“I’m totally fine with the thought that my eating choices mean I die sooner.”
Alicia talks to Charlotte Shane, culture writer, publisher of Tigerbee Press, and author of the book Prostitute Laundry. Charlotte’s been vegan for 18 years, but doesn’t often discuss it. They talk about her anti-oatmeal stance, NYU’s recent conference on animals and the left, and whether WeWork’s new reducetarian policy could be good for the vegan movement.
ALICIA KENNEDY: This is Meatless, a podcast about eating. I’m Alicia Kennedy, a food and drink writer. I’ll be having conversations with chefs and writers about how their personal and political beliefs determine whether or not they eat meat. The show will ask the question, “How do identity, culture, economics, and history affect a diet?”
In this episode I talk to Charlotte Shane, a culture writer and author of the brilliant book Prostitute Laundry. She’s been vegan for 18 years now, but doesn’t often discuss it. We talked about her anti-oatmeal stance, NYU’s recent conference on animals and the left, and whether WeWork’s new reducetarian policy could be good for the vegan movement.
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ALICIA KENNEDY: You ready, you good?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I think so, yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Alright, cool. Hi Charlotte, thank you so much for being here.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Thank you for inviting me. I’m so excited.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah, so I grew up on the Delmarva Peninsula around a lot of chicken farms, and that was just a staple even when, I’m trying to think of like what age I was in school, like six years and onward or whatever. That was a staple of the drive to school in the morning, was passing these massive, you know, chicken trucks with like the battery hens in them.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Wow.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And I remember finally like becoming old enough to kind of ask my mom like, “Don’t the chickens not like that?” “Don’t they not like being in cages, like open cages, tacked, you know, 12 high on the back of a flatbed truck on the highway?” And I think, in my memory, she said something like what you would say to placate a child, which is kind of like, “They don’t feel it.” Which I feel like actually we tell kids a lot about animals. Like we weirdly kind of describe the animals as like not having nervous systems almost, like, “Oh no, they don’t feel it, whatever we’re doing to them they can’t actually feel.” And it was just such an aspect of the landscape, you know, like I went to school with all these other kids who were like in the families, in the chicken farming families, in chicken farming dynasties, you know.
And we would go to the farms for field trips and kind of walk in the hatcheries, like you know, the big open spaces that are like, open, they’re not open, they’re covered, but where it’s just like a carpet of little chicks, you know? And, what did we eat? We ate disgusting things. We ate spam, we ate scrapple, which a lot of people have never even heard of, I think. I ate a lot of eggs as a child, which is now disgusting to me. Like hard-boiled eggs are the ones that are actually like soft, I mean no egg is really hard, but it’s like they maintain their form, right?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I’ve been vegan for so long, I’m sorry. A lot of things about other, not vegan foods, I don’t remember at all. But yeah, like hard-boiled eggs and mustard. I mean it was disgusting. Like I was being fed Arby’s sandwiches when, there’s a home video of me at the table or my mom is kind of like prompting me to talk to my father and she’s saying like, “She ate the whole Arby’s sandwich, didn’t she?” And I’m just like, “Uh-huh,” and then literally my parents, like give me a Twinkie unwrapped.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Oh my god.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And I unwrap it and devour the whole thing in like a heartbeat, and my dad is like, “Did you read that whole Twinkie?” It’s like, “Well, yeah, what did you think I was going to do,” but honestly I was like a garbage compactor as a kid, the nastiest stuff all the time, but I mean, look how I turned out. So I guess it’s an endorsement.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So yeah, where in that, in that, did you become vegan? Were you vegetarian first?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: No, I wasn’t. And my story of becoming a vegan is I think unusually humiliating, which was that when I was a teenager, I was listening to Moby, and Moby at the time had a blog that he maintained about being a Christian and being a vegan. The Christian thing, I never got on board with. The vegan thing, I just was curious about because I thought, “OK, I understand why somebody wouldn’t be a vegetarian, wouldn’t eat meat. I understand why they don’t want an animal to die, but why be a vegan? Why won’t you eat eggs or cheese or whatever else?” So, we had internet by then obviously, because Moby had his blog. So I like got on, I’m sure it was like our AOL dial-up, and just started Googling “veganism” or whatever. And I’m sure I went to PETA’s website. It was definitely a website with many horrifying visuals, but I was reading what they were saying, too. And I feel like it probably took me literally 30 minutes at most before I was like, “OK, this makes sense to me, it’s not a good thing to eat animal products,” and that was kind of that, you know, it’s like 18 years later that’s still really that, more or less.
