‘Master Chef’ contestant Alejandra Schrader makes plant-based eating sustainable
By Marin Heinritz
Former “Master Chef” contestant Alejandra Schrader got signed to work on her first book the same weekend she found out she was pregnant for the first time. At 46 it was the best possible news, a longtime dream come true for the Playa Vista resident.
It wasn’t until Schrader switched to a plant-based diet that she and her husband were finally about to conceive.
And it’s the very subject of the award-winning book she wrote in four months of the pandemic, with her successful pregnancy and now happy, healthy baby boy: the incredible benefits of living a plant-based, sustainable lifestyle.
The 256-page “The Low-Carbon Cookbook” includes four chapters on the science of climate change, as well as an action plan for home cooks with 140 sustainable, globally-influenced, plant-based recipes.
Schrader says that despite the many delays she experienced in getting the book published and the challenges she has faced as a woman of color in a male-dominated industry, as well as having to put off a proper book tour because of the pandemic, “it’s not a bad thing that things happened the way they did,” she says.
“My book is ahead of its time and at the same time it’s very timely,” Schrader says. “2022 is the year a lot more people have caught on. The climate crisis is here and we all have to do our part.”
In addition to being a successful chef who spent a lifetime using her passion for food to develop recipes, Schrader took time to study and learn the science behind the lifestyle changes she was experimenting with, earning a certificate in plant-based nutrition in November 2019 from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University, in addition to the master’s in urban planning from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s in architecture from SCIArc she’d already earned.
Schrader’s deep understanding has been incredibly helpful as she’s gone from reality TV contestant to catering and private chef business owner to cooking teacher to cookbook author to become a true influencer on a global scale for sustainability, speaking at the World Health Assembly, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Women in Food and Agriculture Summit, as well as serving as an ambassador for Oxfam America and a founding member of Chefs’ Manifesto.
So not only can she explain with authority how to make a delicious salad that contains more protein than a piece of meat and how food affects one-third of the greenhouse gases, but she can also convince anyone that if they cut their meat consumption by 50%, they’ll reduce their carbon footprint by 40%.
“I wanted to have all the science and the education so I could have those conversations,” Schrader says. “Because you can’t argue with that.”
A major component of Schrader’s passion is eliminating food waste as part of diminishing our carbon footprint, so one-third of the recipes in “The Low-Carbon Cookbook” include food waste, such as using carrot tops to make salsa verde, crushed avocado seeds as salad toppers, and the liquid from a can of garbanzo beans to make mayo.
During a demonstration in Colombia for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Schrader announced, “Guys, I love to cook with trash and that’s what I’m serving you today,” and describes with a laugh how everyone tilted their heads.
But that off-the-cuff comment earned her an invitation by the Rockefeller Foundation to apply for the Bellagio Center Residency Fellowship, for which she is now applying to do “very deep research on food waste to prevent food insecurity around the world,” she says.
And she looks forward to continuing work in nutrition equity and equality and food sustainability.
“I get to work elbow to elbow with scientists on really deep and meaningful things that will change not just food systems, but access to nutrition for people who don’t usually have that opportunity,” Schrader says.
Though “The Low-Carbon Cookbook” won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Food Waste in the United States, the recipes are otherwise influenced by Schrader’s childhood in Caracas, which she describes as “a melting pot,” like a Venezuelan mini New York City in its diverse food influences.
“I come from a very humble upbringing, never traveled for pleasure,” Schrader says of having been raised by a single mom in a third-world country. “My whole thing was to travel the world through my kitchen, so my global concept culinarily became intrinsic in my own style.”
Schrader modified some of her favorite standbys to be plant based, such as empanadas and buñuelos, as well as a tagine and tabouleh.
“It’s a reflection of my global take on food,” she says. “I wanted it to appeal.”
Thinking globally and acting locally is a way of life for Schrader, and though she’s inspired, especially as a new mother, to do her part to make the planet hospitable and thriving for generations to come, she also wants people to experience the kind of health transformation she’s enjoyed—from infertility and morbid obesity to health markers to be proud of plus a healthy pregnancy and natural delivery at 47.
“It’s not only that eating that way is great for the planet, my first motivation, but it’s also great for my health,” Schrader says. “It’s hard not to motivate others to enjoy that as well.”
The Low-Carbon Cookbook