critique of a book review

So, the other day I was trolling the Web for things to rant about, and I came upon this. As I read through this review, my blood heated up to its boiling point. The perspective from which Crispin writes is one that rankles me beyond any other of a myriad of vegetarian biases. I’m referring, of course, to the point of view of the “enlightened” meat eater. Oh, they know all about the cruelty of the food animal industry, the environmental havoc that it wreaks, and the health risks associated with over-consumption of mass-produced meat. But they are clever, and they’ve found a way to have their meat and eat it, too. Because they eat “grass-fed, locally raised, humanely slaughtered hamburger.” I’ve often wondered about the phrase “humanely slaughtered.” Why doesn’t anyone who uses that phrase see it as the oxymoron that it clearly is?

Many of these morally sound meat eaters, Ms. Crispin included, are former vegetarians. They think this gives them the necessary credibility to critique vegetarianism from an insider’s point of view. Not only is Crispin (who admirably lives car-free) better than “most of the vegetarians” she knows who drive cars, but she is obviously healthier, more fashionable and less ridiculous than all the vegans out there who she conveniently represents with the most hackneyed vegan stereotype of all: “the 85-pound hollowed-out girl wearing pleather sandals and a hemp skirt” who reprimands her for the use of honey in her tea. Seriously, can we get an updated vegan stereotype, please? Of the many vegans I know, none of them are even close to fitting this image.

After dismissing all vegans as malnourished whiny fashion disasters, Crispin goes on to describe her experience of cooking a meal for her friends using recipes from the recently published Veganomicon cookbook. Now, I will be the first to suggest that this cookbook is far from the holy grail that many vegans are making it out to be. Isa includes repeated quirks in many of her recipes, but an experienced cook can easily work around these and produce some fine dishes. As any good cook knows, a recipe is merely a loose outline to work from. Crispin, however, is clearly not a good cook. Her description of cooking a vegan meal for her friends is full of the usual snarky self-righteous criticisms of vegan food ingredients that so many meat-eaters revel in sharing with anyone willing to listen. I chalk the penchant for dispensing this criticism up to my secret theory that the real reason that ex-vegetarians renounce their vegetarianism is that they never learn to effectively cook without the crutches of their precious eggs, dairy, and meat. Crispin happily shares her friends’ negative comments about the meal she has prepared: “the texture is, um, interesting” and “hey, where’s your salt?” to which Crispin replies, “I already doubled the amount of salt in the recipe. I think that’s just the way it tastes.” Perhaps Crispin’s friends are too polite to suggest that part of the problem might be that she just doesn’t know how to cook. The conclusion she draws after this personal failure in vegan cooking is this: “Maybe one day vegans will get a master chef on their side who can create some food worth sacrificing for, but I’m guessing the movement does not attract people who feel passionately about food.” Hmm, well, maybe one day legions of meat eaters will feel passionately enough about the welfare of animals to put the effort into actually learning to effectively cook vegan food, a skill that can be easily learned if one cares enough to try. Many of my vegan friends are among the most passionate food lovers I know, and they also continuously amaze me with their culinary skills.

The thing is that I am not ignorant enough to think that vegan food is going to taste the same as non-vegan food. I have cooked, baked, and eaten both vegan and non-vegan food. I know that textures and flavors will differ. However, I also know that if you stick with veganism and actually try to become a better cook, you will be rewarded in spades. But you have to care enough to try. And obviously some people aren’t willing to make the extra effort.

Crispin concludes her review (yes, despite her varied ramblings, this was actually a book review) of The Compassionate Carnivore (another oxymoron) with a quote from the book:

“People who become complete vegetarians for the sake of animals are basically getting up from the table and leaving the room. Although they might work to help better animals’ lives through their words, those words won’t keep a sustainable farmer in business. Only dollars will. If you don’t buy from these farmers, they’ll go out of business, and you’ll have even fewer choices than you do now.”

This is one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve read on this subject. Last time I checked grains, legumes, and vegetables were also grown on farms, and these are the foods that form the basis of a complete vegetarian diet. They also require far less resources to produce than food animals do, and don’t generate massive amounts of waste. Earlier in her review, Crispin talks about how meat-eaters are the ones making a difference with their demand for organic farming, free-range eggs, and grass-fed beef. It’s their demand, she says, that is forcing a response from corporations. Well, what if there was no demand for any meat whatsoever? Would all the food corporations and food animal producers simply go out of business? No, they would respond to consumer demand like usual and offer a wide array of vegetarian foods on the market. It’s the same logic that The Compassionate Carnivore author Catherine Friend uses to make a case for continued consumption of meat.

I could go on and on in ripping apart these arguments. There is the point to consider of how many people actually visit the farms where their supposed free-range eggs and “humanely slaughtered” meat come from to make sure they approve of the way things are run. A few do, sure, but probably no more per geographic area than there are vegans in that area. So how much of a difference are these supposed compassionate carnivores making? Probably not much of one. You’d be better off going vegan and saving yourself a trip to the farm.

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  1. >Rock on, Sean.

  2. >Terrific post.Now, if you were to send the tragically misinformed Jessa Crispin a vegan cookbook for Christmas, which one would it be?



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