The other thing that helped was my parents were really rude about it in a way that surprised me and I guess has, has never stopped surprising me, although you would think after like nearly two decades I would get used to how defensive slash antagonistic people can be about it. But I wasn’t expecting it. My family was really condescending about it and they were sort of like, “Oh, this’ll last a week,” or whatever, which was strange because I wasn’t in the habit of adopting things capriciously and I don’t know why they thought that was part of my personality, but I think I probably owe them a debt in a way because if they hadn’t been so derogatory I might not have, maybe I wouldn’t have stuck it out. Maybe I would have only lasted a week, but as soon as they said that, I was like, “I’ll show you.” And I guess I did.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I actually found out about veganism first from Moby, too. I think there are so many people. There are so many of us, but we’re embarrassed to say it.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Well, yeah, really, I mean he’s still…
ALICIA KENNEDY: He’s a horrible person.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Right, so it’s like, “Oh man.” I mean he is really carrying the torch of the awful white vegan.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yes, he really just never says anything that helps the cause, but somehow in, got all of us as teenagers to at least consider veganism.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: It’s interesting. So are your parents still not on board with it? Do you still get…
CHARLOTTE SHANE: You know, it took, it took like many, many, many years of going home and my dad always saying, “Oh, you’re still doing that vegan thing,” and I was just being like, “Yeah,” and I guess my mom still kind of acts like, I mean they still live where I grew up, which I don’t think there are many places in the United States now, actually that are kind of like exurban or suburban that don’t have a lot of vegan options. You know actually, there probably, there are like pockets here in New York City that have less vegan options than my little nowhere town where I grew up. I guess just like that way of thinking about food is still pretty foreign.
So I feel like my mom always kind of makes a big deal out of me visiting. Like she’s so worried about what to feed me when it always feels to me like, “Come on, it isn’t that weird,” you know, like I just, you know, like I’ll eat some brown rice and vegetables. It doesn’t have to be so exotic and strange, but it’s like somehow, even after all this time, she still has that little like anxiety in her that somehow I’m not going to be able to eat when I’m home.
ALICIA KENNEDY: A few years ago you wrote kind of an anti-oatmeal essay for Extra Crispy. Which, I remember reading at the time and being like, “Oh, I love oatmeal,” but it’s true that it’s kind of one of those things that vegans are just served because no one knows what else to give a vegan. What do you actually like to eat for breakfast as a vegan?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I love tofu scramble so much, but I don’t know if you’ve had a lot of bad tofu scramble, because I feel like I have.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, I have.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah, I don’t understand, like why does it taste so bad? What did you do to it to make it taste so weird and bad? Because I love it and I feel like it’s actually not that hard to make because I’m nowhere, I’m not a cook, you know, I wouldn’t even call myself a cook, but like, I can make myself tofu scramble that tastes good. So, I actually think that vegan breakfast foods are really exciting, particularly because vegan pastries and baked goods now are so delicious, and that’s the type of food I really love, carbs and sugar, you know?
So to me, I feel like vegan breakfast should actually be like way more decadent than other meals, but it is just very hard a lot of times, you know, to go out to breakfast, still, even living in New York, you know, whenever I’m in the mood to go out for breakfast, it’s like, “OK, I know a few options,” but it’s definitely something that’s easier to make it home. I really like all of the foods that have been sort of imported here that were just vegan by design, like tabouli and like all sorts of Indian dishes. All the Ethiopian, like, beans are so delicious. All that stuff I love. I’m less interested in, even though I eat meat substitutes, than, you know, the places where, I don’t know, it kind of blows my mind when you go to a place and they’re like, vegan shrimp, I’m like, “Who needed that? Who was really desperate for that?” and it weirds me out and I don’t like it when things taste too much like meat. It’s too unfamiliar to me now, I think, you know.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. Do you have any secrets that you use in your tofu scramble that make it actually good?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: No, because in case growing up on scrapple didn’t give it away, I have a really bad palate. I love eating, but I think that a lot of things I eat and think like, “Hmm, this is really good,” most people would be like, “I’m not, I don’t want this.” I think I started out gross and have stayed kind of gross, and in some ways I’m really picky and other ways I feel like I’m really easy to please, like the bar for pleasing me is kind of low, in that like simple flavors are good for me.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. You also wrote a really amazing 2012 essay in the New Inquiry on women’s appetites, and I feel like there is a lot of overlap in veganism with a bit of asceticism. There can be.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah. I don’t know, I guess I don’t like it when I see people, it’s mostly other women, say that veganism is largely like a front for anorexia. That really disappoints me, mostly because I feel like this idea of, I don’t know, like very publicly policing women’s bodies. It’s like, it’s not better to do it in the reverse, right? Like, it’s not better to kind of be like, “Well, I’m the anorexia police now.”
