A Review by Stanley M. Sapon, Ph.D.
Jo Stepaniak has produced an extraordinarily
ambitious work that sends a fresh, invigorating breath
of life to the vegan movement, a work that stands as
a milestone in the history of efforts to inform, support,
strengthen, and light the way for those who have already
committed to a vegan lifestyle, as well as for those
who stand near the threshold. It is a "sourcebook" in
the literal sense of the word — not a dry, encyclopedic
compilation of facts, but a spiritually refreshing exploration
of the sources of veganism, as well as an immensely
useful compendium of resources ...ideas, strategies,
This is a happy book — a book on veganism
that makes no attempt to scare us with nightmare visions
of heart attacks, strokes, cancer or mad cow disease.
It points the way to veganism through love and understanding,
not fear. It characterizes veganism as "living with
conscience, conviction and compassion," and talks about
why and how to live and grow and thrive as a vegan,
and feel good about yourself. It shows how, in a culture
that often seems either unknowing, uncaring, uninterested,
or sometimes downright hostile, you can have a sense
of personal achievement, influence and effectiveness.
After 20 years as a vegan, I felt that
there was little about the vegan lifestyle I had neither
confronted nor thought about. Yet I found The Vegan
Sourcebook to be a "page-turner" ... absorbing, thought
provoking, enlightening and, literally, fascinating.
The author has done a superb job of
illumination, making visible a broad spectrum of all
the whys and wherefores of vegan living. She makes it
beautifully clear that a vegan lifestyle is a joyful,
rewarding and fulfilling way of life, and not at all
an ongoing penance of self-denial. And she succeeds
brilliantly in dispelling the myths that vegans consider
themselves a morally superior lot – "holier than thou"
– or that veganism is a case of vegetarianism carried
to extreme, immoderate lengths.
Virginia Messina, the widely known and
respected nutritionist, addresses the needs of a healthy,
well-nourished vegan. Her chapter on nutritional benefits
of veganism maintains the level of balance and scrupulous
accuracy for which she is noted. She provides a welcome
antidote to the exaggerated and extravagant promises
of "Instant Health" all-too-commonly claimed for a vegan
The pages on food continue with nutrition-charts,
a new vegan pyramid for menu planning, a week of sample
meals (plus menus for toddlers, preschoolers and teens),
all crowned by an exciting assortment of Jo Stepaniak’s
recipes (61 of them!) for breakfast, snacks, lunch,
dinner and desserts.
One of the principal merits of the book
is its effectiveness in widening the reader’s perspective
on a number of conceptual issues. Over the years, a
perception has evolved that marks veganism as an ethic
of eating, making the adoption of a completely plant-based
diet the defining element of veganism. This unhappily
serves to narrow and distort the substantial philosophical
and moral foundations of veganism and blurs the vital
difference between a "diet" and a "lifestyle."
Stepaniak keeps the compass on course,
reminding us that although a plant-based diet is an
essential part of veganism, it certainly is not the
only defining property. One of the most vital themes
she develops is that although vegan living may be patently
concerned with what goes into one’s mouth, it is equally
concerned with what comes out of one’s mouth. If we
were to treat every animal in the world with gentle
regard and respect, but address our fellow humans with
anger, contempt or violence, we would deny vegan principles.
The core of vegan values involves not only what we eat,
but a global view of our behavior — the way we think,
feel and speak, the way we respond to a whole spectrum
of issues that touches our mind, our conscience and
The Vegan Sourcebook is outstanding
in its forthrightness; it puts first things first, and
uncompromisingly identifies the power of compassion
as the driving force of a vegan lifestyle. Our choice
of foods does not determine or direct our ethical values.
Our ethical values determine and direct our choice of
foods. Veganism is more than an ethic of eating; it
is an ethic of living.
There are five absolutely compelling
and engrossing chapters entitled Ethics in Action, Of
Principle and Practice, Ascent and Evolution, Embracing
the Choice, and Reorienting the Compass. They earn this
book the status of a landmark, a turning-point in the
evolution of vegan thought and action. Stepaniak’s formulation
of "Degrees of Compassion" is a philosophical and ethical
tour de force, reminiscent of Maimonides’ Degrees of
Charity, that should serve as a touchstone for assessing
any act of compassion. In these chapters she leads us
through a thoughtful and penetrating review of vegan
values, goals and principles, and applies her gentle
wisdom to dealing with social challenges, small and
large, short-term and long-lasting. Reaching out to
expand and refine the conceptual boundaries of veganism,
she skillfully weaves into the fabric of this task the
thoughts of the more than fifty vegans (a veritable
"Honor Roll" of the vegan movement) who responded to
her request to share their vision, their insights and
their joy in vegan living.
In her earlier books, this accomplished
vegan author and chef has given us an abundance of recipes
to delight our palates and nourish our bodies with cruelty-free
food. Now she offers us another treasure, a book that
provides food for thought, encouragement, inspiration
and comfort... a kind of "Vegetable Soup for the Soul."
Stanley M. Sapon, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics,
University of Rochester (NY).
Director, the Maimonides Project
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