Sara Forte, a food blogger behind the Sprouted Kitchen, talks to The Saint about how she decided to leave her windowless cubicle to pursue an entrepreneurial career, and together with her husband Hugh, a remarkable photographer, turn her hobby into her first cookbook The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods.
Coming from a family which served frozen taquitos for dinner, you became passionate about cooking once you started cooking for yourself at university. Please share how you first became interested in eating more healthily, and what inspired you to eventually turn your passion for food into a career.
I think I would say cooking, at first, started out of motivation for weight management. All my girlfriends were concerned about their weight and staying in shape, and eating well is a large part of that cycle. I was learning how to cook so I wouldn’t eat junk. The more I cooked, the more I learned, and it morphed over years into being more concerned about overall health. I worked at an organic farm and fell in love with vegetables and the variety there was and what a good, summer tomato really tasted like. I was just drawn in and never outgrew the desire to want to know more and be better about making food. I found it connected me to people. I would have friends over for dinner and it was a way for me to give back to my family or roommates. There is so much to cooking; I couldn’t not love it.
More and more people are starting to realise that cooking is much more than preparing food and are beginning to think of it as a matter of health, creative process, sustainability and food politics. On that note, what does cooking mean to you?
We live in a time where convenience has trumped health. If something is quick and easy, the nutritional aspect becomes overlooked. Cooking is a basic skill, you don’t have to be a professional or make foods that are fussy or incredibly creative, but you should feel responsible to prepare food that will nourish you and your family’s bodies. This is something people should at least understand how to do. For me, it is creative, it is a peaceful place, it is how I know what is going into my body, it is how I give to people that I love… it communicates something. I get that not everyone enjoys it, but the process, where and what I buy, the mess, the eating, the talking, it is fulfilling for me in a way I can’t exactly explain.
What are some of the misconceptions you think people have about whole foods?
I think people think it’s boring or tasteless. They imagine a simple green salad or diet foods. When you dig deeper into it, you find that vegetables, grains and legumes have so much potential. It takes practice, finding the right resources and caring about your wellbeing, but it becomes a habit and a preferred way to eat. I’m not perfect, every now and then I eat a protein bar in a hurry, but the point is to skew your eating towards the natural sources.
You have been to Scotland and there is even a post about Edinburgh on your blog. As an advocate of incorporating seasonal and locally grown produce, what suggestions would you offer to us, living in Scotland, where, in comparison to Southern California, we have more trouble finding a variety of fresh produce?
I didn’t totally get a grasp on what was available because I didn’t have a kitchen and wasn’t cooking. I did notice in restaurants and pubs, everything was very starchy and pretty heavy. I know I am spoiled in Southern California with the produce, but there has to be seasonal items in Scotland, even if it’s not as prevalent as here. Don’t worry so much about what you don’t have, and focus on making the best of what you do. Let’s say you have a lot of dark green leafy veg in the winter, sauté them up and try them in a frittata or underneath a nice piece of roasted chicken with some raisins and garlic and nuts. Find what tastes good and use pantry staples, like dried fruits, nuts, olive oil and good vinegars to bring out some flavour. There is always a way.
As an English major at university, your career is different from what you imagined it would be. What advice would you give to students who are struggling to figure out their life after university?
I went to university thinking I knew what I wanted and it changed so much throughout the four years that I finished still not really knowing what to do next. I don’t think I have settled in a career by any means; I still don’t know what’s going on! But I’ve had a lot of jobs, lived in a few places, and I have narrowed down what I like and don’t like. By taking on different jobs and trying new things, I figured that out by doing. So what if I’m almost 30 and still paving my way, at least I am enjoying it. I’d pick taking the long way over settling into something I don’t enjoy any day.
You are courageous enough to be vulnerable at Sprouted Kitchen and share a piece of your life with your readers where you don’t write only about food but touch on subjects such as cancer, injustices in U.S. tomato fields and your marriage. What drives you to allow yourself to live wholeheartedly and be authentic?
I am motivated by other writers who allow me into their head. In hurt, pain, insecurity, and tough things, we think it’s just us, but everyone has those moments. The more vulnerable I am, the more people connect with me; it adds the human element to Sprouted Kitchen. I get the most response from readers when I am honest, and that community is what encourages me to write. I have never been a person with secrets, so my blog didn’t seem the place to start.
You share a birthday with your blog and it’s been over three and a half years since Sprouted Kitchen was born. What are the most valuable lessons you learned by taking a leap of faith and deciding to do work that makes you happy?
Taking a risk, whether you do well or not, ends up being the greatest learning experience in the long run. I am not rich or have a thriving business, but Sprouted Kitchen has been exponentially more successful than I could have ever dreamed of, because we are taking action on doing what we love. If you authentically pursue something, good things will come of it.
Photo credit: Hugh Forte and James Moes