If there’s someone we’d equate with healthy and whole eating, it’s Sarah Copeland. She’s the Food Director at Real Simple, and author of Feast, a delightful new vegetarian cookbook (nominated for a James Beard award, no less!). Her fresh approach to making wholesome foods vibrant and appealing immediately caught our eye, and we wanted to know more. For another installment in our Healthy & Whole series, we’ve caught up with her about how she got to where she is today, and how to start eating a whole foods diet. Thank you so much to Sarah !
1. You’re Food Director at Real Simple magazine and author of a fabulous new cookbook, Feast. How did you become interested in food, and how did you get to where you are today?
Well, you could say that I was always interested in food–I’m sure I was never one of those kids you had to beg to eat something. ? My mother and grandmother were both wonderful cooks and make homemade meals, fresh from-scratch pies, wonderful cakes and freshly baked cookies, so there was never a shortage of positive associations with food. But it never occurred to me as a career choice until I got to New York, where food is an art. Here, I literally fell in love with the visual side of food as an assistant photo editor, where I got to book and attend food shoots with some of the best photographers and foods stylists in the country. I couldn’t believe people got paid to play with food all day. I was sold. From there, it was a constant pursuit–reading, eating, exploring, a lot of hard work and, I’d say, God’s hand in the timing portion.
2. What is your approach to eating? Did you always eat this way, or did it evolve over time?
I aim to fill up on food that taste really alive–vibrant, colorful foods with lots of snap and crunch (like fruits and vegetables, of course) are not only the most beautiful, but usually taste the best to me–with, naturally, a healthy dollop of a great soft cheese, a drizzle of luscious olive oil or a handful of nuts, on most days.
I grew up eating real whole foods, with very little from a package, except for peanut butter–I’m not sure my sweet mother could have gotten lunch packed for four wild kids without it–so I always appreciated fresh, healthy foods. Even on school days, my mom would often cook us soft-boiled eggs several times a week and serve us big bowls of fruit salad. When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, my teacher singled me out in front of the class and asked me what I usually ate for breakfast. I was horrified. But I didn’t dare not answer, so I told her. Eggs. Then she turned to the classroom and said, “I want you all to eat eggs for breakfast from now on; I never hear Sarah complain or have trouble concentrating in class.” I wanted to crawl under my desk for the rest of the year, but I later realized she was smart. This was long before people were really talking about the connection between what you eat and how you feel and think and perform in life–but she understood that relationship, and it really stuck with me. It was an early education that food is so important; what we choose to eat fuels how we feel, our energy level, and how our body, our emotions and our brains work. I believe and have certainly experienced that whole foods, natural foods and whenever possible vibrant, colorful fresh foods can make us feel the very best.
3. What kind of advice would you give to someone who has just become interested in cooking and whole food eating?
Plant a garden: you learn so much about food, flavor and how to eat everything under the sun by growing things, even a few things, yourself. The next best thing is befriending a gardener or farmer. Try things, and trust your instincts. I think we were all born with the innate wisdom about what is good for us, what our bodies need, but it’s so easy to get distracted (trust me, I just came off a couple of weeks of eating whatever looked and sounded good, including way too many sweets). Try to stay in tune with you.
4. Have you ever struggled with your relationship with food? If so, do have any advice to pass along?
Yes, I was a chubby kid, particularly in junior high (hard years to be chubby!). I ate incredibly healthy things, but just too much of them. Though I outgrew it before high school, when I decided to go to culinary school years later, I worried that it might be hard for me. Yes, there are still days I eat too much (it’s my job to eat, so you can imagine), but eventually you learn that a taste is sometimes all you need. Ice cream is amazing (amazing!) but you don’t always need more than a spoonful or two to be satisfied, and chance are, there will be more tomorrow. Remembering that we get to eat every day (thankfully, we are blessed with so much abundance in this country) makes it easier to not eat more than I need to today.