You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Chef Sophia Roe on What's Missing from Food and Travel Shows

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 11/23/2020 Lale Arikoglu
a young boy standing in front of a building © Makeda Sandford

In a year when we're exhausted thinking about cooking another meal at home, where our ingredients come from likely hasn't been top of mind. But Sophia Roe wants to change that. On November 26, the chef and wellness advocate launches Counter Space, a new VICE TV show that seeks to shine a light on how the world’s sociopolitical issues impact the way we eat—from conflict coffee in Yemen and protest food in Hong Kong to the way climate change is affecting France’s most famous grapes. Filmed in its entirety during the pandemic, it provides a look at our dramatically changed world, but showcases the power of community, too. “It's a very hard time to think about connections. In the middle of a pandemic, we are trying our hardest to get away from each other,” says Roe. “But we need each other.”

We caught up with Roe over the phone to find out what it took to produce the show in such extraordinary circumstances, the power of mushrooms (yes, really), and how to get people actively engaged in the fight against climate change.

You created a travel show during a time when no one can travel. What was that process like?

It all happened during the pandemic, which I think is what makes [the show] so uniquely amazing. I only traveled to a few of the places, because of COVID regulations and for the safety of both myself and everyone that we were interviewing, so a lot of the episodes were made remotely. But what we were able to do was send camera crews who are local to the location, so the viewers are still able to have a wonderful experience and really see the place. It’s also meant that we’ve been able to support camera people in the communities we feature, too.

Food and travel have had a huge crossover on television in recent years. What has been missing from those conversations?

We’ve made the conversation a lot more [global.] We're not just talking about food and travel, we're talking about the environment, we're talking about farming, we're talking about where we get the food that we eat. Sixty percent of the specialty foods that we eat are from somewhere else; almost 100 percent of the coffee we drink in America is from somewhere else. We're not just saying, ‘look how great this coffee is from Yemen.’ We’re saying, here’s why your coffee is expensive, and here’s who gets the most amount of money and who gets the least. Yeah, it’s a travel show, and yeah, it's about food, but it's really a value chain show. It's teaching people about the future of farming and the impact of climate change on our actual food systems. It's a food news show.

The first four episodes take viewers to Hong Kong, Spain, Yemen, and France. What drew you to those places?

Take France, for example. In that episode we talk about Champagne because it’s seasonally relevant to the holidays. But it’s an interesting way to talk about how the climate is even affecting alcohol production. We tend to think of climate change as this big thing, but we rarely talk about the specifics. I think these four episodes are really great at taking things that make you think ‘whoa,’ that seem overwhelming, and really making them digestible. You can walk away with ideas that feel actionable. And I think that's something we need so much more of. We're bombarded with resources—read this book, read that book, follow this person—but then you’re left thinking, What do I do? Who do I talk to? How do we fix this? Each episode tries to give a solution, which I think is rad.

In Hong Kong, you take a look at protest food. Talk more about that term.

Protest food is any food. Anyone, having any food, can be an act of protest. Joy as a Black person is an act of protest. In the face of racism, me eating, walking down the street, and living to talk about it is an act of protest. Because there are people actively trying to oppress all kinds of people [here in the U.S.] all the time. That's why the episode is so valuable. These Hong Kongers are literally fighting for their right to democracy, and so everything that they do is an act of protest. You can't be a Hong Konger and not understand protesting. If you're born there, protest is part of your culture. It's also really interesting to see protests that are not [in the U.S.]. America is so about America, it's so not concerned with what anyone else is doing. Yet it’s a very relevant conversation to what’s happening here right now.

The ability to have food in this country is also intrinsically political. It's not an accident that non-white people in America are starving at higher percentages. The system is designed that way. It's really important to have this discussion. And you can't possibly have a conversation about progress and feel cozy. That's a big theme of the show. I'm sure this stuff will make you feel like you're drinking a big cup of discomfort tea, but that’s how we grow. There are some major issues in this country that we have to face. One in four children face hunger in America. More than 15 million people go to bed hungry in America every single day. That is political.

We’re all so desperate for human connection right now. What have been some of the most memorable people you’ve encountered through the show?

Speaking with Giuliana Furci, the founder of the Fungi Foundation—she’s the first female mycologist in Chile. I was already such a big fan. The way she talks about mushrooms... I mean, it seems so silly, but we would cease to exist without mushrooms. They are the single most important organism on the planet. And so it was the most remarkable conversation. This is a woman who had Jane Goodall write her a letter, telling her that she must continue to do the work that she’s doing. I firmly believe it's going to save the world. There is fungus that eats plastic. It's insane! That was a bucket list conversation for me. I actually cried during the interview because we both have mushroom tattoos, in the same spot, and we didn't know. It was a really beautiful moment of connection on camera.

An episode about a fungus solving the plastic crisis feels like a rare moment of hope in 2020. What do you want viewers to ultimately take away from the show?

I live and breathe this stuff. It's all I care about. It's all I think about. But the second you get too clinical, or it gets only science-y, you're going to lose people. So you've got to find ways to tell a story, and you’ve got to make things funny to get people interested. Ultimately, if you want to save the world, you’ve got to make saving the world cool. It can't just be doom and gloom, because then you scare everybody. And right now we're all scared. There’s also this paralysis; when you don’t know what to do, you do nothing. So I just want everybody to remember that they're human, and there's only so much that you can do. But if we all do it together—if we can all just be cool together—then maybe we’ll save the world together. I know that seems cheesy, but I really do believe that.


Video: Many Agree World Kindness Day Is Needed More Than Ever This Year (CBS New York)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Condé Nast Traveler

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon