Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World
Angela Davis, Thich Nhat Hanh, India.Arie, and Ellen DeGeneres: what do they all have in common? They’re vegans! Veganism is growing more prevalent in pop culture, but how does veganism work regular people? In Main Street Vegan, writer and vegan Victoria Moran breaks Veganism down into tasty bites that are easy to digest (food puns!). Released in April 2012, this part-lifestyle guide, part-cookbook, part-memoir includes an index; a bibliography of books about vegan weight loss, wellness and philosophy; resources about raising vegan children; and appendices of organizations, documentaries, and other resources. If you’re flirting with veganism, or wondering how to be a vegan without breaking the bank, make this book your first stop.
According to Moran, a vegan is someone who “eats vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, and delicious dishes made from them.” Off the list are all foods derived from animal products: meat, fish, fowl, eggs or dairy; honey is left to the discretion of the consumer. Some people are dietary vegans, who eat a plant-based diet. Others are ethical vegans, who, in addition to eating vegan, choose to abstain from products and lifestyle choices that engage in cruelty or exploitation of animals; this includes the lipstick in your bag, your leather gloves, or the household detergents you used to wash your workout gear.
It can seem like a pretty daunting life choice, but Moran organizes the process simply and clearly. She discusses the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, and outlines the experience of the animals we so often make our meals. Her narrative of poultry farms, of livestock raised and killed for food, of fish farms and of cows forced to continually lactate, was painful for me to read.
I went vegetarian in 2007 and became vegan for almost a year, but if I wasn’t vegan before, I was definitely vegan after reading these chapters. Whether you eat animals or not, it’s important that we know where our food comes from. After reading about how much animals suffer to end up on your plate, it’s a bit tougher to be blasé about putting them there. Importantly, what sets this book apart from other vegan narratives is Moran’s lack of self-righteousness. Her goal is not to shame readers into veganism, but to inform them about choices they can make that are cruelty-free, that are good for their bodies and for the planet.
Sure, veganism is trendy, posits Moran, but what makes it a lifestyle choice isn’t looking trendy; it’s having better control over your health. She writes, “The mega-businesses […] don’t want you to know that a whole-foods vegan diet is a near-guarantee that you’ll wind up healthy, empowered, and at your prom-night weight for the rest of your life. They want it under wraps that heart disease would all but disappear if everyone at this way, and that the incidence of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and many types of cancer would be slashed as well.” Mighty claims, but she backs them up with science that’s substantive without being opaque.
There are also facts about how animal products behave inside the body. A diet high in animal protein leaches calcium out of the bones. Parts of the world where dairy consumption is highest (milk=calcium, Big Agra tells us so) also have the highest rates of hip fractures among the elderly. Additionally, the reason it’s so hard to say no to cheese isn’t the savory taste or creamy texture.
It’s the fact that cheese contains high amounts of casomorphin, which acts like an opioid in the brain (that wheel of Brie at the office cocktail party really is addictive). Moran also features sidebars that address common questions when contemplating veganism—weren’t animals put on the planet for us to eat? If I’m the only vegan in my household, will I have to cook twice as much? Are all vegans self-righteous and judgmental? Will becoming a vegan conflict with my faith or religious beliefs? What the hell does a vegan eat, anyway?—with a generous spirit and common sense.
Sadly, this book lacks a significant cultural context for veganism. The term “vegan” was coined by an Englishman in the mid-20th century, but the tradition of abstaining from animal flesh and products has been practiced by various cultures all over the world. Main Street Vegan doesn’t explore veganism from any of the non-white, non-middle class world cultures that have historically practiced veganism. Aside from one sidebar—“I’m African-American and the vegan movement looks awfully white”—the book’s voice is firmly rooted in the majority-culture. For vegan books from a specific cultural perspective, consider Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry, Sistah Vegan by A. Breeze Harper or The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen by Talya Lutzker. Still, Main Street Vegan has lots to offer the novice vegan or curious omnivore about what a vegan lifestyle looks like, what it means individually, and what it can mean for society.
Veganism can sound extreme to some, but it’s a manageable and healthful way to eat and to live. It doesn’t take a pretentious attitude or regular shopping at Whole Paycheck either. Main Street Vegan de-mystifies veganism; it’s a great resource, whether you’re just curious about veganism, you’re considering the shift, or you’re an out-and-proud vegan. It’s full of guidance about how to live as a vegan in a way that’s healthy and mindful, and still full of delicious pleasure. There are lots of us without gurus or private chefs who claim veganism as a lifestyle because it helps us get to know our bodies and to live healthy lives more fully. At the end of the day, we all deserve to arm ourselves with tools for healthy living; Main Street Vegan is the newest resource in my toolbox.
Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World by Victoria Moran with Adair Moran (Tarcher, April 2012).
by Victoria Moran with Adair Moran