ALICIA KENNEDY: No.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I don’t think it’s helpful. I think it like really misunderstands why people develop certain eating habits, and it feels really unfair because, I don’t know, I mean, I was anorexic in high school, like I didn’t get my period, I guess I might say that in the essay, I don’t remember, but I was never hospitalized or anything like that. And I feel really good about being a vegan. It doesn’t feel to me like an excuse to be weird about food. I do think it’s actually given me some weird, like, hoarding behaviors almost, you know, like when I travel, even though I know rationally I have no reason to feel this way, I will hoard food because I feel worried about, I don’t know what, like being fed enough. So I certainly think I have a lot of neuroses around food and that veganism might put pressure on those in certain ways, but I just don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a weird relationship to food and it feels pretty good right now.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And I think there is a case to be made for the way that veganism can make somebody think more carefully about what they’re eating, when they’re eating it, and just really change their relationship to when they eat, how they eat, why they eat, you know, how they understand themselves like as somebody who eats, which maybe sounds weird.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, no. Totally.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah. I don’t know, I really don’t like that trope that vegan girls are just anorexics, like.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Have your reasons for being vegan changed since you were reading Moby’s blog?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah. You know, what I’ve been thinking about recently is how many angles there are to thinking about our relationships with animals and how virtually all of them feel valid and good and useful. But I am kind of, I don’t know, there should be a phrase for it and maybe you know of one, like, I’m sort of a shy vegan, you know, so I don’t ever start talking to people about why I did it or like why I still do it. And there was a conference, just a day long conference at NYU maybe like three weeks ago, and Sunaura Taylor and her sister Astra, is it Astra?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And they were there speaking and Astra was saying the same thing, you know, how she’s very visible as an activist and a leftist, and she was saying that she is really kind of, I don’t want to say “closeted,” because I don’t want to appropriate, but you know, like, just like she keeps her view on veganism really close to her chest and how she, she told this story about being out at a restaurant with her parents when she was a kid, and I think her dad ordering meat and her being like, “Daddy no, like don’t order that steak,” or whatever, him being like, “OK,” and him getting popcorn shrimp instead, and her feeling like, “Oh my god, instead of killing a single cow, you just, like, massacred 50 shrimp.” Then that feeling to her, like the moment when she’s like, I’m not even going to talk about this anymore with other people, like it’s too fraught, and I think that for me always at the forefront of when I think about veganism is factory farming. Like to me that is it, not the only thing, but the biggest thing.
And I think for a long time when I talked to other people about it, if they really pushed me to talk to them about it, I would talk about the environmental aspect. I would say like, it uses so much water, you know, we use so much feed, whatever else. And lately I’ve come to feel like that is, it’s a really defensive tactic. It’s not necessarily insincere, but it’s because the taking animals seriously is so stigmatized, and people find it so easy to ridicule and dismiss. So, and what’s kind of interesting to me in a sad way, I guess, which I think we’re going to talk about more later, is like the WeWork thing is framed as an environmental choice not as an issue of animal rights. And to me, they really are. Everything is so bound up in it, in, in my choice and there’s kind of, there’s really like no angle that doesn’t feel right to me, you know?
It’s just so easy for me to do it because I thought like, “Oh my God, it’s not just like one reason to do it.” It’s like 12 really good, hugely important reasons about the type of person I want to be and, like, how I want the world to be, and maybe like, because I’ve been here for so long now, maybe like halfway into not eating animal products. I think it happened when I was at Vegas and I was served a dish and I was eating it. I was like, I got like two bites and I was like, “There’s something wrong with this, like, this doesn’t taste right.” I was with somebody who was not a vegan. I was kind of like, “Will you try this,” and we figured out that it had like pork in it. And I was just like, I started thinking and I’m like, you know, “If I’m really so committed to the environmental aspects of, of how I’m eating or like the environmental impact, shouldn’t I just eat this rather than make them prepare another dish for me?”
And that’s still something I kind of think about sometimes. I’m like, is it the more ethical choice to just eat, you know, the pizza that has cheese on it, even though I asked for it without cheese or whatever, and I haven’t been able to make myself do that. I don’t know if that’s a failing or, or what. But I guess what I tell myself is that it’s kind of like the straws thing, you know? Where it’s like the bigger problem is not vegans not eating when they’re accidentally served non-vegan things. That’s not where food waste comes from, it’s not from vegans rejecting the non-vegan things they’re served when they go out to eat. But yeah, I don’t know. I mean it’s, any time you take an ethical stance it’s kind of like you can’t ever stop taking it. Do you know what I mean? It just expands more and more into all these areas of like trying to think about how to be.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Absolutely, and what do you, would you say to someone who would ask you about whether a personal choice is really going to have an impact?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah, I think about that too. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this ad when I was growing up. I feel like this, there was a radio ad, that was like one, a voice, that one person saying like, “Why do I need to recycle my paper? Like I’m only one,” and right. And more and more voices until it’s like a deafening chorus of people saying like, “Why do I need to?” and I do really like that parable about the guy walking down the beach, throwing in the starfish, you know, which is that I guess like it feels like what any individual can affect, whatever change an individual can have, always feels small and insignificant and, like, insufficient. There’s almost nothing I can imagine myself doing that doesn’t feel like it’s not enough, but it feels really important to me to try, you know, and to like, try to make the choice that has the most integrity and to revise it.
