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The Imus Ranch: Cowboy values and vegetarianism - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - "Cowboys ain't easy to love, and they're harder to hold," sang Waylon Jennings. One would assume their gastronomic tastes would be equally impossible. Deirdre Imus charges in her new book, The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys, that kids and cowboys rank amongst the pickiest palates on the planet. And if we're to believe her, she's got some solutions - stuff that's worked for her.

The Imus Ranch, co-founded with her husband, the laconic cowboy and gruff radio personality, Don Imus, is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch that throughout the year plays host to children with cancer or siblings of SIDS victims. Rather than a camp or a retreat, it's an authentic working cattle ranch where, as Mrs. Imus puts it, "the kids could live and work alongside real cowboys as a way to build their confidence and independence." 50 miles northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the ranch is a contradiction in that it feeds the temporary ranch hands a vegetarian/vegan diet.

The purpose of The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys is two-fold. First, the story of the ranch and its purposes is told in two essays, the first explaining the centrality that the kitchen has in the operation of the ranch, and the second, a longer piece describing a typical day at the ranch. From sunup to sundown, a day at the Imus Ranch is bustling with activity, all designed to treat the children as normal human beings, something that is often lacking when they deal with their disease. When reading this book or listening to Don Imus on the radio, you certainly get the idea that leading a life of discipline, hard work and responsibility helps in the process of building confidence and realising self-worth. The ranch's driving principles instil these core values in the kids that visit, values which no doubt reflect the inherent nature of the American cowboy.

The second half of the book or so, are recipes of the fare served at the ranch, all of a vegetarian and vegan variety (organic eggs are the only exception, which are served at the ranch). It's nearly oxymoronic that a cattle ranch serves such grub, but serve it they do and according to one Cory Furst, a kid who visited the ranch, "The ranch has the healthiest, most delicious food that I've ever tasted. In fact, as soon as I got home, I wanted to continue to eat a vegan diet." As a cookbook, the recipes are relatively easy to follow and the photography by Ben Fink is absolutely gorgeous. As someone whose cholesterol probably, as the I-Man would so delicately put it, probably resembles my phone number, after reading this book, I could conceivably try some of the recipes in my own kitchen. Whether it's the Cowboy Sloppy Joes made without the beef, or Meatless Meat Loaf made from soy, I am not averse to trying some of this food, and doubtless, I would enjoy it.

Lest you think this is merely a cookbook, looking at the entirety of the book, the work that the Imus's do, and the healthy living championed by the book's author, this book truly is a lifestyle book. Throughout the book, Imus charges that living healthy is not only eating healthy, but also consuming healthy. Whether it's picking organic produce and such, healthy living also involves, as Imus terms it, "greening the cleaning." The cleaning agents in your home or hospital are actually rather toxic, and coupled with indoor air pollutants, the link to various forms of cancer is recognised, not to mention the trend for allergies and respiratory illness. Besides the ranch, Mrs. Imus runs the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center, which Mr. Imus likes to point out, is the sixth largest hospital in the United States. The center run by Mrs. Imus has inspired hospitals like Hackensack, as well as other institutions like Newark International Airport and the AT&T headquarters, to use cleaning products which aren't harmful, which clean but do not have any adverse impact on those using them. has information on safe cleaning agents that are already in your home, which could take the place of that toxic crap which you probably use.

I'm an unabashed fan of the Imus in the Morning program. Ever since learning about the great good work that both Don and Deirdre Imus do, I admire them. The book, The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys is a terrific insight into the life's work that the Imus's invest in and the benefit that it provides for those children who visit the ranch year-round. As well, there is much to learn as well, even if you're remotely interested in what the Imus Ranch is, or the seemingly tasty food that they serve; food in a new, healthy way that will probably make you feel better.

Deirdre Imus dedicates the book to the late Daevin Kirschner, a young man who visited the ranch and whose short life certainly embodied the promise instilled in that first line of Don McLean's "American Pie." "A long, long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile and I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance and maybe they'd be happy for a while…" Somewhere in between the recipes is a thoughtful and extremely impressive letter by a seemingly thoughtful and impressive young man. Kirschner recounts his experiences at the ranch, and no doubt, you can feel the enthusiasm that he has for that place. Then after a few more recipes, you see a letter by Daevin Kirschner's mother. She talks about her son. She talks about what the ranch meant to him, and inevitably, what her son meant to her. It's a gut wrenching letter, haunting even, "I will never forget when he came home, wearing a cowboy hat and boots walking up the stairs. I opened the door, and he said, 'Howdy, Mama.' At that moment, I knew that in those ten days at the ranch, my son had changed: He had made the transition from being a boy to being a man."

It is obvious not only to the mother Kirschner, but to those that read this book, especially her letter, how life changing and how remarkable the Imus Ranch truly is. If for nothing else, by the book for that.

The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys by Deirdre Imus is published by Rodale and is $44.95 CDN ($29.95 USD) (ISBN: 0875969194). 100% of the author's revenues from this book go to the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer.


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