INTERVIEW with Sophie Volatier (English)

I interviewed Sophie on February 18th, 2014 in Ouistréham, France.

 

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CLIQUEZ ICI POUR LA VERSION ORIGINALE (FRANÇAIS)

 

What did you eat this morning ? At lunchtime? What will you eat tonight?

This morning? Um, actually, I don’t eat in the morning. At lunchtime, I had a spoonful of seaweed spread before you arrived. And I also ate several bananas. I must have had three. This evening, friends have invited us over for dinner, so I don’t really know what’s in store for us!

Yesterday evening, for example, I got home quite late, so I threw something together quickly… I made a salad with zucchini, which I grated coarsely in long filaments, sort of like noodles… Then I added three oranges, cut into pieces, some chopped cucumber and chopped celery. It was a basic mixed salad. I didn’t add any salad dressing — the juice from the orange served that purpose.

It can be a bit strange at first, I find, to eat foods with no sauce or dressing (no oil, vinegar, etc). I’ve been eating in this manner for about 9 months now. Recently I tasted some endives with a mustard vinaigrette, and I found it delicious. I said to myself, “This tastes fantastic!” But afterwards I felt the effect of the salt, a sort of bloated feeling. It’s not a sensation that I enjoy. I don’t like the consequences.

 

I know that you eat a lot of raw foods. Why?

I went to see a gynecologist 3 years ago. They did a pap smear and the results showed some sketchy cells. And I had always told myself that I would handle such a situation on my own. It took some time for the plan to germinate. And I also had some minor health concerns, nothing grave but I wondered, “If I try to shift my eating habits, what will happen?”

I have problems with my gums, and there are a lot of people who have problems with their gums when they begin a raw food diet. So, as I already had some gum issues, for as long as I can remember, I knew I had to be extra careful so as not to exacerbate what was already happening. I noticed that one thing that really messes up my gums is too much acidity. Fresh pineapple, for instance, just gnaws away at me.

But it’s mostly cooked food that gets me. I noticed that tomato sauce, with cooked tomatoes, is harmful for me, for my gums. This whole way of eating allows me to experiment. I actually test a lot of things out on myself. So, anyway, embracing a raw food diet for me was about seeking a change on the physical plane, within myself, and observing how my body reacted.

I have always had the feeling that there is life in what is raw. But with the constraints of the passing weeks and months, I found myself, at some meals, eating more cooked food than raw. Which, for me, is impossible, unthinkable. I love Indian food, but Indian dishes are very, very cooked. I love vegetable curries and all of that. I love it. But I noticed that on several occasions, when we’ve gone away on holiday and there was a buffet where we were staying, I would always serve myself completely raw meals. Voilà. That’s what I like. And that’s what I’m trying to put into practice at home.

I’ve also completely changed my relationship with sugar. Sugar hasn’t been part of my diet for years. I’m not saying “I never eat sugar”. But I’m not drawn to sweet food, or sugar. Even with fruit, I had really taken a step back, never eating bananas for example. But now, I realize that I needed to have sufficient calories and nutrients, so as to avoid being really ravenous and jumping on the first cooked food item that comes along. At the beginning, I used bananas to regulate my appetite. They’re filling, they’ve got a decent amount of calories, and they give you the feeling of being full.

So really, I’m constantly experimenting, and listening carefully to my body, my cravings, and how it all works. (…) I’m don’t think in terms of needing to be 100% raw within a certain number of weeks, I’m just interested to watch how my body reacts and how I feel. I have felt the energy returning. I feel much less tired.

I’ve also done some experiments with reintroducing cooked food. After two dinners in a row (I say ‘dinners’ because before, I never ate at lunchtime…now with my raw food diet, I do eat lunch because everything is digested so much faster) I noticed that if I ate cooked food two nights in a row, I’d end up with conjunctivitis. I’d wake up with my eyes stuck together. Even though the cooked food I chose to eat was mostly potatoes, no grains… So you see, I’m just observing.

 

How did you find a diet that suits you?

By watching, by experimenting. However, what suits me does not necessarily suit my family, which is not always such an easy thing to manage. Because sometimes, I have the need to feel that I’m infusing my raw food diet with new energy and creativity, whereas I prepare both cooked foods for my family as well as raw food, and sometimes after finishing the cooked meal, I don’t have the time or energy left to make something raw that’s elaborate… and I end up making something boring or not so great. Which doesn’t really make the raw food particularly appealing to my family. But I’m working on that as well.

There are times when I prepare the raw dish first, and then the cooked dish… but the cooked dish takes more time usually, and ideally I like to eat the raw food when it’s just been prepared! So the logistics often mean I have to do the cooking first, and the raw comes second. But it’s balancing out with time. And I’ve seen that my family is also evolving as far as raw food is concerned – there’s no point trying to force things. Change can happen over time, and vacations, or summertime, are good opportunities. Last summer, we pretty much all ate raw, all the time. There were platters of tomatoes, cucumbers…

 

Are you influenced by the way others might perceive the uncommon way that you eat?

