Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A New Vegan Cookbook (Just Not Really Vegan)

Cookbook author and herbalist Pat Crocker is currently promoting her recent book The Vegan Cook's Bible. I found myself ending up with a somewhat furrowed brow as I read this bit about it via The Canadian Press. In it, Crocker emphasizes that she's "not a strict vegetarian or vegan", but "regularly enjoys [...] dairy products [and] includes a small amount of organic lamb, chicken, beef and fish in her diet once or twice a week". Now, there's no hard and fast rule anywhere that vegan cookbook authors need to be vegan. I mean, even Bryant Terry, whose Vegan Soul Kitchen is all the rage these days in online vegan discussion groups was pretty forthright about his less than enthusiastic take on veganism. In a recent interview with Mother Jones, for instance, he stated that he doesn't "advocate any particular diet for anyone" and "think [s] that's a very personal decision that people have to make".

It still disappointed me, though, to read Crocker's assertions that "cooking without dairy is really difficult" and that "vegans have lost a certain sense of mouth feel and what tastes good and their palates have become accustomed to a pretty bland diet". Cooking without dairy isn't difficult and to assert that vegans have become accustomed to a bland diet is nuts and perpetuates the whole myth that veganism involves a sort of ascetic diet where deprivation rules the day. Whether she really buys into this or is just bullshitting to try to emphasize how super ridiculously tasty her own recipes are compared to the rest of what's out there, we may never know.

I don't have a copy of the book, but this review of it by Roseann Marulli on the SuperVegan site pretty much helped cement my suspicions of it being anything but a bona fide vegan cook's bible. According to the review, in a section of the book on substitutes for white sugar, Crocker suggests using honey. More problematic, though, is that Crocker includes a section on health called the Healthy Body Systems in which she repeatedly advocates the consumption of fish. In a supposedly vegan cookbook. When Marulli asked Crocker about this, Crocker responded by insisting that "'the fact that vegans don't eat fish does not change the fact that fish is an excellent source of, for example, omega3 fatty acids'".

It's one thing to debate the degree to which vegan ethics or politics should be emphasized in vegan cookbooks (and this is something I'd like to wrap my head around down the road in another blog post). On the other hand, to write a book that one feels compelled to call The Vegan Cook's Bible and then fill it with recommendations to eat fish? Um, no. I don't think so, Pat. I'll pass on this one, and hope that other vegans get this heads up before they decide whether to do so, as well.


pat crocker said...

I wonder if you have ever been interviewed by the press?
The chance for a mis-quote is probably 100%

Give me a break and read the book. It is very respectful and makes no claims, slurs, nor does it try to bull....

SHAME on you for taking someone else's review and acting outraged when you have not even cracked the cover of the book yourself.

I NEVER advocate honey for vegans in place of sugar. I simply provide a chart that gives some of the substitutions that can be used. Vegans will be smart enough to choose the substitution for them.

I do not advocate the consumption of fish for vegans, nor is the book 'filled with recommendations to eat fish' . In one general health section I simply give the best sources for Omega Fatty Acids- sorry, fish is one of the very best dietary sources.

I wonder once you had written a 400-page book that took over 8 months to research and write, with input from editors, publisher, naturopaths, medical herbalists and others, if you would be so quick to judge...

Anonymous said...

Wow! What ignorance, Ms. Crocker.
Fish have to get their Omega 3 from plankton, and if they don't get it, there is no reliable source in their dead bodies. Therefore fish bodies are not "one of the best dietary sources". Not to mention all the toxins found in fish carcasses and especially in fish oil. "The best sources" would be the fats that come **directly** from the food like sea vegetables, hemp, or flax. Perhaps you are unaware of the fishing industry's need to dump their toxic, cruel products on uneducated consumers after labeling them as "the best source" of this or that.

Are these misquotes, Ms. Crocker? -
"cooking without dairy is really difficult" and "vegans have lost a certain sense of mouth feel and what tastes good and their palates have become accustomed to a pretty bland diet"?
If so, the author of this blog should apologize. Otherwise you are in fact guilty of cashing in on the vegan label while spreading disinfo/misinfo about the dietary aspect of veganism and should be ashamed of yourself finding the next lucritive niche market to make a buck off of. It is, in fact, not hard to cook without dairy at all and in most instances flavor of foods, especially "animal foods" are created by the seasonings (which are mainly plant based) that you put in them. Keep that in mind in case you really did say those things.

M said...

Rather than shaming me for not having read your book and then suggesting that you may have been misquoted by the press, perhaps you should take note that you've just confirmed the two things with which I took issue in my blog post.

You suggested a non-vegan sweetener as a viable replacement for white sugar in a book you call The Vegan Cook's Bible. Sure, an experienced vegan would recognize that honey isn't a viable vegan option. However, you listed it as a viable option and it's not. That has no place in a vegan cookbook.

