Mollie Katzen: Vegetarianism’s First Major Icon

June 6, 2015

vhhWhat do cookbook authors like best about their jobs, next to cooking and eating, that is? The Frugal Gourmet (also known as Jeff Smith) might tell you it’s the stories from the countries where his recipes originate. For Julia Child, it’s probably a rich French sauce. But Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook and one of the pioneers of the vegetarian cooking movement, without a doubt, never met a vegetable she didn’t like.

Katzen will never forget her first foray into fresh vegetables.

“I hadn’t tasted a fresh green vegetable until the age of 12,” she writes in the prologue of her newly revised Moosewood Cookbook, when I was invited to dinner at the home of a friend whose mother had a vegetable garden. She picked fresh green beans for dinner and served them lightly steamed in bowls, with a little warmed milk poured on top. I went wild! This was a radical new discovery for me.”

It was in college, when gravitating to freshly steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus, she noticed that she hadn’t eaten any meat for many months and was enjoying it. She writes, “I wondered if this made me a vegetarian, although at that time I didn’t know anyone who was. To be one was looked upon as a cross between an eccentricity and an affliction.”


Today, vegetarianism is no longer looked upon as eccentric. And Mollie Katzen had a great deal to do with this. When she was able to experiment in her own kitchen or during summer jobs in restaurants, Katzen, who is trained as an artist, began to prepare fresh vegetables and fruits in ways that were healthy as well as visually exciting. “Crepes! Curries! Pesto! Stir-fries! Fresh fruit salads!” she writes. “This stuff was incredible! And the range of colors and textures of all the fresh fruits and vegetables added a visual component, providing a delightful bridge to my artistic impulses!”

Vegetarianism helped everyone who cooks (and those who hope to cook) understand that there was more to a meal than just meat and potatoes. It helped to diversify cooking in general. And no one can argue about the nutritional benefits of vegetables and fruits. Just check out a few of these nutritious foods:

Potatoes: A five-ounce potato, baked, boiled, or steamed, has 100 calories, and eaten with the skin is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, and dietary fiber.

Beans: These have more protein for the dollar than any other food, without the fats and cholesterol of meat and poultry. They are a rich source of iron, thiamin, niacin, and folacin.

Corn: It’s a low-sodium starch. In the form of popcorn, it’s only 23 calories a cup (popped without oil).

Vegetables and fruits are vitamin C-rich: sweet potatoes, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, green peppers, asparagus, pineapple, melons, oranges, and grapefruit.

They are calcium-rich: beet greens, bok choy, lima beans, parsley, and leaf lettuce.

They are iron-rich: Jerusalem artichokes, peas, raisins, scallions, and spinach.

They are vitamin A-rich: carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, papaya, sweet red peppers, winter squash.

They are potassium-rich: apricots, avocados, bananas, beets, broccoli, raw cabbage, celery, and pumpkin.

Recalling the early days of the vegetarian movement, Katzen says a typical meal at her Ithaca, New York, restaurant included simple soups, a raw salad, a fresh fruit salad cut by hand, and two daily entrees that were usually casseroles. The biggest difference between the early vegetable-based recipes of the ’70s and the newer, more elaborate and heart-healthy recipes of today was the use of high-fat dairy products, such as cheese, and eggs.

“As an insurance policy, we used to pile on the cheese,” says Katzen from her California home. She and her co-owners used to add loads of cheese to the vegetables and casseroles to ensure that eaters felt full. But today we know more about the harmful nutritional effects of high-fat foods such as cheese and have found an alternative.


In her newly revised Moosewood Cookbook, which was published in the fall of 1992, Katzen’s recipes have all undergone a face-lift to reflect the lower-in-fat movement of the ’90s. High-fat cheeses and other dairy foods are pushed aside in favor of lower-in-fat seasonings that can add unique flavorings to a dish.

Some examples of Katzen’s revisions: She recommends using oil sprays to reduce the fat content of food without sacrificing flavor or texture; substituting soy milk, rice milk, or low-fat milk for whole cow’s milk and low-sodium, low-fat cheese, in addition to whipped tofu; making eggs an optional part of a recipe or using only the whites.

Perhaps Katzen is today part of another food movement–this time it is a lower-in-fat, higher-in-herbs-and-spices vegetarian revolution for better health.

Why Only Veggies?

Though Americans eat more meat than most other people around the world, 6 million to 8 million Americans have chosen to become vegetarians. Why? Drew De Silver, associate editor of Vegetarian Times, claims that people today are more health-conscious. Others become vegetarians out of concern for the Earth. They feel a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts, and dairy products spare valuable resources and feed greater numbers.

Critics have said that vegetarians don’t get enough protein. Today, most nutritionists agree that by eating a wide variety of beans and grains vegetarians should maintain proper nutrition. In addition to beans and grains, eggs, cheese, and milk are good sources of complete protein.

Vegans, who are the strictest vegetarians, don’t eat eggs and dairy products, however. They must find other sources of calcium. Because of their narrow food choices, the American Dietetic Association suggests that vegans include cereals, soy milk, and meat substitutes fortified with vitamins D and [B.sub.12], calcium, iron, and zinc for a more balanced diet.

One Response to “Mollie Katzen: Vegetarianism’s First Major Icon”

  1. Katzen was indeed an innovator. If it wasn’t for her, I’m pretty sure there never would have been a real increase in the power of the vegetarian movement. You CAN live without eating meat, and she was certainly the most powerful voice for this concept back in the day.

    All vegans and vegetarians should toast to her! She’s the reason why they aren’t supporting the slaughter.

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