One thing I feel that vegans sometimes forget is that unless we were raised vegan, we were all omnivores or vegetarians at some point. We all made transitions from one diet to another, from an old viewpoint or lifestyle to a new one. Some of us went vegan right away while others had trouble parting with favorite foods. Some went vegan for the animals, others for health reasons and still others for both. Everyone’s story is a little different.
I think it’s important to keep this in mind when talking to vegetarians who don’t understand the impact that dairy and eggs have on both their health and the well-being of the animals that produce them. Knowledge is a powerful motivator, but the information has to be shared in a way that’s eye-opening and not off-putting. This is what makes Sarah Taylor’s Vegetarian to Vegan such a useful tool in educating fellow veggies about what’s really going on in the dairy and egg industries behind feel-good labels like “cage free” and “free range.” (Check out the end of this post to find out how you can win a copy!)
If you thought you knew everything about the cruelty of factory farming, you may be shocked when you read this book. I’ve read a lot of books and seen a lot of documentaries about food, diet, factory farming and the environment since going vegan, and I still had no idea of some of the horrors that go on, especially with laying hens. Nor was I aware of quite how extensive certain environmental problems such as soil erosion have become due to the demands of growing feed crops.
There’s a lot of information to take in, and much of it is upsetting. However, Taylor handles the information in a straightforward, accessible way, taking an extensive amount of research and condensing it into a format that’s easy to understand. She not only discusses how the dairy and egg industries in particular contribute to animal suffering and environmental degradation but also touches on the health effects of consuming their products. If you’ve read other books on plant-based diets, the research she references will be familiar. If not, she puts it all together in a well-referenced package that makes a good “go to” book for explaining why vegetarians should consider making the transition to veganism.
The book is divided into three sections: Why, How and Recipes. Why covers the problems with dairy and egg farms, health effects and environmental effects. It also includes a short section on honey, which I found interesting as this isn’t something you often see addressed in books about veganism. How includes basic health information and offers tips for new vegans on how to handle potentially difficult situations such as dining out, entertaining and traveling. All of the Recipes come from Mark Reinfeld, the genius behind the 30-Minute Vegan books as well as Vegan Fusion World Cuisine. I was delighted to discover that the recipe section contains several of the dishes that were served at Vegetarian Summerfest this year. I’ve already recreated the delicious cornbread and have my eye on the mint chocolate chip cookies!
These things aside, Vegetarian to Vegan is an informative wakeup call for the veg and veg-curious and a reminder for vegans as to why we eat and live the way we do. I was able to interview Sarah Taylor via e-mail for a little more insight into what inspired her to write the book and what she hopes readers will take away from it.
QV: Tell us a bit about your transition to veganism.
Taylor: I went vegan quite by accident. I had been married for one year, and I had put on 10 pounds quite quickly! I checked out some books from the library on how to lose weight healthfully, but had forgotten them when I packed for a weekend trip to Canada. On the drive to Canada, I remembered the library books back at the house, and begged my husband to stop at a Barnes and Noble for me to buy a book for our trip. He didn’t want to stop because he said I take way too long in bookstores! I told a little white lie…that I already knew which book I wanted and would only be a few minutes…so he agreed to stop. Of course, I didn’t know which book I wanted, so I ran to the Diet & Health section, and grabbed John Robbin’s classic book, Diet For a New America. I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it off the shelf, but I was vegan 48 hours later!
QV: What inspired you to write Vegetarian to Vegan?
Taylor: After I wrote Vegan in 30 Days, I gave a lot of lectures and interviews around North America. The most common question I received from my audience or interviewers was something along the lines of, “I’m already vegetarian, but I just don’t see the point of giving up dairy and eggs?” They would go on to say things like “Animals aren’t killed for us to get dairy and egg products” or “I only eat low-fat, organic dairy” or “I only eat free-range eggs … so what’s the point in giving these products up?” I realized that there is so much people don’t know about the effects of dairy and eggs on their health, how these industries effect the environment, as well as what’s really going on in the dairy and egg factory farms. People are shocked to learn, for example, that free-range eggs usually come from hens raised indoors and they are so crowded that they have an even higher rate of cannibalism (7-15%) than do the hens living in battery cages. They are also quite amazed to learn that there is a 23% increased risk of death in people who eat just one egg a day! And there are still many people who haven’t learned that dairy products increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis, and why this is true (I cite many studies that come to this conclusion.) So, it seemed that the obvious next book for me would be Vegetarian to Vegan, to help people really understand why they should consider giving up dairy and eggs … for good.
QV: What was the most surprising thing you learned when writing the book?
Taylor: I knew that the dairy and egg factories were really inhumane, but I didn’t realize just how inhumane. As I read the veterinary journals during my research, I was shocked at how they factually reported the most horrifying statistics about percentages of animals with painful disease (that don’t normally occur in nature, or occur very infrequently), the amount of animals sent to slaughter due to disease caused by their conditions, and how young they are put to death because they are so worn out from the demands put on their bodies. It would be equivalent to forcing children to do hard labor from the time they can walk, and then euthanizing them at age 11 because they cannot longer “perform their duties.” I’ve found that many long-time vegans, like myself, learned a lot of new information that they hadn’t come across before, because no book before this one seems to have reported quite so in-depth about these two industries.
>QV: How do you hope this book will help others as they transition?
Taylor: I hope that it will be a great motivator to those interested in going fully vegan! I’ve been overwhelmed at how many people either read this book or saw my Vegetarian to Vegan lecture on www.vsh.org, and then contacted me to say they will never touch another egg again as long as they live, or that they have turned vegan after reading the first section of the book. My editor and my book agent were vegetarian before they worked on my book, and turned vegan after they read it!
QV: What’s your favorite recipe in the book?
Taylor: I became a big fan of Mark Reinfeld’s long before I met him … after eating his spanakopita! Now we are friends, and I specifically requested he include that recipe. It’s one of those foods I assumed I’d have to give up forever as a vegan, but Mark continues to show us that there are very, very few foods that you can’t get a good, healthy, humane, vegan substitute for!
QV: If readers only took away one thing from reading your book, what would you want it to be?
Taylor: I’d really like people to stop minimizing the problems with dairy and eggs, rationalizing that a little dairy and eggs here and there aren’t all that unhealthful, or that the animals don’t die for us to get dairy and egg products, so these products must be humane to eat. The realities, which I hope my book exposes, are that the cruelty that dairy cows and egg-laying hens endure before they are slaughtered at the same, awful slaughtering houses as animals sold for meat probably leads to a far worse life than beef cows and broiler chickens go through; that dairy products are really terrible for our health – probably worse than meat – and a little here and a little there adds up to a lot over the course of a week; that our food choices do have a major impact on our environment; that dairy and egg factories are major contributors to environmental damage; and finally, that you can eat a delicious diet if you go fully vegan!
You can win your very own copy of Vegetarian to Vegan, courtesy of Sarah Taylor! Leave a comment on this entry telling what made you switch from vegetarian to vegan or, if you’re vegetarian, why you think this book can help you make the change. One winner will be chosen using Random.org. Be sure to get your entries in by Saturday, August 2nd to be eligible!
Giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!