How to Be Vegan by Elizabeth Castoria

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For my whole life, I have been a believer in balance. Balance is key to being happy, staying healthy, accomplishing your dreams, and having fulfilling relationships. Of course, this is not a new or original idea. But, it is a powerful one. When one part of your life becomes all-consuming think about how it affects your diet, exercise, and relationships.

My theory is that when everything is balanced (sleep, diet, fitness, job, relationships, organization) life will be perfect, or pretty darn close to it. Imagine a life where you get enough sleep to be energized, but not too much and get lazy, your house is always in a reasonable state of cleanliness, you are able to work hard at work and leave it at work, and your relationships are honest, open, and loving. I think all of this is possible with the right attitude and balance. 

However, instead of my life resembling  the balancing act of a tight rope walker gliding across the wire, it resembles a toddler first learning to walk. You know the stumbling, weaving walk of a young child that when people watch they think, "you're going to fall, you're going to fall!.... ANNND you fell."

Hey just because I said I believe in balance, doesn't mean I am good at it. But, I do know that when I do successfully wear the hats of chef, wife, organizer, friend, blogger, yogi, and teacher, I feel like that toddler taking a few steps. I think, "Wow! This is glorious. I doing it! I am doing it!" and then, I fall :) But, you have to keep trying.

That is what this book is about. Balance. How to be Vegan by Elizabeth Castoria teaches how to be vegan not just in theory, but in real life practice. She gets into the useful ways to find balance to help you be vegan in all aspects of your life. 

One of the best parts about this book is the brevity of it. Not because it was bad and I wanted to get it over with, but because it was easily digestible. I read the whole book in about two and a half hours, and I am no speed reader. However, if you are like many people who are struggling with balance, and at the end of the work day you can only squeeze in fifteen minutes, that strategy would work well too. Either style gets the job done, because of how the book is broken down.

Castoria sections the book into six parts. Unlike a novel, each can stand alone. So, think of these sections as more of a reference than a continuous story. That being said, her writing does flow well from section to section. Each of the six sections are pictured below and are thorough but short (about 20-30 pages each). Those pages read quickly because of all the illustrations. While Castoria's writing style can be a bit cheeky and playful at times, the textbook-like illustrations are very well though out. They are super clean, clear, and colorful. For example, in the food section, Castoria encourages vegans to try to incorporate "3 different colors [of produce] at every meal." Then, she adds a vibrantly color coated chart that gives the names of produce in that color. Seems simple, but the visual adds something and would help any "newbie" to make a produce plan. This book puts so much thought into how the reader will not only interpret the visual, but how he/she will use it in daily life. Genius!

The sections do an exceptional job of answering and considering problems most new vegans face. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the food. Castoria has two sections devoted to this topic, which I love. She gives the reader some nutritional advice, and common alternatives to non-vegan products AND she gives 50 recipes that will guide the user/reader to meet those needs. 

Castoria never gives general advice without hooking you up with real-life examples. In the food section. Castoria maps out common bases, veggies, proteins, sauces, and extras and gives a super useful chart to mix and match what you have in your pantry. I mean if that's not balance, what is? You could be at home with rice, squash, beans, tahini, and avocado, AND BOOM, you have a meal. Easy, quick and nutritionally balance. Win!

 I love it when a book doesn't just give me problems, but includes the solutions as well. Her inclusion of travel and home are the things that vegans only tend to start thinking about after they figure out the food and social aspects of the new lifestyle. In the home section, she discusses makeup, cleaning products, bedding, fashion, body care, and more. She gives brand names and shows you particular symbols to look out for when you are buying products.

To address vegans' travel angst, she teaches you how to get creative in the airport, which if you have ever traveled as a vegan, you know can be a bit dicey. However, she moves you beyond the airport and gives you typical vegan dishes from around the world. This is an awesome starting point for a traveling vegan, and it proves that you do not need to be limited by your diet.

