Full disclosure: Although I wasn’t given this book to review I did actually contribute a very small part to the book itself by supplying one of my favorite meals to eat in the “What Vegans Eat” section.
It seems like a new vegan book hits the bookshelves every week and I’m losing track they pop up so quickly. Most of these books are less political theory, which used to be the norm, and more just recipe compilations, but Vegan For Life: “Everything you need to know to be healthy and fit on a plant-based diet” enters the picture with a completely different approach, focused less on cooking and primarily on nutritional science while still resting on an ethical foundation. There is nothing “fad diet” or “raw revolution” about this book. It exists to give you concrete and up to date information about vegan nutrition so that you can either make the transition to the vegan diet with confidence and knowledge or fine tune your already established vegan diet, with the intent of making eating vegan practical and sustainable, eliminating the excuses to abandon the diet and therefore the animals. This approach is, although not jammed down your throat, about keeping the plight of animals at the forefront of your dietary choices. If Vegan For Life is about your health, it’s so you have the upper hand, or at least a level playing field, when discussing the value of the diet towards saving animals lives.
Written by highly respected Registered Dieticians, Jack Norris and Ginny Messina, with a slew of experience and credentials backing their knowledge, VFL solidly debunks so many of the myths unfairly associated with the vegan diet from the external naysayers (soy is bad for you, vegetable proteins are incomplete, raw-food diets are better than vegan diets), but maybe even more importantly, also takes on the myths perpetuated by vegan culture itself that, whether good-intentioned or not, propagates nutritional claims that are just plain untrue (B12 supplementation is not necessary, transitioning to veganism entails detoxing, vegans need less calcium than omnivores). Again, VFL is not about telling vegans what they want to hear to bolster their arguments, but rather supplying solid, research based evidence about nutrition that prevents us from acting on and disseminating misleading and dangerous dietary information.
Here is the good news about this approach. The vegan diet is healthy, duh, when approached properly, just like most diets, so there is no need to falsify or romanticize our eating habits. We can acknowledge the “shortcomings” (B12, Vitamin D, etc.) and not lose credibility with our arguments. Veganism is the same as any other eating habit in that no manner of eating is “complete” or fool proof. Most dietary habits involve plentiful nutrients along with more lacking nutrients that take a little more focus.
VFL is focused on nutritional science, but it is certainly not a boring read. The information is incredibly easy to understand and free of so much scientific jargon. It is a book that reads quickly and seems to be aimed more towards those transitioning into a vegan diet, but even the most well-read vegan will get both knowledge and perspective from VFL. I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about vegan nutrition, but I continued to pick up little bits of information while reading through the book.
I think the ease of understanding the book is that everything is written as an introduction to a plethora of vegan nutrition subjects from nutritional science, transitioning to veganism, raising vegan children and teens, to vegan diets for people over fifty, managing disease, sports nutrition and so on. Nothing is overwhelming, but deliberately written to give you the basics complete with a slew of charts to make nutritional referencing ridiculously easy.
Before reading VFL I’ve been an avid reader of Ginny Messina’s blog – www.theveganrd.com – because she is an expert in the field of vegan nutrition, but more importantly, because she gives use useful information without pulling punches or exaggerating claims. She doesn’t deal in new-agey fads, give credence to dietary purity or any such nonsense, but rather always approaches her writings with the intent to make veganism practical and sustainable, to keep the lives of animals as the base of her motivations, and if that means letting people know that you can eat processed soy foods without experiencing doom and gloom (as some like to propose) then so be it. Ginny lets you know what healthy eating looks like, and recognizes that desserts and indulgences can not only NOT be detrimental to a healthy diet, but even a necessary component. It’s this sort of real world approach that her and Jack Norris carry over into VFL and offer a book that is both so encouraging and so incredibly necessary right now.
If you are interested, but wary, about transitioning to a vegan diet or have been vegan for most of your life, VFL will offer you great information either way. I highly recommend this book to everyone and know it will become a necessary addition to the library of every animal liberation activist for years to come (until they write another edition with more current research!).