living focus.
She says, “When Maria asked me how I would use my brain to help, I knew instinctively how I could use my influence as a platform” to fight against Alzheimer’s disease, a cause close to her heart.
“My father suffered from dementia for several years and passed before the full onset of Alzheimer’s affected him. My mother was a full-time caregiver. Shortly after my father passed, she showed signs of early dementia and rapidly declined. Within a year she no longer could walk, talk, feed herself or recognize her family.”
Ferrare says her mother “has moments of clarity, and when you’re there it’s like, ‘Oh, there you are!’ It lasts for a fleeting moment, but I live for those moments.”
As one of Shriver’s Architects of Change, Ferrare is “using my brain to understand Alzheimer’s prevention, risk factors, symptoms and stages. Diet and exercise play a crucial role in slowing down the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Genetic risk factors alone are not enough to cause the late onset form of Alzheimer’s disease, so researchers are exploring education, diet and enforcement to learn what role they might play in the development of this disease.”
She and Shriver host “Food For Thought,” a popular Facebook Live series that focuses on the foods and recipes that contribute to brain health. With “Food For Thought,” the friends strive to specifically remind women and millennials that they can start taking preventive measures now.
“There is research coming out daily about how different foods have an effect on your brain, your gut and your heart, which are three things that are really important” in staving off Alzheimer’s.
“Perhaps I could have used what bonded us so closely, the love of cooking, to help both my parents early on,” she says.
Ferrare and Shriver are also currently working on a Food For Thought cookbook, with part of the proceeds going to raise money for gender-based Alzheimer’s research. Ferrare is developing, testing and styling the recipes for the cookbook, due to be published early next fall, which will feature “food that’s good for your brain.”
Ferrare and her husband, entertainment executive Tony Thomopoulos, live in Westlake Village and have a blended family of seven children and four grandchildren. She believes that caring for your brain “…starts early. If you can get a hold of your children, yourself, at an early age and start eating the foods that are good for your brain, and body, and mind, and heart, and also exercise, get oxygen to the brain, it will really help slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s.”
Ferrare reaches a global audience, not only through the “Food For Thought” broadcasts on Shriver’s Facebook feed—which reaches over a million viewers—but also via her own vibrant presence in the social media community.
Ferrare’s influence extends beyond her almost 110,000 Facebook followers and her subscribers on CristinaFerrareCooks.com. She contributes to MariaShriver.com and has almost 20,000 followers on Twitter. This is in addition to her bestselling cook and lifestyle books and her varied speaking engagements.
With “Food For Thought,” she says, “We reach a lot of people each week, and the reason why I’m staying active on this Facebook page is because we’re all sharing something—people are sharing their stories, their experiences and what’s happening to them, and it’s opened up a community of support where people can feel safe and talk. I’ve been through so much myself that I can contribute, I can listen, I can be compassionate, I can offer prayers and they give that back to me.”
Grace Under Fire
Ferrare was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells, and her fans are lifting her up with their prayers, support and “beautiful heartfelt messages.” Even during this difficult time, she continues to empower others and advocate for women’s health. Ferrare went to the doctor three times and was told she was fine before finally getting her diagnosis. She tells women, “You have to take your own health into your own hands. I didn’t stop until I got this diagnosis.”
Ferrare continues to inspire by living with grace and beauty. “I’m dealing with it like I do everything else in my life—I’m at peace because I have God in my life, I have a resolve, I have a really good attitude… and I have a great support system here at home,” she says. “This is my time to now sit back, live a more authentic life and really give back… that, and of course my family, is what’s important to me now.”