Green Books Campaign: Sistah Vegan
This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.
The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on “green” books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.
So! I participated in the first EcoLibris day last year, and I am happy to be joining in the event again this year. As a card-carrying tree hugger, I try to take a hard look at my own habits and how they affect the environment. In many ways, being too sick to work automatically makes one a greener reader: I use my library all of the time because I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, and the books I do buy are secondhand. Also, I know that there’s a bit of an elephant in the room whenever we talk about environmentally friendly publishing: ereaders. But without getting into that discussion right now, I will say that as someone who deeply values books in their paper form, I hope that the industry finds a sustainable (in all senses of that word) way to continue publishing hard copies. I’m delighted at the list of publishers participating in this year’s campaign, and in future years I expect that list will grow longer. :) If you’re curious about how any of your books were printed, usually you’ll find out somewhere in the first couple of pages.
As far as the book I’m talking about today, Sister Vegan ed. by A. Breeze Harper, Lantern Books is part of the Green Press Initiave. The book itself is printed on 30% post-consumer recycled paper, processed chlorine free. (If you’re curious to know more, Webcom, the print provider, has a gallery of green books.) And of course, the book is about one of the most environmentally friendly moves you can make: becoming vegan. When I was scrolling through the list of books I could pick for the campaign, this one jumped out at me. As y’all know, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16 (except for when I studied abroad in Russia), and last year I decided to spend the first three months eating only vegan. It was going along quite well, until in June I discovered I was gluten intolerant. Suddenly, I felt like I had nothing to eat, so I went back to being a vegetarian, aiming to eat two vegan meals a day (a la Mark Bittman’s Food Matters). I didn’t feel as happy, though, and when I read Eating Animals earlier this year, I went back to eating vegan as much as possible. When I’m at home, I avoid all animal products; sometimes, when I’m in a restaraunt I’m forced to choose between going hungry or eating something vegetarian with dairy (this is primarily because I can’t eat gluten), and in those cases I choose eating. I don’t beat myself up over this, because we all do what we can, but it’s why I describe myself as ‘a vegetarian eating vegan as much as possible’ rather than just a vegan. That, and I still wear wool and silk. But this is a post for another time (one I’ve been working on in my brain for awhile now, so hopefully it’ll be in decent condition soon). I just wanted to give y’all some context for how I approached the book.
Its subtitle is: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Idenitity, Health, and Society, and it’s an anthology of essays by various African American vegan women, as well as a few poems. I was curious to see the racial aspects of choosing an animal-free lifestyle, especially after reading an introduction in Vegan Soul Kitchen a few months ago (which is a great cookbook, by the way!). And I learned a lot from reading this. But I should be upfront that as a white woman, I’m not the target audience: the contributors to Sistah Vegan were obviously writing with their fellow African Americans in mind.
That being said, I found the collection to incredibly uneven. I think to a certain extent all anthologies suffer from this, but it’s heightened here by the fact that none of the contributors are professional writers. They’re vegans in all kinds of work, which is great from a well-rounded background perspective, but not so great from a reading one. While some of the essays inspired me, and even brought me to tears, with their lyrical writing, some of the other ones made me want to break out my red pen and edit like there was no tomorrow. Most fell in the middle of the continuum, but the very middle of the book felt especially weak, and after a couple back-to-back essays I briefly considered giving up. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, since the final few essays were some of the best! Anyway, my point is that this is a book you read for the ideas, not for the writing.
And the ideas are fascinating! In addition to discussions of animal rights (and there are vegan contributors who care deeply about animals and ones who are completely dismissive of the whole concept of animal rights), there’s also a lot from the feminist angle (body image in particular), health effects, and of course from the human rights/anti-racism approach. While I didn’t necessarily learn a lot of new facts, I did look at those facts through different eyes, and I feel like I have a more wellrounded idea of veganism, both as an individual choice and as a movement, than I did prior to reading this book. I also feel renewed inspiration in my commitment to social justice: it’s easy to feel burned out sometimes, looking at all of the injustices in the world, and reading about so many strong women who are willing to take a stand as well just felt good. :)
That being said, I’m not sure how effective it would be to an audience not already sympathetic towards veganism. There’s quite a bit of anger and extreme statements on the filthiness of animal products bandied about, which I have a feeling would cause non-vegans to bristle. For people who are already contemplating cutting out animal products, especially for African American women who might worry about appearing ‘white,’ I think this is a great book. But it’s a bit too confrontational and extreme to convert the masses. Also, there are a couple essays that are very New Age, which might confirm the stereotypes that non-vegan readers have about ‘those crazy vegan people.’
So! I’m delighted to have this on my shelves, but it won’t replace Food Matters as my go-to recommend book for non-vegans curious about ethical eating. If you’re already a vegan, or already interested in social justice, you’ll find much to think about in these pages. But otherwise, I’d highly recommend reading Mark Bittman’s book instead. (If I could magically make everyone in the world read one book, Food Matters would be the one.)