Let me begin by stating right here that, despite myself, I liked this book, a lot. I’m starting with that because should you read further, I don’t want you to lose the essential fact in my barrage of nitpicking.
This is not a book that I would have sought out, even though it has “INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER” spelled in all caps at the very top. Do you ever judge a book by its cover? I know that everyone says that you shouldn’t but I do anyway.
The cover of this book has a gorgeous smiling blond woman in a red blouse holding a plate of what looks like a piece of lasagna with a colorful side salad. That and the title, “Veganist: Lose Weight, etc, etc.” put me off. I assume that the image is Kathy Freston though cannot seem to find confirmation in the text.
The title sounds too imperialist, take-no-prisoners and self-helpy; plus she’s simply too saccharine perfect. That’s my problem. How could this kind of book have any relevance to my life?
It arrived at our home as a birthday gift to Hegui from our friends Jasmine and Prof. T. It was sort of sitting on the coffee table for a week or two when suddenly I’d finished all the other stuff that I was reading and, feeling bored, I picked it up one evening.
Veganist is all about persuading you to “lean in” to a “plant based” lifestyle. Freston doesn’t intend the title to be brutal or unseemly (Not “chauvinist” or “racist.” Instead think “specialist” or perhaps “enthusiast.”) The book has ten chapters, or “promises,” each one devoted to a different rationale for giving up animal food products. Most we’ve all probably heard of before: health, weight management, and saving money are three. She believes that a plant based diet will promote a longer and better life, lower your carbon footprint, reduce animal suffering, and align your diet with traditional spiritual teachings. She suggests that this diet will take you out of harm’s way (consider all those meat-borne illnesses that pop up periodically in the food supply) and that somehow you will aid the global hungry to eat better by embracing veganism. Finally she asserts that the diet will help you “evolve.”
In the intro you’re advised to skip around the various sections of the book depending on your interest. I started that way but ended up reading the thing straight through. The work’s filled with many personal anecdotes of the author, stories of how a vegan diet changed many individuals’ lives and interviews with some experts.
Freston seems super into it and though the book is a blatant attempt to convert you, she’s cool about that. She writes at the end of Promise 2 (health), “You may be thinking that a vegan diet may be too challenging, and a more moderate diet change may seem more sensible. I always encourage people to ‘lean in’ to a diet change so that the changes come comfortably and gradually.”
You know, we’ve given up “land animals” several years ago and lately it seems that we’re eating less fish and dairy, at least at home. So I guess that we’ve sort of been leaning in. Nevertheless I wasn’t convinced by her experts simply because she quotes the same few over and over throughout the work. That’s not much of a comprehensive scientific analysis if you ask me. The ten promises range from seemingly reasonable to a bit hokey. Giving up meat will truly help third world starvation? I’m skeptical to say the least. And my diet will help me evolve? Please. I’ll admit that the stuff about animal cruelty, health and carbon footprints compelled me. It wasn’t until I read a testimonial by this one woman that it really hit home and started to make personal sense.
I know that some people find a vegan diet difficult to follow, but I can’t understand how or why. For me, the diet opened me up to a range of foods that I had previously ignored. My old diet was centered on four animals, with everything else only making up “sides,” that now strikes me as narrow and boring. My new vegan diet was exciting, colorful, and much more varied than my previous diet.
Oddly, something like that happened to me, too. When we agreed to become pescatarian a while back, there was a sudden crisis. I had no idea how to cook any more. Sure, I could make pasta or rice-n-beans, but you can’t have that every day. I remember that I became acutely depressed, lost confidence and grew more irritable during our transition. Certainly I fought with Hegui more. But then, a miracle! I learned some new recipes, got my groove back, and unexpectedly my taste expanded rather than contracted. You can really be creative if you’re not tied down by that meat portion as the highlight.
So I don’t know. I liked this book, though it was a bit over-the-top at times. Freston has encouraged me to use more of what I prefer to call ‘fake meats,’ which she seems to adore. Vegan sausage isn’t like “real” sausage but perhaps it does have a place in the kitchen after all. And believe it or not, I’ve been flirting with the idea of becoming… vegetarian after reading her book. That’s something.