When I was in 11th grade I read a book that changed my relationship with food. I should remember more about it, but I don’t even remember the title. I only remember that it suggested that we only eat animals that we don’t feel kinship to. We (most of us) don’t eat chimpanzees because they are too much like humans and we don’t eat dogs because they are too much like family. We are able to eat cows and chickens and pigs because we don’t feel any kinship with them, but that is an arbitrary and illogical distinction. There is no difference between a pig and a dog except that we have domesticated them in different ways. I am sure there was more to it than that, but that is what I remember 20ish years later. I decided after reading that book that I didn’t want to eat animals. but…. I have been a wishy washy vegetarian. While I have refrained from eating mammals and birds, I have been fine with consuming dairy products and eggs and sometimes fish (mmm… sushi) and I often fantasize about fried chicken. Lately my sushi excursions and fried chicken dreams had grown more frequent and I figured it was time to reexamine my dietary choices. I felt myself slipping towards full omnivorism and I didn’t want to slip there. I wanted to make well thought out decisions about what I consume. I started by asking questions of my vegan and omnivorous friends. Why do you eat what you eat? Do you think about where your food comes from? Do you think your diet is healthy? Is it hard to be vegan? Do you miss cheese? A vegan friend sent me this link to a youtube video featuring Victoria Moran. I was intrigued enough to pick up one of her books, Main Street Vegan.
Main Street Vegan reminded me why eating meat is a bad idea for me and the animals. I also learned some things that I did not know about the dairy industry and was reminded of some things that I had been happy to pretend I did not know about the egg industry. These things are compelling, but what made Moran’s book work is that it reads like one big pep talk. It is not a ‘shame on you for hurting the animals’ diatribe. Instead she says, ‘so you know these things and you want to eat without harming animals and YOU CAN and you don’t have to do it all at once.’ She celebrates every little step toward living in a way that does not harm animals and the environment and there is absolutely zero shame for not doing it all at once. Moran makes veganism seem not just right, but doable. The argument is a simple one; a whole foods plant based diet is better for your physical health and your spirit. I am not a spiritual person. I don’t believe in karma or divine retribution. I do believe that hurting other living beings should be avoided when possible. Not for me, but for them. I had been operating under the illusion that milk and cheese consumption isn’t really harmful to cows (not true) and I had been just plain sticking my head in the sand about eggs and fish.
Main Street Vegan is an easy read with 40 short chapters, each outlining a different step on the journey toward veganism. It starts with food, seasoning and supplements, saving things like clothing and cruelty free cosmetics and household cleaners for the end. Each chapter closes with a recipe with ingredients that you can find in most grocery stores. The book also includes several appendices listing products and resources.
As I was reading, I was skeptical of some of the health claims, but as I continued to look into veganism and its potential health benefits have seen some of the same studies referenced in other places. Notably, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s clinical trials that showed that heart disease and type 2 diabetes can be reversed by switching to a plant based diet were featured in the documentary Forks Over Knives. This documentary is available on Netflix.
While poking around on the interwebs for vegan recipes and resources I came across recommendations for another book, Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. Who doesn’t want to be skinny? So, I read their book. If Victoria Moran is the vegan angel on your shoulder whispering words of encouragement in your ear, Freedman and Barnouin are the vegan devils shouting at you that animal products are making you FAT. This kind of “encouragement” does nothing for me. It makes me want to force feed the authors cheeseburgers and ice cream while taking periodic fried chicken breaks for myself. This book was so bad on so many levels that I can’t possibly do them all justice, but here are a few.
- This book is about hating your body. At the very very end (literally in a post script) the authors say that actually it’s more important to be beautiful on the inside and love yourself and blah blah blah, but the previous hundredish pages are all about how you need to eat differently if you don’t want to be fat.
- The writing is technically awful. The book is full of strange exclamations and sentence fragments and weird Inappropriate Capitalization.
- The profanity is awkward. I love a good swear word. My six year old knows a lot of bad words and he learned them all from me. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. I don’t mind swearing at all, but profanity in print almost never works. It usually sounds goofy and adolescent. Pair the profanity with the poor writing and you have a recipe for not being taken seriously.
- The authors rely on shock tactics. Slaughterhouses are horrible. Simply relating the bare minimum about how factory farmed animals are killed is enough to disgust most people and to dissuade many of us from eating meat. Freedman and Barnouin apparently don’t think that the everyday realities of industrial animal slaughter are sufficient, though. Instead they recount instances of the most heinous kinds of torture and abuse. I don’t doubt that these are true accounts, but I question the effectiveness of pointing to a few horrific sadists as an argument for vegetarianism/veganism. If I am a meat eater reading these accounts, I might think, “That creep needs to be fired and imprisoned, but that’s not typical.”
Main Street Vegan is inspiring and supportive and informative. Skinny Bitch is off putting and body shaming. I have decided to stop eating animal products and Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan is a wonderful guide that I will return to when I have questions about food substitutions or vitamin supplements or just need a bit of encouragement. Skinny Bitch, on the other hand, does not require a reread.