Book Review: Vegan Freak

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I’ve got seven books in the queue to be reviewed. This is the first of those seven, with the rest of them following in the coming weeks. This one’s long overdue.

An abbreviated version of this review will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Clamor Magazine.

Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World
[ Purchase – use code punkrocks111 for 20% off! ]
Bob Torres and Jenna Torres
Foreword by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Tofu Hound Press, 2005

There have been a couple of “Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World”-type books written in the last few years (Erin Pavlina’s Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World and Carol J. Adams’ Living Among Meat Eaters come to mind), but our friends Bob and Jenna‘s Vegan Freak takes a fresh look at the challenge of living an animal-friendly life (apologies to Eric) in a world that makes it hard to do so.

Vegan Freak sets itself apart right from the start, letting us know that the “health nut” and “the hippie” aren’t the intended audience for this book. Rather, the focus is on ethical vegans looking to recharge their batteries and lacto-ovo vegetarians who are looking for that last nudge. They also let you know that you’ll be seeing the word “fuck” a few times in their book, something you probably won’t come across in the more family-friendly books. Reading Vegan Freak on a lunchbreak at work is like sitting across from your favorite swearing friends at a restaurant: they’re hilarious to be around and you love every minute, but you hope your first grade teacher doesn’t walk in and hear them talking like that.

The first chapter, “Vegan and Freaky,” takes a look at how the authors came to veganism and what it really means to be vegan. They advocate the “cold tofu” approach—going right to veganism for three weeks rather than slowly transitioning. It’s an interesting idea, one that’s worked well for a number of people. That said, I don’t think it would have worked for me. My gradual transition wasn’t about not being able to give up cheese, but was slow because I didn’t have all the facts yet. During my transitional phase, one that was admittedly too long, I was educating myself about the dairy and egg industries as well as learning to cook without both. Once I was fully informed, however, the phasing out of dairy and eggs was a fast process. So the “cold tofu” approach will probably work best for those lacto-ovos whose favorite line to vegans is, “I know I should be vegan, but…”

In the first chapter, Bob and Jenna also discuss their own pathways to veganism and take on the vegan police.

Chapter two, titled “In Which We Get All AR On You,” takes a high-level view at the ethical arguments for veganism. While most of the material in this chapter won’t be news to those who have memorized Diet for a New America and Meat Market, it’s thorough while also being concise. A nice, thick recommended reading list is included.

With all the reasons to go vegan laid out, next up comes the most difficult part of going vegan. It has nothing to do with nutrition or finding suitable substitutions for cheese. Nope… the worst part is having to deal with other people, particularly if you’re the quiet, non-confrontational type. Chapter three, “Hell is Other People,” deals with exactly this issue. The recommendation: don’t be aggressive, but don’t be meek. This includes when dealing with anti-vegan vegetarians (because milk doesn’t kill the cow!) and perhaps the worst group of all: the vocal ex-vegan. The personal antecdotes stand out, particularly the rant on Bob’s Uncle Bill (listen to podcast 22 for a rundown on Bob and Jenna’s Christmas 2005 run-in with the unapologetic meat-eating uncle).

Chapter four covers what to eat, both at home and in restaurants. This is a great chapter to show your parents (unless there’s a lot of cursing in it, which I can’t remember if there is) so they can see exactly what a vegan is and what types of things are off-limits. One omission I was surprised at, though, was in the paragraph about eating out in Italian restaurants. While they mention that you should ask about what’s in the sauces, they don’t mention that a lot of freshly prepared pasta contains eggs. A lot of restaurants will stick with dry pasta which is less likely to contain animal products, but it’s still worth asking the first time you eat somewhere if their pasta contains eggs.

The fifth chapter focuses on what to wear. This includes not only alternatives to leather and wool, but what you wear when you’re playing like Marvin Gaye and getting it on (vegan condoms) and what you wear on your skin (making sure your tattoos are vegan). While many vegan books cover the issue of wool, leather, and even silk, not many touch upon tattoos, condoms, and sex toys. Bravo.

I would liked to have seen some discussion of the environmental issues surrounding the production of pleather, a petroleum-based leather alternative suggested in the book, but I think it’s outside the scope of what they aimed to cover. Perhaps they’ll discuss it as a topic on their blog or something.

The book closes out with a basic, but important wish: Go Vegan, Stay Vegan. Bob and Jenna realize that it’s not just about transitioning to veganism, but living a vegan life for the long-term. Vegan Freak will help you do just that.

As with any good non-fiction book, the learning doesn’t stop when you finish the last page. You’re not left out to dry here: Vegan Freak has an accompanying website, blog, podcast, and forum as well as a great resource appendix I think they’ll even come to your house and talk you down from a cheese-induced high if you ask them to.

There’s more support now than ever for new and transitioning vegans. 2005 saw the release of more vegan-themed books and cookbooks than any recent year that i can remember and of those, Vegan Freak is one of the essential reads, particularly for young vegans. Vegan Freak reminds us that being different is OK… and it’s OK to be a freak. Thank goodness.

4 Responses to “Book Review: Vegan Freak”

  1. Dreena

    Thanks for the review, Ryan.

    I too found the ‘gradual’ approach worked best for me, and for many of the people I know with families. I think it can be easier for single people to go ‘cold tofu’ (although, it wasn’t how I transitioned before getting married and having kids). When parents look at changes that impact the lives/health of their kids, they need to gather all the information they can and sometimes, as you say, that means a gradual approach. They see that it is safe, and not difficult, and they use the time “warming up” their kids/spouse to the changes.

  2. Eric

    No apologies necessary. This is why I named my site An Animal-Friendly Life!

    Great review. :)

    Dreena, I was fortunate to go vegan “cold tofu(rkey)” and to have my spouse do the same (though she generally considers herself a strict vegetarian, since she won’t avoid a food if honey is the only non-vegan-kosher ingredient), but I realized that most people are not research-intensive enthusiast-oriented types like me who go after learning curves with a wrecking ball, so good point.

  3. VegFab

    I know this post is pretty old but if anyone out there is still reading this I wanted to find out if any other vegans out there felt this book too preachy and judgemental? I was taken back to my highschool years of feeling as though I didn’t fit in. Ugh…

  4. Zizzy

    Perused this book at the library and not for me since i have been a quiet vegan for about 23 years. Quiet means I just live an aninal free lifestyle and shut up about my choices. I do so because I try to convince people that all vegans are not obnoxious and always infighting and constant judging of others.
    I got to the part ‘The Body Politic’ and put it back on the shelf. More ugly ranting and vegan infighting as they go on about the authors of ‘Skinny Bitch’ and how they were “much craftier”. Geez.
    So it’s all about money for you. Are you jealous of their success per chance?
    Ya know I was once invested in a successful vegan business and after seeing all the hate and anger directed at this vegan business I said “Why serve such a rage filled and infighting group of people”.. I pulled out and never looked back.
    You do a GREAT DIS-service to vegans with your constant desire for conflict.

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