To call the Pollans a power family would be an understatement. Of course, many TV, film, and theater fans know the Emmy-nominated actress Tracy Pollan for her work on “Family Ties” (where she famously met her husband Michael J. Fox), “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” Tracy is also passionate about the work she does as a board member for her husband’s Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. But she’s just the tip of the talent iceberg that is the sorority of Pollan sisters and their mom, Corky.
To elaborate: Dana Pollan and Lori Pollan are the co-founders the acclaimed Pollan-Austen Fitness Center. Dana has a background as a fitness specialist and instructor and has been cited as an expert voice in the fitness and wellness space in publications that run the range from Seventeen to the New York Times. Lori—also a former fitness expert—boasts a certification as a Life Coach with a focus on health, wellness, and stress management. Pollan matriarch Corky’s career in magazines includes work for New York Magazine, Gourmet, and more. Plus, Tracy, Dana, and Lori’s brother Michael Pollan is a nationally known author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food.
Oh, and that’s not to mention that all the Pollan women are also working moms with big families. Tracy has four kids (a 29-year-old son, 24-year-old twin daughters, and a 17-year-old daughter), Dana and Lori each have three (a 26-year-old son, a 21-year-old daughter, and a 13-year-old son for Dana, and a 27-year-old daughter, a 26-year-old son, and a 21-year-old daughter for Lori), and Corky raised four. Casual!
And while the Pollan women have varied professional backgrounds, food, health and wellness, and writing are themes that ring true as passions for all of them. Back in 2014, the Pollan women wrote and released their first cookbook, The Pollan Family Table (which is also the name of their food blog), and, on April 16, they’ll celebrate the release of Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family.
“With the first book, we wanted to create a book that helped people to sit down and enjoy a family meal together, with easy-to-cook recipes that the whole family could enjoy,” Tracy says. “A lot of that was based on recipes that we had cooked together as a family—and it was really about the importance of sitting down together as a family and eating and bringing your kids into the kitchen.”
In Mostly Plants (the title for which was inspired by Michael Pollan’s famous advice of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) the Pollan women are on a mission to promote the practice of a “flexitarian” diet. This means not completely “giving up” any particular fish, meat, or dairy, but really making a conscious effort to fill your plate with more veggies than not. It’s a philosophy they all believe in; presently, Dana and Lori identify as vegetarian, while Corky and Tracy identify as flexitarian.
“What we’re trying to convey in the new book is that it’s about incremental steps—you can make changes to incorporate more plants and vegetables and whole grains into your diet, and for parents, it’s such a great message to send to kids, and it’s so healthy for them,” Lori explains. “And the idea of sitting down together, at a meal, that looks beautiful and tastes delicious, creates something that will last forever for them, and they’ll do it with their families. It’s just one of the healthiest parenting benefits there is—having dinner as a family.”
It’s also about raising awareness that you don’t have to take an all or nothing approach to changing your food choices for the better. “Some people just don’t know what flexitarian is. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals, but the other things that we like to talk about is that when you are eating fish or meat or chicken, that changing the ratio on your plate is really key,” Tracy says. “You really can eat everything, but if you sort of look at it like a pie, and protein is just one quarter of the pie, and the rest of it is all the healthy grains and vegetables.”
Dana chimes in, adding that inclusiveness is truly at the heart of book’s mission. “It’s realistic, it’s practical, it’s all inclusive,” she explains. “What I love so much about this book is that we have icons telling you if it’s vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free—but we also offer modifications, because we know how families are now. You could have a vegan and someone who’s gluten-free. So there are modification for really any dietary lifestyle.”
Growing up, the Pollan sisters, along with their brother Michael (who wrote the forward for both The Pollan Family Table and Mostly Plants), were heavily influenced by their mother’s cooking, which aimed to be healthy, tasty, and varied, but also low-stress, given that Corky was raising four children while also working full time. In turn, Mostly Plants is a book designed to be a resource for busy moms and dads working on their weeknight meal plans while also juggling the dietary preferences and restrictions of each member of the family.
“When I was working full time and the kids were young, the weekends would be a time when I would cook things like stews or soups, pastas, and chilies—things that you could have during the week and then maybe change them a little bit so you’re not eating exactly the same thing. That really saved me when I was working full time,” Corky recalls, adding: “And if your child comes up to you, as has happened to me, saying: ‘I want to be a vegetarian now,’ there are some wonderful recipes in this book. Or if they want to be vegan—we cover all those possibilities.”
Lori elaborates, adding that Corky’s sensibility when it came to cooking was central for all the Pollans, including Michael, as they developed their lives and careers: “We would always have a whole bunch of vegetables at the table—and interesting, different foods,” she says. “We all had that same influence [from our mom], and Michael really delved into the more scientific aspects of it and studies that have shown that eating that way is healthier for you than not.”
In his forward to Mostly Plants, Michael indeed delves into the fact that a “mostly plants” approach to eating has real, tangible benefits to both a person’s wellbeing, as well as the planet’s.
