Cookbook writer Kim O'Donnel began her career as a journalist, made a detour to culinary school and ended up at The Washington Post writing about food for 12 years. "It was July 1997," she says, "and I was part of the team to build the first entertainment guide for washingtonpost.com. That's how this whole food-writing thing got started."
Along the way, she also began "Meatless Mondays," a weekly post on her blog, A Mighty Appetite, that encouraged readers to forgo meat for at least one day of the week. Her new book, The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour, evolved from those columns and is filled with recipes to sway even the most committed sausage eater. The recipes are arranged seasonally and in menus, thus circumventing complaints about being unable to find ingredients or not knowing what to fix for dinner. That's a pretty clever trick, and the recipes live up to the book's title.
More than vegetarianism, however, this cookbook is about getting back to cooking at home again. Remember that room with the stove? That's the one O'Donnel wants you to rediscover. She visited Richmond in September for a book signing at Chop Suey Tuey, and I had a chance to catch up with her and talk about her new book.
Q: One of my favorite things you did on The Washington Post blog was the "Eating Down the Fridge" challenge — I was really inspired by it. What was the impetus behind it and what was your big take-away from that particular experiment? A: I was wasting way too much food, as many Americans do, and came to find out that my readers were flummoxed by how to make the most of what was already in their pantries. The idea here is take a break from food shopping for one week and instead use what is in the pantry and fridge. The experience is downright eye-opening. Keep your eyes peeled, by the way, for a new book on this topic called American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, which I endorsed. Q: How did Meatless Mondays come about? Did you think it would take off the way that it did? How did the book evolve out of that? A: Meatless Monday is a New York-based nonprofit initiative in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It started back in 2003 as a way to encourage Americans to reduce their saturated-fat intake by 15 percent. The gist: Take one day off from meat for your health — and more recently, for the environment. Seven years later, this fledgling nonprofit has become a movement of major proportions, with supporters that include Mario Batali, Baltimore City Public Schools, Gwyneth Paltrow and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In September 2008, I had just learned about a speech delivered by Nobel Peace Prize winner and United Nations climate expert Rajendra Pachauri, who said that one of the most important things you can do to help the planet is not to trade in your gas guzzler for a hybrid car, but to have a meatless day every week. That speech resonated with me, so much that I shared this idea with my blog readers at The Washington Post. They were keen to join me on a weekly meatless adventure, but they stressed that tools, i.e. recipes, were more important to them than philosophy or debate. By the next week, I launched a weekly meatless recipe feature in my blog, which fueled the fire to write a book proposal around this very idea. I was one of the first writers to cover Meatless Monday, and I'm honored that Dr. Robert Lawrence at Johns Hopkins agreed to write the foreword to the book. Q: I think the title of your book says it all, and I don't think you've in any way misled people into thinking you're a vegetarian, but is that a label people are trying to slap on you now? A: So far, my message that I'm a meat eater who eats less meat than she used to is still coming through loud and clear. Q: How often do you eat vegetarian meals? A: These days, about 50 percent of the time, but I don't police myself. Sometimes it's less, sometimes it's more. And often when I do eat meat, it's used more as a seasoning or condiment. Q: Vegetarian cuisine, in my experience, seems pretty labor intensive, given all of the chopping that frequently seems to be involved. Any tips on making the option of cooking a vegetarian meal any easier? Anything you should always have on hand in your pantry? A: So there's not chopping when you make a beef stew? Or a chicken pot pie? Or a Western omelet? I think we've gotten so stuck in a rut that what we really need to commit to is cooking once a week, whether or not meat is involved. I think we need to get back to that room in the house where the coffee maker lives, dust off the countertops, and yes, start chopping!