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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Prejudiced Reviews

I should be preparing for company for Memorial Day, but instead I'm writing an admittedly half-thought-out and hurried post on books and reviews -- namely, that many books on veganism appear to be reviewed only by vegans.  As I write this, three children are whining for my attention, the laundry needs folded, the dishes need to be done, and it's pouring rain; my thoughts are interrupted constantly by what most people call "real life". 

But heck, I want to blog!  Real life, you'll just have to wait.

The prejudiced reviews are a real problem.  I want to read more books on the subject -- but I also want to read the good ones and one way, traditionally, to know which books are good is to look for reviews.  If all reviews come from people already committed to a vegan philosophy, then of course those books espousing veganism are touted as being the final argument, and there must be no need to say more.  There must be nothing to criticize.  There must be nothing wrong with veganism.  Or, to put it the other way, there must be everything wrong with non-veganism.

It troubles me that, for instance, a forthcoming book with a provocative title (Meat is for Pussies) appears only to have been reviewed by other vegans (who, judging by the reviews I've read, think the book is nothing but pure truth). 

I haven't read the book (but I plan to).  It may be, indeed, that it's wonderful.  The problem, however, is that without more "objective" reviewers, to outsiders (read:  non-vegans) it appears hopelessly prejudiced. 

I imagine that there are two predictable vegan responses to my concerns.  One, the mainstream media ignores us.  (Lately?  Not so much.)  Two, the only people who will read this and review it positively are committed vegans. (I'm not so sure; it seems to be that even non-vegans are starting to recognize that veganism has something to teach everyone, even if many many people will decide it goes too far.)

Vegans take hits from critics all the time for being extreme, utopian, unrealistic, judgmental.  Non-vegans take hits all the time for being selfish, speciesist, cruel, uncaring.  Both sets of labels are harsh and only contain, at best, kernels of truth.  Most vegetarians or almost vegans or plain old omnivores that I know are, if they have any expendable time or income, doing thoughtful things to lessen their impact on the environment, for instance -- including making new food choices on a regular basis.  And many vegans I've met are extremely sweet people who try very hard to appreciate where others are coming from.  However, some of the more vocal proponents of veganism take pride in mincing no words and they come across about as militant and evangelical as leaders of a movement can be.  That understandably closes the ears of many, many people.

I've been having an "argument" of sorts over on a google blog group called veganviews.  The argument is the typical one:  whether something short of veganism (like I espouse) is possible and whether vegans can even get their heads around it, given that they philosophically are opposed to use of animals for any type of human consumption.  (The answers, according to vegans, are no and no.)

It's obvious that veganism challenges some of the core assumptions of our collective cultures, most notably the idea that people are somehow "above" animals and can therefore raise, breed, and use them for our benefit.  (As you know, I take the position that limited and careful use should be OK -- but that to get to that place requires massive social changes; it falls short of the vegan ideal.) 

Can veganism be reviewed thoughtfully by a non-vegan?  I think it can.  Too bad that so many of the books written by thoughtful vegan researchers are not reviewed (so far as I can find) by non-vegans, and are reviewed only in small, alternative places unlikely to be known to most people (making it even less likely that a non-vegan will even know of them).

Do you know of books (other than Skinny Bitch and The China Study and Eating Animals) which espouse veganism AND have been reviewed (even critically!) by non-vegans, particularly in major presses or news outlets?

If so, I'd love some book recommendations and the names of the reviews that go with them. 


  1. I have nothing to offer except my compliments to you, Elaine, for being such a thoughtful analytical person. You are raising some interesting points here.

  2. i think any review can be bias regardless as to whether or not the person writing it is involved in the life style or not. you don't know how many inane and downright rude reviews i've read on veganism from a meat eater's perspective. but i've also read health articles from doctors and nutritionists (since i'm getting into the field - i'm pre med right now) who support a plant based diet and they aren't vegans - well, one is (but she gives you the facts as is - you can usually tell when someone is manipulating data). i'm not vegan for the health benefits (even though i view it as an added bonus), so in light of the ethical stance - of course books written and reviewed by vegans are going to support it. it's a lifestyle they believe in. why would a meat eater who sees nothing wrong with eating or killing animals review something that goes against their own opinion? and if they can identify with a vegan's point of view, why would they show themselves as incapable of standing up for what they believe in?

    i don't know. that's just my 2 cents. i stopped reading books bolstering animal rights a long time ago because it's like preaching to the choir. i already believe, so why continue? as for the health and environment points, you can go anywhere online and you'll find articles. there's the physician's committee for responsible medicine (one of my friends who isn't vegan recently went to a conference and is embarking on ways to include more plants into her diet), there are ND's and OD's you can speak with, and the angiogenesis foundation . . . . those are ones that immediately come to mind.

  3. I cannot believe the volume of comments I've been seeing regarding that latest title. To me it's proof positive how overly obsessed this community is with labels and words. The greater goal should be education about animal suffering and reducing consumption as much as possible.

    I have little desire to get into internet debates anymore with fundamental vegans. I find few interested in dialogue. I've encountered too many who say in one breath how warm and welcoming a community they are, and in another if you don't agree with everything they say, you're not being a proper animal advocate. As you say, that "closes the ears of many, many people."

  4. http://zoevblog.com/2010/06/01/the-ugly-truth-about-dairy/

    I posted this on Elaine's facebook page, but wanted to repost here in case folks are not fb fans of the Almost Vegan. Here is a woman strong in her beliefs who has a gentle, nonjudgmental way of sharing them and opening our eyes.

  5. I agree with what Ms. said regarding book reviews.

    A couple things:

    -Eating Animals does not espouse veganism. I think it's a pretty good book, but Foer does stop well short of endorsing veganism.

    -Meat is For Pussies may be a well-written book and it might have some good dietary advice in it, but I will never read it or recommend it because it's blatantly sexist on quite a few different levels. I abhor the idea that we can fight one oppression (speciesism) while promoting another (sexism).

    Also, I think that someone can be a vocal proponent of veganism while still understanding and appreciating where non-vegans are coming from. Just because someone consistently, persistently and loudly advocates for veganism doesn't mean that they don't understand the reasons most people aren't vegan. Most of us were not raised vegan and can remember being not vegan. The passion and urgency that gets pejoratively interpreted as being militant and evangelical is there precisely *because* advocates understand where non-vegans are coming from and they (dare I say, "we") know that minds can indeed change when presented with a consistent moral argument for taking animal interests seriously.


Politeness is always appreciated.