Why We Cook

Women on Food, Identity, and Connection


By Lindsay Gardner

Formats and Prices




$34.50 CAD



  1. Hardcover $27.50 $34.50 CAD
  2. ebook $12.99 $16.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 2, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Join the conversation . . .

With more than one hundred women restaurateurs, activists, food writers, professional chefs, and home cooks—all of whom are changing the world of food. Featuring essays, profiles, recipes, and more, Why We Cook is curated and illustrated by author and artist Lindsay Gardner, whose visual storytelling gifts bring nuance and insight into their words and their work, revealing the power of food to nourish, uplift, inspire curiosity, and effect change.

“Prepare to be blown away by Lindsay Gardner’s illustrations. Her gift as an artist is part of this fluid conversation about food with some of the most intriguing women, and you’ll never want it to end. Why We Cook highlights our voices and varied perspectives in and out of the kitchen and empowers us to reclaim our place in it.” —Carla Hall, chef, television personality, and author of Carla Hall’s Soul Food

Why We Cook is a wonderful, heartwarming antidote to these trying times, and a powerful testament to unity through food.” —Anita Lo, chef and author of Solo and Cooking Without Borders

“This book is a beautiful object, but it’s also much more than that: an essay collection, a trove of recipes, a guidebook for how we might use food to fight for and further justice. The women in its pages remind us that it’s in the kitchen, in the field, and around the table that we do our most vital work as human beings—and that, now more than ever, we must.” —Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life and The Fixed Stars



Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl began her legendary career as a food writer in 1972, when she published Mmmmm: A Feastiary, her first cookbook. The following year, she moved from New York to Berkeley, California, where she lived in a commune, became co-owner and cook at the Swallow restaurant, and contributed to the area's burgeoning culinary revolution.

In 1978, Reichl became a restaurant critic, writing for New West and California magazines and later for the Los Angeles Times—where she was also a food editor—and then the New York Times. During her years spent dining in disguise, she became known for her intrepid and equal praise of fine-dining hot spots and little-known restaurants, her wit, her candid exposure of the snobbery and sexism ensconced in the world of haute cuisine, and her sheer delight in the pleasures of eating. In 1999, she left the New York Times to become editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, where, for a decade, she led the publication to explore the ethics, politics, and stories shaping the food world and to publish approachable recipes, setting a new standard for home cooks before the magazine shuttered in 2009.

As the author and editor of numerous acclaimed books and anthologies, including five bestselling memoirs, Reichl has been chronicling the evolution of food culture for more than half a century.

Here, Reichl describes a standout meal from each decade of her storied career.


In Berkeley in the seventies, we all believed we could change the world through food. We read Diet for a Small Planet, learned that it took twenty pounds of usable protein to make one pound of beef, and became vegetarian. Then we discovered that enormous amounts of food were being thrown away by supermarkets and began dumpster diving. The day I found a perfectly good steak in the dumpster created an ethical dilemma: Should we eat it? Should we let those animals die in vain? After months of millet and rice and beans, we were suddenly omnivores once again. And I have to admit: That steak—cooked with mushrooms foraged up in the hills and served with a salad from our garden and corn we'd grown ourselves—tasted really wonderful.


Before Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, before Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, there was the New Boonville Hotel. Vernon and Charlene Rollins raised everything they served on the four acres surrounding their Northern California restaurant. Their BLT was the platonic ideal: home-cured bacon, homemade bread, mayonnaise made from their own eggs, and tomatoes still warm from the sun. There were vegetables I'd never tasted before—cardoons, borage, fava beans. It all seemed too good to be true. And it was; their ideas were too big, their resources too small. But thirty years later it turns out they were merely ahead of their time; today, farm-to-table restaurants are all over the country.


