When it comes to cooking and eating, we subscribe to the credo of “eat everything, and in moderation.” And if we’re being honest, we tend to bristle at any regimen that hinges on the rejection of an entire class—or classes—of food. Part of this is due to our upbringing, part to our past experiences as adventurous eaters and food writers, and part to our
beliefs about what it means to eat healthily.
They say that as you get older you become more strident in your convictions, but we like to think this is an area where we’ve loosened up a little. In particular, we were wary of vegan cooking until not too long ago. When Gena’s column, the New Veganism, first launched on Food52.com in 2012, it was with a primer on veganism and an accompanying recipe for raw kale salad with lentils and apricot vinaigrette.
Clean and almost spare, Gena’s style ran in complete opposition to the loving embrace we gave to cream and butter and crème fraîche—not to mention steak—for so long. And this was a stance that our audience loved us for, so we were unsure of how our readers would take a vegan column.
But Gena’s tolerant and graceful presentation of vegan cooking (and her use of real, seasonal ingredients) made converts of us all, and the column became one of our most widely read. This proved that our readers, like us, were not only willing but eager to let go of their preconceived notions and come along for the ride—whether they ate vegan all the time, or only for Meatless Mondays, or just liked eating more vegetable-driven dishes (or just more of Gena’s dishes, because they’re great).
We love that Gena’s angle isn’t always “look, you can make this, and it’s vegan.” Her column champions the enthusiasm shared by the entire Food52 community for the act of coming together around food and cooking. And she has an innate sense of what people actually want
Gena’s recipes are often standouts at our photo shoots. Her Date Nut Bread (page 11) was a hot topic in the office for days; other team favorites from the book include Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew with Kale (page 54), Chilled Cucumber Soup with Mango Salsa (page 46), Roasted Ratatouille (page 101), and her Go-To Pancakes (page 8).
Even our most skeptical editors have now become the sort of people who keep a block of tofu in their fridges at all times—although that fridge may also contain anchovies or bacon or cheese or eggs. Or all five at once.
Over time, Gena has introduced us to things like nutritional yeast and cashew cheese and made them feel like new, exciting additions to our kitchens, rather than weird vegan substitutions. She was the first person to write about tempeh on the site. And now it’s not so weird anymore.
Eating vegan is, at its best, less a rejection of certain foods and more an embrace of foods that are bright and flavorful—as a bonus, they’re simply healthy for you, too. As Gena shows us, challenging yourself to think more expansively about these ingredients is gratifying for any cook, and will forever change the landscape of your kitchen.
—Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs
Copyright © 2015 by Gena Hamshaw, Foreword by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.