"Cook Food: A Manualfesto" That Makes You Want to Run to Your Kitchen

I’ll admit to feeling some trepidation before opening my review copy of Lisa Jervis’ Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating (PM Press, 2009). Sure, I’d just finished a bowl of kale and potato soup, made by my own hands with greens from my local farmers market. And earlier I’d eaten a snack of raw asparagus spears from the same source. But while I aspire to fresh, healthy, local eating, I’m imperfect. Did a book with the word “manualfesto” in the title have room for my chocolate-eating, Coke Zero-drinking self?

I needn’t have worried. Jervis’s slim, informative volume is, in her words, “a short, quirky education in simple cooking; healthy, light-footprint eating; and the politics of food.”  It is indeed: not an exhaustive overview, but a brief, clear discussion that will make an excellent resource for those new to local eating as well as those familiar with the movement. 

Jervis obviously has thought and read a great deal about food, as her discussions of light-footprint eating and the definition of processed food, among other topics, make clear. Her introduction includes a series of potential questions, such as, “I’m on a tight budget. Can I really do this?” and their answers (In a nutshell: yes.). Her tone is direct and friendly. While she acknowledges the potential conflicts between, say, an individual’s concern for the environment, her health issues, and the food selection available to her, she emphasizes the benefits of eating whole foods for both people and the planet, and encourages her readers to do their best.

The book is not all theory by a long shot. It includes suggestions for stocking one’s pantry (for those new to cooking); instructions for how to do everything from de-stemming greens to roasting vegetables to perfect brownness; and a boatload of recipes that range from a simple citrus vinaigrette to a greens pie that could serve a dinner party. Some of Jervis’ cooking tricks were ones I already knew, like adding vegetables to the pasta pot a few minutes before the timer rings. Others I appreciated learning. I’ve been cooking with both tempeh and nutritional yeast for years, but it never occurred to me to combine them; I’m looking forward to trying her recipe for Debbie’s Tempeh. And when I’m tired of my standbys for farmers market fare such as the previously referenced kale and asparagus, I know I’ll dip into this book for Jervis’ recipes for Beans ‘N’ Greens and Spring Vegetable Sauté Over Polenta.

Last is a “Further Resources” section, in which Jervis points readers toward a wide variety of material on food politics, cooking, gardening, and activism. I’m especially pleased by the “Sourcing” section and plan to explore the suggested websites for food co-ops and farmers markets in my area.

So there you have it: a short, quirky, unfussy book that answers a lot of questions about food decisions, our health, and what to eat for dinner tonight. Above all, it inspired me to run to my kitchen, which is what one really wants in a cookbook.


Elizabeth Roca
is staff editor for
Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, and her writing has appeared in Brain, Child; The Washington Post; Utne; and other publications. She lives with her family in Maryland, where she often is found jockeying for the last bag of spinach and tasting gelato at the local farmers’ market. She has high hopes for the herb garden she and her children planted this spring. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove.