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.
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.