Cookbook reviews by Rachel: The Sexy Vegan »
Overall Rating: C
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced; most recipes unnecessarily complicated
Best for: People with lots of time to spend in the kitchen and who want to spend it on hearty, dude-friendly food
I kind of love Brian Patton, author of The Sexy Vegan. He’s basically what you’d get if John Hodgman and Ellen DeGeneres had a baby and the kid came out with Hodgman’s self-conscious nerdiness and Ellen’s dietary choices, plus hyperactivity. Patton recently tweeted a link to this yearbook photo. He makes silly jokes in his cookbook, starting with the title. He seems like the kind of friend I’d love to have at every potluck, especially the ones that involve drinking games until 2 a.m.
Thing is, friends like that don’t necessarily write the best cookbooks.
Like Brian himself, the book made me smile on nearly every page (in a Will Ferrell-meets-Shakespearean-puns kind of way: ”New England Blam Chowder: I cleverly change the C to a B and BLAM! We’ve got a delicious vegan chowder”; a dish called “My Balls”). But it’s been sitting on my shelf for months and the only time I’ve managed to use it is when I forced myself to so I could write this review.
The problem is not that these recipes don’t work or aren’t good. The problem is that they’re unnecessarily complicated, and Patton gives no hints or advice to convert them into something suitable for the everyday, after work, home cook. He doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s asking a lot, he just continues his charming-dude act.
Oh Brian, you’re just too high maintenance!
One entree that sounded amazing and that I considered making, Barbecue Ribz, involves flipping to SIX OTHER RECIPES. These include things like “Crazy Shit Vinegar” (a relish and flavored vinegar with peppers and carrots you could in theory make ahead of time and have on hand if you’re a member of the cult of Brian Patton) and “Blackened Seasoning”, which is just a spice blend, but seriously Brian, don’t make me mix it up ahead of time or do math and shit! I hate that! Just tell me what spices to use! The Millenium Cookbook isn’t even this complex!
And Millenium food this ain’t. The dishes I managed to accomplish—by taking a special, specific trip to the grocery store and planning way ahead—went over well with some nonvegan friends at a dinner party, but they were homey, not gourmet. Definitely not the kind of thing you’re glad you saved a whole afternoon for.
The Blam Chowder was not very clammy but a yummy, hearty, creamy vegetable soup. What really made it was the smokey flavor imparted by the tempeh bacon. But I cheated and used store-bought tempeh bacon, not Patton’s recipe (which takes a sub-recipe, liquid smoke, vegan Worcestershire sauce, and at least eight hours to marinate).
The jambalaya was like a chunky pepper/tomato sauce over rice; again, what made it was the sausage. Patton’s recipe for seitan sausage is more involved than say, Isa or Terry’s (it includes a cooked potato and mashed white beans), but it resulted in a softer texture which was a nice change. But the dish would have been just as delicious if he’d billed it as fast food, told you to make some rice while you chopped some veggies and opened a can of tomatoes, then added some Field Roast afterwards. It tasted basically like that. Not worth my whole day.
Final Verdict: An amusing but ultimately inessential addition to the growing vegan cannon.
Book Review: The Blood Sugar Solution, by Mark Hyman »
After PCRM’s recent body-shaming tactics, I wouldn’t be surprised if many omnivores were rightfully terrified of the plant-strong medical community. Who wants to consider making a lifestyle change when they will be derided and treated inhumanely in the process? I wouldn’t blame anyone who might potentially be interested in eschewing animal products for the sake of their health if they felt too upset and offended to consider transitioning into this lifestyle.
That is why I’m here to gently, kindly, and very lovingly tell you why Mark Hyman, M.D. is different, and why his new book, The Blood Sugar Solution, is truly fantastic. Dr. Hyman’s new book elegantly lays out a plan for anyone looking to adopt a plant-strong diet for health to do so effectively and as easily as possible. But perhaps most remarkably, he does this without shaming those he aims to help. In fact, he takes great care to explain how obesity related to animal product consumption and other processed foods is NOT anyone’s fault, and exposes how big business and factory farming are working against people’s own biology to create disease in the body. Regardless of body size, he suggests that there are ways to improve your health through a plant-strong diet rich in diverse greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Dr. Hyman states that weight loss need not be the primary goal of any nutrition regimen—any plan should foremost focus on incorporating wholesome, plant-strong foods, and that weight loss will naturally result. He sheds light on hormonal issues that can arise from eating different foods, and how moderation is near to impossible with addictive foods like cheese. He does not include any pictures of anyone’s legs with captions that say cheese made the legs the size that they are. He just spits straight biochemistry like the rad guy he is, and compassionately suggests that there are ways to boost energy and metabolism without extreme deprivation diets or dangerous surgery.
The Blood Sugar Solution touches some territory that may not apply to all vegans—if you’re already healthy, you may want to skip some of the individualized nutrition quizzes and chapters. What I do think is essential for all vegans are the latest scientific studies included that outline which nutrients are most essential for a healthful, long life as a plant-strong eater. There are also some beautiful recipes in the back, including a split pea and rosemary soup that is as easy to make as it is economical. Dr. Hyman wants people of all budgets to eat healthful soup, shame-free! What a great person!
One last note: Dr. Hyman is not a vegan (I checked with him on Twitter, just to make sure), but he heavily promotes plant-strong diets, and offers some really valuable advice for balancing your plant-strong diet. He advocates eating SLOW carbs, not LOW carbs, and sets the record straight on which essential vitamins and minerals we should all ensure we get in our diet to make sure we’re eating in a balanced way for longevity. I highly recommend you check out The Blood Sugar Solution if you’re interested in getting more info on how to eat a balanced vegan diet, or if you know someone who may want to transition into a vegan diet primarily for health reasons and wants to feel supported and informed, not ashamed and discouraged.
Here’s to our health, the health of the animals and the planet!
Book review: The Tourist Trail, by John Yunker »
You guys, I honestly don’t like being super-negative, especially about things that mean well, like fiction written by and about animal activists. Laura likes to sell my positive reviews as big deals because I “hate everything,” but I don’t, I swear. I just have high standards! For everything! Including myself, which translates to “trying to be better than a big jerk about things that don’t meet my expectations.” Besides, that’s what Goodreads is for.
Ashland Creek Press sent me a copy of John Yunker’s The Tourist Trail, and honestly, I didn’t much care for it. The premise is interesting enough: a lonely scientist studying penguins in South America meets-cute with an eco-terrorist captain of a Sea Shepherd-style anti-whaling vessel. Meanwhile, an FBI agent—with a past!—and his partner hunt the eco-terrorist, and a programmer follows his vegan activist crush onto a Sea Shepherd-style anti-whaling vessel. Connections!
The vegan twist is that there are vegans and they are heroic, and The Man is the enemy. Also, animals are awesome and humans shouldn’t be such dicks about using up all the earth’s resources, lest we unintentionally murder all the animals we aren’t intentionally murdering. Like I said, an interesting premise with a decent twist.
My main problem with The Tourist Trail is the actual writing. It’s clunky, and stilted, and the plot machinations are so painfully obvious—the plot twists send up flares and wave flags from miles away. It’s disappointing, I think, to read a novel that’s excellent thematically but really poorly executed.
You know what, though? It’s very Dan Brown. It’s Dan Brown writes a pro-vegan eco-thriller. If that sounds good to you, then read The Tourist Trail. If not, there are plenty more books in the world out there. Like The Murder of the Century, that was pretty great.
Book review: Out of Breath, by Blair Richmond »
I love books! Lucky me, Ashland Creek Press recently sent me Out of Breath, which is a novel by “Blair Richmond” about runners, vegans, and vampires living in the Pacific Northwest.
This is the second first-of-a-series novel about vegans and vampires that we’ve come across; recall Merlene Alicia Vassal’s The Vampire and the Vegan, which Jenny reviewed back in May. I think Out of Breath is the superior work; there’s no grody “love-making” and the characters are all clearly drawn.
I love a teen novel almost as much as I love a teen television dramedy, which is to say, passionately, but Out of Breath had difficulty balancing its message with its plot, so I feel like a lot of the hilarity was unintentional. Maybe I’m not the ideal audience, who I think is actually a teen-novel reader who is vegetarian and/or hasn’t considered a vegan lifestyle before. The “why veganism is really the only choice” arguments are compelling, but not very deftly incorporated into the plot. The action would be zipping along—I read the 263 pages in about an hour—and then our hero, Kat, would drop a big old paragraph of “Meat Is Murder” on us, like, way to ruin the mood, lady.
The plot is rather formulaic, but although Richmond telegraphs the twist before it comes, you won’t guess its scope until the author drops it on you, and it’s pretty good. I laughed with disbelief and appreciation for the shocking ridiculousness of it. Don’t take that the wrong away: It’s AMAZING; it’s silly and it’s weightless and soap operatic and wonderful. I mean: It’s set in a town called Lithia, and everyone’s supposed to be happy because THERE’S NATURALLY OCCURRING LITHIUM IN THE WATER. So much wtfuckery! You will probably love it.
Despite its heavy-handed deployment, the vegan message is refreshing to read. Better “Don’t eat animal products” than “alcohol/drugs/premarital sex KILLS,” by a million; at least the information is truthful and useful, and might positively influence the young readers of Out of Breath. Presumably. I wouldn’t argue that any one YA novel would have measurable impact on even the most impressionable readers, but as part of a series of pro-vegan novels, it could make a positive difference. I realize this is the same sort of thing that evangelists of all beliefs say about their niche literature, but unlike the Left Behind people, vegans are actually right, and I know that begs the question but shut up it’s true and you know it.
If you want to read the book—and believe me, you do—the Kindle version of Out of Breath is on sale for $2.99 throughout the month of October. That is cheap! Ashland Press will also hold an online book-release party on Oct. 31, which will involve an author Q&A, giveaways, and tips and tricks for vegan trick-or-treating. Because “Blair Richmond” is a pseudonym, the author won’t make any physical appearances to promote the book, so this internet party will be your sole chance to interact with this person. I recommend you drop the three bucks, read Out of Breath, and visit the Halloween party to ask the questions you will doubtless have about it afterward. Actually, read it while eating some vegan Halloween candy. It’s like a vegan marshmallow in literary form, anyway: you love it while you’ve got it, though the enjoyment is fleeting, but it’s better for you (and the animals!) than the standard fare.
Thanks so much to Ashland Press for sending me a review copy of Out of Breath. I really enjoyed it!
Book review: Thrive Foods by Brendan Brazier! »
You know who Brendan Brazier is, right? He’s a Canadian-born professional Ironman triathlete, international bestselling author, and creator of VEGA natural whole food products and supplements. He’s pretty much a vegan superhero, and he just released a brand new, ultra-informative book called Thrive Foods, which was ever-so-kindly sent to me for review.
The perfect follow-up to his acclaimed vegan nutrition guide, The Thrive Diet, Thrive Foods covers some of Brazier’s original material and delves into much more detail. The first four chapters cover everything you’d ever need to know about the foods we eat and how it translates to fuel and well-being in the body. Chapter one, Health’s Dependence on Nutrition, discusses nutrition’s effects on the body and mind, from stress levels to sleeping patterns. Chapter two, Eating Resources, discusses in glorious detail the effect of our diets on the environment—did you know that livestock production uses 70 percent of all arable land, and 30 percent of all land surface on the PLANET?
Chapter three, An Appetite for Change, explores what Brazier calls the Nutrient-to-Resource Ratio, which analyzes the total amount of each natural resource that goes into a food’s production in exchange for the amount of nutrients it offers. He presents the most beneficial foods based on personal health and environmental preservation. Brazier introduces the Eight Key Components of Good Nutrition in chapter four, and suggests some nutrient-dense pantry essentials for any healthy vegan’s home.
The recipes arrive in chapter six, and they are pretty incredible. Thrive Foods features 200 recipes, from Brazier himself and also a slew of celebrity vegan chefs like Amanda Cohen (Dirt Candy), Chad Sarno (Saf, Whole Foods’ Health Starts Here program), and Tal Ronnen. Some of the recipes are straight from the menus of some of our favorite vegan hotspots, like Candle 79, Millennium, and Fresh. Candied grapefruit salad! Baby zucchini and avocado tartar! Wild rice with kabocha squash and sage butter! Chocolate-chip maple maca ice cream! OK, I’m drooling.
Brazier has created a consummate guide to health and nutrition for every human being, regardless of athletic prowess. Thrive Foods is an encyclopedia of well-being and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from its wealth of information and incredible food. The Thrive Diet caused me to question the effects of my diet in my body, and now Thrive Foods has taught me about its effects on the world.
Wanna get your learn on? Watch the book trailer, buy the book, and like Brendan Brazier on Facebook to download a Thrive Foods introduction and three free recipes! You can also enter to win a trip to Hollywood to meet Brendan at the Alive! Expo on Friday, Sept. 16!
Guest book review: Veganist by Kathy Freston! »
Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World came out last year and spurred several notable Kathy Freston appearances on major talk shows, including Oprah, Martha, and Ellen (my fave, duh. I LOVE YOU ELLEN!!). Surprisingly, it didn’t make the VegNews list of 2010’s most influential non-cookbook books and frankly, that’s a mistake. However, its message is not abolitionist, so I can see why it might be omitted. The book simply encourages you to make gradual changes and provides convincing evidence and testimonials.
I understand why some vegans have a problem with the non-abolitionist approach. I get this way occasionally, too. Even though Meatless Monday is great—and I’m grateful for friends who’ve said my influence has caused them eat more vegan food—it’s still annoying sometimes. I want to shout at everyone, “DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO STOP EATING THINGS THAT USED TO BE ALIVE?” This book does not shout that.
Veganist is super-interesting. It outlines 10 promises that Freston assures will come true if you make an effort to adopt a vegan diet. A good chunk of it focuses on the health benefits of a vegan diet, the evidence for which is overwhelming. She interviews several specialists on heart disease and diabetes and knocks your socks off by showing you how far-reaching the effects of eliminating cholesterol and animal fat can be. She also has a few weight-loss testimonials. I can’t totally agree with that one however—I haven’t lost a pound since going vegan. I am still sexy though. And single. Ahem, gentlemen.
The most powerful chapters for me were the ones on animal suffering and spirituality, especially the story of two generations of cows who live and work on a dairy farm. This is a heart-wrenching and in-depth tale that reveals the horror of the milk and cheese industry, told convincingly by Freston. It’s nice to see her focus so clearly on the foodstuffs most folks have the hardest time giving up. Talking about a slaughterhouse or a broiler farm would be almost easier and more acceptable, but she takes the difficult path and does so brilliantly.
The spirituality chapter is wonderful. It shows many angles of all religions and encourages you to question what your god would really think of you eating animals and participating in a world of violence. It is a fascinating argument, backed up with evidence from spiritual texts and testimonials from different spiritual advisors, and it got me thinking in a way I hadn’t before.
I was apprehensive about reading this book. My opinion of Kathy Freston has always been tainted. She has written a bunch of self-help-type “finding love” books, she used honey on her Martha Stewart appearance, and her whole involvement in that “vegan-ish” Oprah episode was annoying—I felt like the whole thing was basically just Michael Pollan jerking off.
However, she handled Martha Steward’s difficult questions with grace, she put her hand on Michael Pollan’s arm when he said there was nothing wrong with eating animals and gently disagreed, and my distaste for self-help/love books is mostly just because I am single (and sexy!).
Ultimately, I think Veganist is excellent. It’s an easy read, but her arguments are indisputable. Though I don’t know how many people it will actually convince to go vegan, it’s an excellent source of inspiration and information, especially regarding health issues. It provides great insight into the vegan lifestyle: There are shopping lists and meal suggestions in the afterward, which any parent or sibling of a vegan would find informative and useful. It would make a fantastic gift for a non-vegan family member, too.
If you are already vegan and looking for a solid read, pick it up. If you’re feeling particularly abolitionist, you might not like it. Nevertheless, it’s very good and I think Freston’s exposure, along with the great information she provides, will create a huge ripple effect. Even though it may not make people go vegan, it will open a lot of eyes, minds, and hearts to the long list of benefits this lifestyle provides.
Good job, Kathy Freston. Now, let’s get me a boyfriend!
Laura Yasinitsky is a writer, comic, waitress, and animal-lover based in New York City. She has appeared on Comedy Central’s Open-Mic Fight and writes for US Weekly’s Fashion Police. You can follow her silliness on Twitter @LaraYaz and read about her animal-friendly adventures here.