Neither does your promotion of the consumption of a type of animal (i.e. fish) as an optimal source of nutrition have any place in a book you promote as being The Vegan Cook's Bible. By touting fish (as you do, even now) as "one of the very best dietary sources", you're indeed endorsing and promoting its consumption. In a vegan cookbook.

I mean -- it's inane to offer up two non-vegan substances as being either viable or optimal in a book of vegan recipes. And to say that "vegans will be smart enough to choose the substitution for them" just shirks accountability for what's essentially a misrepresentation of veganism.

As a vegan, I count on people who use the term "vegan" to actually mean vegan. Especially if they're trying to market a book as if it's the ultimate reference and resource tool for vegan cooks. I acknowledge that you've obviously put a lot of time and effort into publishing this book. That may evoke my sympathy, but it's completely beside the point and has absolutely nothing to do with the valid issues that were raised.

The truth is that you'll ultimately profit off a niche market at the expense of those who will take for granted that you're not going to mislead them. And to offer up one non-vegan substance as a viable option in a vegan book and excuse it away by saying vegans should be "smart enough" to catch the mistake is insulting, and then to promote the consumption of meat to your niche market of non meat eaters? That's both misleading and offensive. And I'm sorry that you don't seem to get that.

M said...

In response to Anonymous:

Are these misquotes, Ms. Crocker? -
"cooking without dairy is really difficult" and "vegans have lost a certain sense of mouth feel and what tastes good and their palates have become accustomed to a pretty bland diet"?
If so, the author of this blog should apologize.

Actually, if they are misquotes, then Ms. Crocker should take it up with The Canadian Press. They, in fact, quoted her as having asserted those things and should be the ones apologizing to her if they misquoted her.

x said...

"I find that vegans have lost a certain sense of mouth feel and what tastes good and their palates have become accustomed to a pretty bland diet."

Hmm, I don't understand why someone would write a cookbook for vegans when they aren't a vegan and they don't think we have good enough palates!

Thanks for the review.

LiDi said...

Thanks for the information. I like vegan cookbooks, but I'll think twice before buying this one.

teresa t said...

I'm LESS likely to buy this cookbook after reading the author's defensive and accusatory response. Wildly unprofessional (would an author ever respond this way to a negative review in a trade magazine like Publishers Weekly, for instance, and would she be blacklisted if she did? Rhetorical questions, of course!).

And I agree with the consensus of the vegans who have written in: Why even mention a non-vegan sweetener as an alternative to sugar? If the assumption is that vegans are smart, then they'll already know that honey isn't vegan, and that there is therefore no place for it in a vegan cookbook--"advocacy" for it or not!

Vegan Nutritionista said...

It is outrageous for the author to write a "bible" on a diet and lifestyle choice and then indignently shout "sorry, fish is one of the very best dietary sources" of omega fatty acids. That is sort of like someone writing a bible for one religion and then touting stories and theories from other religions.

Mihl said...

I agree with Mandee. That sounds twisted.

alexandra.carlsen said...

I have a couple questions for the following individuals - Mylene, Mandee, LiDi, Teresa, MiHI, and little miss Vegan Nutrionista !

Are any of you authors?
Are any of you international award winning and best selling cookbook authors?
Have you been writing about food and herbs for over a decade?

The answer is obviously NO! So I suggest you take your unnecessary comments and think twice before you ever direct such negativity towards such a driven, successful, and absolutely extraordinary woman such as Pat Crocker!

Now if you will excuse me... I have a steak in the oven that I must tend to!

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, I *have* cracked the cover of this book while I was at the bookstore on Saturday. I perused the pages, not really finding anything special about the book, nothing that made me want to bring it home with me. I continued to look through it and came upon the mention of fish. The first word out of my mouth? "Unbelieveable." I put the book back in it's place and moved on. I won't be buying a "vegan" cookbook that makes mention of fish. To tout the "health benefits" of fish (in quotations because fish is not a health food) in a so-called vegan cookbook truly shows the cookbook authors ignorance of what veganism really means. Sure, she might know what the definition of vegan is, but does she understand that a true vegan has a passion for the lifestyle itself? The answer is obvious.

"I find that vegans have lost a certain sense of mouth feel and what tastes good and their palates have become accustomed to a pretty bland diet." Pat Crocker, have you read any of the vegan food blogs out there lately? My guess is that you haven't.

I am also quite disappointed to see a lack of professionalism on the part of Pat Crocker regarding the rather heated and defensive response she left. I would expect a cookbook author to be accustomed to receiving public criticism about their books. After all, I am certain that not all of her recipes are delicious and I am certain that there have been reviews that have stated such. Pat Crocker, do you respond to those poor reviews in the unprofessional manner that you have to this particular review? If so, you really need to grow a thicker skin. My suggestion to you is that if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Literally.

M said...

Alexandra: You don't need to be a published author to know that fish aren't plants. Emphasizing someone's credentials to overstate why you feel that she shouldn't be held accountable for her errors is both pretentious and beside the point. If anything, someone of what you describe as such highly-esteemed standing would be expected to meet even higher standards--not be exempt from meeting any of the most basic standards at all. Misleading the very group of people who would obviously be most drawn to purchasing her book was wrong. Period.

