"Cooking" with Sustainable Kitchen author Heather Wolfe

“Cooking” with Heather Wolfe

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 24
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 24: “Cooking” with Heather Wolfe was released on June 13, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In today’s episode, producer Ben Wideman sits down with our first Herald Press cookbook author on ~ing Podcast! We’re joined today by dietitian nutritionist and certified health coach, Heather Wolfe, one of the authors of the beautiful, plant-based cookbook, Sustainable Kitchen: Recipes and Inspiration for Plant-Based, Planet-Conscious Meals. We know that daily food choices help or harm our bodies, families, communities, and planet. In this book you’ll find resources that enable us to grow, shop for, prepare, cook, and eat food in ways that connect us to our Creator and creation. Listen to find out more!

Heather Wolfe, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?

Heather Wolfe  00:09
So we said, what if the power went out and, you know, the grid went down? If you had this cookbook, what’s everything you would want to put in here, so that someone could just turn their screen off? Right? Or just intentionally say like, I want to fast from using my device right now, just use a book… that you could do that in here.

Ben Wideman  00:30
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello again, friends. Welcome to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be joined with another one of MennoMedia’s authors. Today we are joined with Heather Wolfe. Heather co-authored a cookbook called Sustainable Kitchen with Jamie McCloskey. This cookbook has been out for a little while now. We were just saying off mic here, before we got on, MennoMedia has this incredible stable of cookbooks. The podcast has been going now for three seasons, and we’ve still never featured a single one. So I’m excited today to be talking about food – one of the things that’s closest to my heart, and to be talking through this unique offering here from Herald Press. I guess for starters, Heather, thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast.

Heather Wolfe  01:40
Thanks for having me, Ben.

Ben Wideman  01:41
Absolutely. I wonder for those who don’t know you, how do you introduce yourself these days?

Heather Wolfe  01:49
Well, since you mentioned love of food, I want to affirm that it’s I am a foodie. And that goes for the whole cycle of food. So from plot to plate. I am a homesteader. I am passionate about gardening and organic and permaculture ways, and support regenerative agriculture. So I’m in the ground, I’m planting my onion seeds now. It is snowy here in Vermont when we’re recording in mid March. But my onion seeds are started in the basement. And then I love cooking. I love recipe development. Hence, you know, coming up with the cookbook. And I love to eat and explore foods of all varieties, tastes, textures, colors, ethnicities. It just excites my palate and my mind and my nourishes my body and my family. And then I’m also a Vermont master composter. So even after the lifecycle the food we think ends, I’m thinking about how do we compost food scraps and turn that back into healthy soil so that I can grow my food. So to me, it’s this whole cycle of passionate interests that I wrap my life around.

Ben Wideman  03:13
You have some interest in the nutritional side of our food too. Is that right?

Heather Wolfe  03:17
Yes! Yeah, thanks. I am a dietitian by training. So I went to school to become a registered dietitian and I work professionally as a dietitian who does health coaching, and employee wellness aspects. So yes, my profession aligns with my passions.

Ben Wideman  03:38
Wow, that’s awesome. MennoMedia has a long history… Herald Press has a long history with cookbooks, as I mentioned, perhaps most, most famously, are going back in our history to the More With Less cookbook and series that comes from that. And then the Simply in Season, which many people even beyond our peace church tradition are familiar with. Talk to me a little bit about arriving at the Sustainable Kitchen cookbook and what drew you to that project specifically?

