Executive Editor, Lucia Watson, on Cooking for Life by Ann Ogden Gaffney

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.   At the heart of every good cookbook is a compelling story. When I got the proposal for this cookbook, I was utterly moved by Ann Ogden Gaffney’s story of turning her own experience with cancer into a mission that has helped so many others. Ann had a glamorous career in fashion when she was diagnosed with cancer the first time in 2001. She says she was lucky that time—she had surgery to remove her kidney, and then she was quickly back traveling the world. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years later her, it was a much different story. She couldn’t travel and she was bald. She took a hiatus from work to give herself the time to get through treatment. It turned out to be a decision that would change her life. As a passionate home cook, Ann found that she could cope with her symptoms by listening to what her body needed and craved. As she became immersed in the world of hospitals, she realized that she could use her skills to help other patients cope in the same way, teaching them and their loved ones how to make good food that would bring comfort and nourishment as they dealt with illness. Ann started offering advice, then recipes, and then began organizing free classes. When her own treatment was over, she discovered she had no interest in going back to client meetings to discuss the new trends in colors or skirt lengths that season. Her heart was still back in the cancer suite. In 2007, she founded Cook for Your Life which has gone from a one-woman show to a leading nonprofit that serves patients all over the tri-state area and all over the country through their popular interactive website. When I talked to Ann for the first time about this cookbook, I was struck by her spirit and fabulous sense of humor. And I heard her determination to create a cookbook that really addressed the unique challenges that cancer patients face head on. She told me that there was no other cancer cookbook out there that approached cooking the way that she wanted to. Some doctors give advice on nutrition (many don’t). But no one tells you how to implement that advice and how to cook as your cravings, taste buds, and energy levels change dramatically during treatment. What people need are simple recipes with short ingredient lists that deliver and that really satisfy. Ann’s strong vision for the book also included its design. She felt strongly that it should look rich and beautiful, not clinical. And I agreed wholeheartedly. After all, just because someone is sick, it doesn’t mean that they lose their sense of pleasure. And as Ann understands, a sense of pleasure is vital to feeling human, something so important when dealing with disease. We were lucky to have Ann’s husband Joe Gaffney, a renowned photographer, on board to shoot the food photos and the results are stunning. And the recipes are terrific. I cook out of the book quite a bit for my own family—Ann developed the recipes with cancer patients in mind, but it’s the kind of simple, good, soulful food that everyone loves. I’m proud to be working with Ann to bring her story and message to so many who need it. It’s a cookbook that is as much about the healing power of food as it is about keeping a sense of self while going through the frightening and overwhelming process of treating disease. I think it will be a classic for many, many years to come. Read more about the book here.