Ralph Nader on his new cookbook and why he’s never owned a computer
Saying four-time, third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader is old school is an understatement.
“Rachel, I hope you’re ready for this answer,” Nader said to me over his landline telephone. “I don’t have email, I don’t have a computer, I don’t have an iPhone. I use 1975 technology and that’s why I think I’m more productive. I still use an Underwood typewriter.”
By the sound the phone made when he picked up, I’m fairly certain Nader was talking to me on a rotary phone. I wondered how he has been able to work in politics, to run for president, without email.
“The concession is, when I can’t get through to people by telephone or by letter, I have associates who are equipped with all the communication technologies that often are so futile,” he said. “It’s interesting, as we have more and more communication technologies, unparalleled in the history of the world, it’s harder and harder to get through to people. We’re losing a lot of interpersonal communication with all this technology that sort of boomeranged on us.”
Nader just released a cookbook called, “Ralph Nader and Family Cookbook: Classic Recipes from Lebanon and Beyond.” Both of his parents were immigrants from Lebanon and he grew up eating his mother’s Lebanese home cooking.
“When I was growing up in the 40s and 50s, people couldn’t even bear eating yogurt, much less hummus or baba ganoush, which is eggplant. There were almost no middle east restaurants around,” Nader said. “Now, it’s so different. You see hummus being sold in the grocery stores.”
Nader’s mom was a huge advocate of healthy, whole foods. So much so that the Wall Street Journal tried to use that information against her son in the 1970s.
“Totally bizarre! Here’s the Wall Street Journal, I guess they ran out of editorials criticizing me for trying to keep corporate behavior accountable, so they went after my mother,” Nader recalled. “They said, look how puritanical, she had her children eat chickpeas on the way to school, not M&Ms, and mother had such a joke out of that, she couldn’t stop laughing. It was rather bizarre.”
“My mother always liked to have food look beautiful. Beautiful, to her, meant not just visually, nutritionally. She equated nutrition with deliciousness. So when she made a birthday cake, for example, she’d put the frosting on because it looked good. After the candles were blown out, she’d carefully scrape off the totally sugared cover. She’d say, ‘OK, now you’ve seen it, there’s not point in you eating it. The cake itself is sweet enough.’ That sort of upset the Wall Street Journal,” he said, laughing.
Nader’s mother taught all of her children how to cook, not just the girls, and he and his family continue to cook her recipes featured in the cookbook.
“The favorite one is one my mother gave me on my fifth birthday called baked eggplant stuffed with lamb, pine nuts, tomatoes; you could put a little parsley in there,” Nader said. “My mother was not strict on recipes. She used to call her recipes ‘Use Your Own Judgement Recipes.’ Improvise! Create! Have fun!”
Nader says releasing a cookbook featuring healthy, Mediterranean recipes like baked fish with a tarator sauce (tahini sauce), tabouleh, and fatoosh is not out of left field.
“I’ve been so identified with pushing for food labeling, food safety, all the way from the farm to the processing plants, and very much into nutrition,” he said. “So it does play as part of the lineage of my work as a consumer advocate.”
He was also a cook in the army, once responsible for baking banana bread for 24,000 soldiers.
Nader says the cookbook is more than just recipes. At the start of the book, he tells a story about how his mother got him to eat his vegetables, and hopes it will be a useful tool for other parents with ambitions of feeding their children the same meal they’re eating.
Pick up “The Ralph Nader Family Cookbook: Classic Recipes From Lebanon and Beyond” at your local bookstore, or click here.
Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!