Living Vegan In Charlotte, NC – Easy Vegan Recipes – Vegan Restaurant, Product, and Cookbook Reviews

Well-Read Wednesday: Living Vegan for Dummies

Halloween is approaching, so it’s time to review a book by a scary monster!

1-living-vegan-for-dummiesI’m not saying Alexandra Jamieson actually is a monster.  She’s an attractive woman and seems to be pleasant enough.

She’s also a very famous “holistic health coach”/author/chef/celebrity (remember her in Supersize Me?)  She made shockwaves last February when she announced she had given up veganism and returned to eating meat.

Most of us were disappointed/angered by her decision, but to new vegans this was downright scary.  “If someone like Alex can’t stick with being vegan … maybe I can’t, either.”

Her two books, Living Vegan for Dummies and Vegan Cooking for Dummies, can now be found in bargain bins.  (Probably not a coincidence, eh?)

I know many people refuse to read her books now.  But I was curious.  Can a fallen vegan still have offered some useful advice?  And were there any clues in the books as to why she fell?

The answer is yes, and yes.

First, the good.  I find the For Dummies series to be quality books.  I’ve taught myself computer programs from them.  On other topics the books provide a thorough enough overview that I either feel I understand the topic well enough for my needs, or I know exactly which areas I want to investigate more.

This book is no exception.  It’s a pretty thorough overview, covering everything from reasons to go vegan, vegan nutrition, vegan cooking basics and a few (so-so) recipes, living with meat eaters, dealing with criticism, dining out, and vegan diets for pregnancy, growing kids, athletes, and older people.  I can imagine many new vegans reading this book with a highlighter in hand, dog-earing pages and making notes in the margins.

So, that’s the good.

The bad?

Understand this part is my personal opinion – and a little personal.

I often refer to myself as an imperfect vegan or a practical vegan.  That’s because I realize, no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be able to live a perfectly vegan life.  No one can.  So I don’t beat myself up for not being “perfect” and I try to focus on the things that really matter, that make the most difference.

Being practical, I will buy a vegan product from a company that also sells non-vegan products (such as a vegan jar of pasta sauce from Paul Newman, even though that company also sells pizzas with meat and cheese).

I will carry the occasional spider or stinkbug out of my house, but I give my pets flea and heartworm medications and I’ve had my house sprayed for termites.

And, even though the chairs in my company’s meeting rooms are leather, being practical I sit in them.  I’m not about to ask my boss to provide a fabric or wood chair for me, as Alex advises!  And I’m certainly not going to follow her advice to:

“take a nice set of fabric cushions to sit on so you’re not in direct contact with the leather.”

That kind of super-sensitive silliness only encourages everyone at your workplace not to take you – or any other vegan – seriously.

Plus, you’re not helping the animal who died by not allowing your clothed butt to touch a leather chair.  If you want to set a vegan example in the workplace, bring in some yummy vegan treats.  Or show off your stylish vegan shoes or purse.

Carly from Susan Nichole Collection

Carly from Susan Nichole Collection

You get the idea.  I’m an imperfect, practical vegan.  Alex was an impractical vegan, and from reading her books I get the impression she was/is an extreme perfectionist.

To me, she came across as preachy and sanctimonious.  As I read, I found myself getting increasingly irritated at my vegan opposite.

She definitely would not have bought that jar of pasta sauce.  “If … a company harms animals in any way for any of its products, don’t buy any of their cruelty-free products either.”

Alex could have discussed a topic of concern to many pet owners – feeding their pets a veg or non-veg diet. Instead, she preaches against flea medications and treatments. “Embracing the vegan lifestyle means holding respect in your heart for all living creatures, even bugs.”  She advises instead, “Rub garlic oil on your pet’s ears, paws, and the base of the tail to deter fleas.  Add raw or cooked garlic or garlic oil to pet foods.”

Ummm … Garlic fur, garlic breath, and garlic farts?  Ewww.


Would she have also advised against treatment for heartworms, roundworms, hookworms, and head lice?

In her vegan days, Alex would have said I'm a bad vegan because my pets don't have fleas

In her vegan days, Alex would have said I’m a bad vegan because my pets don’t have fleas

Verdict:  Not a bad book, although silly and sanctimonious in spots.    It lacks much of the humor “Dummies” books are known for.  It’s probably still a decent book for absolute beginners, if you can get it for a bargain price or check it out of the library.  There are better books out there.  I’d recommend instead:

  • The excellent Ultimate Vegan Guide by Eric Marcus for general info.
  • For vegan nutrition, the absolute best book is Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Melina Vesanto.
  • For social guidance, try Living Among Meat Eaters by Carol J. Adams.

Oh, and clues to why Alex returned to eating meat?

Understand this is just my personal theory, after reading her books:

I, too, sometimes had meat cravings after going vegetarian, and cheese cravings after going vegan.  Being imperfect, I would sometimes succumb and have a bite and get the craving out of my system, instead of obsessing.  And then I’d get right back up on the veg path.  Falling did not mean failing to me.  I haven’t had cravings in … forever, now.

But to a perfectionist like Alex, falling from the vegan path however briefly would mean failure. Her own high ideals must have made her vegan journey extremely difficult and a bit joyless. (This is a woman, after all, who could not make direct contact with leather.)  Since she couldn’t be a perfect vegan, she decided not to be vegan at all.

