‘Protest Kitchen’ Is Often, Like Our Politics, Unsettling

Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina's Protest Kitchen provides easy, everyday tips to help make positive change in the world, but it might best be read with the comfort of a vegan Irish Cream in hand.

Protest Kitchen
Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina
Conari Press
Oct 2018

“We live in an unsettled time in politics.”

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.”

It’s hard to argue either statement and perhaps that is why Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina open their book Protest Kitchen: Fight Injustice, Save the Planet, and Fuel Your Resistance One Meal at a Time with these lines. And while Adams and Messina would definitely agree that donating to Planned Parenthood, voting, or volunteering at a local animal shelter are excellent ways of bringing about positive change, they have another suggestion: Go Vegan.

Protest Kitchen is often, like our politics, unsettling. The section on animal cruelty discusses chickens being scalded alive, chickens being debeaked without anesthesia, and baby pigs being castrated, again without anesthesia. The section on meat and misogyny compares myths that defend sexual violence against women (“she liked it”) with myths that defend sexual violence against animals (“she’s a bitch from hell”). And it’s not just meat, eggs, and cheese that are problematic; the authors also note that traditional chocolate production often relies on child-slave labor. In fact, after the first reading, I felt more overwhelmed, and the primary hope I found in the book was from the recipe for vegan Irish Cream (where I was reminded that Irish whiskey is naturally vegan).

The second pass revealed a message I appreciated more—that taking small steps toward veganism can be an important form of protest and that we can make positive changes by examining what we put in our grocery carts and kitchens and on our plates.

While some of the content may be difficult to read, the book itself is set up in a reader-friendly format, with charts, recipes, and commentary wrapped around specific daily actions for enacting change. For example, the first daily action (and there are 30 in the book) is to taste test nondairy milk. Other easy entryways into veganism include swapping butter for a plant-based oil or choosing a black bean burger instead of the traditional hamburger.

Using olive oil instead of butter might not sound that radical, and it’s important to note that Adams and Messina state early on that being vegan isn’t all we need to do to improve our world. That said, they also maintain that “like the #grabyourwallet campaign, veganism is in part a sophisticated boycott using economic consequences to bring about change”.

The authors are also honest about some of the limitations of a vegan diet. Adams and Messina admit that their carrot dog (essentially a grilled carrot on a bun) isn’t going to taste exactly like­­­­ a hot dog and that vegan cheese (at least in the past) often tasted like plastic.

Primarily though, Adams and Messina really do try to make it easy to give up at least some animal products and usually seem to keep their human audience in mind. While much of the book does relate to diet, Adams and Messina share other tips about decreasing stress and improving mental health, and while some of these suggestions (taking a walk, reading books, adopting a kitten) aren’t necessarily unique, there is something warm and comforting about them.

The overall message is that veganism is good for all—people, animals, and the planet. Ultimately, both Adams and Messina seem genuinely concerned with not only with making the world a better place through veganism, but making each individual reader healthier and happier.

In that spirit, Adams and Messina include a variety of recipes, many of which, such as Baked Flatbread with Herbed White Beans, simply sound yummy and might tempt a carnivore. And let’s face it—there’s really no such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie (a vegan recipe is included in the book). Plus Adams and Messina include an entire section about hosting a protest dinner, with a menu that includes Trumped up Vegan Cutlets á L’Orange, Drain the Swamp Kitchen Cabinet Compote, and “Stop the Wall” Taco Salad Bowl with Fire and Fury Salsa.

The authors don’t skate over the issues of cost and availability, either. Vegan butter is often almost twice as expensive as regular butter, and some items such as vegan chocolate chips can be difficult to find. Adams and Messina acknowledge that vegan products are not necessarily within everyone’s reach but maintain that “everyone, no matter their economic status, should have the option to be vegan”, and one daily action suggests donating vegan products to food banks.

Not everyone may be able or even interested in becoming a vegan, but considering our “unsettled time in politics” isn’t likely to become settled any time soon, it’s nice to know that the seemingly small acts of starting the day with oatmeal instead of eggs or using chick peas instead of tuna fish are a form of resistance in and of themselves.

RATING 7 / 10