Mariam Sulakian is a Facebook software engineer and a group fitness instructor at Bodyrok Studios in New York. She fills her plate with her vegetarian go-tos at Facebook’s Park Ave food hall and scoops some cookie dough for good measure. Clad in her usual black leggings and sneakers, ready to jump from coding to Pilates, she discusses the importance of quality food in her life.
I’m a Bay area native. I moved to New York in October. I guess I just grew up always loving food.
My family’s from Armenia so I go there almost every summer for three months at a time. It’s really cool to get a different perspective. It’s such a different culture and way of life there. There’s some things that you notice going there, like no one recycles, for example. I grew up on the total opposite end of the spectrum. But in terms of animal cruelty, we don’t do as much here [USA] for them. One of the things that stands out to me in Armenia when I’m driving through the villages, you’ll see one of the villagers taking a herd of cows – is that the correct term? – and they’re so normal sized. One of my friends came with me this summer and she asked why our cows are so small. I told her they’re natural!
Only my mom and I ate it. The rest of the family wanted the meat.
Most Armenian families eat a ton of meat. In Armenia, they’ll tell me, “Eat it, eat it, eat it,” and I kept telling them, “No I don’t like it!” My mom eats some meat and growing up, I had some every now and then, I’d get force fed. A lot of Armenian dishes are meat-based but my mom is really supportive and in the past few years, we take traditional Armenian dishes and make them vegan. I think they taste so much better. We made dolma in Armenia, with beans and legumes. I had to soak everything for hours overnight. Only my mom and I ate it. The rest of the family wanted the meat.
My roommates asked why I buy everything organic. I asked them why they don’t.
Growing up, my mom never bought anything that was not organic. In the 90’s, she watched some documentary about how they treat chickens and animals that produce dairy and after that she was so disgusted that I never had anything not organic. My mom was like, it doesn’t matter if we can afford it or not, this is a necessity. I didn’t realize that was unique until I went to college and my roommates asked why I buy everything organic. I asked them why they don’t.
I want to be one of those people that helps bring people together and inspires them through the simple act of moving their body.
I started teaching barre and Pilates at Duke University. You can lead people through forty minutes to an hour of movement, get their minds off of everything. I used to go to this yoga studio back home. The way the instructors taught and feeling the energy from everybody else, I thought it was such a powerful experience and I want to be one of those people that helps bring people together and inspires them through the simple act of moving their body. That’s how I ended up getting involved in the world of group fitness.
Food represents something more than filling yourself up. It’s a time to take care of your body and maybe you’re spending quality time with people. I’m a sloppy eater so I’ll get lunch everywhere and people will be like, “I saw that,” if I drop a piece of food but I just keep eating. It’s a time to be you, it’s you-time.
We never really had dinners or lunches with everyone at the table consistently when I was younger. But when we did, while we were doing this activity of lunching, we’re all in the same place focusing on something that’s just bringing us together.
I would have cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner on top of my regular breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Cereal is one of my favorite foods. I love it so much. I try to go for the healthier versions. When I was little, I would have cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner on top of my regular breakfast, lunch and dinner. In terms of lunch, I try to eat a lot of veggies, in a salad or cooked. I’m a volume eater. Nothing super dense but with vegetables, you can eat a lot of volume. Right now, I’m having this kale salad with a tamari dressing with blueberries, pomegranates, some pecans and a bit of rice.
Whenever we go out and we see tabbouleh, she goes, “This isn’t the real version!”
One of my favorite things is when my mom makes tabbouleh and she makes the best tabbouleh. Every time I’m going home, I’m so excited because I know she will have made it and it’s waiting for me at home. I’ll Instagram it, Snapchat it, show all my friends: My mom made this! She makes it so well. Whenever we go out and we see tabbouleh, she goes, “This isn’t the real version!” It’s one of the happiest times.
Mixing it, watching her make it. That’s part of the reason I love it.
Scratch everything I said – that’s my favorite food: mama’s tabbouleh. Mixing it, watching her make it. That’s part of the reason I love it. Watching the process. It’s pretty intense because you have to chop everything so finely and it takes a while to make. So yes, it tastes good but knowing that my mom took the time to make me this delicious meal is part of it. I try to help out, but I enjoy watching her make it and she enjoys watching me eat it.
Words by Nayla Al-Mamlouk, photos by Elena Mudd