We chat with Andrea Ball from The Green Gourmet about her love of good food and good health and what she has in store for us at the next Nourish and Nurture retreat.
How did your love of food and health begin?
When I was five years' old, my family moved to Thailand. I left my friends and kindy behind and was quite sulky for the first few days. Then a Thai family friend cooked me black sticky rice with coconut cream and mango for breakfast. That was my first official food crush!
I was fascinated that Thai people ate such a different breakfast from Aussies and that fed my interest to learn about the local food culture. I started tagging along to the Bangkok food markets with my mum, learning about exotic, new ingredients and then cooking them with Thai friends. I soon began to understand the importance of eating seasonally and locally, the role of food as medicine, and how food connects families and communities.
This same fascination still inspires me today: traditional cultures have so much to teach us about the role of food in health and family — and you still can't keep me away from a fresh food market anywhere in the world!
What is your personal food philosophy? And why have you chosen this style of eating?
Growing up in Thailand, I was inspired by the Buddhist vegetarians I met. The Buddhist philosophy of treading gently on the earth, to respect our bodies and all living beings rang true for me from a very early age. When I was old enough to cook nutritionally-balanced meals for myself, my mum was happy for me to give up meat.
Today, my way of eating includes sustainable fish and seafood, because I believe they have too many health benefits to ignore.
Most of all, I believe that food should look and taste beautiful. It should be a celebration of everything that is local and seasonal, and it tastes even better when you meet the people who have grown it.
Which food culture inspires you the most? And why?
That's a tough one! At the moment, I think it's an equal split between Vietnam and Mexico. I've travelled widely in both countries and fallen in love with the vibrant colours and flavours, abundance of vegetables and herbs and the strong sense of history. When traditional food cultures have developed over thousands of years, their people tend to know a great deal about the foods that are naturally sustaining.
But now I feel unfair in naming just two countries! Can I please add Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Peru, Italy and Turkey to the list?
Why do you think that the food we put into our bodies is so important?
I believe that the food and drink we put into our bodies is the single most important decision we make for our health. And we have the opportunity to make that decision three (or more) times a day.
There are often areas of our lives and health where we feel we don't have as much control as we'd like, but our food choices are completely within our control. We all have the opportunity to improve our own and our family's health by making simple changes to the way we shop, cook and eat every day. How empowering is that?
Research increasingly supports the profound effect that healthy eating can have on our bodies, but I think our own bodies make the most interesting research subjects. When you learn to listen to your body and nourish it with food that supports it, you can feel the difference the next day. Most people know what it's like to feel sluggish the day after they've over-indulged in highly processed or sugary foods. On the flip side, most of us know how bright and energetic we feel when we've nourished ourselves with fresh vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and fish. Imagine feeling like that every day.
I also believe it's important to regularly take a short break from eating so our bodies can go about their repair work. There's now very good evidence that choosing a couple of days a week to eat much more lightly can reap huge health benefits (and it's not very hard).
Have you had any personal experiences in healing your own physical system through food? What were the changes you made and results you saw?
While I've always enjoyed a healthy way of eating, in the last 10 years I've had some major health challenges that have encouraged me to shake things up. We can't control our family history, and unfortunately, mine includes more than its fair share of autoimmune disease.
Since the symptoms of several of these diseases have started to affect me and other family members, I have made a conscious decision to make our way of eating as clean as possible. For us, that means caring for our gut with more homemade fermented foods, reducing sugar (including unrefined sugars), and really focusing on whole foods that are as close as possible to their natural state.
Making these changes has helped to dampen down the inflammation in my body and improve my overall health, and my blood tests are proof of the results.
For the time being, making these changes has meant that I have been able to avoid the need for the next level of prescription medicines. I may not be able to control my genetic background, but I still have control of my health through the food choices I make.
What excites you about teaching others about healthy living and eating?
My job is to provide you with deliciously satisfying new ways to nourish your body and mind. I get so excited when Seventh Seal guests and cooking class students tell me they never imagined that healthy food could taste so very good. And then when they tell me they have gone home and started cooking my recipes, making changes to the way they eat, and feeling so much better for it, I am over the moon.
I get an extra kick when guests tell me that their carnivorous husbands or fussy children are genuinely enjoying the same food.
Who is your food hero?
Deborah Madison was the first person to show the world how delicious, adventurous and refined vegetarian cooking could really be. I was lucky enough to eat at her famous restaurant, Greens, on San Francisco Bay three times while she was still cooking there. As well as being an exceptional cook, Deborah is a gifted writer and her recipe writing is an art in itself. If you haven't seen her books, they're worth hunting down online.
Today, I think Sarah B from www.mynewroots.org is the modern poster girl for vegetarian cooking. Everything she creates is magical.
What exciting things do you have up your sleeve to share at the next Nourish and Nurture retreat in May?
We have so many exciting treats in store! Every day, we will have a different food adventure to enjoy: we have a couple of excursions to food centres in Bali that only locals usually see, including exploring and cooking at the retreat's organic farm in Bedugul. Back at the retreat, we will be cooking up simply delicious breakfast dishes (including black sticky rice of course!), fermented foods and healthy sweet treats.
Our Wednesday night dinner is a celebration of wholefoods, the ingredients we have picked on the organic farm and everything we have learnt on the retreat so far. It's a beautiful night where we cook some spectacular dishes, which guests usually say were their favourites for the whole retreat.
Right now, I'm working on a luscious new dairy-free ice-cream recipe for May. My family has been thoroughly enjoying all the experiments so far, and I know that guests will too.
© 2017 The Seventh Seal Luxury Retreat
You are welcome to share this recipe with family and friends, acknowledging The Seventh Seal Luxury Retreat as the original source.