‘No Meat Required,’ less meat critical

by FoodPrint

Published: 9/26/23, Last updated: 9/26/23

As we seek solutions to climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, meat production (and thereby consumption) has come under fire, and for good reason. But could one person giving up meat, or merely reducing their consumption, make a difference? What about a lot of people?

A new study models the potential impacts of shrinking the animal agriculture sector by half and substituting animal products with plant-based alternatives. The potential outcomes are significant: Food system emissions would fall by a third, and habitat destruction for agriculture would essentially stop. This study does not even touch on the myriad other problems with industrial livestock production, including, but not limited to, animal cruelty, water and air pollution and unsafe working conditions. The paper’s findings are compelling in their own right, but there are so many more reasons to eat less meat.

The recently released “No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating” takes a look at these diverse reasons — and the people who have build their diets around them. “There is more diversity of thought in the refusal to eat meat than in meat-eating by default,” author Alicia Kennedy writes in the book’s introduction. “But it’s all complicated, a history populated by a range of characters, a range of ideologies.” 

In “No Meat Required,” Kennedy delves into the history of these ethical choices: people over time who have chosen to eat fewer or no animal products because they care about the environment, don’t want to take an animal’s life or simply don’t want to be part of the dominant food system (or even capitalism at large). She explores the radical counterculture roots of vegetarianism and veganism, and teases out how that history informs — but sometimes gets lost in — current trends in “plant-based” eating. She asks what role ethical consumption plays in reforming a food system desperately in need of change, and what one person’s choice, or the choices of a slew of people, can actually do.

Kennedy is a food writer and cultural critic who has previously appeared on the FoodPrint podcast to talk about both ultraprocessed meat alternatives and the cultural roots of our wastefulness. We welcomed her back for this in-depth interview, in which we explore where plant-based eating has been and where it’s going — and why abundance and deliciousness are essential.


Top photo by 5ph/Adobe Stock.

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