“I recommended ‘mostly plants’ because that is what the science tells us. We Americans tend to cast our eating choices in either- or ideological terms, and there is certainly an ethical and environmental case to be made for going vegetarian: meat eating contributes mightily to climate change and many people question the morality of eating animals,” he writes in his forward to his sisters’ and mother’s new book. “It doesn’t have to be that way—there are farms that raise animals sustainably and humanely, but these are still the exception to the rule of industrial meat production, and even at its most sustainable, a meat-centric diet has a bigger carbon footprint that a plant-based diet… This book is not dourly anti-meat; rather, it is ecstatically pro-plant. Prepare to be inspired.”
The environmental benefits to eating a plant-based diet are ones that the Pollans hope will resonate with readers of all ages, but especially so with growing kids and teens making choices about the issues they care about as they grown up in a critical time for our planet. “In this day and age, I think so many kids are concerned about the environment, and eating this way, really can make a difference,” Corky says. “We can make a difference with what we eat, and I think kids today are so into it.”
In order to really make a difference with the book’s pro-plant message, the Pollans really wanted to ensure that the recipes felt accessible to all types of home cooks (and especially working parents). Tracy, Lori, Dana, and Corky all noted that there are stereotypes of plant-based eating that imply that it’s not protein-rich enough, or it’s too labor-intensive—and those are myths they hope Mostly Plants can work to combat.
“I think that cooking with vegetables now is so different than when we were growing up. When we were growing up, it was about boiling and steaming vegetables. Or a can of string beans,” Dana says. “But now, we’ve all gotten so creative. It’s roasting and sautéing and making cauliflower rice and having all different types of herbs and spices. I think the vegetables in our book really appeal.”
The recipes in the book—there are 101—really do stand out as fresh, enticing, and, best of all, attainable and appealing to the whole family—from picky pre-teens to hungry college students, as well as mom and dad.
For example, the recipe for Cavatappi with Broccolini, Brown Butter, and Sage, is a favorite of Lori’s, as well as of her college-age kiddos. “I have two kids in college and I love when they come home and I ask what they want me to cook, and they say: ‘Can you make that Broccolini dish with the Brown Butter?’ It’s so affirming when they request something from the book that I’ve tried out on them.”
There’s also a Salmon Farro Bowl (a personal fave of Tracy’s), an Orecchiette Pasta with Shaved Brussels Sprouts (a top pick of Dana’s, as well as of her 13-year-old), and a hearty Tuna Burger (enthusiastically endorsed by Corky). And the book covers the whole spectrum of meals—from breezy mezze options to delectable desserts.
Some of the recipes in the book were crafted just for this project, while others came from the Pollan Family Table website and newsletter; and by all accounts, developing the recipes themselves has been a real joy and fulfilling creative process for all four of the Pollan women.
“Sometimes I will get into bed and be like: ‘Oh, wait a second—what if I took a chickpea and made that into a crouton, and oh, that would work in the tomato soup that we did,’” Tracy explains. “It’s a very creative thing, and it causes me a little bit of insomnia—haha!—because my head is just spinning, but there’s something really fun about completely creating something from nothing.”
Lori echoes her sister’s sentiment, adding that they all find inspiration from each other, from friends, and from restaurants they love. “We’d be eating somewhere and say: ‘Oh this would be great if you just substituted this for that.’ We’re always brainstorming what our personal preferences are, so we are always generating ideas and then someone else will chime in,” she says. “It’s fun, because when we develop recipes and test them, and it’s all about ‘is this cookbook-worthy?’ or ‘Is this exceptional enough to go in the cookbook?’”
In addition to being “cookbook-worthy,” the recipes all encourage the values of eating dinner as a family and presenting the values of healthy food choices and nutrition in ways that are easy for parents to speak to their kids about. “It’s so much about modeling behavior and if you serve a wide range of things and [not saying] ‘you can have dessert when you’re done—basically—with the yucky stuff,’” Lori says. “If you show enjoyment for vegetables and whole grains, then that becomes the norm for your kids.”
Tracy takes it one step further, noting that her kids often show genuine interest in the science behind a nutritious diet. “My kids are actually very interested in the science behind [food],” she says. “And we have a part of our book where we talk about the health benefits of different vegetables or herbs or spices, so sometimes we’ll throw that into conversation when we’re sitting around eating—I’ll say: ‘Did you know that chickpeas are actually super-healthy? They’re not just delicious!’ They want to eat things that they know are good for them.”
Beyond the healthy eating and modeling of good food choices, what do the Pollan women love best about their new book? The fact that cooking brings families together.
“For me, it has been such a joy to work with my children on a project. It’s been extra-special… We’re a very close-knit family,” Corky says. “And…it’s just fun to cook with other people!”
To learn more about Tracy, Dana, Lori, and Corky Pollan, and to order Mostly Plants, visit pollanfamilytable.com!