I think the most useful section may arguably be "Don't be a Jerk." I know when I first went vegan, social situations were the most nerve-wracking. What would I say when someone offered me meat? How could I still be polite, but get my message across? What if someone was being a jerk about veganism? What if, what if, what if? This section breaks down the many social situations that you will encounter. Castoria helps the reader learn to handle the situation with dignity, but still keep your morals.

Overall, I loved this book as a practical beginners guide to veganism. It can easily be referred back to throughout the stages of a person's vegan evolution. With a fun, light-hearted, and educational tone, Castroia touches on all the facets of vegan life without being overly pushy. She just presents the suggestions and facts, and lets you use what you need from the book.

Even as an experienced vegan, I learned a few tricks and gained some insight that I had never thought of before. So, even if you have been vegan for ten years, this book probably has some gems to offer. For thirteen dollars, this book is a great reference and quick read. If you are starting out, I would recommend it as an all-in-one-place resource.

I am grateful for this book and books like it that make lives easier and transitions smoother. Having a tool like this promotes balance in our chaotic lives. When questions are answered and you have tools to succeed, you don't have to focus on one thing too much. While you may never be the tight rope walker fearlessly strolling over Niagra Falls, this book might just help you take a few more baby steps to get your life moving in the right direction.


The Vegan Solution: Why the Vegan Diet Often Fails and How to Fix It by Matt Stone


We have all been on long car trips, driving alone, and getting increasingly sleepy. I can remember driving home from college for breaks or random weekends and trying to keep my eyelids from drooping too low. Perhaps, when you are in this situation, you blast your favorite tune, roll down the window, or crank up the A/C. Maybe, you are super responsible and find a safe place to pull over and take a quick nap. I have pretty much tried all of those things, and they momentarily work. But, the thing that kept me truly awake was listening to the most extreme conservative radio I could find. Before you think I am crazy, hear me out. As I listened, they would make some hateful and outlandish comment, and as the perpetual arguer, I would get angry, shout something at the radio, and WAKEUP! Needless to say, listening to Matt Stone's The Vegan Solution: Why the Vegan Diet Often Fails and How to Fix It was just like listening to angry conservative radio on a long drive home.

I am not even sure where to start with this book. Sure, press about veganism and getting the word out is what this website is about. I want people to feel like they can change, and they do not need to compromise their tastes or comforts to do so. We can be compassionate to our bodies, the planet, and the animals without sacrificing what we want! 

Thus, I should be grateful to this book. I mean, it's called The Vegan Solution. It should, in theory, be shouting from each page about how great veganism is for everyone involved. Because, let's be honest, while more and more people are finding about about this "vegan thing,"  there is still so much unwarranted fear and dislike of the vegan lifestyle. 

Matt Stone does not present a book that glorifies all things vegan, but comes at veganism as both a non-vegan and a skeptical eye. He claims to have "dabbled in" and "regretted" the diets he has tried, he does very briefly acknowledge that veganism can be beneficial.

I bought the audio version of this book for seven dollars and it is a short listen. In fact, to make sure I got everything, I listened to it twice over a few days. However, I would not put the experience as either enjoyable or peaceful (which is unfortunate, because I love podcasts and auidobooks).

Don't get me wrong. I am not unhappy with this book because I think that all other dietary ideas are evil, or that anyone that does not cry "Veganism Is Miraculous" should not write. I am concerned about this book because of his nonchalant approach, at times hateful discourse, and in some cases, lack of thorough research.

I tried to set my vegan bias aside and hear what Stone was saying. Why do you think I listened to it twice? And, regardless of this book's many flaws, I do agree with him on a few key points. For example, people in the vegan world, probably because we are such a minority in the dietary realm, tend to become "clanish" and we have a hard time staying open-minded. My take on this is that it does not mean we should leave our awesome vegan community behind, be we should stay in-touch with the world around us, so we can better know how to improve it.

Stone also features a vegan, Chris Randall, in his book. And, thank God for Chris, because he was the voice of reason in this work. If you decide to pick up a copy of this book, might I suggest flipping to his few sections first! His philosophy is one of inclusion and making small tweaks to his still vegan diet that have improved his life. So refreshingly compassionate and sensible.