I’m not as concerned with the way people perceive me, as much as I am with maintaining social ties. If my friends start thinking, “Oh Lord, we can’t invite them, what a pain!” then I find that really regrettable. That is what tends to affect me most, because for me it’s important to have bonds, and for things to remain simple. I actually think my way of eating is quite simple – considering, what makes me the happiest person in the world is lettuce and carrots… I take a leaf of lettuce, put some grated carrots inside, roll it up, and it’s that easy! I eat it, I adore it, I find it heavenly, et voilà!

But I’m well aware that people who are inviting me over to eat are not exactly going to be comfortable saying, “We’ll just give Sophie a big plate of lettuce.” I’ve realized that it’s very important for me to take time with all of this. Things fall into place eventually. I get ideas for helping my friends to be comfortable with it, helping them know what to do, and I also know I must accept continuing to eat cooked foods from time to time, without fighting it.

An American friend of mine, who eats raw food, also eats cooked foods, when the situation calls for it, on weekends. I think it’s a good idea, because it’s often during the weekend that you go out, or people invite you over. So she feels good, because for 5 days a week she eats raw food only, and even if she has some cooked food on weekends, it all balances out. I, too, am working on finding the right balance for myself.

 

Do you communicate with the food that you eat, or feel there is an exchange of sorts?

I have noticed that eating raw foods, I am much more in connection with nature, with nature’s abundance. When I eat a piece of fruit, I truly feel that it’s a sort of blessing that this fruit has landed in my hands. I see how amazing and wonderful nature is. I am filled with gratitude, and all of this has developed enormously eating raw foods.

For instance when I make “squash spaghetti” (winter squash can be eaten raw, which I never knew), I take a large squash, like butternut. It’s really good. It’s crunchy, it’s delicious. Here too, I find myself filled with newfound respect for nature’s offerings. I find it marvelous. It makes me feel as though I’m in a sort of garden, as if the entire planet were a garden, and that one simply needs to hold out one’s hand to find nourishment. There is so much growing, everywhere, in so many shapes and sizes… you just have to bend down, or lift up your arm… Even if, concretely, this translates to going to the market, going to the organic coop, I definitely feel that something has shifted in my perceptions.

 

What role did food and cooking play during your childhood?

I don’t really know.

 

Did you cook as a child?

Yes, I cooked, rather I baked. But I actually don’t have many clear memories up until I was 14 years old. I don’t think I was particularly focused on nature. Take my husband – he has all sorts of memories – of smells, dishes he ate, flavors…he remembers who cooked what for him. I managed to remember the smell of honey on toast that I ate at my grand-parents’, and the memory really inhabited me. I thought, this must be what Jean-Michel experiences, these strong sensations brought back through memory. But in general, I wasn’t so drawn to such things.

Afterwards, I had some difficulties around eating, beginning around 14 years old. I feel like I have come quite a long way since then, learning to identify the foods that work best for me, that are good for me, that bring me pleasure.

 

This actually leads into what I was going to ask you next: was there a personal milestone in your life that changed how you relate to food?

Well, yes . Yes there was! Because beginning at age 14, I was anorexic. So there came a time, when I was 17 years old, when I found myself living alone, fending for myself. And there I was, facing the choice: feed myself, or not feed myself? It was an intense challenge; I had my back to the wall, but it turned out to be a saving grace, because at that point I made a choice, and it was truly a conscious choice. There I was, thinking, “So what do I do? … In any case, it is vain not to eat. It’s vain!”  And it was the vanity of it that made me want to stop. I figured, this is vain. That is what worked for me, in any case, and got things unstuck. Telling myself that it was vain, that it was futile. You know, every morning, you get up and reconsider the same question, “Do I eat, or don’t I?” I just realized that it was so … vain!

So, after that, I had to take the initiative and find my way through. Find what worked for me. I already knew it was more of a vegetarian, often vegan diet. During that time of my life, during my studies, I only had myself to take care of. Taking care of myself already felt like a big thing, given that I wasn’t really such a happy person then.

Then later on, when I was a bit older, when I was pregnant, as I had the life of another person growing within me… well, I was responsable for that life (…) so I decided to take some cooking classes. And it was really great! That’s when I learned to make the seaweed spread. And I really became passionate about cooking. It opened all sorts of doors … to be able to prepare things I love, that make me happy! Because I think that part of why I didn’t want to eat back then had to do with my not finding the food appetizing. There were foods and dishes I can barely think about today without thinking “Nasty! How could anyone want to eat that?!” I think that if I had been eating more fruit, more vegetables, fresh things, raw things, I very well might have avoided sinking so low, rejecting food and eating like I did.

 

What do you find to be the most dangerous misperception regarding the way we eat?

