Sharing food and knowledge: An interview with Raffaella Tolicetti

raffa cooking onboardAfter Raffaella Tolicetti graduated from college, she signed up to volunteer on a Sea Shepherd ship, setting off with a group of other activists to sail the high seas to prevent illegal whale hunting. She quickly was appointed the crew’s chef, despite no professional cooking experience. Her cookbook, Think! Eat! Act! shares what she’s learned about animal rights activism, veganism, and of course cooking on a tight budget on board a moving ship. She took a moment on land to answer these questions, right before boarding the Sam Simon for an anti-whaling campaign in the Faroe Islands.

Think! Eat! Act!  is an unusual cookbook—at least, I haven’t ever seen another cookbook that other than just recipes and stories also tells you how to get vegan food in prison. How did the book come to be?

Over the last ten years or so, I have had the chance to meet a lot of people that inspired me with what they were doing to address issues of social injustice, racism, animal exploitation or earth destruction. I have learnt a lot, and I felt that I wanted both to share with as many people possible the knowledge that I had acquired, but also to give back to the people that have inspired me so much, supporting their efforts and campaigns giving them a space and a voice to speak out, and giving them money to fund their cause. 

I had been a vegan cook with Sea Shepherd for three years at the time the idea of a book mixed with recipes and info on activism started to grow in my mind. On one side, a vegan cookbook to demystify the difficulties of vegan cooking, considering that during that particular campaign we had very little, I had to do all the food from scratch with no “intermediary” ingredients (no mock meat, cheeses, or eggs for example) and I had a lot of fun cooking with very simple ingredients, even when the conditions were hard (we got rammed several times during that campaign, were in the rough seas of Antarctica, and I still kept cooking the whole time!). On the other hand, one of my friends was starting his own campaign in Canada, funded by the Wildlife Defense League, and I felt I should support him somehow even if I couldn’t be there physically. 

From that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking of all the projects I wanted to give voice to, and not forget that while we enjoy a lot of our freedom in our every daily life, some people are in jail while defending the same ideals we share. I had put those thoughts into written words, hoping they would reach as many people as possible, even people that are far, far away from veganism or activism. This was my main interest from the beginning. There are so many vegan recipe cookbooks, you can find inspiration everywhere, so I wanted Think! Eat! Act! to bring something different. Having vegan info, recipes and then testimony from activism sounded like a good balance in a book, something new.

What are your favorite recipes for the following situations: While on a blockade; in the doldrums; in a storm; for a celebration; the first thing you want to eat when you get on land?

I’ll start with the easy one, first thing I want to eat when I come back to land: lettuce and fruit! Just fresh stuff, simple as possible!

In a storm, only rice, if anything. That might even be too much for my stomach.

For the blockade, something handy like a nice piece of bread with the broccoli cream. In the doldrums, garlic and chili spaghetti, and for a celebration… maybe asparagus lasagna? Or carbonara?

Do most Sea Shepherd chefs cook similar meals, or do you all have very different styles?

On the ships we come from really different countries and so far I have been working with cooks that are from Australia, Singapore, Sweden, America, Italy, France, South Africa, and more, so we all have very different styles to start from. But then we all got to work together and exchange recipes so there are classic meals that are done on all the ships. Basically the one the crew always ask for. Like seitan schnitzels, ravioli, tiramisu, pad thai, mainly all the comfort foods!

What is your next adventure?

I am heading at sea tomorrow for a new campaign in the Northern Sea. If you want some updates check the Sea Shepherd Global website!

This interview with Raffa Tolicetti is one of a series of author interviews. The last one was with Teenage Rebels author Dawson Barrett.