Meet Sophie Yotova: our Bulgaria correspondent

“The field of food and design is where opportunity and challenge meet.”

Sophie Yotova is a certified Eating Psychology Coach and that has dedicated her life to devising a sustainable and flexible strategy for people to cultivate long-lasting and adaptable healthy eating habits. She does this partly through her platform Foodie Boulevard – a disruptive organization that explores food as an interactive and customizable long-term strategy for individual health promotion. Her main focus as a correspondent for the DIFD will be to explore what shapes the role of food in our society and what does or doesn’t impact our habits, beliefs, choices, and perceptions when it comes to the role of food in our lives. And what we can do to move forward, make better choices, and live a more harmonious, balanced, and sustainable lifestyle both when it comes to food and beyond.

What fascinates you about food?

Food brings us together – that’s a given and has been so for millennia. Food is one of the few things that are universally present in everyone’s life from the very beginning until the very end. No matter where we’re from, what our particular habits or preferences are, how much money we can afford to spend on food and so on – food brings us together.

We can all relate to the importance of food in our lives. It’s a language we all understand. Everyone experiences hunger in the same way and knows it’s not a sensation that you ever want to experience for extended periods. However, over the past decades the essence and the role of food in our lives have transformed dramatically and it is no longer just a survival tool and a fuel for our bodies.

Today food has a central role in so many different contexts – it’s in the core of a massively profitable global industry. It is one of the most powerful epigenetic factors that can dramatically impact our long-term health and wellbeing. And at the same time, it’s one of the ways we can unintentionally harm ourselves and the ones we love beyond repair. Food can be an instrument for stimulating kids’ curiosity and for unleashing their creativity. It can be an unlikely mechanism for tackling eating disorders, and a way for artists to translate their inspiration into the most intimate type of art. And much, much more!

But beyond all that, food is a metric. It shows how our society as a whole is maturing in terms of our readiness to accept and admit that food – once perceived as a trivial topic, has a much deeper meaning, much broader functions, and much wider impact today than ever before.

The technological innovations, the revolutionary inventions, the numerous global food crises, and the myriads of ethical considerations in the realm of food are all subjects that deserve enormous attention and consideration, but all of that does not exist in a vacuum. It’s just a manifestation. It is a consequence. It is an illustration of our collective beliefs, needs, behaviors, choices, convictions, priorities, fundamental ideologies, and visions for the future.


How would you describe the field of food and design? 

To me, the field of food and design is where opportunity and challenge meet.

On one hand, the global fast food industry has illustrated that by bringing industrial and technological design into the context of food, we can produce more food than we can eat, we can make more money than we need, and we can make people sick in ways that are completely avoidable.

On the other hand, design has the potential to enable the most creative minds of our time come up with potential solutions to famine, find ways to put lab-grown meat and insect protein on our tables, come up with more sustainable agricultural practices, and produce large quantities of environmentally friendly nutrient-dense foods that are affordable for the average person in any location globally.

How we utilize design and what end we use it to is a question of our moral compass and of our long-term goals and visions, no matter how naïve and idealistic they may appear at first glance.

How do you see the future of food and design? 

I see it as a collaboration between professionals from the fields of technology, psychology, education, politics, agriculture, nutrition, medicine, and journalism – such collective endeavors are the only strategies that will ensure that whatever innovations come to exist, they be designed in a way that makes it as easy and as seamless as possible for the wider population to adopt and benefit from.


Do you think designers working with food need to address politics and social issues? 

Absolutely. Coming up with innovative concepts and revolutionary solutions to challenging global problems in the food realm is not enough. We need to find a way to make those innovations accessible, relevant, and applicable to as many people as possible. And I think that keeping the political situation and the social aspect of every issue in mind when designing solutions for the future, is the only way how we can do that.


What misconceptions about food and design would you like to oppose? 

One of the biggest misconceptions about food and design is that this is an area, reserved only for some ultra-innovative people, whose work is in the field. I think that the main role of food and design is to serve the average person in different ways by exploring aspects of our life that we just don’t have the habit to question and try to improve in our daily lives. That’s precisely what food and design does. And I want to illustrate that this field is extremely relevant to all of us, regardless of our own areas of expertise, habits, preferences, etc.


Can you tell us about the developments in food and design in your correspondent area? 

Bulgaria, where I’m currently based, is a European country, whose population is unfortunately getting more overweight and obese by the year. According to the World Health Organization, our kids are in 5th place in Europe in terms of obesity (out of 32 countries) and nearly 30% of our population is overweight or obese. This is worrisome for many reasons, but mostly due to the fact, that we don’t suffer from lack of initiatives on the topic of popularizing healthy eating. That’s why, I’ve come to realize that the problem is that the subject is not depicted in a way that makes people care about it. As a result, I’ve started studying the local psychology of change and how we adapt or abandon habits. I’ve noticed a growing health and wellness industry, which paradoxically only reaches the people, who are already aware of the importance of eating healthy. So, I’ve made it my mission to crack the code of what makes skeptics give a chance to something that they’re already against or dismissive of. I hope that this would gradually help me design a strategy and a number of customizable instruments for debunking myths and inspiring eating habit transformation among even the most skeptical and critical part of the local audience.


Read more about Sophie’s work on her:

Facebook page
The alumni directory of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating