Books on Veganism

You’re probably on this site because you’re already vegan or are vegan-curious, so just to reinforce those principles, burgeoning or fully-fledged, here’s a selection of some vegan-friendly reading material that I’ve found particularly useful and interesting in the time I’ve been vegan. There are a few vegan recipe books listed as well as feminist-vegetarian treatises, animal rights, and even vegan poetry so it’s quite an eclectic selection. I hope you find some inspiration here, just as I have done. I’m always open to suggestions of further reading on the subject, and recommendations of awe-inspiring recipe books, just get in touch.

Vegan for Life

I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to actually get hold of this book, as I greatly admire the work of Jack Norris, RD., and Ginny Messina (the Vegan RD). However, I acquired it at the vegan mini mall in Portland on my inaugural trip to the vegan-friendly city and have enjoyed perusing it over recent months. Full of sound, evidence-based advice for new and old vegans alike, these two respected registered dieticians debunk myths about vegan nutrition whilst remaining accessible and entertaining.

This is no dry nutrition textbook, nor is it padded out with redundant inanities or faux science. It is credible, it is easy to read and it should be on your book shelf (or in your hand).

So What Do You Eat?

When I was lucky enough to live almost next door to a vegan organic supermarket in Chorlton, Manchester, England, this book was one of the ones that caught my eye. With a title familiar to every vegan (surely!), So What Do You Eat? is such a simple, well-designed book to introduce people to vegan diets.

I bought a copy of this for my mother a few years back, knowing that she’d appreciate the wipe clean pages and spiral bound nature of the copy I acquired. She now has several vegan recipes in her repertoire and understands a lot more about the health aspects of veganism. Rather than badger her to improve her and the rest of the family’s health, I bought this book as an impromptu present and let stealthy healthy recipes do the work for me.

Thrive Fitness – Brendan Brazier

As mentioned elsewhere on the site, this book, Thrive Fitness by Brendan Brazier, was invaluable prior to my cross-Canada charity bike ride in the summer of 2010. Brendan Brazier is an Iron Man Triathlete, and has won ultramarathons entirely thriving on a vegan diet. He is a fantastic example of how nonsensical it is to say that people ‘need’ meat to be healthy and strong. He explodes the protein-myth and provides some excellent training suggestions in this book.

He gives detailed outlines of exercises, regimes, and training tips alongside amazing recipes for homemade energy bars, protein bars, smoothies, healthy salad dressings (the hemp oil and mustard one is amazing!), and loads of other random stuff. Brazier’s book introduced me to salba which is a heritage variety of the more ubiquitous chia. Salba has a more consistent and substantially better nutrient profile than chia, with a high amount of fibre, and essential fats, including GLA, in the tiny little seeds.

The Thrive Fitness book was above all highly inspiring prior to my difficult trip, and allayed any concerns I had about being able to complete the 3500mile cycle on a vegan diet alone. I highly recommend this book, or his original Thrive Diet book, which skips the fitness aspect and simply concentrates more fully on the vegan nutrition side of things.

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon

This is a beautiful book all about the intelligence and emotional lives of animals, particularly those usually viewed as meat-producing units as opposed to living, feeling, creatures just like us human animals. Whilst it has no pretence of being a political or philosophical treatise on animal rights, animal cruelty, veganism or any such things, it simply provides beautiful and moving observations of the extraordinary inner-lives of animals, such as protective chickens looking after each other, the eponymous singing piggy, and many others.

It’s a little shmaltzy at times, but a lovely, lovely read. Just don’t let your non-vegan friends see it; it’ll lead to ridicule, mark my words.

The Sexual Politics of Meat – Carol J. Adams

In stark contrast to the book above, this one is a heavy-hitting philosophical and political work which cleverly aligns the movements of feminism and veganism and places them squarely in an interconnected relationship. A friend gave me this to read recently and it magically tied together several areas of my thinking that hadn’t quite connected before.

