On Publishing a Book 📕
‘No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating’ is out on August 15, 2023.
Before I sold my book proposal, I got a piece of secondhand advice: Make your manuscript so weird that it can’t be un-weirded in the editing process. This advice presumes, of course, that one is weird, that one wants to be weird. I’m not sure what I wanted in the two years during which I worked on the proposal for a book that was for so long called Meatless. I had been doing all this work, all this research, all these interviews for years and didn’t realize, really, that it was adding up to something. I thought it needed to be contained into something, some vessel, and a book makes sense when one is a writer. Or else I would’ve just gone on forever, adding endlessly to a virtual storage unit containing all these scattered notes and articles and essays and recordings where I chronicled a world I fiercely loved, this world where people didn’t eat animals but still cared deeply about eating good food and eating good food meant more than just how it tastes.
When editors finally saw it in the first submission process, they also didn’t see what it was adding up to: a tour through the subcultures and food of vegans and vegetarians throughout the last 50 years in the U.S. wasn’t so appealing. (I also didn’t have whatever people perceive me to have now, which is quantified by over 25,000 people receiving this missive in their inbox today.)
We made the proposal more “tech” focused (publishing is a business, darlings), and it indeed sold to Beacon Press in June of 2020, and the pandemic—which brought zoonotic disease, meat-processing worker struggles, and the horrors of factory farming to the forefront—gave me the justification I needed to basically make it the book I originally wanted to write, the one that is now called No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating and is described in its marketing copy as sympathetic, knowledgeable, and humorous. (I’m most proud of “humorous.”)
I wrote, in effect, the weird book I wanted to write—one that combines a bit of memoir to ground the perspective in my own, born an omnivore on Long Island without a grain of brown rice in sight; culinary analysis through cookbooks, interviews, and my own eating experiences; and cultural history that seeks to contextualize why meatless food has a bad rap and why that’s sometimes earned, oftentimes not. I address issues around the global food system and climate change, of course, as well as the ways in which white supremacy has obscured understanding of the diversity of plant-based eating, the fatphobia of wellness culture, and what the future of food could look like if ecological reality and regionalism were championed rather than tech-based “solutions.”
Writing the book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, even though in hindsight I can see that I’d done all the work, had been doing all the work, before it even sold. The anxiety of missing something, of not having read enough, was intense. And I probably did miss things and I probably didn’t read enough, and continuing to put this newsletter out as well as write pieces for other outlets absolutely exhausted me, but I want to be honest as a culture worker who doesn’t have the luxury of familial wealth or an institution to prop me up: It’s hard, and as a freelancer who has to keep working to keep surviving, I also know it’s necessary to write books—I want my work to add up to something, not just die a death on a server or hard drive!—as well as to spend time writing book proposals that don’t sell. This is the life I’m lucky to live.
“I have observed that we bring the best of ourselves to writing and that publishing brings out our worst,” writes Melissa Febos in Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative. Amen. I wouldn’t write an essay every single week if writing weren’t essential to who I am; publishing, on the other hand—all agita. Alas.
And so this is my perhaps unorthodox official book preorder announcement: No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating will be out on August 15, 2023—twenty years since I graduated high school, fourteen years since getting my first magazine job, twelve years since I stopped eating meat, eight years since I started to write about food, six years since I signed with my literary agent, and three years since I sold it. It’s all added up.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen dispatch for paid subscribers will be about vegetarian steakhouse fantasies—including mushroom and cauliflower steaks—and a flawless oven fry recipe I’ve been perfecting over years. See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
I was interviewed by the CBC in Québec about hosting dinner parties and how I’m a bit of a loon. I also have a recipe for a squash and mushroom tart in the new issue of Lux that includes, strangely, a picture of me in my kitchen.
The aforementioned Body Work, which was a fantastic way to rev myself up for the New Year; Betty Fussell’s My Kitchen Wars: A Memoir; and Jessa Crispin’s My Three Dads: Patriarchy on the Great Plains.
I’m also preparing for my culinary tourism class at BU that begins in a couple of weeks! I’ll be sharing lectures, presentations, and reading lists in this newsletter throughout the semester.
I’ve truly been taking it easy on this front but I made a coconut-almond cake because I felt like it and it’s been nice to tune in again to what I cook just because I feel like it and not because I want to publish the recipe—but I will absolutely publish the recipe. Above are leeks vinaigrette that I made on Christmas.