No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating

A culinary and cultural history of plant-based eating in the United States that delves into the subcultures and politics that have defined alternative food.

The vegan diet used to be associated only with eccentric hippies and tofu-loving activists who shop at co-ops and live on compounds. 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 No Meat Required, author Alicia Kennedy chronicles the fascinating history of plant-based eating in the United States, from the early experiments in tempeh production undertaken by the Farm commune in the 70s to the vegan punk cafes and anarchist zines of the 90s to the chefs and food writers seeking to decolonize vegetarian food today.

Many people become vegans because they are concerned about the role capitalist food systems play in climate change, inequality, white supremacy, and environmental and cultural degradation. But a world where Walmart sells frozen vegan pizzas and non-dairy pints of ice cream are available at gas stations – raises distinct questions about the meanings and goals of plant-based eating.

Kennedy—a vegetarian, former vegan, and once-proprietor of a vegan bakery—understands how to present this history with sympathy, knowledge, and humor. No Meat Required brings much-needed depth and context to our understanding of vegan and vegetarian cuisine, and makes a passionate argument for retaining its radical heart.

Praise for No Meat Required

“In a dietary discourse starved for historical and cultural context, Alicia’s work and analysis on the politics of eating meat (or not!) have been enduringly informed and insightful, punctuated by No Meat Required. There’s no one else I’d rather read on the subject!”

—Stephen Satterfield, host of High on the Hog and founder of Whetstone Media

“Everyone, whether vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous, needs to read this elegantly written, thought-provoking treatise.”

—Nigella Lawson

“An impressively exhaustive look at where vegetable-centered eating comes from and where it might head, and a vital reminder that today’s dominant idea of veganism tells very little of the story.”

—Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal

About the Author

Alicia Kennedy is a writer from Long Island now living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her work on food and culture has been published in The New York Times, the Washington PostT: The New York Times Style Magazine, EaterBon Appétit, and many other publications. She has a newsletter titled “From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy,” where she publishes essays, cultural criticism, a podcast, and recipes.

Show Notes

3:18 | Alicia’s love of okra

​​4:28 | What Alicia hopes people will take away from her book about veganism and vegetarian politics

6:00 | Meat eating in the US culture wars

7:06 | The abundance of meat tied to United States as US as an “exceptional nation”; political tolerance for injustices like child labor in the meat industry; meat eating linked to ideas like masculine virility 

8:40 | Link between vegetarianism and the feminist movement 

10:10 | Lagusta’s Luscious’ vegan “Furious Vulva” chocolate

11:55 | Alicia on corporate fake meat alternatives, and coming back to the original veggie burger

14:59 | The PR dollars behind pushing fake meat as a “solution” 

15:57 | The dangerous focus on, and obsession with, protein

18:07 | The misconception of that veganism is mostly white and middle class; the radical, BIPOC lineages of veganism and the contributions of Bryant Terry and others.

22:32 | Re-politicizing veganism and vegetarianism

23:17 | Making the food and climate connection; what difference do individual food choices make?

24:42 | Parallels between consuming food and clothes; “fast fashion” 

27:00 | Individual choices as “tiny bricks thrown against the window of tyranny”

27:24 | How much the meat industry pours into public relations

29:50 | Anna and Alicia talk about Aubrey Plaza’s “wood milking” bit for the Dairy Council

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Episode Credits

Host: Anna Lappé

Co-Producers: Tanya Kerssen and Tiffani Patton

Editor: Claire Reynolds