The book also chronicles being a vegetarian, and not a vegan, for ecological reasons, and also because of my own desire to be a more accommodating person no matter where I am in the world. The thing that surprised me in writing the book is that I had been living in Puerto Rico when I was working on the proposal, for the most part, so the book ended up being bookended by tropical ingredients that I would never have been able to cook with when I was in New York. I mean, I could have found passionfruit or banana flowers, but these were things that were just gifted to me here. If I had been writing it while living in Brooklyn, it would have probably been framed a lot differently, but because I was writing it from here, I was able to ground it more realistically from the standpoint of someone who is living in a place that’s on the frontlines of climate change. It’s a place where agro-ecology as a means of food sovereignty is a very real and active idea and community, and you get to experience it. For me, that experience has come through being able to find a farmer who will just give me their banana flowers, or having friends who have passionfruit trees or lemon trees and can bring me their bounty. I think the grounded-ness of the book in the real potential of community, and how communities can grow and feed each other, is something I didn’t really anticipate.
Are there any books that you feel made the necessary space for your book to exist?
I don’t think my book could exist without Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman or Appetite for Change by Warren Belasco, which was published in the early ’90s and is about counterculture cuisine. Other than academic work, though, it’s really difficult to find people chronicling the specific influence of ecofeminism on actual food, or interrogating the legacy of soy or what have you, and how those things live on today in vegan and vegetarian cooking. That writing has very direct antecedents in terms of counterculture cuisine, because people are so obsessed with the communes and the hippies and the food that came out of Vietnam War-era protests. That’s super interesting, but I wanted to bring that into now and be like, Okay, so what’s happened since then that has kind of influenced the ways in which plant-based food has taken shape? The cookbooks of the last 50 years were the real grounding force, because I wanted this to be a food book, but not a history book. Obviously, there are no recipes in it, but I wanted people to come away with a deep sense of what vegan and vegetarian food has been like in order to give more life and more material logic to the cultural and political ideology around it. I think when people hear about vegan or vegetarian or plant-based food, it’s all ideological, and for me, I also want it to be very real and tangible.
Is there any aspect of this book you’re really dying to talk about, or that you haven’t talked about as much as you’d like to?
I think going forward, I would like to talk less about plant-based food specifically and more about building regional, resilient food systems and what that really looks like. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten this out of my system; it’s a short book, but I feel like I really said what I had to say about about what this kind of food can do, and what it has done.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating