R: You’re doing an amazing job. Before The Omnivore’s Dilemma [in 2006], I was out there begging people to pay attention to this stuff. In fact, what I loved so much about your book is that what you were saying is: “We will be better if we cook.” And that’s what we all were feeling in the ’70s. Go back into the kitchen. This is the one place you can control your life.
P: The conversation about food does begin back in the ’70s. People don’t realize it. They think the food movement began with me, or with Eric Schlosser [who wrote Fast Food Nation in 2001].
R: For me it began with Frankie Lappé. Changed my life. Diet for a Small Planet, 1971.
P: I didn’t read that then, but I soaked up what came out of it. She was the first person to connect the dots between the way you ate and the environment and the fate of people in Africa. That was a mind-blowing book.
R: I was just, “Oh my god, almost 20 pounds of animal feed to make a pound of steak. This is insane!” Everybody I knew started thinking: “This is where we take control, this is the next fight for us.” A bunch of radicals looking around and saying “What do you do after you end the war in Vietnam?” I lived in a commune, basically. We cooked together and we tried growing our own food. And dumpster diving.
P: Have any gardening tips?
R: I wasn’t the gardener.
P: But you had land?
R: We had a big backyard. You can grow a lot in a backyard.
P: I know. I do it in my front yard now, which is a postage stamp. And then there was Wendell Berry and his The Unsettling of America. And Barry Commoner was writing about agriculture too and the energy that went into growing food. It was the start of something, the outlines of a food movement—and then it was kind of aborted in the 1980s.