Guest post: A book to actually help you stay a Vegan for Life »
A recent Psychology Today article stated that most vegetarians eventually go back to eating meat (I’d like to point out that this was based on a pretty small survey). I think one big reason why people give up the veg life is nutrition—not that it’s hard to have a nutritious plant-based diet, because it’s not, but because they don’t know how to. OK, and because they are sick of explaining how to nosy meat-eaters.
I’m sure fine Vegansaurus readers know that you don’t have to eat beef to get iron or drink milk to get calcium, and that there are plenty of awesome plant-based sources of protein. But do you know the why behind all of that? Not a lot of people do; after all, how many of the omnivores you know can rattle off a bunch of facts about the nutritional content of eggs, or tell you exactly how many grams of protein are in a serving of chicken breast? Not many. That is why you should pick up Vegan for Life, an awesome new book by dieticians Jack Norris and Ginny Messina. Your own health will improve, thanks to the excellent knowledge the book imparts to you, and you’ll be able to get your know-it-all on when someone dismisses your chickpea masala as void of protein.
The best thing about Vegan for Life is how even-handed the book is. Norris and Messina don’t make a bunch of nutty healthy claims, and they don’t pull facts out of their asses; they present the science and let it speak for itself. The nutritional breakdown of foods like tofu, black beans, and spinach are well known and can be proven; there’s no need to make that stuff up. This isn’t a book for hippies who think they can be sustained on sunlight and happy thoughts; it’s a common-sense guide to eating a healthy and varied plant-based diet. That approach makes it lot harder for naysayers to be dismissive.
Vegan for Life offers an easy way to eat to a healthy daily vegan diet, like a food pyramid for the cruelty-free. They talk about healthy vegan eating for all stages of life, from childhood to old age, and give a great guide to eating vegan while pregnant and breastfeeding. They also look at vegan diets for people with conditions like diabetes and heart disease. There’s something for everyone in here, and it all underlines the fact that vegan eating is healthy and feasible for everyone. The ethical reasons for eating vegan are outlined at the back of the book; if you already know, you already know, but readers who aren’t familiar with them will read about all the cruelty that a vegan diet avoids after already getting the facts on how awesome it is for their own bodies. Smart.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, you should get—and read!—Vegan for Life. I’m a health reporter, and there are still things in here that I didn’t know before I picked it up. If someone in your life has talked about reducing the amount of meat they eat, or trying to be vegetarian or vegan, this book is a great way to show them that it’s easier than they may think, and definitely really healthy. Go get it!
Terri Coles lives in Toronto, Ont., where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues.
LA Times book review: Oogy! »
In the Los Angeles Times yesterday I came across a review of this adorable book, Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love. The book is about a bait dog found outside Philly that was adopted by a loving family. Oogy the dog was found almost dead, with all kinds of injuries and without an ear. The animal hospital that found him was seriously considering putting him to sleep but this beat-up dog was so sweet, they couldn’t. They say, despite his injuries and the horrible way he’d been treated, he was giving out licks to everyone and wagging his tail all over the place. Jeez Louise, are dogs not THE BEST?
And guess what: Oogy is going to be a therapy dog!
Oogy’s triumph — not so much the lap-of-luxury life that he now enjoys, but his ability to overcome cruelty — has led Levin to begin training Oogy to become a therapy dog, particularly for those who are wounded and disfigured. “I believe that Oogy will be able to help those in need to understand that scarring, disfigurement, and trauma, whether physical or emotional, do not have to define who they are…. That no matter what has been inflicted upon them, love and dignity are attainable,” Levin writes.
The reviewer seems to only half like the book. She says it needs more doggie antics, and that “Oogy has loads of personality and charm to spare,” which they could feature a little more. I definitely like antics! But the book sounds really sweet anyway—not that I’m going to read it. Well, I’ll consider reading it but in the end, I probably won’t. See, I’m allergic to reading. It’s a terrible affliction but I’ve learned to deal. You guys, however, can totally read it and tell me what happens!
Book review: Être the Cow »
Être the Cow was written by Sean Kenniff, whose name might be familiar to you, as he was a contestant on the first season of Survivor. According to his back-of-book bio, he is also a physician. Apparently he had some time post-layoff, which he spent “liv[ing] with the cows,” though this experience did not stop him from eating them.
