Living a balanced life with lots of creative food, exercise and exploration!

Book Review – The Veganist, By Kathy Freston

on June 10, 2012

I’ve finally finished reading The Veganist, By Kathy Freston, after taking way too long due to moving and my new, much enhanced work schedule (plus the resulting exhaustion and inability to read outside of work!).  Certainly the time it took me is not a reflection of the book, and I am quite happy to finally bring you this book review!  You can also check out her personal website here, which I would recommend 🙂

I enjoyed reading this book.  I’ve read books and articles on similar topics (many of which have slowly moved me more toward a vegan diet) but this book was different in its diversity.  Rather than solely talking about the Animal Rights or Health-based justifications, Freston instead offers 10 reasons, or “promises” for why one should consider moving toward a vegan lifestyle.  You can read them in sequence, or pick the ones that are most interesting to you, but all together they make an extremely compelling case.

She begins with an introduction describing the term “Veganist,” which I had never heard before.  She says a ” ‘veganist’ is someone who is intensely interested in a subject and wants to go on learning more.  The suffix ‘ist’ means ‘one who does.’  Veganists take action on what they learn – not necessarily in an ‘activist’ way but in whatever works to make their individual lives better while perhaps also helping to make the world a better place.”  She goes on to state, “It’s not about hard lines or purity or perfection but about intention and holding ideas loosely and taking steps in the direction of the kind of person you want to be, leading the kind of life you want to lead.” 

Wow.  These words really resonated with me.  Part of what’s so intimidating about the term “vegan,” is the drastic change from the lifestyle many of us are used to.  It seems so daunting and perhaps too difficult to implement.  Or maybe, even if you believe in it, there’s no tipping point that makes you take the big leap.  These passages take off that pressure.  The term “Veganist” is less restrictive, more welcoming, more forgiving, and more personal.  It lets me feel like I can set my own rules, and make the transition at my own pace, and for my own reasons.  By the end of the Introduction, I was ready to learn more!

The Promises

  1. Your body will find and maintain its ideal weight
  2. You will lower your risks for cancer, heart disease and Diabetes
  3. You will live longer – and better
  4. You will take yourself out of harm’s way
  5. You will save Money
  6. You will radically reduce your carbon footprint
  7. You will be helping to provide food to the global poor
  8. You will reduce animal suffering
  9. You will be following the wisdom of great spiritual traditions
  10. You will evolve – and take the world with you

I’ll separate these into a few categories for review purposes:  health, environment, animal welfare and personal.

  • Health

I learned quite a bit in these chapters.  For example, everyone’s heard of Diabetes and knows it’s really bad, but I never really knew how it worked and why it’s associated with poor eating habits.  The book goes through the disease in great detail, but not in too scientific of terms.  It was really well explained.  The focus on heart disease and cancer were also quite enlightening.  I was disconcerted to learn that many doctors know about the benefits of a vegan, or at least vegetarian diet, in treating these ailments, but don’t recommend them because they don’t think patients will be able to do it, and instead just throw pills at them. 

I also appreciated the chapter on weight loss, in a natural way.  I’ve never bought into fad diets, as their very nature sets them up for failure.  While I’m not exactly a beacon of healthy eating habits, I do think the best method is a healthy lifestyle, rather than dieting.  This chapter emphasized this philosophy, and explained why and how the body can naturally regulate itself when it’s not being inundated with processed and unhealthy foods.   Random fact: 1.2 billion people are underfed and malnourished, and about the same number are overfed  and malnourished.  This definitely speaks to the problems in our global food system and eating habits.

Particularly inspiring was the story of Ruth Heidrich, a woman who was diagnosed with cancer at 47.  She eventually adopted a vegan diet, and her cancer reversed and stopped growing, and her bone pain disappeared.  She then began competing in triathlons.  But not just triathlons, ironmans.  She says that she feels better at 64 than 47.  Absolutely amazing. 

  • Environment

Freston points to many concrete ways that cutting out animal products significantly helps the environment.  She uses statistics and stories to illustrate how easily little changes would make a huge difference.  I’ve known about the heavy cost of factory farming from other books, but it’s always jaw dropping to read.  For example, “feeding animals for meat, dairy, and egg production requires growing some ten times as many crops as we’d need if we just ate . . . other plant foods directly.”  TEN TIMES??  Just eat the grains!!  Sheesh.  Unreal to see it in black and white.  Plus, she quotes the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, who found that “the business of raising animals for food is responsible for about 18 percent of all [global] warming, and that meat eating is ‘one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.'”

