So the New York Times’s “Well” blogger Tara Parker-Pope and her daughter were inspired by Bill Clinton’s “vegan diet” to “go vegan”, and she wrote an article about it called “How to Go Vegan”. She doesn’t say why they are “going vegan”, which is more than a little strange. Based on the post, my best guess is they did it because they think Bill Clinton is cool and they want to be just like him.
Of course, Bill Clinton doesn’t actually follow a vegan diet (he admits as much), and I don’t think anyone’s ever claimed he avoids animal exploitation in non-dietary contexts.
To state that “going vegan” means simply following a vegan diet is to pretty much miss the point of veganism. Is Parker-Pope checking all her personal-care products to make sure they don’t contain animal ingredients? Is she getting bent out of shape by how hard it is to find lip balm without beeswax or lanolin? Is she agonizing over the flu vaccine being incubated in fertilized battery chicken eggs? Is she newly concerned with how to keep dry and warm all winter without leather, wool, or down? Doesn’t sound like it. But that’s what vegans do. And we do it for reasons other than celebrity worship, and for reasons beyond our own personal physical health. We do it for the sake of the animals we’re not exploiting.
So, OK, with all that out of the way, is this post a decent primer on switching to a vegan diet? Sort of.
On the positive side, there are some solid quotes from Susan Voisin of FatFree Vegan Kitchen and Chloe Coscarelli. Good for them. Parker-Pope should have just interviewed them and stopped at that. Cause the rest is often misleading, and at best just crappy journalism.
Her major sources include “numerous vegan chefs and diners” and “many vegans”. She rolls out head-scratchers like “vegan pancakes are made with a tablespoon of baking powder instead of eggs” (pretty much all plain pancakes have baking powder; you’re still gonna need an egg substitute). She seems to think canned coconut milk is another wacko vegans-only dairy-milk substitute along the lines of soy, nut, hemp, rice, or rice milk. Anyone who confuses canned coconut milk with a dairy-milk substitute shouldn’t be allowed to grocery shop for themselves, let alone breezily mention it in the New York Times.
There’s a defeatist sense throughout that vegan eating is somehow weird and special, requiring special substitutes and weird foods no non-vegan would eat. God forbid you eat nutritional yeast or soy milk if you’re not vegan! And god forbid you try to eat vegan without buying dairy substitutes! Most of what vegans eat is the same food everybody else eats, but Parker-Pope can’t see that forest for the specialty-shopping trees.
She also doesn’t mention any of the social aspects of switching to a vegan diet. If you shop and cook every meal for yourself, great. Most of us don’t. We share meals with friends and family; or even worse, coworkers, fellow churchgoers, PTA members, etc. She doesn’t talk about how to eat at highway reststops. She doesn’t talk about how to order at restaurants. She essentially limits “going vegan” to shopping at Whole Foods.
It’s a shame, all this. I love that the New York Times wants to publish a short friendly guide on “How to Go Vegan”. But I’m pretty disappointed that this is the best they could come up with.