Heather Wolfe  04:09
Yeah, so Sustainable Kitchen. We like to think that this is in the spirit of sustainable you know that More With Less and Simply in Season, that this continues that legacy and kind of progresses that legacy. Part of the reason we pitched an idea for Sustainable Kitchen was there was not a vegetarian cookbook in MennoMedia/Herald Press lineup of publications. And as we learn more about health of people and health of planet and weave sustainability and faith base into all aspects of life, that felt really important that we have something in this rich tradition that took it that one step further. So that is a big reason why this cookbook came into being in our heart behind it. This kind of story of how the cookbook was birthed, I give full credit to my co author Janie McCloskey, who is a graphic designer and took most all the photography and did the design layout, which is pretty unique for authors to also do the design and photography. So that felt really special and fun to be part of the creative process as well. But she’s she was part of a discernment circle of women. And the dream of writing a cookbook came out of this discernment circle. She had heard through other women in that circle that I had authored a cookbook, a vegetarian cookbook through my workplace wellness program, and so approached me to help tell me more like what is the process like I will have this dream. And very early in that conversation, I said… I am on record for saying I would never write another cookbook. It is intense. There is so much time that goes into it. And it is not glamorous, despite what outsiders might think. If you have to cook a recipe 50 times, and feed it to your family, and say don’t eat that I got to take a picture of that, or tell me about every little like aspect of it. It gets pretty old. But it so I disclaimed right up front, I said I’m happy to advise you and we can talk more. But then something has something changed for me between writing that first cookbook, and saying yes to this opportunity. And those two things were one. I had an awakening to the interconnectedness of food and faith and climate change. Those were always very important values to me. Growing up since a little girl growing up in a log cabin with a composting toilet and raising chickens and composting, it was just Earth care was part of who I was. And I attended a Mennonite Church from birth. And I had a dad who was a front runner and thinking about climate change as a forester and seeing acid rain, damage to trees. So all of these things were part of my life growing up, but I never put them together, they were always kind of these separate things. So I had this awakening of oh my goodness, they’re not separate at all right food and faith and climate change. These are interconnected, inextricably linked. And so I had that awakening, and I also had kids. And what a game changer that is, when you start thinking differently about your future. And this book, Janie and I both dedicated this cookbook to the future generations to our kids. You’ll I wrote in there for my dedication to the generations after me who will inherit this earth, including daughters, Nora, Helen, and asked her seeing the world changing, knowing that they I had brought them into this world and saying, What can I do? What are the gifts that God has given me that I can say I did my best to make this world a better place. And this is what I knew how to do. I knew how to write recipes. I knew how to make them nutritious and delicious. And plant based. And so it felt like I had to say yes, for them for the future for the well being of ourselves, our kids our planet.

Ben Wideman  04:31
I love that. I think there’s this tendency, maybe it’s an American thing or Western thing, to when we have children to take the path of least resistance. And you know, for increasing our easily accessible foods and, you know, the snacky things that that kids really like, just because it’s easier than fighting a losing battle, right? It sounds like you have a much better capacity to sort of zoom out and look at the long term picture to say what is the most fulfilling not just for this moment when I’m stressed and tired as a parent, but to think about the future generations as well. And I I really commend you for that because I think, you know, too often we we default to the easier path and it sounds like you’re taking a more holistic approach here, to, to food and to be finding that in the midst of parenting seems like a really remarkable thing. So thank you for that, for that offering. It sounds like despite that holistic approach, you are also concerned about whether your family enjoys the food that is in a cookbook as well. Can you talk a little bit about that processes?

Heather Wolfe  09:33

Ben Wideman  09:43
Assembling this together.

Heather Wolfe  10:22
Yeah, and I think, you know, Jamie and I were both young moms… like she was pregnant when we pitched this idea with her second, and I was nursing my third. And we look back and see, like, how did we do that?

