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Vegetarian Reading

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Each issue the VIP birds will endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment. In this issue we review two recent books by Joanne Stepaniak. In one she discusses veganism by sharing questions and answers from her Grassroots Veganism web site. In the other she presents a cookbook with tasty recipes from a nostalgic era to help anyone prepare delicious vegan meals.



BEING VEGAN:

Living with Conscience, Compassion, and Conviction

By Joanne Stepaniak

Lowell House, 2000

16.95 Paperback


After reading the comprehensive Vegan Sourcebook (published in 1998 and newly revised in 2000), Joanne Stepaniak's fans might wonder what more she could possibly say about vegan philosophy. Plenty! In Being Vegan she takes a different approach by culling questions sent to her Grassroots Veganism web site and organizing them into the categories that are the basis of this book.

Joanne is not an "in your face vegan" who is ready to storm the barricades or picket you if you don't agree with her philosophy. Her approach is one of kindness and gentleness. Her dealings with people echo similar principles she follows in her treatment of animals.

Be Vegan She clearly points out that veganism is not a diet but a lifestyle that encompasses "abstinence from animal products; harmlessness with reverence for life; integrity of thought, word, and deed; mastery over oneself; service to humanity, nature, and creation; and advancement of understanding and truth." These principles initially espoused by the American Vegan Society are known as ahimsa(using the first letter of each principle to create the acronym).

Joanne believes that veganism is not passive resistance, but requires its practitioners "to make deliberate choices about every activity in their lives and to consider the impact and benefit of their actions." She cautions that vegans must not allow the word "vegan" to become a diet just like the word "vegetarian" because there is more to being a vegan than following a "strict vegetarian" or "total vegetarian" diet. Being vegan encompasses a philosophy of compassionate living.

The book is divided into four chapters: Vegan Philosophy, Relationships, Ethical Practice, and Vegan Practice and Food. Chapters are further subdivided into brief sections, each based on a question and its answer. Included within each answer is one statement that is repeated and graphically emphasized by a white flower in a gray box. These statements become the maxims of veganism. In the chapter on Vegan Philosophy she writes, "Each moment of our lives we have the option to do right, do wrong, or do nothing. Attempting to do right as often as we can is all that being vegan requires."

In her chapter Ethical Practice she repeats her view of one doing the best he or she can to follow the vegan way. Many vegans might be taken aback by her statement, " In our present-day society, it is not really possible to live a 100-percent pure vegan life and still participate in the culture at large." She cites the example of photographic film that uses gelatin derived from animal sources or her book that is bound and glued using animal products. Vegans must work to find alternatives but must recognize there are times when there are no other options.

Under Relationships she focuses on problems arising with family, friends, and strangers. Joanne discusses coping in relationships where one partner is vegan and the other is not, raising vegan children, and dealing with parents who are not vegan. She also offers practical advice in situations like being invited to dinner by non-vegans, answering lifestyle questions, and coping with harassment.

Many readers will find practical information that they can use immediately in the chapter on Vegan Practice and Food. Questioned by a person who admits to bad eating practices and is overwhelmed by shopping in a natural food store, Joanne responds with a step-by-step approach to shopping, suggestions on what to buy, and what to avoid. The maxim in this section states, "A large percentage of the convenience items found in natural food stores are no more health-supporting than the refined products available in mainstream markets."

Being Veganis more than a question and answer book. It presents vegan views and information based on everyday situations people face. Its writing style is simple but eloquent. The subtitle, Living with Conscience, Conviction, and Compassion pervades every answer. Anyone striving for a deeper understanding of what it means to be a dedicated vegan should read Being Vegan.Those who have already made the commitment will find this volume a practical guide to remind them of the basics of this compassionate lifestyle.

For more information about Joanne Stepaniak and her views on veganism, check on her 24 Carrot Award.