M said...

Thanks to everyone else who's been commenting and getting the word out. :-)

Claire said...

What I think this all comes down to is respect. If people writing about veganism, not just this author, truly understood and respected veganism for what it is, they wouldn't write some of the things that they do.

On another note, I've always found it disrespectful when people call themselves vegetarians when they still consume chicken or fish, however little, or vegans when they only consume their own eggs from "happy chickens". I think that's why it bothers some of us so much. It's disrespectful in the same way that it would be if they declared they belonged to a certain religion without believing in it, attending the services, or even being born into it.

kelly g. said...

alexandra - If you don't want to give yourself away as a troll, you probably shouldn't flippantly mention that you're cooking "steak" on a vegan blog.

Or maybe flagrant trolling is the point?

And ditto what others have said: If I hadn't already planned on avoiding this cookbook, the author's (and her friend's/fan's) less-than-professional response would have turned me off.

mmg said...

Mylene - Great post & great responses to the author & her buddies. I totally agree with you!

Jonathan said...

I will also point out that, for many folks considering or exploring what it means to adopt veganism, one of their first stops is the "vegan" bookshelf. Ultimately what Ms. Crocker is doing, by flippantly using the word "Vegan" in the title and then pointing to non-vegan ingredients in the body, is further diluting the meaning of the word, either confusing people who may not know better, or perpetuating the myths that vegans are inconsistent in their diet/lifestyle/choices, or that you can wear the label without really changing, much like those "vegetarians" who still eat chicken and fish (and eggs and...). Ms. Crocker, if you did all of this research, did you not find that the Vegan Society was founded, in part, to combat exactly that kind of dilution? If you did, then did you choose to call your cookbook "vegan" because you didn't care, or because you were trying to cash in on the social tide that is forming around plant-based diets?

nora said...

I completely agree that it is wildly inappropriate for any vegan cookbook, let alone a vegan "bible" to even mention fish (and honey!). It doesn't make any sense--totally bizarre.

And the author seems so petulant and immature! I can't believe she said, "SHAME on you" for criticizing her book, especially given the fact that it truly deserves this criticism.

If the non-veganness of the book wasn't enough to prevent me from ever checking it out, the author's attitude and lack of responsibility is.

Unknown said...

I agree with everyone who was shocked by Ms. Crocker's response. What's with the unprofessional attitude? If someone actually misquoted you, you should take it up with them rather than foaming-at-the-mouth angry at this blog. Geez.

Even if it turns out that you WERE misquoted, you've encouraged a whole lot of people to ignore your book with your awful behavior.

I don't know who alexandra is--probably a sock puppet, since she opened her account this month and hasn't done anything since then--but she seems to share your lousy attitude.

Elaine Vigneault said...

My husband has written five books (non-cookbooks) and so I have some sympathy for an author like you because the author may not have the final say on the book. They may not choose the title, they may not choose the images, etc.

But it's absolutely wrong to include honey and fish - for ANY reason - in a book titled "The Vegan Cook's Bible." It's simple. That's like writing "ham is an excellent source of protein" in a Kosher cookbook! Get real, Ms. Crocker.

mazthegob said...

well...i'm a vegan chef 20yrs and have written cookbooks and i say this women is only trying to cash in on veganism and i would not touch this book with a barg pole
anybody with two brian cells know that vegans arn't interested with anything to do with honey or fish and to included it in a so called vegan bible is an insult to vegan and to not say sorry i got it wrong will try to fix is just arrogant

PamelaCooks said...

I received a smoothie book of hers as a gift, but I certainly won't be buying anything related to any of her projects after this. It's clear to me she's exploiting the boom in vegan-related cooking, co-opting a word that she knows is a buzz word at the moment.

She can eat what she wants, but the fish comments and the bland palate comments are just disingenuous and downright rude. I also found her response immature and kind of silly- if she has a problem with vegans mentioning these things, maybe she shouldn't suggest fish as a food in a VEGAN cookbook? This is a poor business choice at best.

Save your money and go with an actual vegan cookbook (recipes, suggestions, and attitude all), maybe by an author that doesn't insult the very audience they are supposedly catering to. There are a lot of great cookbooks authors out there. You don't have to be vegan to write a vegan cookbook, but the least you can do is shy away from "well their food kind of sucks but here are some recipes" type of negativity.

Vanilla Rose said...

Sorry, Ms Crocker, why should we give you a break? You have used the word "vegan" in your book, knowing your book not to be vegan. Why would you wish to antagonise genuine vegans in this way?

The Compassionate Hedonist said...

I just want to note that I am a SOMMELIER and a VEGAN and I have made it my life's work to prove that vegans do not have to rely on bland food. My career is FOOD and WINE. I have noted the book, won't be buying it, and I suggest we all write reviews about it on Amazon.com