Growing from Vegetarian 1976 to Vegan 2017
July 31, 1976 — Madison, Wisconsin
The day I became a vegetarian.
I woke up that Saturday morning and said to myself, “I can feel better!”
This, after a BBQ cookout the night before.
Overnight and immediate.
I changed my diet. My cooking. My lifestyle. I got ahold of the book “Diet for a Small Planet”! And I studied and used and believed that book: beans and rice, complementary protein dishes, concern for world hunger and the terrible effects of animal farming.
I became a regular Johnson Street Food Co-op volunteer. Once a week, I got off the bus on my way home from working at the University of Wisconsin to bag raisins and nuts.
Every summer Saturday, I shopped at the Madison Farmers Market, a huge market that took over the entire circle street about the Wisconsin State Capitol. I tried and experimented with a bounty of new-to-me vegetables!
Daily, since this fateful and life-changing day 46 years ago, I have been thankful that I made the decision to become a vegetarian. It only makes perfect sense; I said that then and I think that now. Again, every day.
I see that this life choice has guided my life, affected and driven so much of how I am, who I am and what I do, have accomplished and how I think — from feeding and furnishing water for the birds, to caring for the cats and dogs, picking up litter, to thoughtful food and clothing choices.
1978 to 1982 — Green Bay, Wisconsin
I got more serious and was honored to be hired as one of four managers of the N. E. W. Whole Foods Co-op (for northeast Wisconsin). I got to meet the couple who converted a dairy farm to a tofu-making operation; of course, we purchased all the co-op tofu from them.
Members packaged/bagged big tubs of peanut butter and flour and weighed their purchases themselves. We owned the building and rented out parts of it to two other businesses, Lefty’s Bar and Life Tools Coop. This was a great experience. I learned much from my manager colleagues, and we were involved in a lot of community outreach such as the wildly popular Vegetarian Community dinners.
People that I met in Madison and Green Bay inspired me to go vegetarian, but it was also the books that served as my lasting influence. Also having enjoyed the hippie culture in college (1969-1973), my mind was open and ready. So yes, the growing vegetarian movement changed my life, opened my eyes.
These books offered new ways to use food to experiment, create and dabble with…and share.
The Power of Vegetarian Cookbooks in the late 70’s
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé
First published in 1971, this little gem of a groundbreaking book appealed to me because the recipes were so simple.
And it was a big and ambitious plan for tackling world hunger and saving the environment, bringing big attention to the ethical and dietary issues for the world.
I studied and studied it. And made just about every recipe.
Beans and rice. Grains and legumes. Complementary proteins. The answer at the time: do away with wasteful and harmful animal farming, human diet and its effects on the earth.
Lappé presented real and basic evidence for why we should practice a vegetarian lifestyle out of concerns over animal-based industries and the production of animal-based products. Protein combining: I learned about black beans and dishes prepared with such a new assortment (for me) grains and legumes. A lot of wheat germ and soybeans.
Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Ah Moosewood was (and remains) the very best! In the later ’70s, both my mom and sister also became Moosewood-inspired vegetarians, and between the three of us, we made every single Moosewood recipe.
Such a beautiful and engaging book, the hand-drawn illustrations, the hand-written recipes. Magic was instilled into cooking thanks to author and illustrator Mollie Katzen, who authored it while working at Moosewood, the cooperative restaurant in Ithaca, New York. It is a true honor to visit this mecca! For me, twice (so far), in 2002 and 2003.
Besides the satisfying fun of new cooking, I also experienced the great reward of better living — for the planet while feeling better personally — and the vegetarian book classics of the time.
My daily guide and influence.
I expanded with:
The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
Like Moosewood, The Vegetarian Epicure was beautiful, absolutely charming to look at.
The drawings, the artwork, plus comforting dishes — inspiring to read, to look at. The down-to-earth, yet beautiful qualities of these books made them all the more engaging and addictive.
Laurel’s Kitchen by Laurel Robertson
A book that was more on the serious side with Diet for a Small Planet.Laurel emphasized commonsense, serious, whole-food cookery and great information.
I started using more and more new vegetables! First time ever for sweet potatoes in Moosewood’s gypsy soup and miso soup. I tried making more from scratch (with the once, short-lived notion that I would make all our food from scratch).
I made ketchup and tofu. Then, on to yogurt in the Salton machine and bread in the round electric bread maker. I added carob, eggplant, zucchini, asparagus and beets to my dishes.
Delighted with the new Katzen book!
Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (more magic cooking!)
I have made versions of the delicious Broccoli Forest for a great many occasions!!
(Modern Note: Moosewood, Broccoli, Laurel’s and Diet continue to be updated and revised, with more vegan options — or simply veganize yourself.)
March 17, 2017 — South Bend, Indiana, Francis branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library
I became a vegan!
Talking with Chef Crystal Hallwood while she was preparing to present one of her Vegan Cooking Nights at Francis Branch, I asked her about her path to becoming a vegan. She said, one day, she just decided.
That night, I “just decided” to go completely vegan and have been ever since.
Overnight and immediate.
Thank you, Chef Crystal!
Tofu, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and miso are my staples.
The possibilities are endless, and it only makes perfect sense to go to all-plants.
Essential nutritional yeast, cashew cheeses, so many plant yogurts, hot dogs, burgers, plant milks and ice cream, tempeh and kombucha. I like Miyoko products and recipes.
My go-to cookbooks now are:
The Vegan Cake Bible: the Definitive Guide to Baking, Building and Decorating Spectacular Vegan Cakes by Sara Kidd and Fuss-Free Vegan: 101 Everyday Comfort Food Favorites, Veganized By Sam Turnbull.
And now, writing this, Moosewood has returned to my kitchen counter from the shelf. With my batch of fresh beets, I just made the Ukrainian recipe Odessa Beets. Mmmm.
I know that my attraction, my devotion to the works and words of Frances Moore Lappé, Mollie Katzen, the Moosewood Collective, combined with my own varied food co-op experiences, have been my driving force in my life, my work.
Well, just who I am. The manner that I have always strived to offer the highest level of hospitality, to work with my staff and colleagues in museum and public library work, I have held collaboration and cooperation as my ethic. It just feels right.
I can see clearly that living as a vegetarian into a vegan — honoring whole food eating and contributing to the care of our environment — has guided my life.
I am proud of my community contributions here in South Bend, for animal care organization, Purple Porch since it was the actual purple porch and St. Joseph County Public Library vegan programs that have been overwhelmingly popular. (Again, thank you, Crystal.)
Here’s to good, enjoyable eating!
Thinking back, maybe my real vegetarian roots came from my Willowbrook High School 1968 experience, performing on stage with my friend.
Call Any Vegetable by Frank Zappa
One of my enduring favorites! Ruta-bay-ay-ayga! Ruta-bay-y-y! Yodel those rutabagas!
Call any vegetable
And the chances are good
Oh, that the vegetable will respond to you