Carol Adams really grapples with the important issues in this groundbreaking work, first published in 1990, and now enjoying a twenty-year anniversary issue. She provides entertaining and heartbreaking examples of the way in which meat-eating is tied, both directly and indirectly, to ideas of masculinity and virility. UPDATE: The relatively recent VegNews ‘Man’ Issue sparked some renewed debate on this issue, especially over at Sarah’s great Queer Vegan Food site.

From details of cultural traditions of the man of the family having the meat, and the women and children eating vegetables, to the dismemberment of both animals and women as consumable body parts, with no relevant emotional or intellectual lives, she systematically empowers us to think of the absent referent in any discussion of women and animals. It’s a little hard-going at times, particularly if you’ve no background in philosophy and analytical processes, but it’s worth reading cover to cover; you’ll probably find it clarifies and ties together a whole load of things you’d never associated before.

She was heavily ridiculed when she first published the book, and even before that as word of its potential publication leaked, but this is often the case with truly important works that shake the foundations of traditional thought.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World!

This is a fabulous little book, full of tasty vegan recipes. There are some absolutely delicious ideas, elaborate and impressive treats alongside the basic recipes for the perfect vegan cupcake every time which can then be adulterated in any way you like! I particularly love the vanilla cupcake recipe that can be souped up into a vanilla chocolate delight, vanilla cupcake with some kind of crazy frosting, or just eaten alone and enjoyed as a moist and wonderful straight from the oven steaming treat!

Ahh, many a delight has been created out of this superb vegan recipe book. It should be on every vegan’s kitchen shelf, and those who aren’t yet vegan should have it as a stocking filler to encourage them! The design is really cute too, with really easy to follow recipes and excellent and attractive photos of the cupcakes, which is often lacking in old school vegan and vegetarian cookbooks. Get it, bake it, eat it! Vegan cupcakes are taking over the world, be part of the revolution!

Practical Ethics – Peter Singer

Practical Ethics by Peter Singer was on my reading list in my first term at uni when I studied Philosophy and English Lit. Strangely I don’t really remember it having a huge impact on me at the time, I think that’s probably because I was already pretty much vegetarian and just needed to take responsibility for my own diet in order to become a card-carrying vegsoc member! In fact, I remember a lecturer saying that Peter Singer didn’t necessarily advocate vegetarianism, just better rights for animals, or some such thing. The lecturer wasn’t vegetarian. Having reread some passages recently I can see that Singer doesn’t explicitly advocate vegetarianism, and he certainly takes issue with animal rights activists who do some ethically dubious, and down right immoral things in the name of animal rights. What Singer does point out is that it is valid, and indeed, necessary to extend the rights that we apply to our own species to other species.

In a highly readable article Singer worte about liberation movements, which you can read here, he makes a timely point about the comparison between the rights of women and the rights of animals. A direct quote reads:

In the past the idea of “The Rights of Animals” … has been used to parody the case for women’s rights. When Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of later feminists, published her Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, her ideas were widely regarded as absurd, and they were satirized in an anonymous publication entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. …[which] tried to refute Wollstonecraft’s reasonings by showing that … If sound when applied to women, why should the arguments not be applied to dogs, cats, and horses? They seemed to hold equally well for these “brutes”; yet to hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd; therefore the reasoning by which this conclusion had been reached must be unsound, and if unsound when applied to brutes, it must also be unsound when applied to women, since the very same arguments had been used in each case.

Anyone daring to concur with that apparent ‘logic’ these days would face stiff opposition. Clearly the argument does function logically if we assume that the end proposition (that animals have no intrinsic rights) is true. So you could say (go on, I dare you!) that if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan then you fundamentally disagree with the equality (whilst maintaining the differences, of course) of men and women, and that essentially women have no rights.

As you can see, Singer is interesting, and very readable, I’d recommend this particular book as it isn’t an impenetrable philosophical text that you’ll end up using as a doorstop (Being and Nothingness anyone, blimey, that was fun). At least it’ll impress someone who comes round for a cup of tea… and give you something to talk about at the upcoming Animal Advocacy camp in Vancouver, should you, like me, be attending.

