The Heart of the Plate

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Tucked away at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge on Friday, a founding mother of plant-based meals spoke to a crowded room of people about her thoughts on cooking, knives, and the word vegetarian. “I really had trouble putting the word ‘vegetarian’ on this new book. Because there’s too much emotion and separation behind that word” says Mollie Katzen, the cookbook author whose name is synonymous with vegetarian cooking and just published her fourth (and final) book The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.

In the 1977, she published The Moosewood Cookbook which still sells nearly 30,000 copies each year. My 2nd edition Moosewood Cookbook was handed down to me this past year when I decided to stop eating meat and start eating more vegetables. ‘Let’s just see what happens,’ I thought.

The result: I lived. I wanted to live healthier and I still don't see a reason to go back. I still eat fish on occasion, which comes in handy at restaurants. A handful of times, I was at someone else’s dinner table consuming a deliciously sweet ham or juicy turkey which comes but once a year because of a basic cultural rule I deeply believe in: don’t be a jerk.

Mollie Katzen is not a vegetarian. If someone puts steak on her salad, she’s going to eat it. She put it right and said:

“Of all the conflicts going on in the world today, the dinner table should not be a place of division."

It is something about her words that float out of the page welcoming you to her world that pulled me in. She connects with you through her kitchen and has built a community around it. Whether hand-written with scribbled drawings like her first book or typed with photographs in her newest publication, Mollie Katzen offers something that transcends generations. And for me at least, she’s helped me learned three little nuggets about myself through food:

  1. Keep it simple: Going out to eat and choosing the vegetarian option is easy. Pages of options are not. The same is true I find with most things in life.
  2. Feeling better: My body enjoys this more than anything I’ve put it through before. Mirrors and toilets are friendlier objects now. As a better listener, I owned up to the fact that I’m mildly lactose-intolerant. I grew up in Vermont, so my break up with dairy was hard. Today, dairy is now a fine acquaintance and a treat to visit.
  3. Routine with a cookie: I work and eat at a desk every day. A green salad with some nuts and dried fruit is my consistent mid-day meal. The transition was hard, but my brain and my stomach came together and decided that this works. However as Mollie said if someone says to me on occasion, “I made you a cookie” I am going to eat the cookie.