Alicia Kennedy’s debut book No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant Based Eating, published Aug. 15 2023, surveys the history of plant-based eating in the United States.
While the proliferation of so-called wellness and lifestyle content on TikTok and Instagram has made plant-based eating synonymous with wealth, whiteness, and ideal femininity, Kennedy demonstrates vegetables and plant-based proteins have long signified anti-capitalist counterculture with punk, hippie, and feminist undertones.
As a feminist and vegetarian passionate about global food access and planetary justice, I find Kennedy’s call to restore the radical energies of plant-based eating deeply refreshing.
Her writing blends meticulous research with exclusive interviews and personal narratives which acknowledge her privileges as a white American woman living in San Juan, Mexico. Kennedy’s approach makes the book feel antithetical to the social media landscape that gives plant-based eating a bad name.
While environmentalism is perhaps the most popular rationale for plant-based eating today, these diets are often registered as whitewashed, classist, and fatphobic. By historicizing the global origins of plant-based eating, Kennedy shows the economic realities of industrial meat production. By documenting her own pleasures in meatless eating, Kennedy demonstrates the many reasons, and ways not to eat meat.
No Meat Required traces the culinary and political attachment to meat in the West, fashioning a chronological account of the cooks, researchers, and community leaders who have shifted the conversation towards plant-based alternatives.
Though Kennedy tends to centre a vegetarian perspective throughout, she smartly addresses omnivores, recognizing the future of food, which she says isn’t possible without their support.
The text addresses the issue of factory farming and asks omnivores to stop eating meat that’s industrially processed. Kennedy explains factory farms exacerbate economic divides as big corporations pocket profits while neglecting the health and safety of their workers.
Readers are invited to question the morality of consuming products that not only sustain planetary and animal abuse, but neglect worker’s rights. Though the choice to introduce this critique early in the book risks alienating readers, I think the compelling breadth of Kennedy’s argument gives omnivores pause.
After all, the purpose of her book—at least in part—is to trace the many reasons why people should practice plant-based eating. Kennedy’s commitment to providing a full picture of what’s at stake in our eating habits strengthens her argument.
The book is comprehensive, surveying the centuries-old origins of plant proteins and the ubiquity of oat milk before disavowing the ability of “tech meat” to curb global warming. By lending a critical eye to the rising availability of plant-based alternatives, Kennedy cautions readers that in our hyper-capitalist climate, plant-based alternatives don’t always lead to a more just or sustainable world.
Her holistic approach to global food justice is admirable, proving plant-based ideologies are much more than what the Internet has made them out to be.
Ultimately, No Meat Required powerfully interrupts the popular discourse that has severed plant-based eating from its radical history. This thought-provoking debut is a must-read for conscientious omnivores and plant-based eaters alike.
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