Review by Vegetarians in Paradise
with Conscience, Conviction, and Compassion
After reading the comprehensive Vegan Sourcebook(published in 1998 and newly revised in 2000), Jo Stepaniak's fans might wonder what more she could possibly say about vegan philosophy. Plenty! In Being Vegan she takes a different approach by culling questions sent to her Grassroots Veganism web site and organizing them into the categories that are the basis of this book.
Jo is not an "in your face vegan" who is ready to storm the barricades or picket you if you don't agree with her philosophy. Her approach is one of kindness and gentleness. Her dealings with people echo similar principles she follows in her treatment of animals.
She clearly points out that veganism is not a diet but a lifestyle that encompasses "abstinence from animal products; harmlessness with reverence for life; integrity of thought, word, and deed; mastery over oneself; service to humanity, nature, and creation; and advancement of understanding and truth." These principles initially espoused by the American Vegan Society are known as ahimsa(using the first letter of each principle to create the acronym).
Jo believes that veganism is not passive resistance, but requires its practitioners "to make deliberate choices about every activity in their lives and to consider the impact and benefit of their actions." She cautions that vegans must not allow the word "vegan" to become a diet just like the word "vegetarian" because there is more to being a vegan than following a "strict vegetarian" or "total vegetarian" diet. Being vegan encompasses a philosophy of compassionate living.
The book is divided into four chapters: Vegan Philosophy, Relationships, Ethical Practice, and Vegan Practice and Food. Chapters are further subdivided into brief sections, each based on a question and its answer. Included within each answer is one statement that is repeated and graphically emphasized by a white flower in a gray box. These statements become the maxims of veganism. In the chapter on Vegan Philosophy she writes, "Each moment of our lives we have the option to do right, do wrong, or do nothing. Attempting to do right as often as we can is all that being vegan requires."
In her chapter Ethical Practice she repeats her view of one doing the best he or she can to follow the vegan way. Many vegans might be taken aback by her statement, " In our present-day society, it is not really possible to live a 100-percent pure vegan life and still participate in the culture at large." She cites the example of photographic film that uses gelatin derived from animal sources or her book that is bound and glued using animal products. Vegans must work to find alternatives but must recognize there are times when there are no other options.
Under Relationships she focuses on problems arising with family, friends, and strangers. Jo discusses coping in relationships where one partner is vegan and the other is not, raising vegan children, and dealing with parents who are not vegan. She also offers practical advice in situations like being invited to dinner by non-vegans, answering lifestyle questions, and coping with harassment.
Many readers will find practical information that they can use immediately in the chapter on Vegan Practice and Food. Questioned by a person who admits to bad eating practices and is overwhelmed by shopping in a natural food store, Jo responds with a step-by-step approach to shopping, suggestions on what to buy, and what to avoid. The maxim in this section states, "A large percentage of the convenience items found in natural food stores are no more health-supporting than the refined products available in mainstream markets."
Being Vegan is more than a question and answer book. It presents vegan views and information based on everyday situations people face. Its writing style is simple but eloquent. The subtitle, Living with Conscience, Conviction, and Compassion pervades every answer. Anyone striving for a deeper understanding of what it means to be a dedicated vegan should read Being Vegan.Those who have already made the commitment will find this volume a practical guide to remind them of the basics of this compassionate lifestyle.
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