Teen Activist Focuses
On the Environment,
One Meal at a Time

May 26th, 2014


Don't Cook the Planet - Emily Abrams - BOOK COVERThis Meatless Monday, you can start a meal with Robert Redford’s Sundance Salad. Top it with Alice Waters’s Garlic Vinaigrette. Then perhaps move onto Laurie David’s Quinoa Cakes or Chevy Chase’s Vegetarian Chili. It’s all possible if you follow the simple, colorful recipes in Emily Abrams’s new cookbook, “Don’t Cook the Planet.” An impressive collection of 70 recipes from well-known chefs, celebrities and environmental activists, “Don’t Cook the Planet” is a delicious reminder that eating well is not only good for your health, but also good for the planet. With a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and contributions by everyone from Tom Colicchio to Michael Pollan to Steve Ells, founder, co-CEO of Chipotle, there’s another reason why this book is unique. Author Emily Abrams is a 19 year old high school senior. Involved in environmental issues for several years, she believes climate change will be the defining issue of her generation.

The concept behind “Don’t Cook the Planet” is very unique. You take on a big issue like climate change but provide solutions in the form of a cookbook.

Absolutely. We could have done a normal book on climate change. But a cookbook is universal. Whether you’re eating at 5-star restaurants, if you’re in college and eating in your dorm room, or cooking at home, everyone can make more eco-conscience choices. All the people in the book are on the forefront on climate change. So the idea was, let’s get all these amazing people in a cookbook. By wrapping the issue around recipes, it makes the debate more interactive. People can actually do something and be more sustainable.

The subhead on the cover is, “Deliciously saving the planet one meal at a time.” Your message—especially to everyone in your age group—is that if this problem goes unchecked, global warming will be the defining issue of your generation.

Right. The point is to show kids my age you don’t have to be a politician or someone who’s older to make a difference and get active about this issue. We shouldn’t wait another 10 or 15 years to make the changes we can be making now. So the message is: this is what’s happening, and here are the small things you can be doing to help.

At Meatless Monday, we like to say going meatless one day a week is “good for your health and the health of the planet.” We were excited to hear you mention us in the book.

I’m very passionate about Meatless Monday. When you start with something like Meatless Monday, you start eliminating meat from your diet for one day, eventually you become more in the habit of doing it every week, and then you start down the road of living a greener lifestyle.

Don't Cook the Planet - Emily with Robert F. Kennedy JrIn addition to cutting meat one day a week, what other food choices can people make that reduce their “carbon foodprint,” as you call it.

There are several simple things everyone can do. When you go grocery shopping, look at the packaging your food comes in. Try to choose as many items as possible in recycled packaging. Try to avoid anything in Styrofoam. Styrofoam basically never decomposes. When you buy eggs, buy a brand in a cardboard container. When you’re buying nuts, buy in bulk because it uses less plastic. Bring your own grocery bags to the market. And a huge choice, obviously, is eating locally. Reduce the distance your food travels from farm to table. It reduces your carbon footprint, and it’ll just taste better, too. You’re helping out your local farm and the local economy. In the book we also recommend growing your own spices, planting a small vegetable garden, and doing your own composting. These are small steps everyone can do right now.

Water consumption is another area where small steps can have a positive impact on the environment. We recently launched a campaign called “I Love New York Water” that reminds people to drink tap water as often as possible.

Yes, and I don’t think people are aware of all the issues. People don’t realize it takes more water to make the plastic bottle than the amount of the water in the bottle. We go through billions of water bottles every year and only a fraction get recycled. Most end up in landfills or the ocean. Not only is it more cost efficient to drink tap water, but many times bottled water is nothing but tap water. I don’t think people realize how environmentally friendly it is to just drink tap.

I have to ask an obvious question. You’re a senior in high school. How did you get 70 all-star recipes in this cookbook, everyone from Tom Colicchio to Richard Branson to Alice Waters?

I wrote a standardized letter and my mom, who is an environmental activist, and Robert Kennedy, who is a family friend, helped me reach out to a lot of the contributors. Chef Gabriel Viti, from Miramar Bistro in Chicago, is another friend of ours and helped me reach out to chefs in Chicago. And the ball just started rolling. Not only did people start contributing, they would start recommending people and pass around my letter. We got a great response this way.

Robert Kennedy also wrote the foreword and reminds us that “everybody has a place in the good food movement.”

Robert Kennedy is so passionate about this issue of climate change, and someone for my generation to look up to. When he agreed to write the foreword, everyone who reads this book can’t help but ask, “how can I help?” Robert Kennedy is an inspiration to everyone.

You published a fabulous cookbook months before graduating high school. What’s next?

I am going to USC in the fall. I will be studying Environmental Studies in Health. I will be focusing on how to solve health issues in a sustainable way and how to have cleaner water. It should be interesting.

Don’t Cook the Planet Feature Recipe: Quinoa Cakes, from Kirstin Uhrenholdt & Laurie David