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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Living Paperback – December 6, 2005
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As wonderful of a resource as the book otherwise is, though, I wished there had been a chapter covering the ethical reasons behind going vegan, not just the health benefits. Granted, the issue of factory farming was covered in depth in 'The Idiot's Guide to Vegetarianism' and they might not wanted to have significant overlap between these two similar books in the series, but it can never hurt to repeat and reword such important information, particularly since it seems to be the main reason most people go vegan. And while they did say that higher prices mean the food is higher quality (one always does get what one pays for), buying only or mostly organic isn't always an automatic guarantor of getting the best food available. Not everyone can afford the grocery bills that go along with buying the more expensive organic versions of normal foods, and there isn't always a huge difference between organic and regular. A number of the recipes (and they are great recipes) thus call for ingredients that are going to be rather expensive and/or hard (if not downright impossible, depending upon where one lives) to find. In spite of what the ultra-health-conscious crowd might say, I really don't think it's going to be jeopardizing my health if I use white flour and wheat grains instead of making a total switch to whole grains only. One can easily be a successful vegan without having a pantry and fridge stocked full of organic foods and hard-to-find products like oat flour and amaranth.
My other major issue with the book was the anti-vaccination section in the chapter on raising vegan kids and having a healthy vegan pregnancy. I kind of think that saving a life takes precedence over all else, even if it means having to violate one's ordinary beliefs and lifestyle. Better a baby get non-vegan vaccines and thus be able to live a full healthy life as a vegan than be at risk for being killed, maimed, or disabled by a scary disease like measles, polio, rubella, whooping cough, or diphtheria. A lot of the "information" in this section was just plain false, like claiming that vaccines cause autism (that ridiculous claim has been debunked by all of the reputable medical and scientific sources), that vaccines cause more harm than good and aren't usually effective (was this section written by the anti-vaccine radicals at Mothering magazine or something?!), that there are a lot of bad side effects (not mentioning that that's only true in a small minority of cases!), and that some vaccines contain mercury (only the flu vaccine still contains mercury, and only trace amounts). Reading blatantly false propaganda like this really raises my blood pressure, and it had no place in an otherwise very sound and researched book!
In spite of some questionable portions, I would recommend the book to someone who's just become a vegan or who is interested in becoming one, but only to be used as a supplement with other vegan-related books that cover some of these issues in more depth.
The vegan lifestyle, at its heart, is far more than a dietary regimen. It is a combination of a system of spiritual values, culinary choices for health, and economic values allied with `green' doctrines of helping to preserve resources. Surprisingly, the first is by far the most important of these three, especially to those like the authors of the `Vegan Freak' book. One need read only a few pages of this book to realize veganism may in some senses be considered a Hindu sect, as it shares many of the same values of this religion, including many approaches to animal products which are as extremely anti-scientific as the rejection of some scientific theories by those who espouse creationism. As someone who has some reasonably sound background in Christian and Jewish doctrines, I can say with some certainty that vegan values are NOT shared by either Christian, Jewish, or Muslim value systems. In fact, the Judeo-Christian scriptures are often cited as justifications for using animal products. I will also venture the thought that the vegan doctrines are not consistent with secular ethical theory. By the definition assumed by every ethical value system, including those based on Judaism and Christianity, moral principles are those principals related specifically to behavior toward other humans. Thus, the vegan apologists are truly stretching the meaning of `ethical' or `moral' in order to add cachet to their preaching, which it does not deserve. That doesn't mean these values are baseless. It just means they need some justification which is independent of moral theories.
Now that is not to say many vegan values are not shared by the non-vegan population at large. Most civilized people, and even cultures which may be considered pre-civilized savages, place a value on `humane' treatment of animals. Thus, we have dedicated a fair amount of resources to SPCA organizations and other animal rescue organizations. It is also due more to ignorance than to inhumanity that we indulge in animal products which are raised in an inhumane manner. And, the rationale that these animals would never have lived if it were not for our raising them specifically for food is scant excuse.
As sound as the basic vegan value system is, to some peoples' minds, it seems to cross some line from humane principles to surprising extremes when it raises its ban against literally every animal product, no matter how remotely removed from cruel commercial animal husbandry. Two of the most extreme examples are bans against vaccines because they are incubated in eggs and many beers and wines, because they are clarified using animal products. Less extreme, but similarly questionable are the prohibitions against milk and eggs, especially if one makes the effort to purchase products raised according to humane husbandry techniques. Here, one encounters many of the health concerns of vegans, and for many people, milk and eggs have health problems. But not for everyone. And, eggs and milk products are the basis of some of the most nutritious and delicious food products.
`Vegan Freaks', as one may assume from the title, is the most extremely doctrinaire of the three books. As with the `freaks' of the 60's and later, they revel in their differentness, making that a fourth leg of their vegan lifestyle. `...Vegan Living' is less strident, but, it is no less doctrinally `pure'. It is somewhat easier to read, as it does not have the attitude of poking a stick in the eyes of non-vegans. Both are excellent starting points and both have very good bibliographies for obtaining additional information. But, neither contains any major sections on recipes! And this is where a purchaser may be most surprised, believing that these are `cookbooks'.
`Vegan Planet' is substantially different, as it is a cookbook from start to finish. In fact, it is not even doctrinally pure vegan, as it joyfully includes bread recipes which use yeast! As I write this, I realize that it has been a very long time since I took high school biology, and I'm no longer sure whether yeasts are related to the animal protozoans or the `vegetable' fungi. Except for this somewhat gray area, the book is otherwise true vegan, except that it never leaves the kitchen in order to climb on its soapbox and preach its gospel of avoiding animal products in every form.
In the end, if you have health concerns which bring you to the vegan diet, `Vegan Planet' is certainly the book you want. It will give you hundreds of recipes which simulate dishes traditionally cooked with milk, plus lots of great recipes for the staple vegan protein replacements such as beans, pulses, and grains. The other two books may only be of value if you are interested in the vegan value system. And, although these books mention the raw `cooking' style, neither deals with it in any depth. For that, I suggest `RAW, The UnCook Book' by Juliano.