21 February 2011

5 must read books for vegetarians and vegans

I've always been a bookworm; a slightly obsessed, tending towards a hermit's lifestyle kind of bookworm. But I've come to understand that not all people share this innate need to devour books. But in some cases I believe it's rather important to be well read. In particular, I'd say it's very important to be a well read vegan or vegetarian.

Now before you hem and haw, here's why it's important: as a vegetarian or vegan you will be asked questions about your lifestyle. Friends, family, coworkers, and your worst enemies will start asking you questions and will want you to defend your choices. The more educated you are on all the subjects that contribute to the life of a conscious herbivore, the better you make us look, the easier it is to point curious friends in the direction of good info, and the more secure you will feel about your choice! I've compiled a list of 5 books that will make this possible and also enjoyable. So warm up your library card and break out that reading lamp!

1. One of the first books that really made me seriously consider veganism is Karen Dawn's Thanking The Monkey, Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals. The quirky title of this book is really just the cherry on top of a colorful, glossy selection full of vegan celebrities, quotes, statistics, and oh...all the important topics you should be acquainted with as a vegan. What I love about this book, and why I would recommend this book to anyone who is just entering into veganism or who is interested in what the movement is all about, is that Dawn finds a way to deliver tons and tons of scary and sometimes gruesome information without having to resort to violent imagery. While I do feel those types of images can help sway or shock certain people into action, it can also really scare them away. Dawn writes this book in a very approachable fashion. In fact, Karen Dawn herself is very approachable! After reading this book I reviewed it for my blog and was almost dumbfounded to see that she had seen my post and left a comment! To get the full run down on what this book has to offer you can read the review for yourself.

2. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is another must read for the conscious herbivore. Beautifully written and convincingly researched, the author of Everything is Illuminated gives us his personal history and discovery of where our meat comes from. While Foer makes it quite clear that his goal is not to write the definitive case for vegetarianism, it is the choice that he ultimately chooses for himself and his newborn son. I found this book to be incredibly intriguing, but like Dawn's book, very accessible. Surprising characters like a vegan who is designing a slaughterhouse and a vegetarian cattle rancher give this book more depth and perspectives which only really strengthen the pro-herbivore message. For a little more in depth look at Foer's book, such as his tongue in cheek argument for eating dogs, check out the full review.

3. So I made the decision to go vegan. In my transition I made the mental leap to include all animals in my circle of compassion because I realized, well, they have feelings too, right? Based on that it was just a given that I don't agree with animal testing. I could wax on for hours about how intelligent animals are. Unfortunately though, one of my more scientifically minded friends started asking me how I could justify NOT testing on animals. What could we possibly do otherwise? Test directly on humans? I had no response to give. Here is where Dr. C. Ray and Dr. Jean Swingle Greek's book Sacred Cows and Golden Geese would have come in handy. Bypassing the emotional, fuzzy, animal loving tactic, this book puts out cold hard facts as to why animal testing is not only unnecessary but also unscientific! This book is not just for the scientifically minded though - it's very readable. The authors, one an MD the other a DVM thoroughly and artfully lay out their argument in a way that is hard to ignore. For those of us who are already vegans and vegetarians, the word vivisection likely sends a shiver down our spines. We know it's hurting the animals, but unfortunately that argument won't be enough to stop a billion dollar industry and convince people that there is a better way to work on finding cures. Educate yourself on the available non-animal options and on the pitfalls of scientific data collected from animal testing which cannot ever fully be trusted to represent how the same chemicals will manifest in human trials. While compassion and kindness are absolutely valid reasons to abstain from hurting animals, when it comes to an industry that is wrapped up in so much money and such high societal expectations for results, sometimes the only way to stop a cycle of exploitation is to appeal to people's sense of reason. That's exactly what this book aims to do.

4. While some of us might have been swayed into an herbivore's diet after learning about slaughterhouses, others may have come to the lifestyle in a very different fashion. At some point in our lives all of us probably come to a point where we think about the relationship between what we put into our bodies and how we look and feel. In our quest to be younger, stronger, and healthier we turn to all kinds of different diets, therapies and approaches. Do a little research and you will find that a plant based diet is the healthiest option for a long, healthy, disease free life. In what is said to be "the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted," The China Study by the Campbell father and son team takes an uncompromising look at American health and offers a solution; a vegan diet. Let the Dr. tell you exactly why "there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants." For your health and the health of your loved ones, a must read book.

5. And finally, what would a list of must read vegan books be without a cookbook? After all, we all have to eat, right? In fact, follow any random vegan on twitter and I bet they talk about food with more enthusiasm and more often than any omni's you know. Contrary to popular belief, being an herbivore doesn't mean subsisting on alfalfa sprouts and carrot sticks alone (although I do love me some sprouts). While I'm sure it is possible to be an herbivore that eats out every meal you could probably save your wallet (and depending on what you're eating) your waistband a little grief by learning to cook a few basic (or extravagant) meals. As everyone has different tastes, dietary restrictions, and preferences, I can't offer just one cookbook as a definitive must read. Take some time to browse your bookstore or Amazon and find ones that work for you. Here are a few of my favorites to get your started: The Veganomicon, Love Soup, Vegan Brunch, and the Kind Diet.

6. Wait I thought this was 5 must read books? I have one more! Love him, hate him, don't know anything about him - Michael Pollan is a pretty popular dude. Why should we care? Because Americans listen to what he has to say, and among other things, he has shamelessly admitted in The Omnivore's Dilemma that he pities vegans. Oh great, a celebrity to teach his adoring public some pretty words to throw at us. Ugh. Everyone is allowed their own opinion, and I have already written copiously about this book, so I'm not suggesting we create an Omni's D bonfire because he trash talked herbivores, but rather that we read his book. Michael Pollan's books are not a case for vegetarianism and they are most certainly not a case for veganism, but Pollan has a huge audience. He tells people what they want to hear, that he went through the process of following his food from barnyard to plate and still came out a meat eater. Which again, just because we don't share the same opinion doesn't mean his opinion isn't valid. I feel that to be an educated, well informed vegan we should hear all sides. Even the arguments that make us want to tear the book into a thousand pieces and stomp on it. In Pollan's defense, the book is beautifully written. I finished it in two days and could hardly stop reading it. The ending, which I have already spoiled - sorry- would leave any herbivore feeling crestfallen. But on that day, and that day will come, when someone asks how you would counter Michael Pollan's arguments, you will be properly prepared and not just sputter and stammer like ...well like someone who deserves to be pitied.

Have some other great books to suggest? Leave me a comment!

Lacey Walker | @quinoaween
Lacey is a food photographing, French speaking, English teaching, travel enthusiast. She's been known to cut a rug. She's also been known to spend all day in bed eating vegan waffles and talking to her cat Hibou. Follow Lacey on her blog and Flickr.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/morganlevy