Veggie-Phobic Vegetarians

The original Ten Speed Press edition of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook turned 30 this year, and last month the James Beard Foundation saw fit to usher it into the Cookbook Hall of Fame (we should all be so lucky to get that kind of treatment when we hit 30). The book helped open America’s eyes to the possibility of meatless epicureanism, but as Katzen told Sierra Club Radio in an interesting interview this week (you can skip to Katzen’s segment by fast-forwarding the counter to 11:45), her concept of vegetarian cuisine has evolved radically since she published that early edition.

The main thing, she explains, is that back then she was out to show that a vegetarian diet wasn’t about eating only vegetables, so she actually ended up including much heavier, less veggie-oriented dishes than she would now:

Early on, when I was designing main courses, for example, I would err on the heavy side, because the point I was to trying to prove was that people could be satisfied without meat. ... So it was almost an overcompensation for the lack of meat, because people were sort of suspicious of whether you could get enough if meat wasn’t in the main dish. So it was heavier, and the emphasis was largely on rice or noodles or cheese. Not so much even on vegetables—it was more about avoiding meat than it was about embracing vegetables.

Katzen says that these days, she’s much more likely to eat and serve meals that revolve around “a big pile of vegetables in the center of the plate,” and she worries that a lot of vegetarians don’t actually get enough greens. I know several of those grain-and-cheese-focused vegetarian types, and it definitely seems like their health and their palates suffer for it. One good friend who was totally meatless for 13 years recently started branching out into flexitarian territory because she felt utterly bored with the culinary choices available to her.

Interestingly, Katzen isn’t strictly vegetarian these days, yet now she feels that she’s really getting enough veggies in her diet (she typically includes a protein with her “pile” of greens, and it’s often a meaty one). Is there a connection here? Any vegetarians out there share the sentiment that it’s hard to avoid becoming a starch-and-cheesivore, or do you find it easy to get your five-a-day?

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