My New Roots – Sarah Britton
“Sarah is in the Netherlands for the promotion of her book My New Roots. Would you maybe like to interview her?” Something like this was the content of the email I received from Martien from Karakter Publishers and before I knew it, I had said yes. Not that I have any clue on how to interview people, but I’ve been a fan of Sarah for years and so how could I possibly say no?
And so came the sunny day of June 10th where I was expected to arrive at 10.30 in restaurant De Kas for the interview. I was slightly nervous because I had no idea what to expect. She might be a terrible person for all I knew and I would be having a hard time finding anything to talk about… Who knows!
Thankfully non of that was the case. Sarah arrived spot on time and we found a nice place in the sun to do the interview. I had – of course – written down a few questions on paper before starting out but now writing it all down on paper, is quite hard. And long too, so prepare for a lengthy post.
You started blogging 8 years ago – same as me. Can you imagine what your life would have been like without your blog. What would you be doing?
That is so hard to answer! When I started blogging there weren’t that many foodblogs around and no one had any ambitions with those blogs anyway. I just wanted to bring my ideas into the world and the internet seemed like a good place to do it. These days a lot of people start a blog in the hope of getting a cookbook deal or something similar, but I had no idea where it would lead to. So how different my life would be? It would be completely different… I don’t even know if I would be cooking at all! Cooking is something that I just grew into. In the beginning when I just started blogging, it was more about health issues than cooking and food. But my readers responded most to the posts which had recipes in them so I knew I had to do something with that.
You’ve done a study in holistic nutrition. What exactly is that?
Good question, as it doesn’t exist as such here in Europe. It is essentially food as medicine. The prevention and cure through food instead of through drugs. It is in part a complete medical training, but instead of learning which medicine would do what, you learn what an apple would do or what a melon would do.
Ideally people would come to a holistic nutritionist before they go to the doctors, but in reality it comes down to the fact that people only go to a nutritionist when the doctor has told them, ‘there is nothing more I can do for you’.
And so the problem is that food is not a medicine, it works incredibly gentle and it takes a long time before you start seeing results. It’s not a quick fix and you need patience. They say it is easier to change your religion than changing your diet. Even when faced with a life or death situation it turns out it is incredibly difficult for people to make the switch. And because they find it so hard to change their food intake and because they come to a holistic nutritionist too late, the holistic nutrition as a whole receives a bad name for lack of results.
But it is super effective if given the right amount of time and a patient who is committed to making it work. It’s a cliche to say that ‘you are what you eat’ but you literally are ONLY the things that you eat. It is hard to tell someone that what they eat could literally change their entire life. I grew up with normal processed foods, like most people, and until I had actually changed my food intake I would not have believed the impact it had. It took two weeks and after that I have never looked back.
Speaking of your book. How did it happen? Did you have an idea or where you approached by a publisher?
I was probably one of the last of my group of peers who did a cookbook. I was approached by a number of publishers and the readers of my blog kept asking for it. I only thought; ‘I have more than 200 recipes on my blog. Why not simply press print and you have a book in your hands?’ But I do love books myself and eventually I found a publisher.
I also waited quite a long time because I knew what a huge undertaking it would be. There are over a 100 recipes in the book and they are all new. I did not want to recycle the recipes I already had on the blog, except for the three most populair ones. I also wanted to take all the photos myself plus when I signed the contract I was four months pregnant. Not something I will be doing again anytime soon!
The result of waiting so long was that I could choose with whom I wanted to work and I chose Random House from the US. And it has now been published in four languages in 8 countries. And that was even before it came out. Now that it is launched we’re hoping that Sweden, France and Portugal will pick it up as well. I still can’t believe it happened like this. I don’t really think about it that often but it is pretty amazing.
Talking about photography. How did you learn? Are you a self taught photographer or did you follow workshops?