I don’t know if this is ‘dangerous’ exactly, but thinking about food in terms of numbers and calories… for me it’s the quality of our experience that counts. I believe we can nourish ourselves in myriad ways. And it doesn’t necessarily have to always translate to gustatory pleasures or pass through our digestive system. Think of all the people who, when experiencing really meaningful, warm human exchange, or when they meet someone and fall in love, suddenly, their appetite’s gone! There is a sort of alchemy that happens in our body. For me, food is just compensation, or pleasure. But that mindset which dictates that you must eat X amount of protein, Y amount of this, Z amount of that, it’s really just a set of beliefs. But I suppose it’s a set of beliefs to say so, too!

But something that is really much more dangerous and serious than that, is the belief that we have to kill animals, that we need to eat their flesh. For me, this is such a pity. At the same time, everyone lives his or her own life, and that is OK. Some people eat meat, some people do not eat meat. It just hurts me to see all of these animals being raised like “feed.” We enslave animals… they are subjected pitiful conditions… When the Native Americans went to kill a deer, its flesh fed the entire tribe for months, and they truly had a connection with the animal, with life… for me, this is different.

But today, with the despicable conditions that livestock has to endure, I just have no desire to condone or support the system. I find it regrettable that we get so much misinformation around this, because of the power of the meat industry and lobbies. I find it a pity that we don’t have better access to neutral, clear information about the fact that we really do not need to consume animals to be in excellent health — in fact the other way around would be more like it!

People consume an excess of animal-based products today, which has a lot to do with their poor health. And coincidentally – or not – the companies that produce animal-based products happen to be the same companies that produce medicine. It’s really too bad, all of this. I would love to see restaurants everywhere in the world offering vegetarian options. I dream of a world where every single restaurant would serve vegetarian and vegan dishes. For it to be natural! For it to be normal! And for meat dishes to become more of an exception. All of this affects me a lot.

I’m really affected by the conditions of animals. Sometimes when I was little, and I watched ants walking along the ground, I thought to myself, “I’m like a giant for them. If I put my foot down on an ant, I’d crush it. They might have relationships and this could really mess things up…” And I also imagine, what if there were giants looking down at us, watching us. Imagine if they said, “Hey, let’s eat that person. Let’s start raising people. We’ll make them have babies and we can use them for food, they’ll be a raw material that we can always have around to nourish ourselves.” I just find it all so horrible. To be alive, to be conscious, and yet to serve the sole purpose of being a food stock. This is how I see the way we treat animals today.

  

What are you seeking to communicate first and foremost when you teach cooking classes?

That there is an alternative to carnivorous eating. To show people that there is an incredible richness and diversity in the plant kingdom, and that you can be in excellent health! Transmitting lots of joie de vivre, which influences our psyche. And also, offering new alternatives to the habits that we, or our culture, fall into. A couple of years ago, I came full circle. I remembered that as a child, I had wanted to be a veterinarian. For years, I was determined. Then, I ended up moving in a different direction. But a few years ago, I realized “Of course! By offering vegetarian cooking classes, I am taking care of animals!” The point was looking out for animals. And that is integral to what I do. I thought about how, often when we’re young, and we have a dream that feels important, and becomes like a life goal, it is something that profoundly drives us. And I realized, yes! with my cooking classes, I’m right there, I’m bringing that dream to life.

 

Do you have a vision of how or what we can change, in terms of our eating habits, that will improve the planetary situation?

I dream of a vegan world. I dream of it. With all of the human beings in much better health, in much closer connection with nature, much more respectful of Gaïa, of all of the harvests, of the abundance that we can receive. And in a vegan world we would no longer need to enslave and kill the animals, ‘producing’ them as food stock. This is my vision. It comforts me greatly to envision something like that. Even if I am totally able to sit at the same table as someone who is eating meat, it’s not a problem for me, truly. Personally, I choose not to buy it, not to cook it. If people eat meat, they eat meat. But it’s important to know that there is another way, and to propose it. I believe that the more pacifist our actions are, the more we are connected to life, which in turns changes something inside us, relating to how we interact with nature and with life.

 

What could be a good first step, for someone who eats a typical carnivorous diet, but is interested in discovering some of what you’re talking about?

For me, it’s just about finding pleasure in the cooking or eating of plant-based dishes. The person doesn’t need to try to reduce his or her meat consumption, but rather increase his or her consumption of plants. Suddenly, you realize that you’re actually full and not necessarily hungry for anything else. It’s best if it happens that way, with no forcing. Cultivating the pleasure associated with eating vegetables, fruits, grains, and enjoying the health that comes with it — and the rest tends to fade away! After a few months, you’re likely to say, “After all, I’m not buying meat anymore, nor fish… and I feel so much better!”

CHECK OUT SOPHIE’S EXCELLENT RECIPE : FRESH SEAWEED SPREAD 

CHECK OUT SOPHIE’S COOKING CLASSES HERE! (in Normandy)

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