There was, I don’t, I haven’t looked at any of this stuff in a really long time, but close to when I first became a vegan, I remember reading something that said, “Vegetarians live longer than the general population, vegans live less longer than vegetarians.” I thought about that for years and I was always like, “I’m fine with that.” Like I’m totally fine with the thought that my eating choices mean I die sooner. To me, it just doesn’t seem worth it to be like, “Well, my life is so precious and needs to go on for an extra three years, no matter what.” And I think that it is good and important to human beings generally to feel like they understand what their values are, you know what I mean? So, and to feel like they can have some control over making those values manifest in their lives because it’s so hard to do and the deck is so stacked against all of us, that it just feels, it feels really important to me to do what you can. And that was part of why it was so, it felt very easy for me to say, “Oh, I’m not going to eat any animal products,” because it actually felt like this is something I can do that requires almost no effort, and of course some people will say that being vegan is really hard, you know, you do have to look at the food labels, you may have to cook for yourself more, etc. So I don’t mean to say that it has no labor, but to me it just felt like, “This is such a small gesture,” like, for what it would cost me, this is so accessible and easy to do and I have no excuse for not doing it, and now of course I love It. Like I actually love being vegan.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, no, I was really excited about that conference at NYU because I feel like veganism does not have a coherent politics, like, across vegans. Obviously in the New York Times this weekend, there were those, the conservative vegans who are like for the death penalty, and pro-life or anti-abortion, but do not eat animal products, and it was just so bizarre, and I don’t know. How do you connect to your politics and your veganism and how do you kind of deal with like, this movement that has no cohesion?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: It is weird to me and alarming that there are so many explicit white supremacists who are also vegan, and I haven’t really delved into it because in a way it’s like, why would I, like, I don’t want to expose myself to anything about the way they think about the world, but I’m guessing it has something to do with like purity, that it’s, that it has something to do with like pesticides and like eating genetically-modified, whatever, you know, I’m, I’m guessing it’s like that sort of thing. It’s hard for me to believe it’s that like animals, you know, can suffer and that it’s wrong to make those animals suffer, I don’t know, maybe that’s part of it.
But, yeah, like, veganism, honestly, it’s a little like feminism now where you like do not have to have a certain set. You really don’t. The divergence among vegans is pretty stark, and sadly, I think like the worst ones get the most attention because they are the most eager to take up space and the loudest, they’re saying the worst things, you know?So it’s really easy for them to kind of become the faces of, which sucks. What, at the conference what was cool was, because the keynote with Astra and Sunaura was called something like, “Why is the left afraid of animal rights,” you know, and it just felt really good to be in a space where we’re like, “Oh my god, yes, it’s awful,” you know, like to be around all these people who like, and I’ve seen it a little bit on Twitter, like people I really respect and these are very deep, radical thinkers, they’re highly educated, and I see them like going off just briefly, sometimes even on like a little freak out about veganism and it’s so disappointing. It makes me really sad. It makes me feel kind of like hopeless about, I don’t know what, like opening up this dialogue, because to me like everything I have learned, I mean I’m still learning so much, I have so much to learn and I’ve learned, I know so much more now than I used to and it’s still not enough.
When I read, so Sunaura Taylor wrote this book, Beast of Burden, that I read last year, and I just loved, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read, I feel like it really changed my brain in these great ways, and it’s so exciting, I think, to be able to think about the effects of power, to be able to think about oppression, to be able to see other people’s struggles. So I don’t know. I don’t know that it was like an effect of reading that book necessarily, but I don’t know. Sometime this year I was on the subway and somebody with limited mobility came on, for whatever reason, I don’t even remember, like maybe they, I don’t think they had a cane, but it was like they obviously needed a seat and I was kind of like, “There’s a space next to me, it’s fine.” And as they were sitting down I realized I’m like, “Oh my God, you know what? I should have scooted into the center because they need the pole that I’m up against to help them ease themselves into the seat.”
So to me, like having a really basic insight like that, and, so the world feels really good. It feels good to feel like I see a way to make life a little bit easier for other people, like a little bit better for other people and to think that you can have a really strong progressive politics that disavows animal rights, I know people will find that really easy to ridicule and dismiss, but to me it’s fucked up. It’s not actually possible because, to go back to factory farming at least, like if you’re an anti-capitalist factory farms should matter to you, if you’re pro-workers’ rights factory farms should matter to you. You know, all of these systems are acting in that space. Like what we eat, how we eat. It’s billions of animals. To me, it’s just like we make ourselves better when we’re willing to rise to the challenge of thinking about that. I don’t think there’s anything to be lost in thinking about that. Did you see Sorry To Bother You?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yes.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I really wanted to tweet it, I really wanted to tweet this, and then just like deactivate my twitter account in parts, like keep myself from tweeting it, I think, because I was like, I’m going to get dragged, this is going to be like the whitest take of all time, but all I kept thinking about was like, “I really love,” and I’m not going to spoil anything. It’s like a light spoiler, maybe. I was like, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that had that sort of interspecies solidarity at the end.”
