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  • Writer's pictureAli Tadlaoui

Cookbook out by...Ralph Nader?

I listened to a brief NPR interview with Ralph Nader today, Mother's Day, about his just released cookbook, "The Ralph Nader and Family Cookbook: Classic Recipes from Lebanon and Beyond." The food sounds good all the way around, and the recipes might allow you to come close to approximating the food and kitchen ambience Mr. Nader's mother apparently enthralled her kids with. I'm not sure our collective bookshelves need another Mediterranean cookbook, even one specific to Lebanese cuisine, but it's the story, the breadth and/or depth of emotion enlivening the recipes that makes a cookbook engaging and worth putting on the bookshelf. And Ralph Nader, an eighty-six year-old, never-married son of Lebanese immigrants, who is likely the most influential consumer advocate of our lifetime has a story to tell. Only, a story about family recipes?

Passionate. Dogged. Unflinching. Dogmatic. Heroic. Unyielding. That's how I think of Ralph Nader. These are the characteristics that squeezed consumer protections out of government, industry, and bitter corporate captains. On the surface, he doesn't come across as a warm and fuzzy guy, and family cookbooks are kind of warm and fuzzy. Then again, he's dedicated his entire life to safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of as many people as possible. Underneath his diatribes must beat a big heart and a generous soul. That is the stuff of a family cookbook.

Rose Bouziane, Mr. Nader's mother, cooked every meal from scratch. He says she never bought hot dogs because she didn't know what was in them. She preached moderation and balanced nutrition. He too has been advocating for a diet based on whole foods, lots of veggies, low sugar, and lower/good fats for as long as he's been crusading for food safety (e.g. Wholesome Meat Act of 1967) and all those other ways he's been trying to protect us.

Imagining Mrs. Nader in her Winsted, Connecticut kitchen, led me to imagine a contemporary of hers, my grandmother, in her kitchen in the Mice Hill neighborhood of Fes, Morocco. The modest kitchen was Lalla Khadija's domain and millstone. Every meal from scratch, every day, for five boys (and four girls who didn't make it into adulthood) and a changing assortment of relatives. There was no Mother's Day then in Fes. But every day was Mother's Day, in a way. I try to imagine the sound of my grandmother's voice, apologetic but demanding, asking my middle-aged grandfather to go back to the market at the bottom of the hill for the carrots she forgot to ask for on his first trip.

I'm intrigued by Ralph Nader's cookbook. He also says his comfort foods are dates and figs. Simple sustenance that I've arrived at too at this point; I eat a date (or two) and a fig (or two) every day.

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