I've seen Alicia's name over the years, but it wasn't until recently that I really started paying close attention. Culture writer, with plenty of food mixed in – her words fill in the mental gaps for me, and her newsletter has been a thought provoking resource. I highly recommend signing up.
The tremendous shifts that have taken place over the last year especially require us all to reevaluate where we stand, and what we stand for. It is not enough to move forward with business as usual.
Evaluating all of our relationships – from our food choices to the way we treat others, is the source of evolutionary sustainability. We share one planet. Most themes online are missing nuance, and the conversations are often one sided – missing the interconnectedness of it all. If you care about the climate, you have to care about food choices, if you care about food choices, you have to care about animals, if you care about animals, you have to care about humans – and if you care about humans, you have to also be kind to those in physical proximity. Repeat.
Alicia connects the dots beautifully, and because I am infinitely fascinated with our relationship to animal foods, my questions come from that point of view.
1 - Your 3 word bio:
Culture writer — I only need two!
2 - Tell us briefly about your background and what got you interested in writing about food and culture?
I have always been a big reader of books and magazines, so I majored in English and then started working as a copy editor at New York Magazine. I wanted to be a literary critic, but I've ended up a food writer, but I do write pretty broadly now, so I am trying to switch my identification to culture writer.
3 - I believe that attempting to understand the world through food is actually a very valid way, and your writing pulls a lot together for me on many levels - thank you! It bums me out that vegetarian or vegan food has become synonymous with a certain elitism because it only recently became this way. What do you think happened?
Because meat is artificially cheap in the U.S. thanks to subsidies, while really delicious vegetables are not as accessible and the time it takes to make them taste good isn't available to people who have to work and feed their families. Higher wages and more leisure time are something I am constantly saying are needed to change the food system culturally.
4 - The "wellness" industry has become so focused on personal health, it's missing the bigger picture - animal rights, food security, the environment... just to name a few. What do you think can be done to broaden the conversation?
I'm not really a "wellness" person myself. I think conversations about what we eat need to tackle bigger systemic issues like the ones you name. If we start talking about food with those issues at the fore, people will be less concerned with wellness—because wellness is just selling people things to deal with the problems caused by systemic problems!
5 - What I've read about your relationship to veganism reminds me of my own. Food is so tied to culture and relationships it really isn't easy as people make it sound, especially if you're a food person. Do you think being 100% vegan is a worthy aspiration? Or that there are appropriate times to make an exception?
I wouldn't say it's not a worthy aspiration if it feels right to someone. Being 90% vegan feels right to me, because I like to support local farmers by buying their eggs and goat cheese. I think allowing space while traveling is also significant. There are always vegetarian options, but in some places, it might be rude or impossible to find something vegan.
6 - Where do you think veganism has gone wrong in its approach?
In being all or nothing and not putting a focus on labor—at meat processing plants, at industrial farms, at fast-food restaurants that are sometimes lauded for putting a vegan option on the menu despite the working conditions of people who labor there.
7 - With the "farm to table" movement has come this bucolic idealization of free range life that includes a ton of animal protein. What's wrong with this picture? (I personally get so annoyed).
I don't believe personally in the idea of ethical slaughter. No animal wants to die. But I do think it's better for people to eat locally reared animals that were raised and processed sustainably than to eat industrial meat.
8 - You've spoken openly about your dislike of "tech" meats. While I don't personally eat them unless it's the only option, I think I see where they fit in. What am I missing?
These are a fine stop-gap for omnivores who want to eat less meat, but they're ultimately businesses and they do not, for example, fight for minimum wage increases or better working conditions in agriculture, or generally. This is where the "plant-based" movement is really narrow-minded: Not taking into account human labor, human material conditions.
9 - How do you relate to food for personal health vs pleasure vs bigger picture issues? Or is it all the same?
I eat in a way that makes me feel good, which means I'm about to open a bag of pretzel chips. I think pleasure is incredibly important when we discuss food.
10 - Top 3 books about food that you think everyone should read?
Outline, Rachel Cusk; The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol J. Adams; Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, Andreas Malm
11 - And since we're a little bit about self-care ;-) What's your recipe for the perfect evening? What's the food? the wine? the vibe?
I love eating bucatini with a simple mushroom marinara, drinking our "house" tempranillo, and sitting on the patio with my fiancé while playing some music—maybe El Último Vecino, a favorite of mine.