I spent a halcyon year writing about the opening of Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff's restaurant Chinois on Main, flying back and forth between Berkeley and Santa Monica. Nobody was working on their particular concept of "fusion food," and I was fascinated by the idea of a classically trained European chef honoring his love for Asian food by combining it with European traditions. There were no boundaries; Puck just started playing with ideas. As I wrote in my article for the Los Angeles Times, which was published in May 1990, "Opening night was a hectic event: At 6 p.m. the painters were still painting, the electricians were still working, and the cooks were on the verge of hysteria. At 7 there was still chaos. It seemed almost magical, but it all came together, and when the first guests walked in, they entered a serene fantasy of flowers and copper and chinoiserie." And they sat down to eat dishes like sashimi tempura and duck, mushrooms and cilantro wrapped in Sichuan pancakes. As for their Chinese chicken salad—which seemed so new to us at the time—it's now served in airports all over the country.


Whenever someone asks "Where should we eat?" my first thought is always Honmura An, the soba restaurant in New York City's SoHo neighborhood. And then I remember that the owner closed the restaurant and went back to Japan after 9/11. But it lingers in my memory as a perfect restaurant, a purely Japanese place with a small, perfectly executed menu. I would begin with cold sake served in a cedar box. A few slices of whatever sashimi owner Koichi Kobari was serving that day. And then the simplest soba, laid out on a bamboo mat with a jar of sauce to dip the strands in. My 1993 review of this restaurant caused an uproar in New York. "She's ruining the standards of the New York Times," my predecessor complained, "giving three stars to little Japanese noodle shops." Yup.


In 2015 Dan Barber, the chef-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in New York, devoted an entire month—in a program he called WastED—to serving nothing but food that would ordinarily have been thrown away. There were the bones of skate, fried to crackling crunchiness and seductively delicious. Salad was made of storage-damaged fruit and vegetables (with a dressing of whipped water from canned beans). Barber conjured vegan burgers out of the pulp left behind at juice bars and made sorbet out of cacao pods. It was dumpster diving on a grand scale—and to someone who started doing that in Berkeley fifty years ago, it was a definite thrill.

"The difference between how people thought about food when I first started writing and how people think about food today is very hopeful. We finally understand that food is about much more than deliciousness."

Kitchen Portrait

Carla Hall


Hall travels often, so she revels in time spent at home. "You have to eat, so you may as well try to find the joy in it," she says.

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, Carla Hall was always surrounded by soul food but never thought it would become an essential part of her future. After studying business at Howard University in Washington, DC, she worked as an accountant before moving to Paris in her twenties and becoming a runway model. While working, traveling, and eating her way through Europe, Hall began to realize her passion for food. A clarifying moment on her cooking journey, Hall recalls, was during a trip back to the United States to visit friends in Baltimore. She spent days making Julia Child's elaborate recipe for chicken pot pie. Her friends loved it, and she noticed how much satisfaction she derived from bringing joy to others through cooking. Hall decided to move back to DC, where she attended culinary school, started a catering company, and trained in professional restaurant kitchens. In 2008, she launched her television career when she competed on Bravo's Top Chef and became known for her optimism and warmth and energetic take on everyday soul food.

Hall's belief in food's power to connect has guided every twist and turn of her career—including overcoming the closure of her Brooklyn-based restaurant, cohosting ABC's The Chew, writing award-winning cookbooks, and serving as a culinary ambassador for the Sweet Home Café at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. "You do something because you want to do it, not because you're expecting a payoff," she says. "And the universe will give it back to you."

"It's not just about breaking bread together, but making bread together . . . and telling stories and feeling like we're all in this thing together. That's what I love. Food does that."

Home Cooks In Conversation

Women's experiences cooking at home are an important, yet often overlooked, part of the modern-day culinary atmosphere and everyday life. No matter how, when, or why we cook, our feelings about food transcend our kitchens and contribute to a complex, diverse, and ever-evolving canon of wisdom.

