Must-Read Vegan Books Summer 2017

I don’t normally do book reviews on this blog but after years of I just read two fantastic ones this summer that really blew my mind open. These are both vegan books so I’ll be speaking strictly to the vegan audience.

Both of these books happen to be very quick reads that I was able to devour one a week in my work commute alone. But don’t let that fool you. There are brilliant nuggets of vegan wisdom packed into these dense little compendiums. I pretty much expected that of Aphro-ism as I was familiar with Aph Ko‘s kick-the-door-down entry onto the vegan scene. And holy crap just lookit that beautiful cover art by EastRand Studios! I read Even Vegans Die cuz I’ll read anything Ginny Messina writes but it was the amazing synergism of her and her two co-authors  that made it much more than a health/nutrition book one might expect. I suck at reviews but I’m gonna torture myself (and you along with me!) through this because I feel they are that good.

Aphro-ism
Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters by Aph and Syl Ko

Two bright stars orbited each other in this Vegan galaxy. Each glowing hot, amassed by the history and knowledge of critical theorists, philosophers, and activists. In this galaxian1 gravitational environment of veganism they collided and became a supernova. The raw elements formed and spewed forth from this interaction will both obliterate and rebuild a movement anew. That is this book Aphro-ism which offers the periodic table of social justice they call black veganism.

Veganism is struggling as a movement, it always has. I left it in an embarrassingly public tantrum2 when I realized there was nothing ideological behind veganism afterall. The word itself was created from a Eurocentric point of view no doubt influenced by the struggle and concepts of many peoples and cultures. But even though there was an early nod to “emancipation”3 by an early adherent it was relegated to a “way of living“. Eventually it was the ideas of people of color like Wayne Hsiung, Aph Ko, and Syl Ko that brought me back and reinvigorated me.

I don’t pretend to get this book. It does what most great breakthroughs do. It makes me realize I don’t know as much as I thought (and that itself shows progress). It will take me years to unravel the meaning and apply it towards my activism but that’s what Aph and Syl do. They’re fixing this hypocognition the movement is suffering from by inventing new concepts and prototyped language. Concepts that I took for granted like “animal” were challenged in a way I never considered before. My white experience doesn’t connect the dots on how that is used against people and how it’s ultimately a slur for all.

To fix a problem that spans the diverse membership of this Earth society we need the perspectives of ALL those members to fix it. Apro-ism explains it’s not white veganism decorated with diversity but a true movement of inclusivity. ​The authors recontextualized veganism through the lens of racial experience. In doing so they offer up the opportunity and tools needed to make it the movement it never became, yet.

Even Vegans Die
A Practical Guide to Caregiving, Acceptance, and Protecting Your Legacy of Compassion by Carol J. Adams, Patti Breitman, and Virginia Messina

Disclaimer: Ginny and I are friendly. We have a history going back where she generously donated her time to talk to my group, Vegan Chicago on vegan nutrition. Afterwards I chewed her ear off about science and veganism and she clued me in to the larger history. The same fight against pseudoscience in the movement has been happening and I was a newcomer. Veganism struggles not only from a lack of perspective of a critical and justice lens but from a science scope too. So many vegan science warriors have fallen by the wayside. Not Ginny. Through her years of professional wisdom and ethics she’s stayed the course ​fighting the good fight. So much so that even though this book is an obvious response to Michael Gregor’s “How Not to Die” vegan book, he himself wrote the foreword. This is something I would have never considered. Yet while we can go back and forth venting over the latest junk science flareup in the community she also keeps the larger perspective in balance. She inspires me to be better.

Something that this book caught me off guard though was how the collaboration with the other authors elevated this to something great than a scientific discussion. Adams and Breitman brought a context that pried my mind open to the fact that science informs, but in a context thats meaningful. Adams4 reintroduces the feminist concept of the ethics of care framed in a way that suddenly made sense even beyond maybe its intended meaning. I gloated about how justice was a more important concept than “loving animals” but I neglected to think that loving animals maybe be a side effect of justice. That blew the lid off my white male assumptions yet it’s what feminists have been working on forever and Adams contextualized it for me. How did I get this far without this? The vegan movement has a ways to go. An ethical social justice movement built upon the perspective of all and informed by the self-correcting rigor of science.

This book dealt with the much-needed practicality of health and death as it pertains to us as individuals and us as an entangled society of individuals. I think though that main mission of the book doesn’t do it justice for the implications of what it ended up being. This is a much different approach than that of yet another diet book written by a white doctor. Veganism is not a magic bullet that will make us invincible. It’s being sold that way though which causes all sorts of injustices the authors deftly dispatch once and for all.

In summary
I see both of these books as a salvo for vegan reformation. Neither attacks nor denigrates veganism to do so though. They graciously offer the blueprints and building blocks to makes things right, make them better. In a movement made up of rampaging white guys and big personalities splintering the movement into camps, it’s a relief to see a more constructive approach. This is what we need more of, this is the era of a new movement that recognizes veganism as a movement and a truly beloved community that looks after each other. These are textbooks for the future of veganism.

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  1. *not a video game reference but goddamn I must admit I’m a bit pleased with myself.
  2. On Renouncing Veganism where I was interviewed for the late Carpe Vegan blog by Rhys Southern of Let Them Eat Meat
  3. In Search of Veganism—2 by Leslie Cross (1914-1979) which shows the inherently vapid nature of veganism was apparent even in the early days.
  4. Carol Adams also wrote a wonderful Afterword for Aphro-ism that’s not to be missed.

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