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I was like Googling desperately to see if Boots Riley is a vegan. I don’t think he is. All I could find was there’s a video of him, there’s a shot of a video of him that’s old where he’s briefly, he’s like reading a book about afro-veganism.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Oh.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah. That’s all I could find. And he, I think it’s safe to say that he understands that moment, not about interspecies solidarity, but about worker solidarity, which is still a really interesting way you can still approach, like animals are understood as property, but they’re also understood as workers, and they’re workers who have absolutely no rights at all, so whatever lens you like, if you’re a progressive, I promise that lens can be like your entry point into thinking about animals. Right?
ALICIA KENNEDY: I think a lot of progressives see bashing veganism as an easy way to score points in like, a fight of class oppression, because they see veganism as one, white, as two, inaccessible to most people, which I don’t think it is simply because, I mean, the example is always just rice and beans are inexpensive. Do you think about that, about like whether veganism is an accessible diet for a lot of people?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I mean, I think there’s, there’s no way around the fact that there are a lot of white vegans who have very bad politics around race. I think it’s like some of, some of those people have bad politics because they’re ignorant, which is not to excuse them, but they’re ignorant. Other people I think, have bad politics because they’re like real shitheads.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And,so it’s not to say that isn’t a problem, but it does seem like it’s a really easy out for people not to think about this thing they fundamentally don’t want to think about. Which is something that is, you know, I feel like as an, kind of like an immediate topic of conversation with other vegans, if we’re talking about veganism, which is like, isn’t it insane how emotionally people react to suggesting that maybe they should eat less meat or no meat, no eggs or whatever, right? I mean the reaction is not logical. Even when they’re, it’s coming from an intelligent person who’s able to kind of give it a gloss of being logical, it’s like it’s not, you know, so one of the easiest ways to deflect of course is to kind of be like, “This is a white person thing,” or whatever else.
But what makes me sad is that like almost I think, every city I’ve ever visited, every American, every like, you know, North American city, I’ve ever visited, even the smaller ones, when I look for vegan food, there is going to be a vegan restaurant that’s run by black people. Maybe it’s like vegan soul food, maybe it’s like vegan Jamaican, or it’s Ethiopian or whatever. And they’re, they’re the places that often feel the best to eat, too because they are not this cynical corporatized, like have a, you know, $12, 8oz juice, veganism. It’s like a really thoughtful, warm, delicious, veganism. And it makes me sad that they don’t, I don’t know what, that they’re kind of like, it feels like people don’t even want to notice them and they’re right there.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, the mainstream vegan community or the white vegan community, I never see a lot of conversation about like Ital cuisine or Ital restaurants or anything like that. And it’s like, “Dude, like these people have been doing it for so long and we’re, and you think you’re coming in with Earth Balance and doing something new or something,” and it’s just like, “You’re not.” But yeah, WeWork is now cutting meat out of their events and their cafeteria or whatever or, and calling it a, reducetarian effort, which is I think the tech bro way of doing vegetarianism or veganism. And I, for me, and this is just my first thought, I’m like, “Oh, well it’s the same as the obsession with Impossible Burgers or lab meat, or Soylent.” This pure desire for efficiency and like no real concern for animal rights. But do you think that this stuff helps on the whole, or what is your perspective on that kind of thing?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Oh, I don’t know. That’s such a good question. Do you know what you think? I’ll answer it, but do you know what you think?
ALICIA KENNEDY: I don’t think it helps ultimately, no.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: No, I don’t think so either. I don’t think so either. I mean, so my boyfriend had been updating me on the WeWork thing throughout this past week because I had been off Twitter and like, I don’t really read the news, Twitter was always my news before. Finally he was telling me all this stuff about, I’m like, “I just have to look it up and read it myself.” So when I read it I’m like, OK, they’re not going to, they, the company don’t want to purchase meat. That’s not some fascist stance toward their employees. That’s fine. As I was reading it more, you know, it’s kind of like, it doesn’t even seem like they really thought through as a being unable to expense meat thing, you know, because they don’t seem like they have a plan for how to do that. So it almost seems more like one of these things where they’re kind of like, “We ask that you not,” but the likelihood of them actually denying someone’s expense or combing through receipts is possibly quite low, and then also that they are still serving fish.
And I’m just like, “Oh my god, meat eaters are such fucking babies.” It’s outrageous. And what, what to me is really inexcusable is this avalanche of analogizing that choice to like, Hobby Lobby stuff. I mean, you talk about like a way to make me lose my mind. And it’s like, yeah, I would, I am happy to have, I don’t want to defend WeWork, you know what I mean? I don’t want to have to do that, but it seems like they’ve done something relatively inoffensive and if the goal is to talk about employers having an inordinate amount of influence over their workers’ lives, there are a lot of points at which we could have done that before WeWork made this decision, and that we can still do it and that are a lot more meaningful than worrying that people aren’t going to get served steak at a function. When like in a way it’s really, it’s just like, “Who cares?” And then the other thing is that like, I guess I think you’re right, like it doesn’t help because It’s very hard for me to not see this as a publicity stunt. You know, where it’s almost like, why did you have to announce it? Why didn’t you just start doing that?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, yeah. I think they always want a lot of credit for anything they do that could be seen as a progressive thing. Especially because, I mean, they’re so successful. They have so much money. I don’t know, nothing’s going to hurt them I guess, but at the same time they obviously want to look like they’re not complete evil, but they are. I mean in my perspective, WeWork is in terms of like just taking over, taking over real estate, and like encouraging like a gig economy. I know they’re terrible.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: That’s why every time my boyfriend would say that, I’m just like, ugh, I don’t want to have to think about it. I don’t want to have to think about defending WeWork. I don’t want to have to think about all the bad takes that are going to be, like, wrong for a myriad reasons that don’t even have to do with vegan. I’m just like, “Oh, this is such a shit storm.”