At least her dog doesn’t have fleas anymore.

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19 Responses »

  1. I really like this post, Catherine. It’s well-written and I like the conclusions you have come to. It all sounds reasonable to me!

    I think of myself as a practical vegan too. If my kids have a parasitic being living off their body – head lice or intestinal protozoa – I don’t feel obliged to let that continue. I don’t think of myself as a ‘vegan failure’ for holding this view. I suppose I could be accused of being speciesist for placing the comfort of my children over the lives of head lice.

    The ‘curtain- leather chair’ recommendation is interesting! I wouldn’t buy a car with leather seats but I can’t imagine carting around a fancy cushion or curtain if I’m getting a lift in a friend’s car. 🙂

    • Thanks, Ally, you speciesist, you!
      Wasn’t the chair bit just bizarre? When I read it I imagined myself going into the Wednesday meeting at my office carrying two huge cushions. My boss would think I had gone insane.

      • Guilty as charged! Haha..
        It WAS bizarre. You are right, people would find your ‘bring your own cushions’ behaviour very strange to say the least!
        I am enjoying your Well-read Wednesday series. 🙂

      • Thanks! Celeste had been encouraging me to write more book reviews. Hopefully I can keep them interesting!

  2. I love the term practical vegan. You described me perfectly but I never would have come up with that. People treat me like I am the impractical vegan and I always tell them it’s impossible for anyone to be 100% vegan since there are animal products in everything.I just do the best I can and what I’m comfortable with. Also, I have the first two books you recommended. I’m interested in reading the third one you mentioned.

  3. Charlotte, Thanks for this post. I was vegetarian, not vegan for 26 years because I thought I’d have to spend all my time reading ingredient lists and tiptoeing around in a nonvegan world. Good thing I didn’t read this book — it would’ve given me a bad taste for veganism. One day it simply clicked that I didn’t have to do it perfectly, ha, like anything else in life. I consider myself a ‘perfect enough’ practical vegan. With ease and plenty of joy!

  4. ha, whoops! Catherine, IN Charlotte!

    • Lol no problem, so many people assume the same thing! I have a meetup group VegCharlotte and at first I thought this blog might be a sort of resource guide. Then I really “got into” blogging and it turned out to be more about me and how it is to be vegan in Charlotte. I might have named it VegCatherine or something else if I had known that in the beginning!

  5. New to Charlotte and new to being Vegan. We are definitely imperfect and practical vegans. Aiming for 95% at this point… Non-dairy creamer had milk? We’re not throwing it away because we figured it out too late in the game. We’ll cheat at Thanksgiving because it’s the first time my fiancé and my parents are eating all together. I will make vegan treats for holiday treats at work… Kill them with kindness, not arrogance.

    • Welcome to Charlotte and congratulations on your choice to be 95% vegan! I think it’s us imperfect and practical vegans that stay vegan for the long run.

      Isn’t that stupid – that non-dairy creamer has milk? That threw us, too. And many of the non-dairy cheeses have milk proteins 😦 … Just do the best you can, it’s an ongoing learning process. Progress, not perfection.

  6. Excellent review! Setting ridiculous goals of vegan perfection, especially for someone just looking into becoming vegan, seems like the worst advice possible. As one Erin Red’s intro always says, “Being vegan is not about being perfect, being vegan is about doing the best you can.”

    • Thanks, Queen City Vegan!

      That’s a great quote.

      I wonder how extreme the book might have been if it hadn’t been a “Dummies” book. I really had the impression an editor kept toning it down and throwing in little disclaimers. For example, “Throw out all your leather shoes and restring your violin!” … then, a little disclaimer, “Of course do what you feel comfortable with.” Or, “Don’t get flu shots or vaccinations or take medicines,” and then, “Of course, carefully consider the pros and cons and medical implications and make the decision that is right for you.”

      The part of the book that just dealt with food and nutrition was not too bad, though.

  7. The extremism in the book certain hurts the vegan cause. No one wants to identify with an irrational zealot.

    Good review, Catherine!

  8. Ever since discovering your blog, I’ve enjoyed reading it and thanks for the review. I’m transitioning from being a borderline vegetarian to full time vegetarian. (Borderline in that I was never a real big meat eater. Maybe eventually I’ll go vegan but for now baby steps. Even as a vegetarian, for me it’s still about practicality. Meaning, when I began this transition, I had / have some things in my freezer, both prepared and unprepared, which are or contain meat.and no I wasn’t going to just throw it all out. Giving that rarely eat meat as it is, yes it may take me awhile to get through it all.

    And thankful that this wasn’t the book I decided to read as I transition.

    Right now I’m reading How to Successfully Become a Vegetarian or Vegan by Rudy Hadisentosa. So far so good and I don’t feel like I have to be perfect.

    • Aww, thank you!

      There’s nothing wrong with baby steps … a baby step is still a STEP! Just keep on taking them! 😉

      Being a practical vegan I can totally understand not wanting to throw away food in your freezer. It would be nice if we could all give ourselves a pantry redo and throw out all our leather shoes and purses immediately upon going veg, but realistically very few of us can afford to do that!

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