I’m fully self taught. When you go back to the beginning of my blog you will find some horrible examples… I think it is important to keep them there, so people can see the progress I went through. In the online world there seems to be this need for perfection and i think it is also important to show how I’ve grown. I grew up together with my blog.
I would like to do a workshop some day in the future. I can still remember that moment when I found out what backlighting did for the picture. I was going through a beautiful cookbook, studying the photos, as I wanted to improve myself and I realised that in all the photos I really like, the light was coming from behind the subject. I do have a background in painting so that is a huge advantage when it comes to composition and light but that one moment made all the difference. The next time I was taking photos for my blog, I let the light come from behind the subject and it was magical!
That was my turning point. I started buying more props and went with it. it might seem like a logical thing but for me it was a real eye opener!
You were born in Canada but you’ve been living in Denmark now for 6,5 years. If you look at the food culture in Denmark compared to Canada how different is it?
For starters the Danish cook and that makes them a healthier society. Canada is more American in that sense.
The family as a whole seems to be something that is disappearing, people are too busy, their kids are too busy and they’re all doing so many things! Cooking is one of the first things to go. It’s a challenge for people to keep cooking and in Canada and the US you see that it is disappearing and all the problems that are the result of that. In Denmark they are more aware of how important it is and they do cook. In Canada they are more openminded in terms of trends in cooking. When I go to a health store in Canada I don’t even know where to look! I feel like I’ve been under a rock. I always bring half an empty suitcase, so I can take it all back.
Like I said Canada is more into trends and the latest and the hottest. But things change a lot and Denmark is more stable. The cook more, are more traditional. They won’t follow the latest trends or hype, so that makes them healthier.
What is your favorite Canadian dish?
Canada is so multi cultural that it is hard to say what is really Canadian. I can give you a few dishes, but I like non of them… Applepie with cheddar for instance..
Applepie with cheddarcheese?
I have to say that – as a kid – I thought it was delicious. If you like the combination sweet and salty… you will like this too. Sometimes they put grated cheddar into the crust. It sounds really weird but it is really Canadian.
And what else? I think it is so multicultural I find it hard to say what is multicultural and what not.
You’re a vegetarian. Have you always been a vegetarian?
No, I started eating vegetarian when I was 16. Quite young, but I knew absolutely nothing about food or nutrition. I just stopped eating meat. So I thought; ‘O potatoes don’t have meat in them. Bagels didn’t have meat, baguette didn’t have meat… That was the most unhealthy period in my life. Between 16 and 18 I gained a lot of weight. I lived in France for 4 months and that was a terrible time. I literally ate myself through Marseille in order to feel better and I didn’t understand why I was getting so fat! I was only eating baguettes! But I really didn’t know anything about nutrition. I ate two baguettes a day! They rolled me of the plane when I came back home!
Are you a vegetarian for what it does for your body or because you love animals or…. ?
There are many reasons really. It started because I was concerned for the environment and eating meat has a big impact on the environment and so I thought I’ll just stop. When I studied holistic nutrition and found out all the health reasons for not eating meat that only made me more convinced that not eating meat was the right thing to do. And when I heard about traditional farming practices – I am really not a preachy vegetarian – I just didn’t feel right about the state of things at the moment. I think we will look back at this period in time with shame and regret. I do not understand how you can treat any living being like that and feel good about it. But that is all I want to say about it, as I really don’t want to preach.
How do you keep eating healthy food on really busy days? Because I find that the hardest thing to do!
I have got breakfast down to a science. I soak everything the night before, so it is all precooked by the water. I eat a lot of grains. Not at every meal but almost. I am on a buckwheat kick lately. I eat a lot of buckwheat porridge. In the summer I eat almost everything raw. On my blog is a really good recipe for raw buckwheat porridge. That takes about two seconds to make. And if it’s a really busy day, there is a fabulous bakery close to home that makes awesome sourdough bread and I always have lots of protein stuff like hummus in the ridge, so I eat a couple of slices of that with avocado and a pile of hummus. But usually I am cooking and than I just eat what I’m cooking.