Ben Wideman  10:38

Heather Wolfe  10:39
Like this was a two and a half year project from pitch to publication. And to do it at such an intensely demanding stage of a mom’s life was both amazing to us, in hindsight, but also really drove us in that moment. And that also informed how we, we created recipes, and we, we tested recipes, saying, It doesn’t matter. If these recipes are the healthiest recipes or the sibling, they’ve got to taste good, right? We need our kids to want to eat them. And this cookbook is on my counter all the time. This is what our family eats out of almost exclusively, it is truly a collection of recipes that feed and nourish our family. And, yes, like I want it to be one where again, there’s not short order cheffing, right, I can put your black bean corn enchiladas on the table and everyone dives in and it meets everyone’s needs. So it’s got to be right kid friendly and delicious. And I need my father-in-law, who loves his shepherd’s pie, to sit at my table and be like, “Oh my gosh, this is great. It has lentils, there’s no meat in here? I love it.” So, so that was really important to us to say all you know, we’re considering a wide spectrum in our audience. And we wanted people to walk away saying this tastes good. I could do this. I like this. Let me try more.

Ben Wideman  12:20
I’m struck, and you mentioned this already, the photography in this just is really profound and powerful makes you want to, you know, eat the picture on the page. My imagining that was a process to to figure out which recipes to highlight in that way, and how to do it.

Heather Wolfe  12:40
Yeah. And we took pictures of every single thing we created. Janie didn’t have a camera before this, we began shooting this with her iPhone, and then realize like, you know what, like this is worth investing in. So Janie did a phenomenal job, just with her design eye and artistic, creative lens to pull that off as a first timer. And we are so grateful to herald press for taking a chance on us. Yeah, we are first time authors, we had no portfolio to present. And they said yes, they took a chance and said, “Sure, you can not only write it but you can take the photos and you can design it.” So just really grateful for the opportunity and the grateful for Janie’s partnership with I could not have pulled off because we eat with our eyes and your right photos pull us in. And we initially had pictures on every single recipe. But from a cost standpoint and a printing standpoint, you can’t do that. So we ended up kind of picking and choosing and sprinkling through the blog to again, kind of meet the audience and pull them in and yet be mindful that people aren’t willing to pay $100 for a cookbook that would include a pitcher for absolutely everything

Ben Wideman  14:11
and weighed 40 pounds.

Heather Wolfe  14:15

Ben Wideman  14:17
Wonder if there’s anything else to add about uh, what exactly your faith compels you, to do, to say or do about food?

Heather Wolfe  14:26
Oh gosh, yeah, food and faith. Right, because that is you know, something again, I held that came together coalesced for me a little bit later. And last year I covered these, you know, the Venn diagram came together these circles and thinking about right food is like we all have to eat right? And it’s Mennonites, right potlucks, and oh my gosh, there’s such a rich tradition of sitting down at the table, together with around like food. And you know, that fifth component saying like, Okay, well, we were called to care for this earth, right to tend to the land. And when we look at climate change, Project Drawdown was this project that ranked interventions. So things that we can do that are going to have the most impact on drawing down carbon, and food waste is up there as one of the top three things. Moving towards a plant based diet is one of the top things that we can do. Changing agriculture to be more regenerative and how we use kind of our like, you know, how Yeah, agriculture, right, how we farm, and how we care for the soil. These are all top on these project project drawdown list. So to me, it’s just like, oh my gosh, like, as people of faith who are called to care for the earth, Here are top solutions, we all have to eat, we value this food. I feel compelled as this stewardess, creation care steward that I need to respond to that call, in thinking about lifestyle, right, my lifestyle choices and consumption, and all aspects of consumption. But food is one that we do multiple times a day, every single day. And it made sense as a person of faith, especially a person of faith to examine that and come away saying, wow, like I can’t in good conscious…

Ben Wideman  16:51

Heather Wolfe  16:51
Disregard and say that’s not that’s separate. It’s not it’s right.

Ben Wideman  16:56

Heather Wolfe  16:56
Yeah. So that intentionality of this naming it and, and then saying, “okay, so then, what does that mean?” Hmm. Right. But it’s hard because food is so personal, right? That’s one of those. You don’t don’t tell me what to eat kind of thing. It’s a very personal and yet, as we look at it, it is such a communal, right. And so when I think about, you know, love God, all right, I think about God said in the beginning, that Genesis charge, right be stewards of the earth. Okay. So one way for me to love God is I gotta steward Earth. Faith base food, plant eating was one way and love your neighbor as yourself. So right, we know, food choices are negatively impacting right society, when we’re eating in ways that aren’t sustainable, right, from a resource standpoint, that Earth is not an unlimited resource, right? How do we just be more conscientious of sharing that resource? equity and access and there’s a lot there’s a lot there, there could be a whole podcast, right? Just on food and sustainability.

