Proud aunt and sister-in-law alert: This review extends my blog’s Books by Friends and Strangers to encompass beloved family. Mackenzie Feldman, my brilliant, passionate niece, and her equally passionate and bright mom Kathy (my husband’s sister) authored the book. Ergo, I’m biased.
When my niece Mackenzie decided to attend the University of California at Berkeley (aka Cal) my husband and daughters had their doubts. Would sweet, innocent, Hawaii-born-and-raised Kenzie be able to survive uber-competitive, massive and crazy Bezerkley?
As a Cal grad, I knew Mackenzie had the smarts and the stamina to make it at Berkeley. I pushed back against my family’s Cal-negative energy. “She’s going to thrive,” I told them.
What Mackenzie accomplished at Berkeley blew past my highest hopes for her. She went all in becoming an anti-pesticide crusader and food justice warrior. “Groundbakers” incorporates many of the lessons she learned at Cal while majoring in Society and the Environment and minoring in Food Systems. Readers benefit from her depth of knowledge, clear writing style and powerful rhetoric.
My sister-in-law Kathy has been ahead of her time in the plant-based diet realm for decades. While raising her kids, she devoted herself to cooking the healthiest possible meals using organic, unprocessed, low-sugar ingredients. She made sure her three athletic offspring had the fuel to perform on the field and in the classroom. Mission accomplished – now adults, her kids are independent, thoughtful, high-achievers making a difference in their chosen fields.
One of the many things I loved about “Groundbakers” is Mackenzie’s admission that while at her best friend’s house for sleepovers as a kid she enjoyed “forbidden fruit” – scarfing down Lucky Charms and Bagel Bites. Now in her late twenties, she realizes her mother’s insistence on a healthy diet shaped her values. She appreciated these lessons to the point of asking her mom to cowrite this book – an incredible homage to Kathy’s vision.
Kathy’s devotion to healthy living manifests in her high energy, physical fitness and positive outlook. You’d never know she’s 65 (and no she hasn’t resorted to any “aesthetic enhancements”). She’s a walking advertisement for the plant-based recipes she concocted for “Groundbakers.” As a hardcore chocoholic, I adore her chocolate date caramel tart. Kathy prepared the delicious dessert for our family Thanksgiving at their home in Hawaii. No one could believe butter, cream and eggs weren’t involved in the tart’s creation.
What makes “Groundbakers” extra special is Kathy and Kenzie’s outreach to changemakers in our global food system. They include renowned Spanish-American restauranteur and philanthropist José Andrés who founded the nonprofit World Central Kitchen to create solutions for poverty and hunger in times of crisis. Andrés explains his determination to change the world through the power of food and contributed his delicious recipe for classic gazpacho.
As a Cal student, Mackenzie came to know one of America’s most famous chefs and food activists – Alice Waters, who pioneered the farm-to-table movement at her revered Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. A champion of regenerative farming and the integration of organic gardening and cooking into public school education, Waters shares what motivated her activism and a mouth-watering recipe for minestrone soup.
I’ve long worried about the buy organic and plant-based diet movements inherent white-privilege. Organic fruits and vegetables usually cost much more than non-organics. Processed foods tend to be less expensive than natural, healthier options. Easy enough for upper-middle-class folks like the Feldmans and Leibs to go organic. What about the majority of Americans who struggle to pay their bills much less buy expensive organic foods?
Mackenize addresses this issue by highlighting Black food justice advocate Leah Penniman, author of “Farming While Black” and cofounder of New York’s Soul Fire Farm, a community farm committed to combatting racism and inequality in the food system. Penniman honored her mother’s Haitian heritage by contributing a recipe for Haitian sweet potato bread. Can’t wait to try it!
And did I mention the gorgeous photos of the food and the “groundbakers” themselves? Mackenzie and Kathy have published a book worthy of familial pride and a wide readership. “Groundbakers” showcases their shared passion for plant-based eating as a way to fight climate change, heal the planet and achieve social justice. They hope to inspire readers to challenge our current dysfunctional food system. Their book is a meaningful contribution to mindful eating for a brighter future.