But what if you’re travelling and can’t bring anything along?
I always bring my own food with me. I used to be the most popular girl around as I had stacks of food everywhere. I never leave house without something. I refuse to eat on the plane and people seem to think you cannot bring any food with you on a plane but that is just not true. No drinks, that is correct, but food is ok. I’ve done a post on my blog a while back about ‘healthy travelling‘ with ideas for food to make upfront and bring along with you. It takes a while and requires better planning but it really is only 20 minutes extra.
You’ve worked as a chef in Denmark?
Yes I have worked as a chef but I have never had a training as a chef. When I went to Denmark I found out that my degree in holistic nutrition didn’t really mean anything in Denmark as it doesn’t exist here. So I decided not to start a practice. I could have but if anything happens you’re not insured and that seemed like a bad thing. And in the end it turned out to be a ‘blessing in disguise’. I started writing down all the things I could possibly do and that were all closely related to nutrition. I kept coming back to cooking. And I knew nothing about cooking!
I cycled to all five vegetarian restaurants in Kopenhagen and they said I was overqualified because of my background in nutrition. But the last restaurant I visited hired me. And I was terrified that first day! In fact I think I was terrified those first few weeks non stop. I woke up completely stressed. There was not menu. You came in, looked in the fridge to see what was available and you would start to cook. I made 12 dishes in four hours and it was scary but it did learn me how to cook. I made 12 to 15 dishes. Every day. Never the same and always with fresh ingredients of whatever was available. You couldn’t go to the store. If was a fantastic experience in creativity and that is how I learned. Everyone always tells me ‘I want to go to culinary school’ and say just do it. Just cook. Every day… The majority of people freak out when they have to cook with whatever is in the fridge. They don’t even know how to cut an onion.
And it is really ridiculous that people are no longer taught in school how to take care of themselves. Why is the history of the world more important than taking care of yourself and your own health? When I started in holistic nutrition I learned the basics of how your body works and part of the reason for starting my blog is to tell people what I had learned. Why do we not learn this in school? We learn the most useless things but not what our bodies need or how our immune system works. I find it ridiculous. People don’t even know how to cook anymore.. One of my goals, if I live long enough and that is what I plan to do, is to go into the school system and learn people about their bodies. What to do when you get sick or your family gets sick.
Do you eat sugar?
Very rarely. I eat natural sugars and I do have a sweet tooth. I am strongly opposed to white sugar. In my former life I was seriously addicted to white sugar and I felt really bad. And given the change in the my body it would be very hard to go back to that. And if you see the effect it has on some people and especially on children I find that very disturbing. It pains me to see that. I’m not a very dogmatic person though and a little bit once in a while is ok. Samantha once took me to this place in Amsterdam to taste the applepie and it was so good! So when we go there we share a piece between the two of us and that is fine! I eat so healthy 99% of the time so it’s ok. The only way to control what you put into your body is to cook yourself. If you do not cook everything yourself you have no control over what people put in your food. Bottomline; cook yourself!
Do you have any heroes in the food world..?
Not really no. People that are passionate about what they do and about food. Who believe their mission. Rene Redzeppi is a good example. I have worked at Noma… But no not really specific examples..
We talked a bit more before it is time for Sarah to go to the kitchen and prepare for the booklunch that is taking place about an hour later. We get a few delicious dishes prepared by the chefs and Sarah, who entertains us all during the meal with her great sense of humour. Such a great person!
She is so enthusiastic and passionate and although she eats really really healthy, you never have the feeling that she is trying to push something on you. Her book “My New Roots” is a gorgeous book. Full with delicious recipes, gorgeous photos and information on how to best prepare legumes and grains. What food does for you and much much more. I had planned to make a recipe from the book as well and post it here but it would become an ever longer post than it already is!
So I’ll save that for a next time!