In this survey, more than 350 women responded to questions about their cooking habits, traditions, and stories, providing insight into how we think about and create meaning through food. Here's an overview of the women who participated in the Home Cooks in Conversation survey.

recipe by

Priya Krishna

Priya Krishna is a food writer who contributes regularly to the New York Times, among other publications. She is also the author of Indian-ish, a cookbook that explores her Indian American heritage and celebrates her mother's unique recipes, which were the everyday meals that she grew up with in Dallas, Texas, and are a combination of elements of both cultures. Krishna says her cookbook challenges "a mostly whitewashed interpretation of America and its food." By showing that Indian food is American food, she has carved a much-needed space for the myriad stories, traditions, and innovations that comprise it.


Serves 4

Meet my favorite soup of all time. Kadhi is similar in texture to cream of ___ soup, but with no cream, and better. All you need to make it are yogurt, chickpea flour, and spices. But don't let the simplicity fool you: Kadhi is both deeply comforting and insanely complex in its flavor, like a cozy blanket draped over a hot bowl of white rice. And my mom's recipe, unlike the liquidy, mild versions I've been served at restaurants, is thick, rich, and spice-forward, with a pleasant tanginess at the end. I absolutely love the strong peppercorn flavor in this dish, but if you don't like peppercorns, feel free to nix them or cut the amount in half.

1 cup full-fat plain yogurt

¼ cup chickpea flour

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil, divided

½ teaspoon + 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, divided

½ teaspoon black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed

Lime juice (optional, if your yogurt is not that sour)

¼ teaspoon red chile powder

3 dried red chiles

½ teaspoon asafetida (optional, but really great)

1 In a large (at least 2-cup) measuring cup with a spout (for easy pouring), mix together the yogurt and chickpea flour until smooth and homogeneous. Stir in 1 cup water, followed by the turmeric—the mixture should be a pale yellow color. Set aside.

2 In a very large, deep pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the ghee (or oil). Once the ghee melts (or the oil begins to shimmer), add ½ teaspoon of the cumin seeds, the black mustard seeds, fenugreek, cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns all at once and cook until you hear the mustard seeds start to pop, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the yogurt–chickpea flour mixture and 3 cups water, and mix well. Add the salt. Taste—the mixture should be tangy, rich, and distinctly flavored by the spices. Adjust with a few drops of lime juice and more salt if needed. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring continuously (if you stop stirring, the kadhi will curdle), until the mixture comes to a boil. Insert a large long-handled spoon into the pot to prevent it from boiling over and let cook on high for 10 minutes (if at any point it looks like it might boil over, reduce the heat to medium-high for a minute before turning it back up). The kadhi should become thicker and brighter in color, like a creamy soup.

3 About 5 minutes before the kadhi is done cooking, in a small pan or butter warmer over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee (or oil). Once the ghee melts (or the oil begins to shimmer), add the remaining 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and cook until it starts to sputter and turn brown, which should take seconds. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chile powder, dried chiles, and asafetida (if using).

4 Add the seasoning to the cooked kadhi and stir to combine.

5 Serve with rice.

Kadhi is excerpted from Indian-ish © 2019 by Priya Krishna with Ritu Krishna. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

"I have learned to embrace both sides of my heritage. I used to feel too American to be considered Indian, and too Indian to be considered American. Those identities, I've realized, don't have to be compartmentalized."


Gray Chapman

Gray Chapman is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about food, spirits, and culture. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Atlanta magazine, Garden & Gun, Punch, and other publications.

Cookbook Club

A short list of things I've learned in the year since I began participating in an all-women's cookbook club:

• Every bottle of sherry vinegar in the metro Atlanta area will seemingly vanish from shelves the day you need to make David Chang's pickled mushrooms.

• Driving with a Dutch oven full of beans riding shotgun will almost certainly result in hot bean water sloshing on your passenger seat.

• Tossing thirty dried chile peppers into a ripping hot skillet will inevitably hotbox the entire kitchen with capsaicin fumes, resulting in a dozen women fleeing to the back porch, clutching their throats, gasping for air, and laughing hysterically.

