Anna Thomas’ Revolutionary Idea — “Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore”
Originally posted for Huffington Post on 04/18/2016
I’ve long been a fan of Anna Thomas, not just for her culinary creativity but because we both believe in the power of a shared meal. If you’re in upstate New York this month, meet Anna at the Omega Institute. If you’re not, you can still get Anna’s message and a great pot of soup, too.
April 18, 1775 began what was to become the American Revolution. More than 230 years later, Anna Thomas may be the voice of a social revolution with her new book, “Vegan, Vegetarian Omnivore.” At its heart — and at Thomas’ heart — is the belief that gathering together for a shared meal “is the basis of civilization.”
Whoa — that’s a pretty high-stakes meal. So what are we going to eat? “Start with the food everybody eats — at the greener end of the spectrum,” says Thomas. “That’s the food I love to cook and write about.”
The author of books including “The Vegetarian Epicure,” “Love Soup” — and a filmmaker and faculty member at American Film Institute, while she’s at it — Thomas considers herself “mostly vegan most of the time.” Her two sons have been vegan off and on, but the thing is, Thomas wants to feed everyone. “I want to make it easier for people to cook a meal where they can have all different people over to eat and nobody feels weird or sidelined or guilty.”
Photo credit: Ladye Eugenia StewartA natural but unfussy home entertainer and self-taught cook, Thomas usually has a pot of soup going on the stove, forming the core of a meal —and a reason to gather. That’s the essence of her 2009 James Beard Award-winning book “Love Soup,” which contains 160 soup recipes to suit your season and your mood. “Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore,” one of Amazon’s top 10 picks for April, takes the concept further. Maybe you start with a significant spring soup. Add a vegan galette or some flatbread, roasted vegetables and a few dips and you’ve got a feast. Add cheese or chorizo if that’s what you’re into.
“I’m expecting some people to be shocked and upset that it includes recipes for sautéed garlic shrimp and lamb meatballs,” she says. “They want ideological and they want things to be pure.” Alas, very little in life works that way. Accommodation, compromise, collaboration not only means everyone gets to eat, “that’s how we learn to be tolerant,” says Thomas. “It’s not what’s on the table, it’s who’s at the table. You want people to feel comfortable and welcome.”
Thomas has just moved to Los Angeles aka fabulous restaurantville, into a small place with a kitchen that needs work. She still prefers to cook. It’s how she grew up. “If you’re lucky enough to be raised with home cooking, you absorb it by osmosis, like language,” she says. “Even if the cooking isn’t that great, you just absorb that idea — raw ingredients come into a kitchen and people do things do them and people sit down and eat.”
When Thomas wrote “The Vegetarian Epicure” back in the 1970s, raw ingredients including tofu and tamari were hard-to-get weird hippie chow. Now they’re in your local supermarket — and the tamari’s on the shelf next to the sriracha. There’s more farmers markets, more specialty stores, more access to fresh produce and the global ingredients we’ve come to crave. The thing is, fewer people are cooking. We spend more money dining out than we do on groceries.
“I don’t think people realize what we lose when we lose just natural straightforward everyday cooking and gathering around a table,”says Thomas. “Sitting down at the table is not a frill. we stop gathering, if we lose our ability to gather comfortably, happily and with generosity, we’re losing an essential foundation of civilized life.” So cook, already. Do it for the sake of humanity. Viva la revolution. Viva “Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore.”