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, I just, I just really find the like, Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, like I just find these things to be backward, steps backwards for everything, because it’s like we’ve gotten, we got away from like, straight-up fake meat and decided we could make good veggie burgers that are made out of vegetables, and then these people want it to be like, “No, it has to bleed it to make it satisfying,” and it’s like, “No, it doesn’t.”
CHARLOTTE SHANE: It’s very Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s very like, “Who asked you to do this?”
ALICIA KENNEDY: Exactly.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: You’re just doing it because you want to do it, it has nothing to do with demand, there’s no thought behind it. It’s just really like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I can grow actual meat in a petri dish?” No. It’s not cool.
ALICIA KENNEDY: No, it’s not. I think about this all the time, because I, I went to, I used to work at a magazine that was obsessed with food and tech, and the combination of the two in a very superficial boring way, and they made me go to an event where like these, these guys who like worked at Google I think, made an oven that you can control with your phone, and we went to this event to watch them use it. It was very silly and an older woman asked them what kind of pie plate is better in here for making a pie, a glass pie plate or a metal pie plate? And they were like, “Uh, we don’t know.” I was like, “You don’t know how to bake a pie in this oven, like, you’ve never really cooked, you just think you’re going to step in and fix how people cook, but you don’t even know how people cook, how cooking works or like why people enjoy cooking, which is usually because it’s an actual interaction with your food,” you know? Like, it was just missing every point. So every time tech people come into like vegetarianism or veganism, I’m just like, you’re missing the point.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I mean, I know, I’m sure this is like a very old criticism, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot all year because I think it gives me hope in a weird way where I’m like, you know, a lot of the people with like the most power and the most money, they’re not smart. They’re not smart, they’re not thoughtful and that’s why they do these like ridiculous things where, you know, they have incredibly high opinions of themselves. They’re obviously like raging narcissists, which is why they remain so stupid because they would never lower themselves as to actually like learn what people use ovens for. But I guess what helps me to think about it as to just remind myself that like, nobody wants this. Nobody asked for this because actually most of us are better than the people making it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yes, yes. That’s, that’s a useful critique and something I should remember, because I get so upset about these things all the time. Have you ever converted someone to veganism?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Allegedly, I’ve kind of reconverted people.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Oh cool.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: You know, like former vegetarians or former vegans who I think are really susceptible to just a little bit of nudging, which has never even, it’s always inadvertent on my part too, you know, where it would just be like somebody, like one of my friends send me some messages that was kind of like, “Fuck you, I’m like a vegan again now because you were tweeting all those cow pictures,” you know, and I’m like, “Great.” That is kind of what I wanted, I guess even though that wasn’t necessarily why I was doing it. What about you?
ALICIA KENNEDY: I don’t think I have. No, I have, I don’t have the power. I don’t think I push people enough. I don’t know. I mean I get people to eat a lot of vegan cake and cookies and I’ve, I’ve changed people’s minds about what those can taste like. And I think that’s important in and of itself a little bit, but I’m around a lot of people, I think, who have very deep cultural ties to what they eat and very deep familial ties to what they eat, and I think those are much more difficult to break, I think. Yeah, like when you were saying, “Why would it be so difficult to eat less,” or whatever. I just think, I just think, yeah, food is, this is why I’m doing the podcast in general is like the ways in which food connects us to who we’ve always been and who we are and who we want to be. How do we reconcile that with our ethics and our politics? I just think so many people are just, it’s just too deep.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah. I mean I, I try to tell people, because every now and again I have had somebody kind of approach me almost like a, like a “teach me” way. I always just felt like, “Well if you want to, you’ll figure it out.” Not that I don’t want to help, do you know what I mean? But I think that sometimes just like feeling like it’s something you have to somehow like train for. Like, I don’t know if you really want to, I feel like maybe you think you should do it, but you don’t necessarily want to do it, and I will tell people that it was easy for me for like a variety of reasons, one of which is that I am kind of like a militant, like I have this appetite for militancy inside of me, which probably a lot of former anorexics do, right? Because I really like roles, like I liked feeling like I have something to adhere to.
