The Moosewood Generation (Excerpts)
Deborah Bacharach '88
It was hard to be a progressive lefty in the mid-eighties. Francis Moore Lappe, food economist, taught us that meat eaters overuse the resources of the world. We wanted to live simply so others could simply live. We wanted our food natural and authentic, but there weren't many hippy guides around. Moosewood came to save us. Put out by a collective vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, The Moosewood Cookbook (1977) and its sequel, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (1985), became our bibles. These books weren't just about how to cut vegetables correctly. A bible is much more than a how-to manual. A bible tells the stories of its people. It codifies and transmits values. It guides our spirit. These flimsy paperbacks taught us the sacred from the profane; they taught the rituals and practices of vegetarian cooking; they taught us how to live a holy life.
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I went to a very high-pressure college. It was assumed that if you were not in class, you were in your library carrel or the lab or locked away with your computer. We used to boast about how much work we had. And we really did work nine hours a day at least. We might have been out of step with most college students, but we didn't invent over-devotion to work. We chose to take time out for what mattersfood, of course.
When a recipe takes two hours to prepareand this is after the beans have cooked for two hours, which is after they have soaked for five hourswell, you know no one is in a hurry. On my cooking night, I'd leave campus early. It felt so luxurious to dawdle on my way home and know I wouldn't read any more Shakespeare or worry about hermeneutics for hours and hours. I'd put the Weavers on the tiny tape player in the kitchen and sing with them as I'd start the beans soaking or the tofu marinating. Then I'd chop a little.
I am a slow cook. This is not an ideological choice. I'm just an awkward kitchen dancer. It takes me forever to pull a bowl out of the cupboard. I often bang the glass measuring cup against the metal pan making a dreadful clang. My onion wedges fall off the cutting board. Moosewood reminded me I was engaged in the holy; it said to take my time.
Of course, taking your time often meant dinner was late on the table. My friend Hubie once had me over for the title dish, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and we spent several hours sitting around eating cheese and crackers while it baked. Another time, it was all-hands-in for the piroshki. Started at five, they made it to the table, golden and triumphantly risen, by nine.
My generation believed in taking time out for food, and we believed in doing it with the ones we loved. We made families from our friends. As the Passover seder says, let all who are hungry come and eat. So I got that value from my Jewish heritage and my parents who were constantly inviting the visiting Chinese grad student to Thanksgiving and the Turkish professor to Fourth of July, but we were still a nuclear family inviting others in. My friends and I created something else: new families. Moosewood helped us feed them.
Eric, one of those housemates, says we're probably romanticizing that time. I'm sure he's right. For heaven's sake, he and I were in the slow, agonizing process of breaking up a three year relationship, and we yelled at each other a lot. Some dinners, we all read our books at the table and didn't look up even to pass the butter. But not most days. Most days we did what the dream family is supposed to do.
We'd walk in the door and say, "Hi honey, I'm home!" And we meant it as a spoof on the family of the fifties and we meant it absolutely. We were each other's honey; we made a home.
And it wasn't just the four of us. Almost every night, the doorbell would ring and there would be Sonke"just happened to be in the neighborhood. . ." or one of us would walk in with a few extras, or the leader of Delaware Country Jobs with Peace would crash on our extra futon and then be at the table. I loved visitors; they always did the dishes.
Over dinner, we told about our days. We discussed how the Blue Army of Fatima fit in a feminist analysis of religious movements. We gossiped. We told jokes and looked up words in the dictionary. We ate Chinese mushroom soup, re-baked potatoes, and entire meals made of dips.
We also ate lots of dessert. We were known as the group house that always had dessert. Eric made an awesome chocolate chip banana bread. We would have dinner, disappear to our rooms for two hours to study, and come back to the kitchen at nine, drawn by the heady steam.
Sure there were movement martinets who got rather red-faced preaching about brewer's yeast. But most of us embraced Emma Goldman, the famous anarchist who said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to join your revolution." Moosewood believed this too and helped us dance in the kitchen.
In my group house after college, I'd always cook to Sinead O'Connor. I'd play that desperate driving voice loud in our dim apartment. My housemate Jack would come home early from his construction job and would wail along with me as we chopped apples and dusted the onions with turmeric. I would always stop mid-stir to dance next to the staircase and place my palms flat on my hips, then on my breasts, amazed at my own audacity. Jack would keep cooking, and grin. He wasn't amiss to a little flirting as we shifted positions by the burners, but we were both spoken for, and both by men.
We weren't making this food because it was the "right" thing to do. We were making this food because it was fun. My generation didn't invent vegetarian cooking, and we certainly didn't invent these values; there was a venerable hippy tradition before we came along. They passed their recipes to each other in hand-lettered mimeographed cookbooks like "Alex and Jane's Favorite Meatless Meals." But with Moosewood to guide us, we grew. We grew, and we caught on. My mom steams fresh cauliflower and loves tofu. Every restaurant has to have a veggie option because there are so many of us who want it. Society has changed. We were at the cusp and maybe we were even a small catalyst for that change. Heck, that's been our goal all alongchange the world.
I'm sure there are some dogmatic, purist Moosewood followers, but luckily I didn't have to live with any of them. I've never been much for orthodoxy. My first house often bought Breyer's ice cream (pure ingredients, but still made by a machine) and ordered eggplant pizza from the store around the corner. I cook vegetarian, but I often eat chicken and even steak when I'm out. Yes, I believe all the political arguments; I just choose not to be consistent in my belief system. None of my friends ever called the progressive police on me. We seem to have room for variation. I've also gotten lazier about pure ingredients and starting from scratch. These days I make my hummus from canned chickpeas, and I shop at the local grocery store as often as the co-op. So I'm not a strict follower of the beliefs I embraced so ecstatically fifteen years ago, but they're not gone. I still cook for friends who are my family. I still cook from scratch. Plenty of people find their way without a bible. I needed this one and it was so kind, so welcoming, so helpful to an acolyte like me.