Top to bottom: Renée French, Hazel Newlevant, Ben Snakepit, Liz Prince, and Sam Henderson, a few of the 55 contributors. Buy Digestate here and use code SUPERVEGAN12 for expedited shipping.
If you’re looking for a great holiday gift, or your books-of-the-year list is a little thin, or if you just like thinking about food and you like to read (which probably covers anyone seeing this blog post!) then Digestate: A Food & Eating Themed Anthology is for you.
While Digestate is available in some comic book shops, it’s not sold through the big online book stores like Amazon. The best place to buy it is directly from Birdcage Bottom Books. Usually they ship media mail only, but between now and December 25, use the coupon code SUPERVEGAN12 to get it shipped first class for the same price! (I promoted Digestate‘s Kickstarter campaign here back in June; I got my copy for supporting that.)
Digestate is an anthology featuring 55 comics authors and illustrators. At nearly 300 pages, this is a big book, but quality doesn’t suffer on account of quantity. While the range is wide (fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy; some stories are personal, some more documentary, and some outright surreal), the storytelling and illustration are excellent throughout. Clearly the contributors were genuinely inspired and excited by the concept here. And clearly editor J.T. Yost chose his contributors well!
If you don’t like a huge portion of what’s in here, you’re probably one of those idiotic ingrates who doesn’t deserve books at all. Or food.
Yost is a vegan himself, and while there are several other vegan contributors, plenty more are not. Some of the pieces are even defences of eating animal products. But don’t let that put you off, vegan reader. The honesty of the authors (even when they’re ethically misguided) coupled with the high level of the work, gives this book signifiant intellectual and emotional weight which would be missing from a compilation of vegan propaganda and cheerleading. Digestate‘s diversity of perspectives is it’s biggest strength. This book doesn’t try to convert anyone, nor does it preach to the choir—because of its bredth and inclusiveness, it can’t.
Also, by not having a unified pro-vegan message, this book is going to appeal to a lot more people. Anyone reading it will be forced to think about where our (and other peoples’) food comes from, and that’s never a bad thing. The focus is overwhelmingly on the emotional and ethical aspects of food, how it makes us feel in the mind and soul, and who else is impacted by our food choices.
In a clever touch, Digestate‘s index indicates the dietary preference of each author: “vegan”, “vegetarian”, “omnivore”, “carnivore”, and some more specific: Ayun Halliday is a “lapsed aquariumatarian, current omnivore”, Dan Piraro is an “ethical vegan (as opposed to ‘health vegan’)”, John Kerschbaum is a “pretzel-enthusiast, etc.”, Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg is an “omnivore who loves soy jerky”.
A lot of my favorite pieces in here are endorsements of non-vegan eating. And I suppose that’s how it should be: we share the world with non-vegans, and some of them are great storytellers. James Kochalka and K. Thor Jensen and (“omnivore”s alike) both contribute excellent and rather sweet stories about why they eat meat even though they know it’s wrong. “Successful Slaughter!” by Marek Bennet (“temperate woodland omnivore”) was just great storytelling and great comics; you’d have to hate reading to dislike it. And “How to Eat Chicken” by Sophia Weideman (“om-nom-nom-nivore”) is the least vegan thing in the world, but its themes of family, memory, responsibility, care, and love still make it totally affecting.
There are surprisingly few pieces here dealing directly with nutrition. I didn’t miss it. There are a few about eating disorders, but even those weren’t what I’d have predicted. Tod C. Parkhill (“picky eater”) and Alex Robinson (“omnivore”) contribute almost mirror-image autobiographical stories of men dealing with lifelong food-anxiety problems.
Some pieces are totally upsetting, perhaps none more so than editor J.T. Yost‘s illustrated version of a slaughterhouse worker’s testimony. Plan on at least a few minutes of shaking and trembling after you read that one.
Others are very, very funny. I literally (as in for-real in real life!) laughed out loud at Liz Prince (“vegetarian”)’s autobiographical gag-fest “History of Eating”, Victor Kerlow (“eats anything, preferably in sandwich form”)’s cannibalistic taco, and Ben Snakepit (“eater of tacos”)’s story of punk-commune-feeding-bands gone nauseatingly wrong.
Digestate also managed to throw me a few welcome curveballs. Lulled into readerly complacency by the many stories that pitch their agenda from the first panel, I was not expecting Anuj Shrestha (“omnivore”)’s ‘Foodies’, which begins as a totally pedestrian story of picky eaters at a restaurant, to be the most disgusting thing in the book.
Nor was I was not expecting a story set in a community garden near where I live in Crown Heights, about the chickens and people who look after them in (by Jess Ruliffson, “guilt-laden omnivore”). Something set so literally close to home made me feel a little bad just sitting home with book when I could be out there doing something.
The stories I liked most were the personal memoirs. Those I liked least (just a few) were merely collections of factoids. There are also quite a few jokey gag pages—special mention to the several from Sam Henderson (“vegetarian”) throughout. And there’s a slew of wacky goofs such as the aforementioned taco, Aron Nels Steinke (“vegan”)’s cracked fable “Scrambled Eggs”, Renée French (carnivore)’s animal-fable-without-a-moral, “Hegelbarger”, and Box Brown (“no dietary restrictions, cantaloupe sometims makes my throat itchy”)’s utopian future set “1000 years after meat” in which kids are still total jerks.
I could go on, but then I’d never finish this blog post and you wouldn’t know to go buy this kick-ass book. It’s truly one of the best things I’ve ever encountered (in any medium) concerned with what food means to us and how we experience it, socially, psychologically, and emotionally.
(A quick note to anyone who thinks “comics aren’t for me”: you’re probably thinking of the wrong kind of comics. I’m pretty sure this book is just fine for people who don’t read many comics: several of the stories are more akin to picture book pages than rows of panels. Indeed, some of the entries are just two-page-spread illustrations, including the Danny Hellman (“vegetarian”)’s past-present-and-future of meat-eating, and Kevin Cannon (“carnivore”)’s depiction of humans as maggots in a piece of beef (which somehow doesn’t read at all as gross). And the vast range of drawing styles makes it easy to find a comfortable place to start. Anyone who can read the Sunday newspaper funnies can handle this material fine. Feel safe buying this book for folks whose comics experience doesn’t extend beyond Peanuts or airline saftey manuals.)