Also just the, as a matter of taste, like I always thought milk was really disgusting. So like I could have milk and cereal, but I would never like have a glass of milk. In spite of what I ate as a baby, when I got older I thought eggs were really nasty. Even though I grew up near the water and people were eating like crabs all the time. I only ate shellfish once as a kid, and I got really sick. I think I just gorged on it and so I never wanted to eat it again. You know? So there are all these things that I would never miss, and I’ve never had a lot of things. I became vegan so early on, I’ve never had sushi. I don’t know. I mean I’ve had vegan sushi, I’ve never had fish sushi. I don’t know what that tastes like. Like all these things I’ve never tried. I’ve never tried steak tartare, I mean I don’t even understand what a lot of them are, and I’ve never tried them and so it’s fine, like I’m not missing anything. Yeah. I don’t necessarily think that, I mean this is why I don’t have a Twitter account that’s like, “It’s easy, just ask me how, you just stop eating all the things that are made from animals,” because I do feel like it’s just, I was the right candidate, you know? So.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. I do think it’s like a, just a consciousness shift, sort of thing. Like it’s just you have to have that moment of like, clarity that you can’t push someone to, like there’s no amount of logic that will make someone just have that galaxy brain, I guess, moment of just like, “Oh shit, like I should not do this.”
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I love it. It would be really hard for me to try to get someone to do it if they’re like, “I don’t like this.” Like I don’t understand. I think it’s great.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I know. It is really weird to me still when, I think last week I brought a cake to my aunt’s house that was vegan and like, there was some old man there who, when he heard it was vegan, he was like, “I don’t want that one.” And like, of course me in my head, I’m immediately like, “Oh, because it’s so much more normal to eat like a buttercream made from like the milk of a cow that’s meant for its baby. Like, is that normal to you?” And that’s always like, I’m in my head all the time being like an asshole about it, but I never say these things out loud because I mean like it goes back to the idea that like to be allowed vegan is obnoxious, and it like, but there’s also, it’s really hard to be like a quiet vegan who never says anything about it. It’s just a different, it’s a difficult balance I think.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Can I ask you a question?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Sure.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: What’s your least favorite thing you think you hear the most about vegans from non-vegans, or about food? Maybe not like the people, but like about vegan food. How about that?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, I mean that it’s dry or bland I guess, that, especially, I mean, I’m not a picky eater, I mean I’m a food writer, like I am an asshole about food in that I like it to be good all the time, and like if I have a mediocre meal it ruins my entire day, so. As my boyfriend looks at me and nods. But yeah, so for me I think, and I think that’s why I had a bakery and why I still bake is because these are like very easy ways to get, infiltrate people and to show them that a cake or a cookie made, if it’s made with the right fat, like, and I only use coconut fat, because it tastes really good and it doesn’t have a strange mouth feel because it wasn’t like made in a factory, I just hate Earth Balance so much, and now I use Miyoko’s Kitchen Butter which is really good and it’s cheaper than Trader Joe’s, sort of. But yeah, so I feel like for me it’s just getting past that and like, but even, I did a bake sale recently, fundraiser and someone, oh, I was just like nervous about my cakes and whether they were going to be good enough and I was just like voicing concern that they had been in the freezer too long or something. And someone else who was baking with me, my friend, who was being kind was just like, well, people have low expectations of vegan goods. And I’m like, “You know, I am like really good at this, like this is like the thing I do best.” And like, it just felt so insulting and sad that that’s what people said and that’s what people think.
And then I’m like, “Oh, do people only like what I do because they have low expectations,” and I’m like, “But you can’t think that way.” Basically, yeah, just trying to change people’s minds about whether it’s bad or not. And I feel like when I’m like writing a restaurant review or something, I’m always just trying to normalize veganist stuff. Like if I, if I’m reviewing like an omnivorous restaurant just to like give the tofu as much space as the meat, which I didn’t eat, but that I got a trusted source to eat, and to just kind of normalize it to say like, “The tofu is as normal to eat as the other thing, but maybe if, if someone’s a little more prone to like having a consideration about the ethics of what they eat, that they might go for the tofu though,” you know, that kind of thing.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, but it’s not easy to talk about. I think, with most people.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: It makes me sad that so many vegan restaurants now will just not label anything vegan even though I think it’s really smart, and I think it is what basically every vegan place should do, almost. But it makes me really sad, because I’m just like, “Why do we have to live in the shadows?” It’s because omnivores do, I mean like the one thing I feel like I’ve heard from so many different people and I hate it and I know now it’s like, I could just, you know, I could really like scam other people because I could just be like, “I bet you $20, this person’s going to say this because I know for a fact they will,” where somebody who doesn’t eat vegan food often will eat a vegan meal of the right caliber. Then they’ll be like, “Well, if everything vegan tasted like this I’d eat this way all the time,” and it makes me so mad because I’m like, “I know for a fact most of what you’re eating that isn’t vegan doesn’t taste as good all the time.”
