Erik Marcus recently published a short ebook called A Vegan History: 1944-2010. The book is a quick read at a low price, packed with details about the evoloving vegan consciousness of the last 66 years.
The book’s description on amazon is as follows:
“This narrative begins with the term’s coining in 1944, and moves on to chart the rise of factory farming and the fast food industry. With the emergence of 1960s counterculture, vegetarianism and then later veganism came out of the fringes to gain mainstream acceptance. And as the modern animal rights movement grew into maturity between 1990 and 2010, the dismantlement of factory farming has become inevitable.”
“Like no book before, A Vegan History puts the modern vegetarian movement and its push to topple industrialized animal agribusiness into context.”
If you haven’t been a long-term active member of the movement, this book is a must-read. It’s a good primer on the influential people and things of the modern vegan movement. And even if you have been involved for years and years, reading this book is still probably a good idea because it may fill in some gaps in your knowledge of vegan history. Because it’s such a short book at such a reasonable price (currently it’s selling for $2.99), I recommend this book for anyone interested in veganism, particularly anyone interested in activism and advocacy.
That said, there was one major flaw of the book: The focus of the book is almost entirely on written works such as books and pamphlets (and their authors, who are almost always white men). Clearly, these items are the easiest to track down, compile into a timeline, and then weave into a story. And there’s certainly a place for that story. However, A Vegan History is an incomplete tale.
Included: Donald Watson, H. Jay Dinshah, Peter Singer, John Robbins, Mark Bittman, Wayne Pacelle, Henry Spira, Jack Norris, Matt Ball, Nick Cooney, and more.
Not included: Ingrid Newkirk (although PETA is mentioned), Nathan Runkle (however, MFA is included), Lee Hall, Steve Best, Gary Francione, and others. Most importantly, the hard-working individuals who did the majority of the real work in vegan advocacy are refered to seldomly and only as “volunteers” or “activists” for a specific campaign or organization.
Only one musical group was mentioned, The Smiths, and only two television shows, Oprah and Ellen. Paul McCartney is mentioned, but only as a “celebrity” not as a muscian or artist. Heather Mills didn’t receive the title “celebrity”; instead, she was introduced as the second ex-wife of Paul McCartney. Her modeling career, amputee-rights activism, and self-earned celebrity status didn’t get a mention. Talk about a HIStory.
The woman who receives the most attention in Marcus’ book is Frances More Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet. Marcus wrote, “For all its favorable impact, Diet for a Small Planet also put an albatross around the neck of the vegetarian movement.” He then goes on to detail her mistake about protein. (If you don’t know what mistake I’m talking about here, please just read Marcus’s ebook.) In my opinion, Marcus is unfairly harsh on Lappe. Nutrition is a young science and mistakes are inevitable. I’m certain that 40 years from now the expert opinions on things like B12, vitamin D, and Omega 3s will be different than they are today. In fact, some of what Marcus himself writes today about nutrition will almost certainly be proven wrong some time in the future. Luckily, the human body is very resiliant and can survive a wide variety of diets, all the more reason to choose a diet that doesn’t cause harm to others.
Perhaps due to a teeny bit of bias because I am a vegan blogger, I believe the greatest omission of A Vegan History was The Web. In my opinion, the best equalizer of our time and also one of the most effective tools for animal advocacy is The Web. But Marcus makes nary a mention of the role that bloggers and web activists have played in the advancement of veganism. Which was strange, given how much time Marcus spends on his own blog asking readers to use social media to promote veganism. Maybe he’s saving that discussion for a companion follow-up book, Another Vegan History.
One can dream.
To buy A Vegan History, please click here >>