Most cookbooks are written by someone with a background in cooking. They own a successful restaurant, they’re a professional chef, or they are a popular blogger, writer, or celebrity who knows their way around a kitchen. I am none of these things, however, I have none the less written a cookbook.
The very idea and conception of “Poach Eggs Not Rhinos” is somewhat telling of me as a person and an intriguing story. Those who know my background may wonder why I chose to title the book “Rhinos” instead of an animal I have personally worked with- elephants, or tigers, or gorillas? To answer that I need to impart a little background on myself. I was and still am very active in an organization called the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK). Every year, different chapters around the country participate in a nation wide fundraiser called “Bowling for Rhinos”. This is such a special and incredible fundraiser to help rhinos. It was started by a small group of zookeepers in 1990 who wanted to do something significant to contribute to rhino conservation, but were very limited in funding themselves for such an ambitious project. Within the next twenty-five years, more than one hundred chapters would join forces and together have raised over six million dollars toward rhino conservation. I myself have helped organize a few of the events for the Puget Sound Chapter of AAZK in Seattle. The beauty of the program is that you don’t have to bowl. For a few years, Puget Sound AAZK actually held “Curling for Rhinos” at a Curling Club. I know of chapters that have a running/marathon event, some that hold book sales or “Rummage for Rhinos” sales. What matters is that each year, our efforts pay off in big ways. In 2015, AAZK chapters raised $597,000 from Bowling for Rhinos events.
Back in 2013, I was gearing up for our Bowling for Rhinos event, and I solicited donations like every year. Only I wanted my donors to get something unique out of it. So, I created a cute little magnet that said “Help a horny friend” and gave one to anyone who donated more than $20 to the cause. I wanted to go further, and looking online for ideas of free giveaways, I came across a site that sold brochures, flyers, and postcards, with one of the uses being a recipe card. Suddenly the idea of creating a small recipe card with different poached egg recipes came into my mind. Only, I barely knew how to poach an egg myself. But the idea was solid in my mind. I called the recipe card “Poach Eggs Not Rhinos” and I set about to discover different recipes for the giveaway.
Over the next year, I changed a lot. And I mean, A LOT. I started eating local foods more and understanding the environmental costs of getting packaged foods from all over the country or even the world. I joined a fitness center that hosted a weight loss challenge which I won, and learned valuable information about eating clean and healthy foods. I also learned to eat in order to fuel my body properly, not just about what tasted good. I developed ethics surrounding my eating habits. I started avoiding products with palm oil in it, for health reasons and conservation. I reduced the amount of breads and pastas I ate, and switched over from dairy milk and cheese to coconut milk.
I changed my lifestyle and started changing recipes I had practically grew up loving so they mirrored my new eating ethics. My famous broccoli casserole which had been made with cheddar cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and mayonnaise was replaced with a homemade cream of mushroom soup and goat’s milk cheese, and it tasted SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOD!!! I cleaned up my mom’s Hawaiian Chicken recipe with tons of sugar so it still tasted yummy but without the guilt. And that was a huge hit too.
Soon after that, I started attempting to recreate favorite restaurant dishes (I’m still trying to figure out how to replicate Local 360’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Bon Bons). A favorite of mine has been the Szechuan Eggplant we always loved from Taster’s Wok. Experimenting to replicate that recipe was a great challenge, and I got to enjoy some delicious “failures” while perfecting it. And eventually I was creating recipes straight from my head and imagination. My french toast banana sandwich casserole is a perfect example. Just imagining “I wonder what THIS would taste like?” would open entire realms of possibilities for me.
Throughout all this time, I never forgot about my plan to create a recipe card for my Bowling for Rhino friends. But the idea had taken off onto a whole different platform. This wasn’t just about rhinos anymore, and it certainly wasn’t just about poaching eggs (although I did finally learn to do that!). So much of our daily eating habits affect worldwide populations of wildlife and their environment. The coffee and tea we drink can have a huge impact on the rainforests, in South America, Africa, AND Asia. The fish we eat affects not just fish populations, but sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, manta rays, and sea lions. Some of our practices affect food sources for large carnivores, including lions, wolves, and even the mighty orca. The list of culinary and dietary effects on wildlife and their homes can seem overwhelming, and even depressing. I know I’ve gotten that far before when dwelling on all the conservation issues we face, or are leaving for our children to face. But that’s the beauty of this book! Within these pages, I give simple answers to some of the most pressing problems imperiling our wildlife. And they all involve us doing what we love best- EATING!!
While working on the recipes and researching the topics for each section of recipes, I came up with several conservation issues, and they helped formulate my focus for each section. Most people wake up in the morning and have a cup of joe or cuppa before starting their day. Add to the equation that bananas can be a prominent feature in many people’s breakfast, as well as sugar, soy, and even nuts, and I developed my breakfast recipes to help discuss rainforest conservation. Of course, fish and seafood would discuss ocean conservation, and my vegetarian entrees would work well in discussing “Meatless Monday”. Since palm oil is in most of our desserts and snacks, I devoted that chapter to discussing the palm oil crisis. After changing my lifestyle to eat local foods within the seasons, I planned on sharing my thoughts and knowledge of Farmers Markets and CSAs in my side dish section. Carnivores get such a bad rep around the globe, from lions in Africa to snow leopards in Asia and wolves in the United States. The thing they mainly have in common is being blamed and targeted for livestock loss.
So I felt this would be a great topic for my meat section. And finally, I decided to take on the gigantic elephant in the room of the United States and discuss GMOs and factory farms and how they relate to environmental issues in my poultry recipe section.
This project has been a long time in the making. It’s one small way I feel I can create a better impact on the environment, and do my part to save the animals.
Half of the revenue from this book is going back to conservation, as I feel I wouldn’t have even considered it without conservation as my inspiration and motivation. AAZK’s Bowling for Rhinos will get a large portion, but other organizations that strive to protect the animals and their homes are also going to be beneficiaries- Panthera and Snow Leopard Trust Fund, The Hutan Group, Rainforest Alliance, and the Ocean Conservancy are all incredibly worthy recipients of funding and recognition for all their hard work.