Another thing I've learned is that laboring over something beautiful, simply for the sake of sharing it with others, is a rarified thing of beauty in and of itself.

When my neighbor Sue first floated the idea of a cookbook club—a group of her friends from different circles who mostly didn't know one another, all with varying levels of culinary experience, all united by a love for cooking—I was, frankly, intimidated. Intimidated by the idea of cooking for an unfamiliar crowd. Intimidated by the recipes and the prospect of sourcing ingredients, especially for our first pick (a double whammy of Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem and NOPI). Intimidated by other women, period.

At home, cooking is a hobby, but it's also my self-soothing mechanism for days when I'm gripped by anxiety about my work, my future, the world. That is to say, I cook nearly every day. But I'm not an entertainer. I don't do dinner parties. I lack my mother's gilded hostess skills. I get a tingle of performance anxiety when other people watch me dice an onion.

Most of the time, I'm only cooking for myself and my husband. We have an equitable marriage, and we relentlessly support one another in our creative work, but our kitchen seems to function as a time machine, transporting part of our marriage back to the 1950s. I am "the one who cooks," which means that, usually, I am also the one who plans meals, keeps a continuous mental tally of our fridge's inventory, and, when texted at 4:30 p.m. "What should we do for dinner tonight?" is expected to have an answer and a plan. When someone else cooks for me, it is often either because I am paying them to, or because she is my mother.

Yet it was for Cookbook Club that I found myself gridlocked in Atlanta traffic for an hour on a quest for cascabel chiles to make Gabriela Cámara's puerco al pastor. Because for just one night every other month, the notion of practicality flies out the window. On those nights, and the frenetic day or two leading up to them, "dinner" is no longer simply an answer to that 4:30 p.m. text. It's one night in which easy sheet pan meals and Instant Pot hacks take a backseat to care, time, and attention, not because we have to, but because we want to. It's why, for the same dinner, I ignored the generic black beans in my cabinet and drove across town to buy two pounds of Rancho Gordo's Ayocote Negro heirlooms. And it's why, later that night, a few of us stood shoulder to shoulder in the kitchen hunched over masa, press, and skillet, making tortillas one by one.

It is all effort, but one that is never not reciprocated or shared. No one ever articulated that homemade tortillas would be mandatory, or that finding cascabels would be required. But I suspect it happens anyway because it feels like a rare chance to slow down, both for and alongside each other, to appreciate the process as much as the end result.

For us, the nature of gathering like this means squeezing in our ingredient quests after work, delegating childcare, dipping out of work events early, staying up late the night before to prep. Real life makes it difficult to source that AWOL vinegar or that one special ingredient that you could probably fudge, if you really wanted to. I find that none of us ever do.

That first night, it was all anyone could talk about: How could all of this possibly taste so good? We looked around and sat in awe of what we had made. The recipes themselves were exceptional, of course. Still, there was something else. "It's home-cooked," one of the women finally said.

To feed one another, and to be fed—that felt as revelatory as the piles of truffle-tossed baby carrots, steaming mejadra, and saffron rice sitting before us. We picked up our forks and began to eat.

A memorable meal by

Julia Turshen

In addition to being a cook, food writer, and bestselling cookbook author, Julia Turshen is a passionate advocate for civil rights and social justice.

One of the most important meals I've ever had lasted for nearly twenty-four hours. It was during the summer of 2017 and took place at my kitchen table. I invited a group of friends who all work in and around food. Our group had been in touch here and there before the meal, and we were all craving some in-person time to sit and reflect and connect on the things we had been talking about over group texts. Top of our list was the lack of racial diversity in food media.

Once everyone arrived at my house (a couple of hours north of New York City), we never left the kitchen table except to sleep. We just kept talking and eating. Talking and eating. We kept refilling the table with fruit and cheese and chocolate and other snacks and eventually cleared it for a lamb stew that I had made the day before. I spent most of the time listening.

