"I love vegetables, but I don't think people should be vegetarians."

Those meaty words come from author-illustrator Mollie Katzen, whose influential 1977 vegetarian tome The Moosewood Cookbook--complete with whimsical drawings of stuffed squashes and soybean casseroles--led a generation of eaters away from meat and potatoes.

These days, the woman who helped change the way Americans think about greens has an approach to eating that goes beyond tofu. After 30-odd years of kitchen chat, Kazen says she's beyond labels like vegetarian and vegan. She just wants people to eat well and enjoy it.

This Saturday, Katzen will be speaking at "Spirituality and Food: A Healthy Lifestyle Journey," a one-day conference at Portland State University. The conference, which also features talks from religious leaders, doctors and local chef/political food force Greg Higgins, seeks to examine the link between dining and the divine.

"Connecting to beauty, peace and well-being can start with the plate in front of you," Katzen says. "Food is my doorway into spirituality. I go to the market and get some vegetables and start cooking. Just roasting some beets or making some pizza dough makes me peaceful."

According to the Moosewood madam, who advises Harvard University's new Food Literacy Initiative, our meal choices have become more about our heads than our stomachs.

While Katzen's pleased that people increasingly make vegetables their main dish, she's no longer preaching a veg-only lifestyle.

Once considered a veggie guru, she now refers to herself simply as a cook who has created a lot of meatless recipes. "If I've expanded people's cooking choices and made them happy and healthier, good," Katzen says. "If I've contributed to people being neurotic and fetishistic about their choices, that's not good."

Pigeonholing yourself into a single eating style is unhealthy, Katzen believes. "The guru part implies a judgment about where people get their proteins," she says. "Well, big news, I'm not a vegetarian. I'm more interested in what people do eat, not what they don't."

Instead of banning the beef, Katzen subscribes to a "garden and orchard" food philosophy. And that seems straight off the menus of many Portland restaurants: an emphasis on fresh--sustainably grown--vegetables, fruits and nuts, as well as high quality proteins.

Katzen calls it "eating beautifully."


Ripe's capital-letter-challenged crew behind clarklewis (1001 SE Water St., 493-9500) gets off to a slick start this Friday with the new restaurant's first public event: Sagra dell'Olio (11:30 am-3 pm Friday, Jan. 23, $20). The prix fixe lunch is modeled after an Italian food festival and features samples of Olio Novo, a extra-virgin Tuscan olive oil, as well as oil-drizzled eats from Chef Morgan Brownlow and bottles from Carlton Winemakers Studio. Email ripe@ripepdx.com to reserve your place.

Spirituality and Food Conference

Hoffman Hall, Portland State University, 1833 SW 11th Ave., 413-7057. 7:30 am-5 pm Saturday, Jan. 24. $100 general participants, $55 students and seniors.