ALICIA KENNEDY: Exactly. Yeah.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: That muffin you’re getting from Starbucks is not the best muffin you’ve ever had. But if you’ve got a vegan muffin that tasted that way, I’m sure it would be like, “This tastes weird. This isn’t very good. This is dry, whatever.” So it is really unfair, I think. I don’t think the bar is low. I think the bar is like super high for vegan stuff actually.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, it has to taste better.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Where do you like to go out to eat in New York that’s vegan?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Oh, there are so many good places. I really love Ethiopian food. I lived in D.C. for a long time, and I honestly used to eat so much Ethiopian food, and I would eat it for breakfast. So I go to the Brooklyn Awash, and I’m trying to remember any of the other one.
ALICIA KENNEDY: In Bushwick? There’s been a café which has mixed reviews, I think.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I think that, I hope I’m getting the name right. I think it’s Awash. It’s like in, I’m going to say it’s like on Court Street, maybe in Cobble Hill. I’m still kind of bad at Brooklyn neighborhoods because when I lived here for a year. It’s such a big borough. It’s so big. What else do I like? I just, like I said, I guess I like eating Indian and Chinese and things that feel almost like incidentally vegan. Although I know I always say her name wrong, but Lagusta, I mean her shop has some of the most delicious things I’ve ever had in my life. I can’t believe it. It’s like stuff that I will never forget eating, because it is good. I mean By Chloe’s is weird, but it’s good, like I’ll eat there. I don’t like go out of my way to eat there because it’s so strange. I love Franchia. Have you been to Franchia? It’s like a Korean place on Park Avenue.
ALICIA KENNEDY: No.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Oh, I think you should go. I would love to know what you think. It’s kind of expensive, so we don’t go that often, but I really like it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. I’ve been to Hangawei.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah. It’s the same people.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Ah OK, cool.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: And Hangawei’s good too. And I really like Sacred Chow. I have a real soft spot for a Sacred Chow.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I actually haven’t been to Sacred Chow.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Oh really?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. I don’t know why.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Well, it’s kind of in that, I mean, it’s near a bunch of other, right? Like Quantum Leap and like Rockin’ Raw and Red Bamboo and those are all in like a two-block radius. But Sacred Chow’s my favorite and I eat a lot of Van Leeuwen.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Oh yeah. It’s so good.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: It’s so good.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Have you been to Modern Love?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I have been once for brunch, yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I think for brunch. It’s probably the best vegan place, maybe. I don’t know, though. I just liked the tofu benedict, I think.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: You know where I haven’t been for brunch is Dirt Candy.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I haven’t done brunch there either, but I am not the biggest fan, I love Amanda Cohen, but I’m not the biggest fan of the food. I don’t think it’s seasoned well.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: I find it really forgettable. Like, I’ve eaten there once and I can’t remember any of it. I think it’s fun and, oh, have you ever been to Kajitsu?
ALICIA KENNEDY: I actually haven’t, but I’ve been meaning to go forever.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: It’s amazing. It’s really special.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. That’s like the go-to, amazing vegan place I think. Yeah. But I have to go. Do you, when you cook at home, I know you said you’re not a great cook, or you don’t consider yourself a big cook, but do you think that cooking is a political act, or can be?
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Well, my boyfriend makes almost all the food at home, which I think is really is a great sign of what a good feminist I am.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah no, I’m really lucky that he likes making food, and that he will make all the food that I like. I guess I am just such a, like, my palette is so hopelessly simple. Like I just love a bunch of brown rice noodles and tomatoes or like, you know, like a garlic oil. I mean, I’m just so happy with that. Also I really like tofu. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but to me tofu was fine just as it is. You know, just like slabs of tofu. I’m like, “Yeah, this is cool.”
So, I guess that when I, I had not been being a very long and I moved to Baltimore and I was at a grocery store and I was talking to this woman and asking her where like soy milk was or something, and she took me over to the soy milk aisle. I was like, “Oh,” and I went to take like a Soy Breeze. It’s probably still called that, right? I mean now everyone drinks almond milk instead. You know the chain I’m talking about, or whatever there should be called, the brand. She’s like, “No, no, not that one.” And I was like, “Why not?” She’s like, “They sell normal milk too.” And I remember just being like, “Wow, this is a whole different level.” This is something I’ve never even thought about researching, you know? And I really admire that level of commitment, and I guess I feel like there are a lot of like off-limit brands in my own life that don’t even have to do with food, you know. and it just, it just, it just feels so fraught to buy food. Right?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: It definitely, it does feel political and also like it could maybe become cripplingly so, if you let it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: So, I don’t know. I mean, I definitely do think accessibility is a big deal and you’re trying to get people vegetables who otherwise have no access to vegetables is a big deal. Or like what Food Not Bombs does where you’re cooking food for people, and, I mean obviously it’s, again, it’s kind of, it’s, it feels sad to be like, “Yeah, feeding somebody is political,” because I guess in like the perfect world, feeding people, which should just be happening all the time and it wouldn’t be something there could be sides on, but yeah, I don’t know. I mean obviously, yeah, food is so political, but I don’t know that I have good food politics in the end. I don’t know if I’ve taken it as far as I should.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. Well, thank you so much for being here.
CHARLOTTE SHANE: Yeah, thank you for having me.
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