Hearing from friends about their experiences has helped inform so many decisions I make and actions I take in my work. About a year after that meal, I founded Equity at the Table, an inclusive digital directory of women and nonbinary individuals in food. And the people who sat around my kitchen table that summer are now on the advisory board.


Leah Penniman

Leah Penniman is a Black Kreyol educator, farmer, author, and food justice activist. In 2011, she cofounded Soul Fire Farm, a Black-, Indigenous-, and People of Color (BIPOC)–centered farm in Grafton, New York, that is dedicated to ending racism in the food system. As co-executive director, Penniman facilitates the farm's food sovereignty programs, including farmer training for BIPOC and subsidized food distribution for communities in need; teaches Indigenous and regenerative farming practices; and oversees workshops, youth programs, and special events.

Penniman's work instills a sense of possibility and connection to the land and educates BIPOC on the relationships between the earth and history, socioeconomics, politics, and philosophy. "Everything from sunshine to plate needs to be infused with fairness and dignity and reverence," she says. "That means that the land is shared and the earth is regarded with respect, that farm workers are treated with dignity and paid fairly, and that everyone gets enough culturally appropriate life-giving food to eat."

A Day at Soul Fire Farm

Here, Penniman gives a snapshot of her life on the farm during the summer of 2019.

There's rarely a typical day. I usually wake up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and sneak in a run. Then I facilitate a meeting for the visiting teachers who are helping with our weeklong immersion program—BIPOC FIRE (Black–Indigenous–People of Color Farming in Relationship with Earth)—for people who want to learn basic skills in Afro-Indigenous and regenerative farming. Then I go outside to lead a stretch for the twenty program participants who gathered here from all around the country.


In my first work block, I harvest cherries, blueberries, and currants with my group and then do a little bit of mulching around those plants. Other groups follow different farmers to do tasks like taking care of the chickens or planting seeds in the greenhouse.


At breakfast, everyone shares a highlight, an opportunity, and a challenge. Then we go over the schedule for the day with our participants and head back out to the farm for the long work block. Today I am teaching a group how to dig a new raised bed in the style of the Ovambo people of Angola and Namibia, and then we will plant the bed with the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash), the way the Mohican farmers taught us.


Midday, we do an around-the-world exercise where folks teach each other what they've learned in their work blocks. There is also a variety of workshops going on, and I might run inside to do some administrative work and give input on the Green New Deal.

In the afternoon, I teach classes. I have a soil science class, an agroforestry class, and a class on the history of Black Indigenous farming movements. Black folks and Indigenous folks have a ten-thousand-plus-year history of dignity and innovation on the land. Knowing that the Egyptians during Cleopatra's reign were some of the first people to come up with worm composting, that the folks in Kenya were among the first to come up with terraces, that Dr. George Washington Carver brought regenerative agriculture to the mainstream in the United States, and so forth is crucial in reclaiming our dignity and belonging in this story.


Before dinner, I'll sneak in a bit more administrative work to plan upcoming workshops and travel. At dinner, we break out into tables by home regions to talk about current and potential projects. Afterward, there's an action-planning workshop that I help with. So, it's about a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. day most of the time in the summer.

"When young people see Black and Brown folks running a farm, building their own house, running their own business, they say, 'Well, if your dreams can come true, maybe mine can too.'"


Soul Fire Farm's main house and gathering center, which were built by hand using local timber and are heated with solar energy

"For me food is a prayer and a protest. It is a sacred practice inherited from all my relations. The stories of food inspire empathy and connection. Food is about relationships and survival and creating the future."

—Jocelyn Jackson

cook activist, founder of JUSTUS Kitchen, and cofounder of People's Kitchen Collective

Activists & Changemakers In Conversation

In what area are you most passionate about impacting change?

"Politics and local government. I'm building upon my background as a food justice activist within local politics and advocating for programs and policies that promote a more fair and inclusive San Francisco. I'm also passionate about getting more young people, women, queer folks, and people of color to be engaged in and lead our civic and political processes."

