We spoke with Sarah Elton, food columnist for CBC, and the bestselling author of ‘Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet‘, ‘Locavore‘, and children’s food book ‘Starting from Scratch‘. We found out this foodie’s food rules, why your kids need to get in the kitchen, and the most (interesting) delicious foods on the planet.
Of all your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
I love my three books equally! I worked the hardest and longest on Consumed since I had to travel around the world to write it, but all my books are filled with love and passion for food, and great stories.
What was the best thing you ate during your travels?
I ate so many interesting regional foods! In the Aubrac, Monsieur Valadier fed me aligot, a potato and cheese dish that is as stretchy as bubble gum. In China, I enjoyed many a mushroom and tofu hotpot, fresh buffalo milk, the sweetest, most watery coconut I’ve ever sipped, and a banana that was unlike any banana I’d ever tasted, with a slippery mouthfeel and the perfume of a flower! In India, I enjoyed breakfasts of masala dosa and at the hotel where I was staying, the waiter smuggled me some of my favorite dessert that wasn’t on the menu. It’s was a milk dessert called rabri and I make it at home, but this one was so different from mine!
What are your food rules?
My food rules are based on what my grandmother used to tell me: “all things in moderation.” I try not to let food rules drive me crazy because they can, and then suddenly cooking and eating is associated with guilt and restraint. That said, I don’t buy processed foods and I cook from scratch. It’s easy to eat well and not have any strict food rules when you cook it yourself using fresh, seasonal ingredients. If you asked my kids about our food rules, they’d have another story I imagine. They’d say our mother makes us eat our vegetables, doesn’t let us eat junk food, restricts our sugar, won’t buy food wrapped in lots of plastic, etc. etc. But I don’t think they feel too hard done by. (We agree, these are our food rules).
Starting from Scratch is your new book for kids. Why is it important to you to get children in the kitchen?
This book empowers kids with the knowledge they need in order to cook a meal. In the past, people learned to cook by watching their parents (usually mothers and grandmothers) in the kitchen. But as a society, we are cooking from scratch less frequently, and lots of skills and knowledge have been lost. This book steps in to fill this gap and brings kids back into the kitchen where they can have fun making yummy food.
It is important to teach kids to cook because if you can cook, you can be independent and take care of yourself. You get to choose what you eat—and how much salt, fats, and sugar your food contains. You can also save money by buying ingredients and cooking from scratch rather than buying pre-made foods or always eating in restaurants. Plus, it’s fun to cook! I try to show kids how what they choose to cook can be a playful way of telling the world a little about who they are. (This is one of our favourite kids books on our Big List!)
Do your kids cook?
Yes they do! I try to practice what I preach. When my kids were very young—I think as young as two-and-a-half—I gave them butter knives and showed them how to cut mushrooms. My six-year-old can now make salad dressing with confidence (although I do hover so the oil doesn’t gush out of the bottle as she pours). I don’t remember when my eight-year-old started baking muffins, but she can now follow a recipe and make herself gluten-free muffins when she wants them. They both love to make the foods they love to eat and their favourite is …. macaroni and cheese, made from scratch! And whether or not they cooked the food, we always ask that our kids help clean up at every meal.
Who taught you how to cook?
I learned the basics by watching my grandmother and my mother in the kitchen but I really learned to cook in highschool when I got my hands on the Moosewood Cookbook and started to make all sorts of exciting foods that were new to me. I still have a number of cookbooks that I turn to regularly, but my favorite these days is Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Where do you get your groceries?
I shop at many, many different places. I buy milk and cucumbers and other Ontario greenhouse produce typically from the supermarket. I go to small mom and pop grocers for all sorts of specialty products. I shop at my local health food store for organics. I visit different so-called ethnic grocers in the city for other kinds of ingredients. I buy meat from an amazing butcher near my house that lists the diet that the animals ate and where they lived. I buy bread from small artisan bakers that seem to be in great numbers in my city these days. I buy locally made pickles and ferments and tempeh and tofu and kombucha from food artisans. And I buy my produce from organic farmers, typically at the farmers’ market but also from farm stands. I never go to an area of my city — or to another city or rural area for that matter — without thinking of what kind of food I can buy there and bring home!
Do you eat out when you’re not travelling?
Yes, I like to eat. But only good food. I am sure I annoy my friends because I am very picky about where I will go to eat.
If you had a table of 4 reserved at a farm-to-table restaurant, who would you invite to join you?
My husband and two close friends. If my grandmother was alive, I’d pick her. She always told me I should write a book but had a stroke before I published one. She’d love to read them all and there’s a little of her in each one!
For more information about Sarah’s books and projects, visit sarahelton.ca and tweet with her @SarahAElton!