The United Nations Released a Cookbook Full of Sustainable Recipes—Here's What to Know

In partnership with the Kitchen Connection Alliance, the cookbook features sustainable recipes from José Andrés, Andrew Zimmern and Indigenous cooks from around the world.

a photo of the UN cookbook cover alongside a photo of Earlene Cruz
Photo: Credit to Earlene Cruz & Kitchen Connection

Earlier this month, The Cookbook in Support of the United Nations: For People & Planet was released, featuring international and sustainable recipes from celebrity chefs, organic farmers, indigenous cooks and food activists.

In collaboration with the United Nations, the Kitchen Connection Alliance's founder and director Earlene Cruz acted as the managing director and editor of the book. This helped include the organization's mission of educating home cooks with ways to contribute to a more environmentally conscious food system.

We sat down with Cruz alongside the cookbook's culinary editor Lauren Salkeld to deep dive into the project's mission and highlight featured recipes they're most excited for you to try.

EatingWell: First, walk us through the process of creating the cookbook, from its theme to the recipe curation, what was the whole process like?

Cruz: Kitchen Connection supports the United Nations ActNow campaign, which essentially calls for people to change their habits related to food, transportation and fashion to support climate action. As part of the food tract, we support it with recipes that were climate friendly, sustainable, and the goal was to put together a cookbook. The idea was a cookbook that did more than celebrate cultures but celebrated those cultures in a way that these traditional foods have been supporting the planet for millenia. It was something that was really unique and exciting, so we couldn't let this idea go. We needed to make it happen. Lauren had been in my orbit for close to a decade, and I knew about her work and knew it would give this project justice.

Salkeld: One of the things that sticks out about this book was that there were a ton of early concept conversations and trying to figure out how to make this book be everything we wanted it to be, which is not just a collection of cool recipes and great photos. It's also that, but we really wanted it to be a conversation starter and a practical book that gave the average home cook or food enthusiast a way in to making a contribution and showing them how to do things they might not know how to do like shopping more sustainably and managing their food waste.

EatingWell: The dedication in the book reads "This book is dedicated to our planet for the way that it relentlessly nourishes us." What does that mean to you?

Cruz: Books are usually dedicated to people or teams, but very rarely is the planet accounted for. It's the reason why we are here; the air we breathe, the food that we eat. This was a way to draw attention to that and to take advantage of the resources that the planet provides. On many occasions, children in cities in particular are not aware that their food comes from farms and people cultivating it. There's this disconnect that's happening because of growing urbanization, so this was a way to shed light on the very important resource that is our planet. We need to make sure that we leave it in a better place for future generations, which was one of the main reasons why we set out to do this project.

EatingWell: The cookbook features recipes from cultures all around the world so it must be difficult to choose, but if you had to choose your favorite, what featured recipe is one you're most excited to share?

Salkeld: I have three favorite recipes, all for different reasons. The Make Do Ratatou(ille) isn't a particularly "out there" recipe, but to me it's one of the most fitting recipes in the book in that it speaks so clearly in eliminating food waste. It encourages you to use all of the tomatoes, eggplant or onions that you over harvested in your garden or that you forgot about on your counter or in your fridge. I love the Chorba with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Potatoes because it's super balanced, healthy and very delicious. And I love the White Tepary Beans and Nopales Salad because this is a recipe from the United States, but it's very rooted in Indigenous communities and culture. It has flavors that Americans that aren't Indigenous or aren't familiar with their culture maybe wouldn't know. There's nopales that are grown and accessible here but aren't widely used. It also has dandelion greens which many people think of as a weed, but they're super nutritious.

Cruz: The Black Bean Pipian that is featured in the climate change chapter sticks out to me as objectively supporting the mission of the book. I think one of the most innovative things about this book is that to our knowledge, this is the first book that does climate carbon calculations on all of the recipes [in the Food & Climate Change chapter] in addition to the nutrition calculations. The Black Bean Pipian has 96.8 percent less carbon than the average meal in the highest highest-emitting countries. Through our food choices, we emit about 3 kilograms of carbon dioxide per day, so this book can help reduce that greatly. Beans are great because they're a great source of protein that don't require as much water or land as other sources, so it's not surprising that this recipe has the lowest emissions in the whole book.

EatingWell: What does "eating well" mean to you?

Cruz: Eating well is not only nourishing our bodies, but it's also nourishing the planet. We have this responsibility to the planet so it can continue to relentlessly nourish us, as per the dedication. Eating well is eating well for ourselves and making sure we have enough quality foods and making sure that it's sustainable, and there's also a strong need to respect local cultures. A lot of solutions for "eating well" that are proposed are very prescriptive and policy based, so there needs to be a greater emphasis on making the best of what we have in our immediate community.

Salkeld: There's a line early in the book that reads, "It can never be perfect, but it can be better." That really stands out to me as something we can all strive for individually, but also more systemically. Eating well is a lot about finding a balance of what is healthy for you while speaking to your history and your culture, or another culture that you want to learn more about. We want food that is going to have a lesser impact on the planet, but we can't forget taste. It's about being thoughtful.

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Mushroom "Bulgogi" Ssambap with Spicy Ssam Sauce

a recipe photo for the Mushroom “Bulgogi” Ssambap with Spicy Ssam Sauce
Lara Ferroni

In this recipe inspired by Korean bulgogi, marinated mushrooms are quickly cooked in a hot pan along with carrots and onions. Then the veggies are wrapped into lettuce leaves with rice for a flavor-packed dinner. This recipe was created for The Cookbook in Support of the United Nations for People & Planet and is included in the cookbook's Food & Climate Change chapter. Each recipe in this chapter provides estimated carbon calculations, taking into account greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of sources. This meal emits an estimated 0.15 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is 85.67% less than the average meal in the world's highest-emitting countries.

Up next: Can Regenerative Agriculture Save the World's Grasslands? This Rancher Says Yes

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