VEGAN DELI

Wholesome Ethnic Fast Food

By Joanne Stepaniak

Book Publishing Company, 2001

Paper 15.95


When a prolific, well-seasoned, and revered cookbook author like Joanne Stepaniak produces a new work, you just know it's going to be great. Vegan Deli captures a special nostalgia for many who grew up in the delicatessen cultures that flourished in New York City, Chicago, the Los Angeles Fairfax area, and many smaller cities that simply couldn't survive the Twentieth Century without a delicatessen.

The recipes featured are drawn largely from Jewish and Eastern European favorites as well as several standards from the Middle East that have become so familiar in today's delis. In addition, the deli foods of today are well represented with appealing salads, grain and bean dishes.

Vegan Deli Joanne's version of the deli foods that gave our parents an unhealthy dose of saturated fat and cholesterol are far easier on our arteries and GI tracts. Equally important is that the recipes have wide appeal and familiarity, dishes like Hummus, in five different versions, and Mushroom and Barley Soup, Lokshen Kugel, and Goulash.

Joanne tells us that the delicatessen originated in New York during the mid to late eighteen hundreds. In the early nineteen hundreds, when large numbers of Jews immigrated to New York with their families, and sometimes, even their entire village, the streets became the social hub. Pushcarts and street vendors were an integral part of the scene where deli foods were hawked, and people who worked long hours could "grab a quick bite." With a tone of sadness Joanne admits that the delis of the past no longer exist. In their stead, delis have come to mean "fast food" and often "mayonnaise saturated salads, fatty cured meats, salt-laden spreads, greasy fried foods . . ."

There are no dramatic color photos to tempt the cookbook browser. The book is simply designed with some appealing line drawings that border the lower half of each page. Clearly, the emphasis is on the author's exceptional knack for turning the spoon with her tasty vegan versions of meat, chicken, fish, and dairy dishes, such as Hungarian Cauliflower Paprikash and Potato Kugel. She's reached into the past and brought forth a cultural heritage with whole foods that are nutritionally sound. The flavors and textures are amazingly similar to the real thing. Perhaps the hard-core carnivore won't agree, but those attuned to the vegan lifestyle have trimmed the fat from their taste buds and truly appreciate the environmentally friendly versions, even finding them exciting.

The author offers six different versions of potato salad, from the traditional Deli Potato Salad to the unique Potato Salad with Sesame-Tarragon Dressing. If you fancy eggplant, your choices number nine different dishes including Baba Ghanoush, a deli standard.

We chose some dishes to put her creations to the test. Because eggplant happens to be one of our favorite vegetables, we prepared two versions: Pickled Eggplant "Herring" and Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Salad. The tempeh we had on hand became Tempeh Pecan Salad, the lentils in the pantry were transformed into Mujaddra and Bulgur, and our sweet potatoes evolved into a melt-in-your mouth Tzimmes. We're testing our patience while some Garlic Dill Pickles marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 days. For now we settled on a universal favorite, Vinaigrette Coleslaw, to round out our meal.

The recipes were a snap and came together quickly. We reveled in a touch of nostalgia as we munched, enjoyed some memories of dishes our mothers used to prepare, and shared nods of approval as we reached for second helpings. We're still awaiting those pickles, though.

Joanne Stepaniak didn't overlook a thing and stayed true to her deli food focus. Everything from pickled and marinated vegetables, to cold and hot soups, cold salads, grain and bean salads, hot entree dishes, dressings and spreads is included and merely awaits the cook's approach. We should mention the excellent index that has recipes listed by name as well as main ingredient. If you've forgotten the name of a particular bean recipe, for instance, just look up the word "beans," to find all the bean recipes listed.

The simplicity of the preparations and easy-to-follow directions make Joanne's books a must for everyone from the busy stay-at-home mom to those in the working world. For newcomers to the vegetarian regimen, Joanne has shown how familiar, traditional deli foods can be transformed into wholesome comfort foods. Those just learning to cook will find Vegan Deli a great starting point because of its readily available ingredients and uncomplicated directions. Those who have not experienced Joanne Stepaniak's cookbooks might enjoy The Uncheese Cookbook, Vegan Vittles, Table for Two, Ecological Cooking, The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook, Delicious Food for a Healthy Heart, and The Saucy Vegetarian.


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