Book review: PROTEST KITCHEN by Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina

Carol J. Adams, best known for her groundbreaking book The Sexual Politics of Meat, has teamed up with dietician Virginia Messina to create Protest Kitchen: Fight Injustice, Save the Planet, and Fuel Your Resistance One Meal at a Time, an inspiring guide for all who care about social justice, animal rights, and our planet. 

With more than 50 recipes (from sweets to snacks to meals), Protest Kitchen is the perfect book for those who are interested in veganism or just starting on the plant-based path. Yet it’s so much more than a cookbook; in eight short chapters filled with “daily actions” and recipes, Adams and Messina outline exactly why the vegan life is our best way forward—for the animals, for the planet, and for our health. 

The authors do a wonderful job of connecting veganism to such important issues as human rights, animal protection, and climate change. It may be eye-opening to many readers to learn and that 80 percent of emissions from food production is from livestock, not transportation (which is why “eating local” doesn’t help the environment—but eating vegan does). 

Noting that “only a handful of organizations are considering the relationship of dietary choices to global warming and environmental destruction,” Adams and Messina tell stories of those that are: nonprofit organizations, NGOs, and community leaders working toward feeding more humans, saving more animals, and creating a healthier planet. Addressing the issues of food insecurity and the horrific conditions on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, they write, “Food justice focuses not just on access but on those who work to bring food to the table.” The authors paint a stark, vivid, and necessary portrait of those who work in the meat and dairy industries, highlighting why animal agriculture is cruel not only to the animals but also to workers, who are vulnerable to everything from injuries to sexual harassment to post-traumatic stress.

Protest Kitchen draws on Adams’s lifelong work in feminism and exploitation to consider that “there could be no meat, dairy, or eggs without continuous sexual exploitation.” Surprisingly few omnivores consider the fact that “animal agriculture could not exist if it didn’t control female bodies and reproductive cycles. Without the constant pregnancy of female animals, there could be no meat, milk, or eggs for human consumption.” The lives of female animals, whatever the size of the farm, are short, miserable, and always end in slaughter.

In a chapter titled “Cultivating Compassion,” readers will consider whether they can continue to be complicit in supporting industries that perpetuate violence and cruelty: “In the 21st century, it’s likely that people believe that animal cruelty is rare on farms and there are laws to protect cows, pigs, and chickens. But there aren’t. In the United States, animal welfare laws don’t protect farmed animals.” What happens on all farms, the authors note, whether small or industrial, falls outside the criminal code: “This includes debeaking chickens without anesthesia, castrating baby pigs without anesthesia, killing male chicks in hatcheries through suffocation or by grinding them alive … on the farm, it’s business as usual and perfectly legal.”

Yet despite the tough education this book offers to those who may be new to these issues, ultimately Protest Kitchen offers hope, inspiration, and a way to find peace. The chapter “The Diet You Need Now” offers tips for eating for not only optimal physical health but emotional health as well, noting which plant foods can help with inflammation as well as stress and depression. “Many people,” they write, “when they stop eating and using animals, report that they feel a sense of deep personal peace. Adopting a vegan diet brings your choices and actions in line with those same beliefs that underlie a commitment to resisting regressive politics: generosity, compassion, and a commitment to justice and fairness.”

Protest Kitchen is also a beautifully designed and highly readable book, filled with “daily actions” from food-based actions (such as learn to love legumes and try a vegan macaroni and cheese recipe) to lifestyle actions (such as manage your diet of news and host a communal resistance dinner). The more than 50 recipes range from American to Middle Eastern foods, from desserts to snacks to drinks. There’s also a wonderful chapter on vegan nutrition, a must-read for anyone who’s just embarking on a plant-based life. 

For any reader looking to be the change in the world, Protest Kitchen highlights why and how the issues social justice, animal rights, and the environment are so closely connected, and why we need to become plant-based if we hope to create real and lasting change. 

Midge Raymond
Midge Raymond is a co-founder of Ashland Creek Press. She is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short story collection Forgetting English.