Last really poignant and astonishing statistic: “We slaughter 10 billion land animals a year in this country alone, and 60 billion are slaughtered worldwide. Remember that all these animals have to eat – feed mills have to operate, trucks have to tote the feed (and the animals and their carcasses) from here to there.  And on and on – producing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.”  Well, now that puts things in perspective. <:O>

  • Animal Welfare

This chapter/promise was particularly well done, albeit too short.  She first details just how prevalent factory farming is (95% of meat comes from factory farms), then goes into how the animals are treated during their life, and the subsequent torture they endure in their death.  Plus, all the chemicals and pesticides they are given to produce the optimal textures and to prevent widespread bacterial contamination.  I won’t go into detail here, but her balance of facts and statistics with personal stories of those who’ve gone under cover in slaughter houses was informative and enraging without being preachy.  A new fact I learned which reconfirmed my new interest in using vegan/non-animal tested bath products:  She states, “There’s a financial incentive for dairy facilities to withhold humane euthanasia until a downer [a severely injured animal] can be sold to a rendering facility, which will process her into the raw ingredients of products like soap and dog food.”  Um yeah, I’ll be sticking to Nature’s Gate and the like from now on.

She also points to a new effort of various chains to use “naturally raised, chemical free etc” animals.  While I laud these efforts to treat the animals humanely in their life, I learned that these animals are often taken to the very same slaughterhouses as their factory farmed brethren, and endure extreme pain and inhumane treatment before they reach their death. 

Was this chapter hard to read?  Yes.  Was it well done?  Absolutely.  I wish more people could stomach reading these types of accounts and coming face to face with the reality of the meat industry. 

  • Personal

Freston closes the book with a brief introduction to the role of vegetarianism in various religious traditions.  I’ve long known that among Abrahamic religions, vegetarianism was considered the ideal, only forsaken because humankind was too weak and need to have “dominion” over something so as to not kill each other.  Um. Great.

However, Freston offers a different interpretation of the word “dominion,” more in line with the teachings of Ghandi and Jesus. Rather than connoting control and power over animals, she believes the term instead refers to the moral obligation to care for animals and exercise compassion, to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, whether they be human or any other type of animal.  I think this is a wonderful idea, and the obligation created is one that should be gladly accepted.


In terms of criticism, I will say parts of the book were….a bit campy would be the word.  A little overdone and cheesey, like it was trying too hard to be emotional or drive the point home.  The facts speak for themselves.  The personal stories were as evocative as they were informative.  There didn’t really need to be dramatic summations and lofty conclusions (like veganism can cure all cancer, which wasn’t said verbatim but came close). 

It was also a tad repetitive, but I think that’s due to the format of the book in that you don’t have to read the whole thing.  There are 4 chapters on health, they’re bound to repeat a bit.  If you only read a couple, I doubt there would be this problem, so it didn’t really bother me because I appreciated the way the book was set up.

One complaint, and this is totally a personal gripe, the animal rights chapter, which I personally think is a huge impetus for most people to go vegan, was buried in as Promise 8.  Not highlighted at all.  I understand that Freston wanted to end on a spiritual/personal note, and perhaps starting with health is a more concrete way to go, but I just found it disconcerting.  The chapter itself, however, was well done, as I stated above.

“Being a veganist(or veganish) is about choosing behaviors that support your values, that make a positive contribution to the kind of world you want to live in.”  Fabulous quote 🙂  Purchase it here!


2 responses to “Book Review – The Veganist, By Kathy Freston

  1. Yosef says:

    I think there needs to be a vegan pizza option/chain…that would solve a lot of people’s unwillingness! Like your run of the mill liberal…most people pretend to care about the environment/animal welfare/etc. only to eat veal at the end of the night and continue to support the same assholes in office who perpetuate awful policies. There’s a MAJOR disconnect in who and what people THINK they are and who they ACTUALLY are and what their lifestyle/choices supports. I applaud your review and interest into living a more veganistic lifestyle. It’s conducive to being a more ethical and healthier person. I hope you continue to set a great example for the rest of us.

    • I would love a vegan pizza chain! Thankfully, a few restaurants around the D.C. area offer a vegan pizza option.
      I do think it’s difficult for some people to connect their feelings to their plate. I understand when people think that one person not eating animals won’t make a difference, so why bother.
      Freston addresses this concern head on in two ways: First, she points to statistics showing the impact of even one person giving up meat (for example, becoming a vegetarian is far more effectual at reducing your carbon foot print than buying a hybrid car); Second, she argues that even if there is no impact at all on the world, you impact your own life by promoting a peaceful and healthful lifestyle.
      To each their own, but for me, Freston and others have offered far more than enough reason to ditch the animal products!

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