Back-Up Reading for Those Tough Conversations at Family Holiday Gatherings
Writing with Conscience is a Moral Imperative, Not a Misstep

Our Anti-Capitalist, Plant-Based Eating History Is Our Food Future

A Q&A with Alicia Kennedy

Vegetarian meal
Photo credit: LUM3N

The meat-free lifestyle has taken on many cultural meanings over the years, from a fringe diet for eccentric hippies and tofu-loving activists who shop at co-ops and live on compounds to the big business of faux meat meant to replicate the real thing. We’ve come a long way since then. Now, fine-dining restaurants like Eleven Madison Park cater to chic upscale clientele with a plant-based menu, and Impossible Whoppers are available at Burger King. But can plant-based food keep its historical anti-capitalist energies if it goes mainstream? And does it need to?

In her debut book, No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating, influential food writer Alicia Kennedy makes sense of how this came to be, and what the future may look like. A vegetarian, former vegan, and once-proprietor of a vegan bakery, Kennedy brings depth, context, and her signature voice to our understanding of vegan and vegetarian cuisine and its history as she advocates for retaining its radical heart. Her book is an accessible primer for all audiences on why food is not apolitical. Beacon Press senior publicist Bev Rivero caught up with Kennedy to chat about it.

Bev Rivero: In the introduction you write, “The concerns I have, the concerns that keep me from throwing a steak into my cast-iron rather than tempeh, are manifold: ethical, spiritual, environmental, economic, political.” Viewing the choice of what to eat so holistically is very centered in your work, can you share how you arrived at this place?

Alicia Kennedy: My awareness of all the ways in which eating meat intersects with systems and outcomes that I don’t agree with unfolded gradually. It was a very instinctual, spiritual conviction that made giving up meat feel both enticing (at first) and necessary (at last), and then the more cerebral reasons for why I was drawn to it came into focus.

BR: You do a great job of explaining the meaning of meat, and its hold, symbolic and real, on culture. In terms of what it would take to change this, what might food producers, whether large-scale manufacturers, or restaurateurs, do to take taste and other factors into account?

AK: It’s actually in not mimicking meat at all that shows folks how delicious and nourishing plant-based food can be. I was most interested, in my research, by how time and again, the most successful folks in the vegetarian and vegan space—chefs Deborah Madison, Amanda Cohen, Brooks Headley—did not make a huge to-do about protein. This says something about how people want to eat, and how they can eat: people will go plant-based once it’s clear to them that technique is the most important part of making the food delicious, and meat can be reduced or sidelined entirely.

BR: Making the connection between veganism and zine culture as you do makes so much sense. The ways in food and diet are discussed and passed on in this community-driven format, this shared language of experience speaks to the intentionality at the core of plant-based eating. How might eaters—in other words, everyone—get back to some of this spirit in a time when “wellness” and influencer culture exists so adjacent to and overlapping with plant-based media that is communicated to the broader public?

AK: I think there’s a lot of potential to adjust how we think of what social media is and how it can be used to create similar networks of sharing, albeit under corporatized control. But perhaps we have to use these digital corporate tools to foment a new analog approach.

BR: What are some other select resources for considerate consumption aside from your book that you would recommend your readers check out?

AK: MOLD Magazine and the book Flourishing Foodscapes: Design for City-Region Food Systems. I think design and regional planning are where to look to consider the future of food. 


About Alicia Kennedy 

Alicia Kennedy is a writer from Long Island, New York, now living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her work on food and culture has been published in the New York Times, the Washington PostBon Appétit, and many other publications, including Best American Food Writing 2023. She regularly publishes essays and cultural criticism in her newsletter, From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy. Connect with her online at