Since turning vegan, I have Googled countless blogs, listened to hundreds of podcasts and watched the odd documentary, but these only skim the surface. For a more in depth look at animal agriculture, health and living a plant-based lifestyle, I've turned to books. The stories I've read and the information I've learned have been inspirational, heartbreaking, and everything in between. My eyes have been opened to a whole world I never knew existed, and has reaffirmed my decision to give up using animal products in all areas of my life.
Below I have listed the food-related books that I have personally read, in no particular order. They are accompanied by a brief review of my thoughts after reading each book. For more details on what each one is about, see Google. There are dozens more books on my to-read list, and I will update this page as I get through them. If you have a personal favourite that you think I should check out, feel free to send me a message with your recommendation. Happy reading!
Jonathan Safran Foer
This book ended quite differently to how I expected it to finish, given how it started. In the beginning the author was deciding if going vegetarian would be the best decision for himself and his unborn son, and explored if it was possible to eat meat in a more humane way. He spent time researching the American food industry, looking at the situation from various viewpoints. Slowly but surely his convictions were swayed over to the animal welfare side, to the point where he spent several pages describing the horror and torture experienced by all farmed animals on a daily basis. These atrocities are tough to read, and make me wonder how anyone could support the system we currently have in place. It didn’t go as far as could have though, making it a good introduction to those still consuming animal products. If you want to be informed about where your food truly comes from, give this book a go.
Gene Baur is a true animal rights activist, and his farm animal sanctuaries in New York and California are only the tip of the iceberg. He has campaigned on behalf of animals all over the US for decades, pushing back against a powerful, money-hungry industry. Baur's accounts of the savagery carried out in the livestock business disgusts me, and reinforces my resolve to not be a part of this system. The impact on the animals, on humans and on the planet is devastating, but rather than wallowing about it or even just writing about it, here is an example of someone standing up and making a change in the world. My favourite sections of the book are the individual profiles, where the reader is introduced to several of the rescued animals that have found their way to Farm Sanctuary. The description of their personalities reminds us that they aren't merely another number in an overcrowded, disease-ridden factory; they can display human-like qualities that help us to bond with them, as we would with dogs or cats. The world would be a better place if we had a few more Gene Baurs running around.
The China Study
T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell
If you want a book heavy with facts and figures to help you justify your decision to go vegan, then this is the book for you. The China Study looks at the link between eating animal products and the typical Western diseases that are proliferating in first world countries today. The size of the study is mind-blowing, and the conclusions drawn (or some of the leaps of faith) could make everyone sit up and think. You will find plenty of websites disputing the claims made, but if you can look past those made by people or companies with ulterior motives, you can see that the results have far-reaching ramifications for our health and well-being. It's heavy going, and sometimes a slog to get through, but the takeaways are definitely food for thought.
The Plant-Based Athlete
Matt Frazier & Robert Cheeke
I really wanted to like this book. It made best-seller lists, there was a huge media campaign, there was finally a voice for vegan athletes. But then I read it, and I felt disheartened. Maybe I wasn't the target audience (even though I'm a vegan athlete). Perhaps if you were new to plant-based eating, or considering it, this would be great. For someone who has already been vegan and an athlete for many years, it was really nothing new. I found myself getting frustrated at the constant persuasive language, the fact that they had to reiterate every point a dozen times, and having to read endless examples/personal testimonials that repeated the same line over and over again (it could have been a much shorter book). There was a distinct lack of scientifically-backed evidence (some chapters didn't have any references; also, testimonials don't equal proof), and they constantly leapt to conclusions that aren't backed up by research. An entire chapter was one long sales pitch for one of the author's companies, which I could see coming a mile away. There are tons of recipes at the end, which are a great idea, but I have no idea why Americans are so obsessed with sugar - it's in everything! (And no, maple syrup and coconut sugar are not healthy alternatives). So like I said, if you're a newbie to plant-based eating or really love reading anecdotes, check it out. Otherwise, there are better ways to spend your time.
On Being Vegan
Patrick-Goudreau is a longtime advocate for the animals, and has appeared on so many platforms that most vegans will have heard of her in one way or another. This book appears to be aimed at those considering going vegan, or perhaps newly vegan, as much of this information is not new or groundbreaking. But I do find it interesting to hear how others came to adopt this lifestyle, and the history of veganism was a topic I hadn't read up on before. Her eloquent, passionate, judgement-free writing style makes this an easy read and a great resource that you can come back to again and again.
No Meat Athlete
From the host of the No Meat Athlete podcast, who is a vegan, Boston Marathon qualifier and 100 mile runner. He is not a scientist, not a coach but he is living the vegan runner lifestyle and is sharing his experience with others. This book isn't for everyone, but readers who would obtain the most benefit include:
- Runners considering the switch or who are new to a plant-based diet.
- Vegans who are new to running.
In its easy to understand, non-preachy style it clearly lays out how veganism and exercise can work together (while dispelling a few common myths along the way). In the middle is a comprehensive recipe section, covering both daily meals and fueling for sports. What I particularly loved is Frazier's "formulas", where he provides suggestions for different ingredients and you can pick and choose based on preference or what's available. I have adopted this approach in pretty much everything I make now, and almost never follow a standard recipe. If you're not ready to splurge on the book, the No Meat Athlete blog also has tons of valuable information that covers much of the same content. This was one of my first resources when I turned vegan and it helped me immensely during this time.
Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows
This book is all about bringing to light an invisible system (which the author calls "carnism") that makes it okay for humans to use some animals for their own personal use, no matter what the cost to the animal, but love other animals and treat them as though they are family. While this book would probably be aimed at meat-eaters, I still learned plenty. The book is clearly written from a psychological perspective, applying scientific terminology to make sense of how the animal industry operates today. I appreciated this insight, as it helped me to comprehend why the majority of people in present-day society don't question where their food is coming from or why they aren't ready to make the leap to vegetarianism. On the other hand, the graphic descriptions of the horrific conditions in which animals are raised to provide food for human consumption almost brought me to tears. Even though I had been exposed to this information before, I always find it difficult to read about how the world truly works. But I think we all need to be reminded of this atrocity from time to time, so that we don't get drawn back into the easier, more acceptable way of eating and living. The flow felt a little disjointed at times, with endless lists of definitions and explanations being thrown around that I struggled to connect into a broader picture. It wasn't long after I had finished that I had forgotten most of these terms, but in general I was grateful for the deep dive into this subject matter.
Approaching the Natural
Not necessarily a vegan book, and barely even a book at only 150 pages, but this is a great summary of the actions we can take to improve our health and, therefore, our happiness. His casual, sarcastic writing style appealed to my sense of humour, as did his simple analogies that help him to get his point across clearly. The "progress not perfection" message drilled home that all of these suggestions are possible if you take it one step at a time. A quick, easy read that will remind you to look for the simple things in life.