A couple of weeks ago, as you may recall, I took out a bunch of books around the theme of meat consumption—this despite the fact that they were mostly three years old and I’m not really particularly interested in vegetarianism. Far be it from me to resist the siren song of 2009 Alicia Silverstone, though, and so here we are:
Look, I don’t want to shit all over this book. Beyond the fact that I’m a bit late to the party for that, it just seems a little too easy a mark. And I’m sure the hearts of all the people involved with it were in an OK place, if not necessarily what I’d consider the right place. I agree with vegans on a lot of things at least at the base, and even when I think they’re wildly misguided, I’ve never moved my tent over to the camp that seems to think it’s necessary to ridicule vegetarians as loudly and as often as possible. It’s just food. If you want to rail against something, well, PETA’s leadership is pretty fucking awful—maybe look to them.
Also, on a less-political and more-personal level, I have to split from the most vocal meatophiles and anti-veg*n backlashers on one big thing: you won’t see me leading any rallying cries for eating absolutely anything you want in any quantity you want. I mean, I don’t care if you do; I eat plenty of junk sometimes myself. I just also suspect that my diet and activity level directly affect my mental health, and I can use all the help I can get in that arena. So, no, this sort of book is not all nonsense to me.
All of that said, the intro alone really tested me.
On the very first page, she asserts that “when you begin to…abstain from crazy-making foods like white sugar, you will see how amazing and joyous and peaceful life really is.” Just like that, huh? Pardon me for going so far out on this limb, but if white sugar is the only thing standing in between you and AMAZING JOY, you might be speaking from a place of tremendous privilege. It’s OK; all those Aerosmith videos and grueling animation voiceover work can do that to a person.
While it’s beyond chintzy to act as if no change or happiness is possible if you’re broke, being poor usually means you’ve got more holding you back from unimaginable peace and joy than some processed carbs. And Silverstone does anticipate that argument and respond to it… kind of. She asserts that beans and grains are cheaper than steak, which (unless, for you, it’s Rancho Gordo or nothing) I’d be hard-pressed to argue with. Her advice to save money by shopping at farmers’ markets is a little more dubious (I’m looking at you, this season’s local strawberries, with your $7-a-pint price tag). In general, her arguments here are, at best, more intellectual than sound. She seems to be willfully addressing an audience without any substantive day-to-day problems and, as such, is content to rest on shallow platitudes.
And, well, then this happens:
(Insert David Cross here.) So yeah, needless to say, I’m sold. I’m absolutely going vegan. Not right this instant, mind you, but in a few days. Once I’ve had the chance to shop and maybe go consume half a pig at Blue Belly, I’m in. I mean hell, why not, right?
Early on she claims that “after only 2 weeks of being vegan, people were beginning to ask, ‘what is going on with you? You look amazing!'” …so I figure I’ll only have to do it for, like, 2 and a half weeks, tops. For the record, I’ve been promised “tons of energy, mental clarity, gorgeous skin, and a zest for life you won’t want to miss.” (And she “can promise that, because it happened to [her]”…um, has Bittman been spotted hanging out with this one lately, by any chance?)
Now, I have to say, I’ve never been the “don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!” type. It’s not that I’m not open to new experiences; I just think it’s a wholly idiotic thing to say. I never had to live under Idi Amin’s regime, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that, I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad. Sometimes you know just looking at a food that you’ll hate it. You should probably just sack up and try it anyway, but feel free to knock it before, during, or after, as far as I’m concerned.
But I can’t really know if veganism will make me feel great just by looking at it. Or a macrobiotic diet, for that matter, which creeps into the book early on and later inspires the “Superhero” plan of eating I figure I might as well partake of. (She provides separate sets of guidelines for people who only want to reduce their animal intake, for those who are ready to go fully vegan, and for those that wish to unlock the special powers that only the macro life can give you.)
Whenever I’ve read interviews with macrobiotic eaters, I’ve been able to hear nothing but the unique brand of wide-eyed joy an anorexic feels upon discovering an officially-sanctioned eating disorder. So yes, I think it’s dumb. And I’m skeptical when Silverstone talks about how she struggled with the idea of eating animals for years and flirted with vegetarianism countless times—but that after she went vegan, she felt “lighter” and happier, without all that animal protein literally weighing her down. Is it just me, or does that maybe sound like the relief of shrugging off guilt, and not necessarily one particular set of proteins? As a non-guilt-ridden eater of animals, I might as well test this out.
To be clear: this is not intended to be in any way scientific. I’m not Kenji fucking Lopez-Alt; I’m not going to conduct one measly, poorly-conceived test in my kitchen and then pass the results off as gospel. My conclusions will be based on feelings alone—no hard numbers to confirm whether or not my health has improved in any way—because I’m also not Morgan Spurlock, or even a “person who has health insurance,” for that matter. And yes, dear christ am I ever going into this biased. Trust me when I say that I rolled my eyes through this book even harder than you probably assume one would roll their eyes through a Cher Horowitz-penned macro/vegan screed.
I mean, let me be clear: this is an almost fat-free diet. She says you can have nuts but should “limit them to about a cup a week,” and I’m not seeing anything else here with more than a trace amount of fat. She wants me to chew each bite 50 DAMN TIMES. Many of her arguments against meat are either 1.) not about meat but factory-farming (“meat is full of hormones and antibiotics”), 2.) reliant on the idea that you’ll be eating nothing else with your meat (“meat contains NO fiber,” so how could you possibly digest it?), or 3.) based in the notion that eating something cute is wrong.
But no matter how dismissive I am of her arguments about saving the planet or her frowny-face harumphing over eating snuggly little sheep, I’m definitely up for a few weeks of miso soup for breakfast in the interest of seeing how spectacular it might make my skin look. I’ll let you know how it goes!