by Charlotte Malerich
May 31, 2010
Wherever one falls on the meat-eater to vegan continuum, you need to make the Torres duo your truth-speaking, profanity-spewing, tough-loving pals. They will move you closer to ethical veganism. For the already-vegan, Bob and Jenna offer the rationale and the moral support to stay that way. For four years, these wacky Ph.D.s have provided social commentary and intellectual critique to and for vegans through their podcast, blog, online forum and publications. In so doing, they’ve created the Vegan Freak ethos: a celebration of the way vegans stand out in a society that normalizes brutality and exploitation.
Two years ago my younger brother lent me the first version of Vegan Freak, a colloquial and genuinely caring guide to going vegan—covering everything from basic animal rights theory to getting along with non-vegans to where and how to find vegan products. I’d gone vegan as a teenager, emotionally devastated by exposés of modern industrial agriculture. But with the onset of my adulthood, Whole Foods markets were popping up like dandelions, and no less than Peter Singer had given the seal of approval to “humanely” raised animal products. The ideology of mainstream animal advocates looked hopelessly confused, applauding vegan diets and marketing cage-free eggs in the same breath, and my own veganism needed a shot of re-commitment. Vegan Freak offered that. In its pages I found a consistent, insistent morality and a practical guide to living it.
Now, the new edition appears and, as promised, it’s been rewritten from the ground up. A thicker book both in page count and ideas, Version 2.0 reflects the clarity and maturity the authors have developed through years of vegan outreach. It still covers surviving holiday dinners and finding vegan alternatives for the leather fetishist in your life. Bad puns, tangential rants, and non sequitur chapter titles preserve the fun of the original. But new sections address recent trends in the vegan world: environmental veganism, veganism-as-body-image complex (or the Skinny Bitch effect), Oprah’s vegan cleanse—all are sliced with a scalpel of abolitionist rationale.
For Bob and Jenna, there’s no bad reason to go vegan, per se. Just inadequate reasons. Their goals—to help others go and stay vegan, to build a social movement recognizing animal rights—inform all their advice and criticism. Empathy bleeds through every sentence, but the Torreses treat their audience as responsible adults. They are not going to let us off the hook for failing to check if a soup is made with chicken stock or if our running shoes are all man-made materials. They are not content with vegetarians; cheese addicts get their own special page to bookmark and turn to whenever the craving strikes. Really, Bob and Jenna are sure we can make it through the traumatic dinner party with nothing but iceberg lettuce, and when we think about it, we are, too.
To their credit, the authors do not pretend to know what they don’t. They frequently refer readers to other sources. The number of times they recommend Googling vegan product X will get tiresome if you read the book in one sitting. But for anyone attempting to make any kind of change, Vegan Freak is applicable and inspirational. The three-week, cold-tofu approach to personal lifestyle change worked for me when I decided to begin exercising regularly. And their thoughts about “impoverished veganism”—veganism that is only about what we consume and how we spend our money—encourages the already-vegan to think beyond personal choices. Most seriously, I credit my present involvement in any kind of activism, vegan-focused or not, to Bob and Jenna’s inspiring, grassroots-y influence.