If she’s not cheffing it up in her Brooklyn studio Apartment Miso, she’s brainstorming the many ways to diversify a rather lucrative food industry. “If all kinds of white folks can dominate an industry like food, I don’t see why different types of Black folks can’t dominate it,” said Roe. “There’s plenty of space for everybody, and I just really want to somehow further hope for Black women, they need something to hope for so bad.”
Serving as the host and face of Vice TV’s Counter Space, Roe is taking up some much-needed space on and off the screen. As a result of Roe’s dedication to provide her viewers with thoughtful, TLC-inducing recipes, Roe is the first and only Black woman chef to be nominated in the culinary host category at the 2022 Emmy’s. She has also recently received an Emerging Voices Award by The James Beard Foundation for her ongoing work with Vice. “ I’ve worked 50,000 hours to get here, and I didn’t even realize or nevertheless consider that somebody would actually notice it,” said Roe. “I never really even considered that I could get nominated for an Emmy yet alone get nominated twice, and let alone walk the Red Carpet. That was never the plan and I want to set the record straight that, that’s not why I cook.”
Changing The Way We View And Consume Food
Roe aims to amplify the voices of BIPOC women. She also wants to change the way we view and consume food. According to The Annie Casey Foundation, “Nearly 39.5 million people — 12.8% of the U.S. population — were living in low-income and low-access areas, according to the USDA’s most recent food access research report, published in 2017.”
“Within this group, researchers estimated that 19 million people — or 6.2% of the nation’s total population — had limited access to a supermarket or grocery store.” In addition to the vast majority of food deserts that plague American communities, many of them notoriously infiltrate Black and Brown communities on a global scale.
“At the end of the day we are in a food crisis, we’re in a culture crisis, and we’re in an environmental crisis,” says Roe. “These food systems work exactly how they were designed to, and they only give to certain people and completely steer away from our communities, and the communities that really need access to healthy food access more than ever before.” Sophia continues. “There are so many amazing people. And we just don’t know about them because nobody’s taking the time to focus on these stories and these people. And that for me is a personal mission. This alone is my mission.”
21Ninety spoke to Roe about making food more accessible and combating a whitewashed industry. Read more about the Bedstuy native’s journey to success and her mission of wanting to amplify Black voices.
Gabrielle Tazewell: You were just honored by the James Beard Foundation with an Emerging Voices Award and an Emmy nomination for your show Counter Space. How does it feel to be recognized on a global scale?
Sophia Roe: Oh, it’s hard, it’s complicated because that trauma friend we all have is really loud you know, it’s like it’s hard to not always be acknowledged but it’s really challenging to have that imposter syndrome when you do get blessed, you know? So much of my internal voice is like, I’m not good enough, I’m not talented enough. I could have never imagined that I would receive something like the James Beard award, and on the flip side, I’ve been cooking for almost 15 years. It’s tough to feel good enough, but it also makes me, you know, understand too, that I’m worthy and deserving of all that’s happening in my life right now. I’ve worked pretty much all my life, and, I’m so grateful to experience the abundance that’s coming in for me. I mean, I lost sleep by working so hard, I cannot tell you enough how I didn’t have much fun in my life. You know, I, didn’t have fun. I didn’t have a good time. People have these memories of staying up late with their friends and going out and doing this and doing that, and, I didn’t have any of that. My entire young life, my entire teens, twenties, I just worked. That’s all I did you know, like Malcolm Gladwell, I put 10,000 hours into this man. But all in all, it never crossed my mind that I could get to this point. You know? So now that I’m here, I just never want to be the only Black person nominated for anything ever again.
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Gabrielle Tazewell: How do you combat what’s known to be a rather whitewashed cooking industry?
Sophia Roe: It’s not easy, you know, I can have a whole conversation about colorism. There’s a certain level, you know, I make people, particularly white people feel comfortable in a lot of ways. Sometimes they forget that I’m Black. There are so many stories to tell and there are so many people out here doing it. It’s just the embarrassment of it, it’s silly that we aren’t highlighting more Black people in this industry. I can think of a million people that are doing the work like Jessica B. Harris, Micheal Twitty, Steven Satterfield, and so many others. I mean, the list goes on and on, but I am grateful that we’re getting to a better place with this. And so for me, that’s why Counter Space is so beautiful because it’s not just a show about me, it’s a show that’s also about everyone else. And I’m really grateful for that because I don’t think it’s enough to just talk about these things on social media, in fact, I think social media has become a really violent place. I’m lucky that I have a great community around me but things we’re starting to get pretty violent for me on speaking about these things, you know, I knew that I had to go bigger anyway, we just need to be having these conversations.
Gabrielle Tazewell: What is your opinion on consumer guilt?
Sophia Roe: Consumer guilt is silly. Like guys, do the best you can, because a lot of this stuff really has nothing to do with you. It’s not. You’re not single-handedly destroying the planet every time you use a straw. There are way bigger fish that need to be held accountable, period. And so that’s also a part of my mission here. It’s not about right or wrong. I’m not saying to not eat meat and to go fully vegan or to completely try and change someone’s way of life. It’s about being mindful and aware, being a conscious consumer. Where is this food made? How is it sourced? What’s the carbon footprint? Just being aware, that’s what really matters here.
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Gabrielle Tazewell: If you could shape shift into any type of food what would it be?
Sophia Roe: A mushroom. Oh my God, I’d die and come back as a mushroom. That’s a life well-lived.
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Gabrielle Tazewell: What are a few go-to dishes you would consider serving to friends and family when you’re entertaining?
Sophia Roe: Some kind of roasted vegetable, because you just put it in the oven. I’d also consider serving a dish that has cabbage in it because you can take a lot of the cooking hours out by raising it, roasting it, shave it up raw. You can sear it, and you can do anything with cabbage. So I almost always have some kind of cabbage dish. That’s like a really popular thing. I’m also like a little bit of a meringue girl. So the thing about meringue is you can make them ahead of time and then you can just have any kind of stewed fruit to make a delicious dessert. I crush them up with beautiful seasoned fruit, a little Chantilly cream, I mean, come on. Delicious. I could definitely whip that up really, really fast. And I feel like sometimes dessert ends up being like an afterthought. So I like to think about always having some fruit on hand because it doesn’t have to be an afterthought. You can put half an hour of thought into a dessert and actually make something really, really, really amazing. I also always have a few bottles of Pitt Nat Rosé or some kind of Bogle wine, any wine that tastes better chilled. And I can always also do a good mushroom dish, you can never go wrong with the mushrooms.