Emily Abrams has a precocious level of knowledge about the good food movement. Though only 19, she understands that it doesn’t live with the corporations that supply our grocery stores but through individuals changing the ag landscape in their own kitchens.
That’s why she sought the help of a few eco-activists and chefs to compile more than 70 recipes for Don’t Cook the Planet. Sprinkled with tips on how to reduce our carbon footprints through sustainable eating, the collection contains all-star recipes, from Alice Waters’ garlic vinaigrette to Michael Pollan’s kale-wrapped salmon.
The young activist talked to TakePart about her generation’s role in the climate change battle, sustainability for families of all incomes, and what her friends think of her refusal to drink bottled water.
TakePart: Environmentalism fascinated you at a very young age. How did you first get involved?
Emily Abrams: When I was 12, my mom did a public art exhibit called Cool Globes. Each globe showed different ways to fight global warming, and I created one that was called Children Are Our Future. I had kids around the world write “Stop Global Warming” in their language and draw a picture of how you could stop it. And since then, I became very involved and passionate with the kind of things my mom was doing.
You mention in the book that many people’s perception of global warming is limited to far-flung images of melting glaciers and polar bears. What’s the one fact that you wish more people were aware of?
I think that one of the biggest misconceptions is that climate change isn’t an urgent issue. People hear about it, and then it gets pushed off to the side. They don’t realize that actions on a daily basis can make a difference. It’s not just going to be one big thing that everyone does and it just stops—it has to be a progressive movement.
How does your family go green at home?
All of the cars we drive are hybrids, and a lot of the stuff in our house is reused wood. We just do everything in the most-sustainable way possible. We grew up never buying Styrofoam packaging. We never have bottled water in our house and always drink from the filtered tap. I remember I used to drive my friends crazy with that.
How can people who can’t afford to shop regularly at specialty food stores become part of the sustainability movement?
Most of the bottled water we’re drinking is the same as tap, and we’re wasting so much buying that. Not everyone has access to fresh products. I think it’s important that the government start regulating what is on the market, not use Styrofoam packaging, and not use as much plastic.
Tell us about how Don’t Cook the Planet came together.
Gabriel Viti, who’s a very prominent chef in Chicago, is a very dear friend of mine. We were talking about cooking and healthy eating and climate change when we came up with the idea about the book. So he helped me reach out to his fellow chefs that he knew in Chicago; then my mom helped me reach out on the political and environmental sides.
What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
Well, not to be biased, but it’s my mother’s cookies. I eat them twice a week. They’re the best cookies and not just because they’re my mother’s. I think I’ve been accustomed to not eating any other cookies because they're just so good.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote the foreword, and he seems to be very involved in your activism.
Bobby is basically my uncle. I grew up with his kids; we go on vacation together. He and my mom do so much in the fight against climate change. I appreciate that I get to look up to this person who cares so much. He’s passionate and makes everyone aware how passionate he is about it.
Do you see this kind of activism in your generation?
His son and one of my best friends, Connor Kennedy, and I share the same passion. He’s right there next to me when we're having arguments with people about climate change. He even got arrested at the White House for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. There are a lot of people that are very passionate about fighting climate change, but I think my generation needs to be more active than the generation before.
Now, what are you having for dinner tonight?
I’m going to visit my brother at Stanford University. I don't know what they have in their cafeteria but hopefully something good. Probably like a salad or something.