Talking Turkeys – Benjamin Zepheniah

Another, slightly less academic favourite is Talking Turkeys by poet Benjamin Zephaniah. This guy is a linguistic genius. He’s also hilarious, and I would suggest finding some audio of him reading on Youtube or iTunes or other such forums.

A little snippet from his work though, as a vegan appetiser…from “A Little Book of Vegan Poems”

Vegan Steven

There was a young vegan
Called Steven,
Who just would not kill for no reason,
This kid would not eat
No cheese or no meat
And he hated the foxhunting season….

hehe, he’s a rastafarian, vegan, kick-ass poet. Seek him out.

The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency

My grandad would be proud to see The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency on my list of favourites. I stole it from him, I mean borrowed, as a teenager and pored over it planning my future smallholding with rescue pigs and chickens, and a field of beans and a little duckpond, and great big apple trees and cherry trees, and, well I think you get the idea. Once he got sick of having to ask me for the book back him and my mum surprised me with my own shiny new copy for Christmas! Hurrah. He got his well-thumbed book back, and I got to make notes in the margins of mine. Ahh, bliss.

An unfortunate thing about the Seymour book is that it isn’t really geared towards vegans, so does have some bits about animal husbandry with an eye to killing and eating a variety of animals. I skipped over those bits as a teenager, although they may have inadvertently contributed to my veganism by making me think, hell, if I can’t kill it because it’s morally reprehensible why am I eating it? I’d like to think my grandad, who still finds the vegan thing very odd, would see the irony in that.

Anyway, back to the book. There’s some great general advice on how to go about setting up a smallholding for just you and your family or as a larger commercial venture. There are some incredibly inspiring illustrations that just make you desperately yearn for about five acres to start ploughing and sowing and gazing at fondly. Now I’m in Canada I’m that much closer to my dream of being a self-sufficient smallholder.

Veganomicon

The Veganomicon is up next. I have to confess I don’t actually own this book just yet. Mainly because I discovered it just prior to moving to Canada and it’s a hefty tome of a book which I couldn’t face buying twice or lugging over the sea. I’m buying it here, don’t you worry! My friend who briefly dabbled with veganism bought this as her introduction to vegan cooking, and it’s rather ace. I remember an absolutely delicious recipe for raspberry chocolate brownies. I also remember that we really struggle to eat these as we had spent all day cooking up a storm, a real vegan banquet, with five courses.

Our respective partners at the time sat around drinking beer and getting a little concerned about how much food they were expected to eat and when the brownies finally were ready at about 11pm, we’d already had canapes, vegan samosas, aubergine and potato croquettes, courgette fritters, a palestinian pistachio salad, and some other stuff as appetisers in between (not all these recipes were in the book, I made a few of them up). The washing up was horrendous, but it was one of the best days of my life! So, buy the Veganomicon and have a vegan banquet, get a bit drunk on vegan wine and save dessert for the next day. Invite me round, I’ll help hoover up the leftovers don’t worry.

UPDATE: Having owned a copy for a while now, I can safely say that it is amazing. Some favourite recipes include the chocolate hazelnut biscotti (the best biscotti one friend has ever eaten, so she says), the sundried tomato soup, and the cashew tofu ricotta which is just perfect for a brunchy treat with roasted cherry tomatoes and freshly baked bread. mmm.

The China Study

The China Study is a classic book on nutrition, diet, lifestyle and health but, although I recognise its importance, it really cannot be used as the ‘go-to’ resource for backing up health claims for vegan diets. It has had its detractors recently, and some for good reason, but it is still a seminal work in the canon of vegan literature. Basically the author is claiming that the plant-based diets of millions of people in China over many decades have contributed to the low incidence of chronic diseases in comparison to the meat-laden diets of the average Westerner.

There are an awful lot of studies that are actually studies that back up these claims, but the China Study is more a series of observations. So, whilst relevant, interesting, and highly influential it is not a scientifically rigorous work. Which does mean it’s a little easier to read than a several hundred page academic thesis on vegan nutrition. Dr. Mercola hates it, which means that I must love it! Definitely worth dipping into, just don’t quote it as your only health reference in defence of veganism as some Mercola-reading omnivore will rip you to shreds.


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