Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World isn’t your typical cookbook. First of all, it’s only partially a cookbook. It’s making a grander claim upfront than most, too. And it’s got bigger fans than your average cooking how-to. The hefty hardcover by food activist Matthew Prescott has been praised by everyone from Keegan-Michael Key to Ellen DeGeneres. Other household names contributed essays that appear in its pages.
The real genius of Food is the Solution isn’t its star-studded index, though. It’s that Prescott makes eating plants seem downright heroic—maybe even patriotic.
Food is the Solution is divided into two parts. Part One: Our Planet uses stats, stories and photos to explain why eating more plants could solve many environmental problems. The focus is global, but Prescott frequently dwells on American communities disrupted by the current food system.
He takes us, for instance, to the Delmarva Peninsula, writing, “Picture driving through your average American small town—modest split-level and ranch homes with front lawns, one after the other, kids’ toys in the front yards. But now picture that every fourth or fifth plot is not a house, but a mega poultry farm … mixed right in with the homes.”
Part Two: Our Plates is full of Prescott’s tasty recipes. Each one illustrates what he calls “a convenient truth”: that to save the world (and America), we just need to put more plants on our plates.
We’ve chosen two meatless “meat” recipes from Food is the Solution to share with you. They show that, as Prescott points out, it makes sense to cut out the “middlehen.” We also asked Prescott a few questions about how he came to write the book that just might make well-fed superheroes of us all.
[Vanessa] What inspired you to write Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World?
[Matthew] Food is just such an extension of what it is to be human, and I believe that fundamentally changing our relationship with food so as to better align what we eat with the ethics most of us share can serve to elevate our own humanity and truly save the world. I wanted to produce a visual, informative and helpful guide for doing exactly that.
[Vanessa] Why did you essentially combine two books in one—a compelling case for eating more plants and a cookbook?
[Matthew] In essence, I wrote the type of cookbook that I’d love to read. It’s got delicious recipes, yes, but also so much: narrative essays and investigative reporting and compelling infographics and beautiful environmental photography. I wanted a one-stop shop to show people exactly what the problems are, and then help start them on a path to implementing solutions each time they eat.
[Vanessa] How did your career, particularly your current role as Senior Food Policy Director for The Humane Society of the United States, shape Food Is the Solution?
[Matthew] I’ve spent over 15 years as a professional food activist, focusing on making our food system more humane and more sustainable. And so my book is really a natural extension of that work. The research, the essays from notable individuals, the photography: it all works toward my broader, career-long goal of improving the way we farm and eat.
[Vanessa] You acknowledge the health- and compassion-based reasons to eat more plants in Food Is the Solution, but you focus on the environmental reasons. Why?
[Matthew] If we want to live healthier, better and longer—and also allow animals to do the same—we’ve got to have a healthy planet to inhabit. So the environmental issue seems like a logical starting point. As well, so many people are only now waking up to the connection between what they put on their plates and the shape of the planet, and I wanted to produce a book that might drive that issue home.
[Vanessa] Food Is the Solution is peppered with brief messages from famous folk and environmental leaders all basically saying, “Yes, eat more plants!” Did any particular message really stick with you?
[Matthew] I was so fortunate to have contributions from folks like James Cameron, Jesse Eisenberg, José Andrés, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President Rhea Suh and others. They all contribute a slightly different message to the book, and so are unique in their own ways. James Cameron’s, though, ended up as the foreword to the book in large part because it so wonderfully and succinctly captures the entire message.
[Vanessa] The book also features Americans whose lives have been disrupted by the current food system—whether they’re breathing air pollution from the factory farm next door or watching their home sink into the sea because of climate change. How did you balance these stories with a message of empowerment?
[Matthew] The point I hope the book makes is that even though animal agribusiness is wreaking so much havoc in the world, we all have the power to help curb factory farming by eating plant-based foods. For every negative force pushing the pendulum in one direction, there are so many positive forces pulling it back that much harder—like all the countless individuals worldwide eating less meat and more plants.
[Vanessa] You touch on the topic of environmental racism—the fact that environmentally destructive facilities like factory farms are often placed in lower-income neighborhoods inhabited by people of color. Why was this important to highlight?
[Matthew] For so many of us, factory farms are out of sight—which puts them out of mind. But there are a great many communities across our country and world where individuals are gravely and directly impacted by these places. That those communities tend to be lower income and communities of color is a tragedy and injustice that doesn’t often come to mind when we think of factory farms, and something that deserves more attention.
[Vanessa] Did any of the stats or studies blow you away as you were researching the book?
[Matthew] Some of the water usage stats—like that it takes 53 gallons of water to produce a single egg—were really devastating. But far more crushing than any statistic or number I came across were the stories of so many powerless individuals whose lives have been ruined by animal agriculture. Those stories are really what blew me away the most.
[Vanessa] What was your greatest surprise (good or bad!) when developing the recipes?
[Matthew] I had a great culinary team, including an army of recipe testers, and just had so much fun having other cooks in the kitchen, pun intended. It was a really rewarding experience to see all the recipes come together like they did, from conception through testing to photography.
Smoky Seitan Kebabs with Peanut Sauce
Jerked Jackfruit Tacos with Grilled Pineapple
Adapted from Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World by Matthew Prescott. Copyright © 2018 by Matthew Prescott. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Jessica Prescott.