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In the last few years, eating healthily has become the height of fashion. Aided by a booming food blogging scene and a selection of particularly flattering filters on Instagram, the trend of publishing what, and when, you eat has gripped a nation that is intent on becoming healthier and happier consumers.
Leading the way for health food bloggers everywhere, Ella Woodward's vegan bible Deliciously Ella, released earlier this year, contains hundreds of recipes claiming to use ingredients that "you and your body will love". It has become the single fastest selling debut cookbook since records began. The parallel successes of icons such as Sarah Cadji, the mastermind behind London's first stand alone cold-pressed juice bar Roots & Bulbs and author of Pure: Juicing for Life, and latterly Madeleine Shaw, nutritional health coach whose book Get the Glow shows you how to eat your way to healthier skin and shinier hair, proves that the nation clearly has an appetite for clean living. Even Nigella Lawson, the former queen of indulgence has entitled her newest cookbook Simply Nigella: Food to Nourish the Body & Soul stripping back her signature style to focus on simple, healthy food that fits in perfectly with our busy lives.
It is against this backdrop that food-loving University of York student Sophie Mann set forth on her own culinary journey. It that has led to the creation of her very own food blog 'Sophie's Kitchen' and accompanying Facebook page, both of which are jam-packed with inspiring looking recipe's of Sophie's own creation.
Despite displaying an obvious talent in the kitchen, Sophie admits that she didn't actually start cooking until she came to university. "I really could not cook a thing before... I didn't even know how to fry an egg, yet somehow I found the knack!" Being catered in her first year, Sophie laments not really having had the opportunity to cook; "even on weekends I would just end up having crackers to save money and just for the ease of it, knowing I would be getting proper meals all through the week". This meant that it wasn't until her second year that she "really got into" the food scene. "I started to become interested in a lot of vegan and vegetarian blogs, because all of the food looked so delicious and I've always been into health and nutrition. I think it really blossomed from there and now I can't get enough of cooking for myself and for other people".
However, as Sophie informed me, having the desire to cook and eat healthily isn't always enough; for students especially, setting aside time to whip up a nutritious meal is often a struggle for those with busy academic timetables, meaning that a healthy diet rarely becomes a priority when it really should be. Despite this, Sophie assures me that there are many ways around this problem, most of which simply require organisation. "I always make my breakfasts the night before so I'm not rushing around in the morning trying to sort everything out. Also if I plan on going to the library then I'll make myself a packed lunch of a salad or something the night before so it's ready to go in the morning.
"When it comes to evening meals, I love making big batches of food like curries or stews because you can just keep them in the freezer". One of her favourite dishes to make in the evenings that is both quick and easy is her "coconut, sweet potato and chickpea curry as you can just pop everything in one pot and cook it and it will be ready in about 20 minutes which is perfect when you're tired from the library! I also love making up some quinoa or pearl barley, frying some tasty vegetables and just throwing everything together with some lemon and Tahini - it's quick, simple and tastes delicious!" As a piece of advice to students looking to create exciting and healthy meals quickly Sophie suggests investing in the right equipment. "I could not live without my food processor as I use it quite a lot for baking or making dips and spreads".
However it's not just time constraints that hold many students back from a healthier lifestyle; I asked Sophie how she manages to produce such lovely and healthy looking bakes on a student budget. "I always buy my ingredients online whenever I can because it is so much cheaper - supermarkets really are a rip off these days. I bought a 1kg bag of Chia seeds on Amazon the other day for only £4.99, which I thought was an amazing deal! I also really make use of a good market when I can because it is so much cheaper to buy your food fresh. Failing that, supermarkets always have excellent reduced sections and I thrive on this".
In the summer of her second year, Sophie decided to begin blogging about her recipes, "I think I was looking for a new challenge. I loved cooking food and no one I knew was really sharing their recipes so I thought I would! It was a bit daunting at first because I thought no one would take to it but it did prove to be quite popular which was great." The decision to begin blogging is one that has led Sophie to become increasingly passionate about the food industry. "I absolutely love blogging. It is something I want to go into when I graduate from university so it's a good platform for me to practice my writing and really get a feel for the business. I've recently just set up a Facebook page as well as a different outlet for me to post my recipes. It hasn't been going for very long but I'm hoping to do so much more with it now that I have finished my degree." In recent years the Internet has become a prolific platform for young cooks, Sophie suggests because of accessibility. "Everyone is always on the Internet so it's a great place to advertise food and recipes. It's also a fun way for people to escape their degrees and actually write about something they love."
For Sophie, the most rewarding aspect of her food blogging has been "seeing people amazed at the fact that healthy food can actually be tasty. There is such a stigma around healthy food, that it doesn't taste nice and that it is all just green, but I love it when people say my cooking is delicious as I try and make it as healthy as I can. I also really enjoy making traditionally unhealthy bakes, like brownies, into healthy snacks as it feels like quite an achievement if you can eat something which seems naughty when actually it isn't."
Despite being keen to remain healthy, Sophie's philosophy on food means she doesn't restrict herself by sticking to any rigid diet or eating plan as she thinks "food is meant to be fun and enjoyable and dieting and counting calories just removes this. I still like my chocolate and cakes I just try and either make them healthy or have the bad ones in moderation. Yes, I still over indulge occasionally but I'm young and you need to do this sometimes!"
For Sophie exploring with vegan recipes has been a particularly useful way of removing the more unhealthy ingredients from her cooking. "I am not a vegan but I love eating in that way as it makes me feel so good. I do love meat and cheese, don't get me wrong, but whenever I eat them in excess I get very bloated and uncomfortable so I would rather not. Now I have so much more energy than I used to and I love getting up in the morning feeling alive and happy. It's also a really interesting diet to have as it means you are introduced to foods you would probably never have had before which is so exciting." Ella Woodward has become an icon for Sophie in this respect; "I absolutely love Deliciously Ella and started to follow her on Instagram when she wasn't as famous as she is now. I think her recipes are so diverse, versatile and delicious and I just love cooking them. She has such a great outlook on food and uses the best and most tasty ingredients out there and her food is never bland".
However, Sophie's inspiration for cooking doesn't just come from books at home, but also from the food scene here in York. "Back home there is so little variety of cafes and restaurants so it seems like such a treat to live in such a wonderful food filled place. My favourite place to eat in York has to be El Piano as the food is so delicious and obviously it's vegan. All their dishes are so tasty that you forget there is no meat and dairy in any of it and that is what I love. I am also a fan of Barbakan and Khao San Road as I love exploring different cuisines and experimenting with foods I haven't tried before."
Looking forward, I asked Sophie where she would like to take her love of cooking in the next few years. "I am hoping to go to cookery school at some point so I'm saving up to be able to do that. I would love to have my own healthy eating cafe and be able to cook all day everyday. I definitely want to have food as my career as I get so much enjoyment out of it and it would seem a shame to just throw it all away!" Despite the fact that the health food industry is becoming increasingly competitive, Sophie is determined to pursue a career in the culinary world that she loves, and advises others who are passionate about food to do the same. "If you like what you're doing then just go for it. I think in every market it is hard to find something completely different to talk about and promote and more often than not, the great gems come from time and experience."
For Sophie, experimentation and errors are not something to be afraid of, but are a constructive way of finding something new "you'll probably mistakenly come across a crazy new recipe just from trying different things out." Despite the competition, Sophie is adamant that "there is always room for someone who genuinely has a passion for what they are doing and who comes up with exciting recipes that look and taste amazing." M