On Myself 🪞
Who even is Alicia Kennedy?
For the three years that I’ve been writing this newsletter, I’ve let my biographical details come out within essays: especially pieces like “On Flavor,” “On Long Island,” “On Grief,” and “On Marriage.” These talk about identity, place, loss, and making big decisions I never thought I’d make.
I prefer to let my work speak for itself, any context gleaned about my personal life carefully built out through, first and foremost, form or a larger point. Because I’m not great at coming up with names or headlines (I write maybe one really good headline for my own work per year, and frankly I think that’s a solid number), I did name this newsletter after myself and the essays get called “On [X]” in what was intended to be a humorous, knowing nod to public intellectuals past. I didn’t think I would have to stick by all of this with such intensity for years, that it would become the basis of a whole new life. But it did.
As the list has grown and more people have subscribed through recommendations rather than directly, I thought I’d take this Memorial Day moment (a U.S. holiday) to give some bullet points on my background so that, going into the summer—for which I’ve planned some cool things, including… the launch of my first book!—everyone knows who the hell I am.
I grew up on Long Island, in a south shore town called Patchogue. I’ve written about this town recently for Still Alive and, in 2018, for Hazlitt. These are very different pieces written from the same feeling of wondering what it means to be from somewhere and refusing to reject it, no matter what.
I went to Fordham University, where I majored in English and minored in philosophy. While I have always loved to learn (earnestly!), college wasn’t great for me; I spent the four years working many different crappy jobs, just trying to get through it to graduation, feeling restless, dissatisfied, and unfocused. The bright lights were all of my courses in the English department, which truly gave me a foundation for thinking that I still use.
From 2009 to 2015, I was a digital copy editor at New York Magazine. I hope this means you find very few typos in my output, though I’ve long since hung up my red pen.
In the early ’10s, I wrote about books occasionally—mainly literature in translation—for the Rumpus, the Awl, and any little website that would have me. I was a very insecure writer, though, because of the infrequency.
In 2011, I went vegan, which sent me onto an obsessive path that resulted in my operating a small artisanal vegan bakery from 2012 to 2013. This was the time that set me on a course toward being the food writer you now read! I’ve talked about baking and this trajectory on podcasts before: with Julia Turshen on “Keep Calm and Cook On,” and, most recently, with my friend Stephen Satterfield on his new show.
From 2015 to now, I’ve been writing about food. Sometimes successfully, other times not, but I’ve survived as a freelancer by the skin of my teeth. I’ve become a more confident writer through consistently working. It’s since freelancing that I’ve finally come to escape feeling restless, dissatisfied, and unfocused, though I’ll admit that I’ve replaced these with being anxious and obsessive.
I consider my main career accomplishment to be having been a contributing writer at the Village Voice. My name is on the masthead of the last official paper. This probably tells you a lot about what I value in my work: independence, a strong point of view, humor, rigor, and irreverence toward power. I’m not in the business of a soft profile of someone everyone’s heard of—there is nothing less compelling to me. But writing this down has helped me remember I used to love writing the first piece on cool people and brands that go on to do amazing things (to much bigger recognition).
In 2019, on a work trip I didn’t want to take, I met my now-husband and ended up moving from Brooklyn to San Juan, Puerto Rico. This wasn’t planned, but that’s love, baby! We got married in November 2021. I’ve since learned from TikTok that our 30-person event was a “microwedding.”
I sold my forthcoming book, No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating, in June 2020, handed in the first draft in January 2022, and now it comes out on August 15, 2023. It’s been a long process that I’m excited to see come to fruition, and I’ll be doing a short East Coast tour in September.
I taught culinary tourism at Boston University’s gastronomy program in spring 2023 and published my lectures here—you can work backwards from the last one. It was a formative and fantastic experience, one that will influence how I work and write for a long time to come. This summer, a series for this newsletter inspired by my dislike of the phrase “food is political” will take a similar shape to my lectures.
This year, I’ll have an essay in Best American Food Writing 2023, selected by Mark Bittman. It’s a piece on climate change and lifestyle media, originally published at MOLD. I’d been “notable” for years (twice in 2022!), so this is definitely a very nice moment of recognition for me.
I consider myself (if I must consider myself something, and I must!) an essayist and cultural critic. I’ve moved away from recipe development as a focal point of my work because I want to focus on better writing and deeper reading, rather than spending a lot of time in the kitchen. That said, I will always write recipes; it’s part of how I think. For all the ones I’ve published over the years for paid subscribers, see this index. It will continue to be updated! My cooking style is plant-based, pantry-driven, and seasonal.
Any other questions? Please ask in the comments!
This Friday’s dispatch for paid subscribers will be June’s From the Desk Recommends… a list of the articles, podcast episodes, newsletters, and other cultural ephemera I’ve enjoyed since the last one. It’s a stacked one, with a nice balance of food, literature, and art—if I do say so myself!
There’s a seasonal fruit dessert recipe coming soon, as well as an update to my mushroom pinchos to go along with a full vegan barbecue menu.
My small jewelry collection with By Ren is available through the end of 2023. The pearl cocktail picks and peas-in-a-pod ring are in my daily rotation, and I can’t wait to wear the choker on my book tour.
I wrote for Yes! summer issue, on the topic of “Thirst,” about the importance and potential of watering holes in public life. There’s a recipe for a chile-hibiscus syrup, with both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks that use it.
I am in this “Answer in Progress” video about beans—sharing bean love! I come in pretty early to talk about why folks should eat more beans.
On Freedom by Maggie Nelson and How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo are informing my introduction to the forthcoming series on what we mean when we say “food is political”—a phrase I don’t like!
Nothing much! Though above was a big night featuring falafel, pita, a ton of quick pickles, zaalouk, and hummus.