Alicia Kennedy, Food & Drink Writer

old blog

the caramelization of veggie thoughts

Tonight I went to the 92nd Street Y to hear Hugh Acheson—of Top Chef fame—talk about his new cookbook, The Broad Fork. It's a vegetable-forward cookbook, but it's not vegetarian. That word makes him recoil, "just like all of you," he said to us in the audience, and I just smiled a weary smile, for I am even freakier than a vegetarian. 

Aside from this, though, he had me. And even with that, he forced the crystallization of thoughts I have been having about how much I want to be a representative or evangelist for veganism (more on that to come). He spoke of wanting Americans to be aware of "the amazing agrarian larder that's in our backyard," to get away from monocrops and only going out on a limb at restaurants. He is working on a curriculum to bring back home-ec classes in a way that teaches kids real skills—"homesteading for a modern age." He is extremely aware of class differences, which is amazing for a fine-dining chef, noting that in the "last 15 years, good food has become this really erudite ideal" and "the ability to buy from scratch" is one that many do not have. When cooking as a regular, busy person came up, he said "you have to expand your base of what you think is food" because most people know one or two methods of preparation and never move beyond them. He is smart, and funny, and cool as fuck, that Hugh Acheson. 

I didn't buy the book because I was in a hunger daze and people were milling about the table too much. I left and made my way to a CHIPOTLE, of all places (I am acting like this is insane and out of character, but I know that I eat Chipotle every time I am in a part of Manhattan that I find undesirable and stressful and the Upper East Side certainly fits the bill). While I was on line for my sofritas burrito, I saw that Munchies had posted about my chocolate-chip cookie recipe. They noted they're "guilty guilty guilty of having a fuckload of fat and flavor," meaning they really get what I am about, which is not deprivation but happiness and good ingredients. And profanity.

Which brings it all back. Because of my public veganism—despite my having the audacity to recommend restaurants that serve meat—I have been thinking (stressing) about what that means I have to be and represent. I have felt like I have to prioritize my interests in food as they pertain to animal rights, ecology, social justice, and just good eating. The thing is, I can't. I am vegan. It is my personal decision, rooted in politics and ethics and (frankly) the fact that I am lactose intolerant. I do not think that if you eat meat, you are a lesser person than I, a less moral or strong person. Does it hurt me to watch people eat meat and dairy and eggs? Yes. I believe in the autonomy of those animals, which was clearly denied them, likely in a painful way. But at the same time, I know it's a journey and life is hard and the blanket of the mainstream is a very fuzzy, warm one. 

I would rather people eat food from local, organic farms that they are joyfully preparing themselves—and this might include a small amount of animal products. At this talk tonight, the pressure that people are under to do things perfectly or not at all came up, and this wasn't even in the context of veganism, which is by definition all or nothing. There really is so much pressure to get into the kitchen with the right tools and the right produce and the right everything—I have no desire to pile on top of that. 

Who am I? I am no one, but my name is attached to vegan shit and it will continue to be if I'm lucky. It's a fact essential to how I eat because it is not the way that most people eat. It's a word that is loaded, that people feel judged by—there was a time in my life when I found veganism problematic, and it was because I felt like it didn't take the whole picture into account and was for rich white people who had no other worries. When I got into it, it was because I saw how it did fit into the big picture of eating the best food for my body and the planet. So few people do, though, and it's hard for me to say that it isn't okay. There's someone on the Facebook comments in the link to the Munchies post on my cookies saying they need lard. The fight is quite clearly still being fought, and I wanna be here to teach friends how to cook rice, even if they're gonna put an egg on it.

Alicia KennedyComment