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Moosewood collection finds a home at Cornell's library

The Moosewood Restaurant -- which Bon Appetit magazine named one of the 13 most influential eateries of the 20th century -- recently donated its earliest menus, cookbook drafts, drawings, ads and other documents to Cornell University Library. Known by Cornellians as a local Ithaca favorite since 1973, Moosewood has become an icon for vegetarian cooking and cuisine around the world.

"It began as a small project of seven Cornell friends who wanted to foster community spirit, raise environmental consciousness and offer wholesome foods," said Wynnie Stein, one of 19 members in the Moosewood collective, whose members co-own the restaurant. Today, the Moosewood brand includes the Ithaca restaurant, 12 cookbooks and a line of salad dressings, sauces, soups and frozen foods.

A discussion of the Moosewood Restaurant and its role in the vegetarian movement was the focus of a library salon Oct. 7 at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Anne Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian and creator of the library salon series (which are modeled after literary salons), highlighted some of Moosewood's accomplishments to the large crowd of Cornell alumni, students and friends.

"Over 6 million copies of Moosewood cookbooks are in circulation around the world," Kenney said. "In comparison, there are 8 million books in Cornell's library holdings." Moosewood's cookbooks contain more than 1,000 original recipes.

"I'm pleased to say that not only am I frequent visitor to the Moosewood Restaurant, I'm also a contributing writer in one of their books," said Kenney, whose Southwestern Cheese Soup can be found on page 129 of the "Simple Suppers" cookbook.

It was with her encouragement that the Moosewood collective donated its archive to the Cornell library this spring. "Anne kept nudging me on what I was doing with all the Moosewood papers," Stein said. "'How are you preserving these?' she'd ask."

"Moosewood cookbooks are a stunning success," said Elise Goodman, Moosewood's long-time literary agent, who first heard about the restaurant in 1982. She noted at the event that "in a book category that normally sells 25,000 copies," Moosewood's most popular cookbooks have sold well more than 300,000 copies. Bestsellers include "Sundays at Moosewood," "Moosewood Cooks at Home" and "Moosewood Low Fat Recipes."

Mary Tabacchi, associate professor at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, provided some perspective on Moosewood's place in the vegetarian movement and the benefits of a vegan diet.

"Aboriginals were probably the first vegetarians," Tabacchi said. "The human species evolved with a long digestive tract, which works better with a high-fiber diet." Early Hindus and Buddhists and later Christians and Essene Jews chose a vegetarian diet based mainly on a belief in non-violence. She mentioned several early vegetarians, including Sir Issac Newton, Thomas Moore, St. Francis of Assisi and Francis Bacon.

"Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, few could afford to consume large quantities of meat," Tabacchi said. Between 1900 and 1960, however, as Americans' incomes rose and they began to consume more meat, heart disease and strokes also increased, and studies have shown a direct correlation between the two, Tabacchi said.

All the material in the collection is accessible at the library and searchable through its database. A complete guide to the collection can be found in a finding aid from the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

John Mikytuck '90 is a freelance journalist, writer and producer in New York City.

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