Into the soup
Anna Thomas was new to the kitchen and vegetarianism when she wrote “The Vegetarian Epicure,’’ one of the first cookbooks of its kind. The bestseller helped put her through film school, and after knocking out a sequel in 1978, she moved on to a career as a screenwriter (“Frida’’ and the Oscar-nominated “El Norte’’) and movie producer (“My Family’’). In between that and lecturing at the American Film Institute, Thomas has ladled up a new book, “Love Soup,’’ which comes out this month. LUCIA HUNTINGTON
Q. There weren’t a lot of cookbooks for vegetarians to choose from when your first book came out. How has that landscape changed since 1972?
A. The way a piece of real estate out in the Nevada desert changed from the 1940s through the ’50s and ’60s. Today there are just a tremendous number of books and restaurants and camps and ideas about vegetarianism. . . . I’m delighted. It makes it harder to sell a book, but I would be very unhappy if that scene had not changed. There needs to be a rich, thriving culture around a kind of cooking for it to really take hold. The more there is that’s available and wonderful, the easier it is to make good choices.
Q. Yet you come from a Polish family, which means a meat-rich culinary tradition.
A. Very meat-oriented, though I have to say my mother wasn’t a meat devotee. She cooked it, but only because it was the tradition; she always used to say if she had her way she’d just eat bread and fruit and a piece of cheese. But in a sense it really doesn’t matter what you see cooked at home. There’s a very fundamental thing about being in a place where they bring in raw materials and cook them and then you eat them. That idea that home cooking is a part of life, that’s the thing that’s essential. One of the reasons I wanted to do a book about soup is to show people who’ve gotten away from home cooking how easy it is. Soup is a way in, it’s the pass-fail class that nobody can fail. If there is a bright side to the horrible economy, it’s that maybe people will turn around and do a little cooking at home again. Especially young people. I really want them to not be afraid, [to tell them], Visit the land of your ancestors: the kitchen. What’s the worst that can happen? You throw it out and call Pizza Man.
Q. Most people would think screenwriting and producing movies is already a full-time job. Where did you find the time to write this book?
A. It’s something that I’ve always done. I have too many full-time jobs, but to me cooking has always been a way to do something really creative and satisfying in a way that’s much more relaxing than filmmaking. Because that can drive you completely crazy.