Edgy Veggie Ellen Kanner on her book Feeding the Hungry Ghost
Read Ellen Kanner’s book Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner and you might find yourself, like me, wishing you were on her guest list for the next dinner party at her house.
She’s with us here though, reminding us to share the joys of cooking and eating together. She might nudge you to take a step or two further towards whole vegan foods, or growing your own veggies. No rush. One small step will do. What will it be?
1. What are we so hungry for that inspired you to write Feeding the Hungry Ghost?
We’re hungry for great food, of course, but also for meaning, healing, connection and unconditional love.
I write about food for a number of terrific publications — I’m HP’s Meatless Monday blogger, the Miami Herald’s Edgy Veggie, I write for Every Day With Rachael Ray, Culinate and Bon Appetit. Every article has a specific focus — be it a gastronomic trend or health or a particular chef or environmental issue.
What interests me is how it all connects — and what connects us. Food connects us, whoever we are, wherever we are. Our health, the health of the environment and the joy of sharing a meal of fresh produce are all bound up together. Feeding the Hungry Ghost lets me talk about all the things.
2. Your writing is very personal and warm as if you have such trust and love of food and life…
Don’t be fooled, I’m as screwed up as the next guy. So when I have a crappy day, I visit my local farmer or farmer’s market or I go out and tend the tomatoes and arugula and pumpkin and chilis in my own little vegetable garden. Whatever’s ready to harvest goes into a pot of soup or a field-fresh salad or a spicy curry or bright Asian stirfry. Then I invite friends over so we can enjoy it together. These things nourish me before I even sit down and eat.
There’s so many daunting things that divide us — wealth, class, education, gender, religion, politics. Food connects us. It brings us together in wonderful ways. There may be more sophisticated ways to get us to reach across the table, to realize and celebrate our commonality, to remember we’re better together than apart, but this is what I’ve got.
3. What is it like be out in the world talking and writing about food?
Talking and writing about food seems to invite having really soulful conversations with people, often people I’m meeting for the first time. It’s one of the great pleasures and surprise side benefits of what I do. What they tell me underscores how profound our relationship with food is — and often how challenging.
Eating is such an intimate act. If change — whether it’s changing your diet or your life — were easy, we’d all do it. The thing is, to be human is to be complicated. I want to empower people at whatever point they’re on, wherever they’re coming from, whatever they’re eating. That’s why as part of my talks and in Feeding the Hungry Ghost, I have what I call gentle nudges — little things that helps build positive connections to the food you eat, where it comes from and the people you want to share it with. It can be something as simple as growing a little of your own food — a pot of herbs, even — or trying a whole grain like barley instead of the usual white rice. I really believe tiny steps can make a huge difference in our lives.
We may eat or believe differently, but we’re all human. We all deserve food that’s healthy, fair and accessible for everyone. Food is central to everyone’s life, and I’m the vegan inviting everyone to the table.
4. You teach young kids in Miami to cook. How is the younger generation responding to your vegan, sustainable approach to food?
What helps, whatever your age, is to understand what you’re eating and where it comes from. When you get kids involved in the whole process, from seeing, even harvesting the produce to setting them loose in the kitchen so they can use it in a meal, they feel invested, they’re proud of it, and they’re a lot more willing to try eating something new.
I tell kids tasting a new food is like meeting someone for the first time. You’re strangers now, but who knows, you could wind up being BFFs — it’s worth a try. Even if they don’t become instant kale converts, maybe next time they see kale, they’ll be a little more willing to try it again. And they’re ambassadors, such amazing change agents, it knocks me out, like when a student comes back to me and says, “I taught my mom how to make tabbouli.” That’s huge.
5. And now your favourite comfort food is?
Ooh, tough question. I’m obsessed with what’s fresh and in season, so my favorite recipe depends on the time of year. But one thing is constant — whether it’s a bright summer tomato salad or a soothing bean stew for winter, the recipes I like best are the ones that bring everyone to the table.
Image credits: Ellen Kanner