Ben Wideman  18:11
We need to do that at some point, yeah. There are many misconceptions about plant based foods. Can you talk about some of the challenges of getting this cookbook into people’s hands? And perhaps what you’ve done to overcome some of the misconceptions?

Heather Wolfe  18:54
Yeah, hi, I’m thankful that misperceptions are becoming less and less that quickly I’m seeing professionally an adoption of plant forward eating has this, Yes! Embrace of this is the way of the future, and recognizing both kind of health and environmental ethics. So I think, you know, historically, we’ve, we’ve seen, you know, concerns about adequate protein, right? Am I able to adequately nourish myself and get everything that my diet needs without meat, you know, that has been a historic concern. And we know how like that is not true. Our Dietary Guidelines for Americans in their appendix offers a vegetarian meal pattern and the Mediterranean diet meal pattern as healthy, balanced ways to meet all of your nutritional needs. So that we have full assurance that and it doesn’t take a lot… You don’t have to have a master’s degree in how to combine foods because that’s been another concern… “Oh my gosh, like I, you’ll have to specially pair rice or beans or these different things together in order to get all the amino acids I need.” And I’m saying no, right? We don’t need to overthink it, our bodies are amazing. And food is as long as we’re eating a variety of food and not just eating, you know, bananas all day long.

Ben Wideman  20:36

Heather Wolfe  20:37
Yeah, we’ll get what we need in the mix of a healthy balanced diet, and we don’t have to overthink it, we can eat and enjoy. And trust that our body can take this fuel and use it in ways it needs to. So it’s a lot simpler and less intimidating. Now then, you know, even 10, 20 years ago, when people thought about vegetarian eating was a little more intimidating. And there wasn’t as many options you know, now you go to restaurants and you go to stores and there’s so much variety available. So I think access is really helped a lot. And you know, I do a lot of counseling, when we think about nutrition around. It’s not doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We are such entities all or nothing mentalities when it comes to diet. And in fact, sometimes the better way is this spectrum where we say, You know what, I don’t have to go to an extreme a vegan, right? Could I do Meatless Mondays and begin to experiment I myself am a flexitarian, which is a term that means flexible vegetarian, so I eat predominantly plants, I do not cook meat at home. Unless we I raised laying hens, and they hatch their own chicks. And odds are half of them are going to be boys. So the roosters go in the crock pot, and then we will cook will cook a chicken. But that feels important to like, I don’t know if I’m going to eat meat to be in touch with that process. But right if I’m gonna go out and you know, my in laws want to cook meat, I’m going to eat a little bit and enjoy it mindfully in moderation. It doesn’t have to be this all or nothing. So I think there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility. And you get to align with your values, right? It was like, what do you what do you what resonates with you as far as what you choose from a dietary standpoint?

Ben Wideman  22:39
You’ve offered us a lot of hope already, I think in in the midst of an ongoing climate crisis and in the midst of a North American struggle with our food. But, but where have you found hope since this book has been published? What has the feedback been like for for those who picked it up? And what’s been hopeful for you?

