In the Fall of 2007, our family set out on a three month, 20 city book tour throughout the United States to promote Nathan’s book, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. We began on the East Coast and ended on the West, with many stops in between. And in each city, we met dedicated animal activists working to save the lives of dogs and cats in their communities by rescuing them from, and working to reform, their local pounds.
Because we were often asked to dine, the subject of our family’s veganism came up time and again. And while many of these activists had a lot of questions about our diet, rarely were we asked why we were vegan. As animal lovers, they understood that not killing animals is a good idea. Some of them went on to explain why they themselves were not vegan, with their responses falling into what became three predictable categories. There were those who confessed having tried being vegan themselves, but of having fallen off the wagon because they believed it was too difficult. There were those who confessed that while they had thought about being vegan, they couldn’t imagine giving up some particular product, usually cheese. And then there were those who said they would love to be vegan if it weren’t for the fact that they hated vegetables.
These responses made us realize three important things about veganism. First, many of our colleagues in the No Kill movement did not need to be convinced that being vegan was a good idea. Second, veganism is misunderstood, being generally regarded as a lifestyle of deprivation, requiring a daily diet of vegetables and other “healthy” foods like brown rice or bean sprouts. And third, and most significantly, those misperceptions were squandering its vast potential. Because while a great many people readily admit that not eating animals or their products is a good idea in theory, their perception about what that means in practice—choking down a daily diet of unappealing foods and forsaking their favorite dishes—is not.
It is generally regarded as gospel within the movement to promote veganism that one of its greatest selling points is health. And it is true. Lower in saturated fats and pesticide residues, and entirely lacking in cholesterol, the vegan diet is good for you. Studies show that vegans have lower rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other life-style disease states associated with eating animal products. But we believe that in the zeal to promote these benefits, the vegan movement has lost sight of its audience: a nation of fast food devotees who aren’t all that interested in eating healthier. Too often taste, familiarity and convenience are sacrificed on the altar of health and a version of veganism that appeals to the narrowest possible demographic of Americans—people who want to eat “health” foods like whole grains, flax seeds and leafy greens—is promoted. While the vegan diet that our family, and the other vegans we know—a diet that is very different and far more appealing than the one that springs to mind when most Americans think “vegan”—is downplayed and, in some cases, even criticized within the vegan community, with detrimental effects to veganism’s public image and wider appeal.
We don’t like vegetables, either. And we don’t live without cheese. And we are not health food nuts. In fact, our family and most of the vegans we know have a diet very similar to that of most Americans. We eat pancakes with “sausage” links or scrambled “eggs” for breakfast. We enjoy macaroni and cheese or BLTs for lunch, and for dinner, we eat fried “chicken” with mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits with chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. When we go to see a baseball game, we gobble up hot dogs, fries, and sodas. After a movie, we stop and have a pizza with extra cheese. We are addicted to our overpriced lattes, and every holiday is an excuse to over indulge in some childhood favorite: nogs, pies, and candies. We eat all of these iconic American foods, all the time and at every meal. Our tools are cans, jars, packages, microwaves, and take-out. In fact, our diet resembles the menu you find at most diners, with one crucial difference: the ingredients we use to make these foods do not come from animals. They look the same, and, in most cases, taste just the same. But no one is killed to make them. We enjoy all of the pleasure these foods afford, but suffer none of the guilt.
Nor do we spend hours in the kitchen preparing our meals, soaking beans or sprouting grains. In fact, like most Americans, our diet relies heavily on pre-packaged convenience foods, such as veggie burgers and veggie dogs, vegan lunch meats, vegan cheeses and other options from the vast array of vegan analogs now available which imitate the meat, dairy and egg based staples of the American diet. The foods we enjoy are convenient, familiar, and delicious. And we aren’t the only ones enjoying them given the billion dollar a year industry of vegan convenience foods.
And so we decided to set the record straight for all of our vegan-curious, animal-loving comrades in the No Kill movement. We set about writing a cookbook that would redefine for you what veganism means, by showing you how familiar and delicious, convenient and satisfying vegan food can really be. You can eat just like you always have, but in a delicious vegan version.
To this end, our cookbook meets most of you where you already are. You love animals and are willing to embrace actions that spare them harm. You don’t have three hours every night to cook. And you certainly do not believe that adopting cauliflower as a staple is a sustainable lifestyle change. We get it. Our goal is to make it easy for you to adopt a more humane diet. We don’t want to replace your hamburgers with mung beans over a bed of alfalfa sprouts. We want to replace your hamburgers with hamburgers. To do that, we have veganized the American diet. The recipes will look familiar, will sound familiar, will be convenient, and for the most part will not require much preparation. Most importantly, they will be delicious. We believe that approaching dietary change this way will inspire you, and more people like you, to become vegan and thus help build a better world and a brighter future for our animal friends.
With over 90 recipes for familiar American favorites that introduce the concept of vegan substitution and the great vegan convenience foods now available, a one week and holiday menu planner, light-hearted humor and—we promise—no vegetables (unless smothered in a rich, creamy dressing), All American Vegan is veganism for the rest of us. It is veganism for you and other cheese-loving, vegetable-hating, supersize-me hungry Americans!
Happy humane eating!