The novella is odd. It’s narrated by Être, a bull, who is the only cow in the story who has a “real” name, which he apparently gave himself; he is the only cow who tries to communicate with other cows—and people—in English, though unsuccessfully, as no one can understand him. Also, sometimes there is singing, in French.
The whole thing is a tragedy, I guess, what with all the dying, but it’s written so oddly that it’s difficult to connect with any of the characters. Maybe it’s unfair to criticize Kenniff’s motivations for writing the book, but when it’s so painfully clearly a Book with a Message, then I feel like the author’s motivations are fair to explore. So: why did Kenniff write this book, if he still believes that eating meat is a fair and fine thing to do? If it is a parable, what lessons should the reader take from it? All I understood was, basically, “Special cows can sometimes have feelings too, but only special ones, and really those feelings are useless because they only lead to tragedy, so better to live your life like a regular, non-talking cow who doesn’t wish to be a human—sorry, a ‘Man’—and then you won’t know what you might have missed if you were anything other than a cow.”
Or, you know, something like that. Maybe this book wasn’t for me because I don’t go in for too much anthropomorphizing; maybe because I’m more educated about animal-cruelty issues that the readers the author is trying to reach. Maybe because it’s just not an especially well written book, and whatever message it is trying to send is totally garbled because Kenniff doesn’t seem to mean it. I don’t know. If you are interested, go for it. I have certainly read worse, in my life; but I have most definitely read better.
Review: Cook Food, by Lisa Jervis »
First, let’s appease the FTC by noting that we received a copy of this book for free, for reviewing purposes. Second, let’s appease the critics by noting that as Lisa Jervis is a founder of Bitch magazine, we are predisposed to love her. Third, I don’t have any photos of the food I made because I don’t have a functioning camera, so you’re just going to have to imagine how wonderful everything looked, OK? Fourthly, let’s write this.
Cook Food is a little, no-frills book that is crammed full of useful information. It’s written by a (seemingly) very practical person for the very pragmatic cooks among us, by which I mean she takes a very “do the best you can with what you have” approach, with her recipes functioning more as inspiration than rules to strictly follow. This, I dig; often I want to make dish but cannot find one of the ingredients, and do not have the opportunity and/or inclination to go get it. It’s rare to find a cookbook author who encourages you to wing it. This is all right.
I tried out three recipes from Cook Food, all of which I tried to follow to the letter but none of which I did, exactly. The first was Rosemary Mustard Tofu; lazily, I didn’t press the tofu at all, but I did let it sit in the marinade for a good long time. Per the author’s notes, the leftovers did make a good sandwich the next day. I accidentally put too much dijon mustard in the sauce, because I have trouble with tasks like measuring, but it wasn’t a big deal, really.
Next I made Lentils with Wine, which I loved and will definitely make again. For a dish with so few ingredients, it has a lot of flavor, full-bodied and rich and just really delicious. Red wine, red onion and green lentils are apparently the perfect combination.
Lastly, I tried out her version of peanut sauce, which, as she warned, was not at all like the Thai-style peanut sauce I had sort of wanted (despite having read the recipe before deciding to prepare it). This one I fiddled with, a little; I found it quite salty and, I don’t know, off somehow, so I added a lot of white balsamic vinegar and a couple splashes of plain soy milk, and that seemed to mend it for me. Then I ate it on everything; on Trader Joe’s vegetable gyoza; over cold mixed lettuces and hot rice (DELICIOUS, my goodness); as a dip for baby carrots and steamed broccoli. It turned out to be a very versatile sauce.
Cook Food wasn’t written by a vegan; it’s a vegan cookbook because Lisa Jervis believes that eating mostly organically and locally grown produce is healthiest for us and our environment (and she’s right, duh). It’s plainspoken without being obvious, and pragmatic without condescending. It’d make a wonderful first cookbook for new vegans—much better than those “Vegan Recipes for College Students” that teach you how to boil pasta or whatever—but once your skills have improved beyond “beginner” you’ll still find it useful.
Plus, like I said, it’s Lisa Jervis, and everything she creates is of very high quality.