Vegan Warrior: Alicia Kennedy Connects Food and Feminism
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Alicia Kennedy is writing the book on veganism.
The cultural history of veganism, to be precise. It’s a daunting task, perhaps even more than what she’s already accomplished. And the list is long: successful vegan-bakery owner; recipe developer; magazine editor; podcast host; newsletter publisher; celebrated, oft-quoted writer; and one of the most intelligent, influential voices in the food-writing space, spotlighting foodways and sourcing, eco-feminism, and politics in her stories.
Eating meat is the single most destructive thing we do to the planet.
Kennedy’s writing style is unique, putting an unapologetic lens on the issues rather than the glories of the food industry. When she adopted a vegan lifestyle in 2011, it utterly changed how she looked at — and wrote about — food.
“It was how I learned about ethical sourcing, all the environmental concerns around food — where it comes from, how it’s made — and that influenced me to approach food writing with politics and economics at the forefront,” she shares. “I try to be as holistic as possible in terms of thinking about how food intersects with class, race, geography, and all of these things … combining culture and lifestyle food writing, merging two lanes, and taking on an eco-feminist approach to food.”
The Connection Between Animals and Women
Expanding on that concept, Kennedy elaborates that “eco-feminism can be likened to scholars from the '70s who were looking at the way that corporate farming — agribusiness — is treating the earth, how animals and women were treated, and understanding how all of these things are connected.”
Putting all of that together in one tome may be one of her boldest endeavors yet, and will surely cement her standing as the leading authority on the cross-section of politics, poverty, culture, history, feminism, and veganism. The philosophy of veganism and vegetarianism isn’t limited to your local neighborhood yogi’s mantra of “peace and light” through kindness to earth and animals. It’s definitely broader than can be encompassed in any sanctimonious lecture by well-meant but slightly judgmental strangers. And it extends far beyond the peripheral stories we hear about the inhumane treatment of animals in commercial industrialized agriculture or unfair and unsafe labor and trade practices.
And once this book is released by Beacon Press in late 2022, we will all find out just how great a reach it has. Tentatively titled Meatless (after her podcast series), Kennedy tackles the all-encompassing, timely topic of “how people have been eating in an imperfect world."
“Not eating meat has historically been a rejection of industrial agriculture,” she says.
It’s not a new concept, nor is it a counterculture fad. Her research has shown that abstaining from meat “has also historically aligned itself with radical political ideologies and radical ways of living that are more in tune with treating the planet, animals, and ourselves better.”
She addresses tough subjects head-on, such as how veganism is related to socialism in the many forms it takes. She explores veganism in hippies, bohemians, eco-feminists, and even anarchists and conservatives, and how veganism has manifested in communities of color around the world, from Indigenous populations to Black culture. She lays out all the ways in which people have rejected meat, from Buddhism to the Rastafarian Ital diet. And perhaps most pivotal during these tumultuous times of struggle, of blatant haves and have-nots delineation, Kennedy boldly states, “It’s not poor people who have caused climate change — it’s rich people.”
Veganism Comes from Poverty
How so? Well, traditionally, veganism comes from poverty, which leads to a common ideology no matter where in the world it’s practiced. “If you eat like [people who don't have access to a lot of meat], you have a lighter footprint on the planet,” Kennedy reasons. But the culprits of the disastrous levels of climate change we’re facing today? She points the finger at industrial agriculture, a multibillion-dollar industry run by the very rich.
“Industrial agriculture is the kind of farming subsidized by the U.S. government. This includes GMO practices, particularly in wheat and industrial-meat production, that puts animals in poor, cramped conditions and normalizes things like male chickens thrown down chutes for immediate destruction, having calves taken away from their mothers at birth to force cows to lactate as their young become veal. And these are just small, common examples of harmful, wasteful processes that companies undertake to make tremendous profits, which then affect taxation and tax breaks … all of which lead back to politics.
“Eating meat is the single most destructive thing we do to the planet,” says Kennedy. But she quickly follows this up, with a laugh, “I wouldn’t say that everyone has to stop eating meat — just stop eating so much meat!”
But in all seriousness, she says, “The way we use land to grow crops to feed livestock is inefficient, and it’s one of the biggest contributors to the creation of greenhouse emissions causing climate change.”
With her book, Kennedy hopes to inspire people to reduce their meat consumption and think more about where their food comes from and how it’s eaten, as well as its past, present, and future.
This post is part of a month-long March CircleAround series, tied to Women's History Month — the first since the global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted women around the world — in which we asked writers to explore the topic of women's history in America, from the past to very much the present. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."