The author of ‘Hungry Heart’ traces the roots of meat’s food culture

Maryland native Noah Brown is the author of a growing body of work on plant-based meat.

Brown was born into a four-generation meat-eating family, which includes a grandfather who he describes as “very intense” about keeping meat a social taboo — though his children knew their grandmother cooked chicken. So, a relatively mild aversion to eating animal protein — and an overall pacifist faith — led him to switch to the vegan diet in high school and ultimately, to a meat-free lifestyle over a decade ago.

Brown has written and translated critically acclaimed books on the subject, including about a vegan family’s search for chicken livers. The most recent book, he says, is his first focused on the topic of meat-eating culture itself.

Brown’s love of the process of cooking gave him a unique vantage point into the various ways different cultures cook meat and its relationship to bodily habits.

“For me, more and more, the reason why I became a vegan is because I loved the process of cooking as much as the end product,” he says.

He sat down to talk to us about what inspired him to write the book, how culture shapes our eating choices, and why not every consideration has to be established into a plant-based diet.

What made you decide to take the journey of a meat-alternative and write about it?

I wanted to write a book about “the vegans.” I’ve always been interested in how meat and so on have, sort of, shaped human behavior. I wanted to explore that history as well as the veganism, see what I could learn from it — and why it was so useful.

What prompted you to write this book?

I wanted to find out more about how I could be more meat-free. I don’t consider myself an especially negative person, but I was trying to figure out how I could eat meat less, and it got in the way of other things that I liked to do, such as read, write, and travel. I wanted to find out if this is something I could sustain and be happy with, in terms of both physical and mental well-being.

Can you describe the difference between “plant-based” and “meat-free” food?

There’s no such thing as “meat-free.” That’s just how our culture thinks. In much of the world, there’s no meat at all, and most people on the planet either have very little, or no, exposure to plants. In America, there’s more a combination — plants and protein — that’s spread around.

So, for me, the plants are the meat, and the protein comes from something more familiar — the goat, for example. While that all sounds quite pleasant, it can really do a number on a person’s body. People feel as if they’re not eating something that’s very useful, and very helpful.

Can you talk about your research in both history and your own experience as a vegan?

Looking through social media from the perspective of the middle class was really useful. I had read Animalization: How Culture Shape Our Lifestyles and Food, by Samuel Jacoby and Barry Pincus, and it had been an important source for me.

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