—Shakirah Simley

director of the Office of Racial Equity for the City and County of San Francisco and founder of Nourish | Resist

San Francisco, CA

"We usually only hear about food from a chef's or owner's perspective. You have to treat everyone fairly and include everybody in these conversations."

—Martha Hoover

restaurateur and founder of Patachou Inc. and the Patachou Foundation

Indianapolis, IN

"Amplifying new voices and impactful ideas through connection and collaboration. I try to really understand what people are aiming for and the changes they're working toward. Then I work to share their stories with new communities. I'm able to do this through the programs I write because food is such a powerful connector."

—Maryam Ahmed

consultant, coach, and creator of the Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum

Napa, CA

"Food is a universal need, and learning to cook for oneself is a life skill. Disabled people not being represented in the culinary community and having neither sufficient role models nor adaptive inspiration means there is a need going unmet.

"Drawing from my own experience with a disability, I created The Fingerless Kitchen, a cooking show that inspires and teaches people with disabilities how to cook and helps them see that their limitations are opportunities to do something different and amazing. I want everyone to remember that if you think you're all thumbs in the kitchen, I'm here to prove that you never needed them."

—Bryony Grealish

founder and owner of the Fingerless Kitchen

Syracuse, NY

What is your wish for the future?


  • ​“Proof that the act of cooking can indeed be an empowering, life-changing thing.” —Well+Good 

    “Readers will rejoice in this inspiring collection of writing and art about the beautiful, loving act of preparing a meal. . . . With Gardner’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations, this book is a love letter to food and those who feed us.” —Booklist, starred review

    “A beautiful and thoughtful book, a buffet of approaches to the kitchen that show we’re all in this together even though we’re inevitably doing it a different way.” —Salon.com

    "Gardner’s illustrations bring nuance and inspired through-provoking articles about the changing world of food. A gift to uplift, empower, inspire, aspire, and nourish the soul of any cook.”—Cuisine at Home 

    “The range of voices shine a light on racial diversity in the culinary world in this visually evocative, comforting book. Easy to dive into at any point when seeking inspiration or a sense of community through food and cooking, this book is a good conversation starter.” —Library Journal

    “Prepare to be blown away by Lindsay Gardner’s illustrations. Her gift as an artist is part of this fluid conversation about food with some of the most intriguing women, and you’ll never want it to end. Why We Cook highlights our voices and varied perspectives in and out of the kitchen and empowers us to reclaim our place in it.” —Carla Hall, chef, television personality, and author of Carla Hall’s Soul Food

    Why We Cook is a wonderful, heartwarming antidote to these trying times, and a powerful testament to unity through food.” —Anita Lo, chef and author of Solo and Cooking Without Borders

    This book is a beautiful object, but it’s also much more than that: an essay collection, a trove of recipes, and a guidebook for how we might use food to fight for and further justice. The women in its pages remind us that it’s in the kitchen, in the field, and around the table that we do our most vital work as human beings—and that, now more than ever, we must.” —Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life and The Fixed Stars

On Sale
Mar 2, 2021
Page Count
240 pages

Lindsay Gardner

About the Author

Lindsay Gardner is an illustrator and mother of two daughters (her favorite sous chefs). Her watercolor and gouache illustrations have appeared in cookbooks and editorial projects, advertising campaigns, and stationery and interior design collaborations. This wide-ranging artistic sensibility makes her a gentle interrogator of the world around her. Her food art has appeared in Cookie Advent Cookbook (Chronicle, 2016), Pies, Fries & Ice Cream (Chronicle, 2016), and The Rituals (Chronicle, 2019). You may have also seen her work in Uppercase Magazine, Architectural Digest, StyleCarrot, Decorist, and Vogue, among others. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, she’s been fortunate to live in the beautiful and vibrant locales of Oakland and San Francisco, CA, Chicago, IL, New York, NY, and Middlebury, VT.

Learn more about this author