Published February 24, 2022

Meredith Pangrace, editor of Rust Belt Vegan Kitchen, is a home cook and book designer from Cleveland, Ohio.

Get to know Meredith in this Q&A and then see her at the Festival in March discussing her work in a FREE virtual event, Rust Belt Vegan Kitchen with Meredith Pangrace on March 18 at 2 PM ET.

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What motivated you to become an author/editor? 

I have been the creative director for Belt Publishing since its origin in 2013. During that time I have designed tons of books for midwestern authors. Book design is a passion of mine, but Rust Belt Vegan Kitchen is the first book I’ve taken on as designer and editor. At the beginning of the pandemic, Belt had the idea to try and do a few titles “in house,” meaning books that our staff would work on together (as opposed to signing on outside authors). We had just started breaking into the regional cookbook field, and cookbooks were by far my favorite to design. During this same time, I had been doing a lot of cooking (like most of us were), specifically vegan cooking. I was experimenting with creating vegan versions of the foods I missed, either because I wasn’t able to see my family for meals, or because I wasn’t able to go to my favorite local restaurants. When I realized this was the case for a lot of people, I had the idea to do a community cookbook, and started working on the Rust Belt Vegan Kitchen.

Who or what are some of your creative influences?

I really love the simple design and black and white line art of community cookbooks from the 1970s and 1980s. You can find all kinds of great, local ones at thrift stores (from churches, women’s groups, social organizations). Some early plant-based favorites are the Moosewood Cookbook (Molly Katzen, 1977) and The Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook (Julie Gordon, 1986), and the DIY, punk rock aesthetic of How it All Vegan (Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer, 2002). 

What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?

I loved getting the excited responses from the region’s chefs and home cooks when I asked them to participate in the project. The community building was so fun. But I do admit testing the recipes was pretty great too. 

Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?

I constantly was pulling out cookbooks from my collection when working on the book, but I also would bring out my grandmother’s recipe box, full of handwritten note cards and magazine clippings—the favorite recipes tattered and stained, notes written in the margins. Most were in her handwriting, but many were from her family members and church friends, which really spoke to the community aspect of sharing recipes.

What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers?

Vegan cooking doesn’t have to be pretentious, difficult, or restrictive. This book is for everyone. You don’t have to be vegan (or from the Midwest!) to find something in here that you’ll love.  

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?

I absolutely love Miyokos Schinner’s Homemade Vegan Pantry. With veganism becoming more and more popular, there’s been a flood of vegan convenience foods hitting the market. They can be expensive and highly processed. Miyoko’s book shows you how to make a lot of these items yourself from simple, whole, ingredients. Taking time to slow down, and prepare meals from scratch is another way I feel we can connect to our ancestors.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on designing upcoming titles for Belt on a daily basis. I’m really proud of what we are doing in independent publishing and the types of books we publish. Personally, I definitely want to do a second volume of the Rust Belt Vegan Kitchen. I’m growing the community through my Instagram account and feel like there’s so many more chefs and recipes I want to feature.

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