Heather Wolfe  23:01
Yes. I just makes me smile when I run into someone, and they share their testimony of using the cookbook and say, “Hi, I love it. It’s beautiful. It’s delicious. I have given this to, you know, three other people have as guests and overwhelmingly positive.” And that was, you know, as a new author in the cookbook is listed on Amazon. And so to see reviews come in and just to again, smile and be like, Oh, this is this is resonating with people with where they’re at it is meeting a need, you know, we saw a gap in in the, you know, Mennonite cookbook line, and we’re able to kind of fill that gap that we saw and have it be really well received. And I think, you know, the ongoing work is how do we get us into the hands of more people, right? Because the hands that are receiving it are receiving it with such gratitude and appreciation. I’m very current encouraged. And you ask about hope is a lot of the older generation who is most familiar perhaps with the Mennonite cookbooks picking this up because they have a child or a grandchild who’s vegetarian and say, Thank you so much like, I need to feed them when they come home to college from college. Or I want to give them a Mennonite cookbook. And this is meeting a new generation and the older generation is recognizing that and gifting it. So that legacy continues. So that gives me hope, because these parents and grandparents are also testing it out and realizing oh like this I this is this is this, I can do this too.

Ben Wideman  25:06
I love that. And yeah, and as far as it goes, getting this book into people’s hands, we encourage you to visit MennoMedia’s website. You can learn more about Sustainable Kitchen there and purchase it directly from MennoMedia or there are links available to check it on your favorite bookstore websites to out there in the world. And we really do hope that more people pick it up and begin to change their small corner of the world by thinking a little bit more holistically about the food that we eat, how we are contributing to the health of our planet and the health of our bodies.

Heather Wolfe  25:45
I would add maybe that, you know, as we created this book, it is so much more than a cookbook. As you flip through, you’ll see in the front matter how to eat plant base, right nutrition 101, the things you were asking me at the beginning? Well, we say like how do you stock your pantry?

Ben Wideman  26:09

Heather Wolfe  26:09
What our equipment essentials? What are substitutes? How do you use dry beans? How do you cook from, you know, come from more bulk foods using a pressure cooker, we have time charts we have how to compost how to can write all these thinking holistically about sustainability. And that food cycle, which was the beginning I shared is such a passion, we wanted to wrap it all in to a very self sufficient book. So I think that is part of this too, because I wrote this cookbook without internet at home, as it was intentional to just get live simply. But I couldn’t just google how to what to substitute for this or what to do with that ingredient or what is key for what is, you know, like, I had to be really kind of self sufficient. And so we said, what if the power went out and you know, the grid went down, if you had this cookbook, what’s everything we would want to put in here, so that someone could just turn their screen off, right, or just intentionally say like, I want to fast from you using my device right now just use a book that you could do that in here. And so like when I talked about serving enchiladas, to my family, like we teach you how to can the tomatoes from your garden, so that you can then make the enchilada sauce. So we have a recipe for that. We include a recipe, how to make the tortillas, homemade rice, and how to cook the beans from dry. So this is a very kind of circular way, even within the cookbook we’re referring to like so if you want to choose your own adventure, and take another step and make it yourself, we’ll teach you how to make yogurt, we’ve got a recipe for that. And then you can turn that in to tzatzki sauce that you can put it on to the falafels. And you know, we’ll teach you you want to you know, we say “Don’t… don’t peel this, but if you do need to compost, like we’ll teach you how to do that!” So, so I think that’s a beautiful piece to this that sounds so authentic to us.

Ben Wideman  28:21
I mean, I think the thoughtfulness that you have clearly put into this is so refreshing. It’s not just focusing on delicious meals. It’s not just focusing on nutrition, it’s not just focusing on our world, or food waste all of those things. It’s it’s comprehensive. And the effort that you’ve put into this is clear. So thank you, thank you to both you and Jamie for for taking the time to provide us with something so thorough and so holistic, it really means a lot out there. I just want to say thank you again, for all that you’ve poured into this. This is certainly a project labor of love. And listeners, I really encourage you to check out Sustainable Kitchen. It’s available now, wherever you get your books. Thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast.

Heather Wolfe  29:12
Thanks, Ben. My pleasure.

Ben Wideman  29:16
Next week on ~ing Podcast are wrapping up Season Three with a conversation with host, Reverend Allison Maus. We hope you join us.  As always, we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review on your favorite podcasting app. If you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.