The final thing, I really agree with Stone on the fact that we should listen to our bodies. We should eat what makes us feel good and our bodies run the most efficiently. If all systems are running smoothly, then you are probably doing what is best for you!

Now, I could spend WAY too much time picking apart this book and finding evidence that contradicts the majority of his points, but I will give you the quick and dirty of it here. 

My biggest concern with Stone is his tone and attitude, which is both condescending and borderline judgmental. He opens his book with a joke that is quite long about how strange vegans are and how eating a piece  of cheese won't kill you or ruin your spiritual journey, and then ends it all with "I kid." Thus, Stone is like your Uncle Larry at the family gathering, who ribs you about not eating or liking steak, and says things like " you're missing out on 50% of life." He encourages others to laugh along with him, and at the end, he says, "I'm just joking around with you." What Stone and Uncle Larry don't get is that this is more than what we choose not to eat. Veganism is about respecting life. We choose not to eat it, because we choose to live a life that honors all life and refuse to gain pleasure from another's suffering. What they do not realize is that veganism is our way of leading a life of compassion toward our bodies, the planet, and the animals. So, making fun of us, when presenting somewhat controversial material does not make me want to sit up and listen. It just clumps you in the "Uncle Larrys" of the world.

In fact, Stone holds such disdain for some of the "stars" in the vegan community that he stoops so low as to bash them. He literally says at one point. "Thanks Joel Fuhrman. Dick." If his message could stand on its own, why degrade himself to name-calling? In the FAQ section of his book, Stone often reads his audience's questions in "Valley-girl" accents, which make the vegan seem uneducated and stupid.This book is supposed to  be a scientific discourse not resemble a ninth grade bathroom stall. 

Stone centers his book around three key points: having a high metabolism, getting enough salt, and eating enough calories. He says vegans are often starving. Sure, some vegans do not get enough to eat, but I do not see this as a major problem in the vegan community. We have too many delicious foods now! However, to help solidify his point, Stone gives a list of common symptoms for starvation. The problem with this is that they are far too general, and he does not claim that having 1-2 does not mean you are starving. In fact, he goes to say that this his diet would benefit everyone, so with this logic, most people are starving and do not get enough salt. Some of the symptoms he lists are: tooth decay, anxiety, insomnia, infertility, dry skin, brittle nails, abdominal fat, low platelets, excessive thirst, low sex drive. Thus, if someone has excessive thirst (a symptom of diabetes), abdominal fat, and low sex drive, they are probably starving?

While I could probably write a book about all the issues with this book, I won't. I have provided an abbreviated list with some of my major disagreements with Stone.  Some of the points are supported with my own research that provides contradictory evidence to some of his claims.

1) Stone reports that vegans often further restrict their diets the longer they stay vegan and this leads to social isolation.

2)Stone claims that exercise does not affect basal or resting metabolism. 


3) Stone reports that cruciferous vegetables suppress thyroid function, which may or may not be true. But, he fails to consider the cancer fighting properties of vegetables like broccoli and kale.


4) Stone claims that you should not eat too many raw foods. There are many benefits to cooked foods, but raw foods have helped people with diabetes, cancer, and weight loss.


5) Stone makes claims that eating watery foods will lower metabolism, but then states that there is not formal research to back it up. Here is a direct quote: "Over hydration, while it's not formally documented anywhere that I'm aware, is a very obvious metabolism suppressor for those monitoring basic metabolism feedback."

6) Stone reports that eating too many nuts and seeds, which contain too much linoleic acid, suppress metabolism. However, he mentions having chicken in his freezer in the beginning of the book, which has much higher percentages of LA (9.3%) than nuts and seeds (6.5%).

7) He uses sources wikipedia multiple times. You can see an example of this in the picture  labeled resources.

Okay, so that is enough of that! I think if Stone had presented his argument in a scientific and nonjudgmental way, his message to make sure you get enough calories and salt, would have been far better received. I do not really recommend this book. I believe that other sources probably could illustrate his arguments far more expertly. However, if you find yourself needing to stay awake on a long car trip, and you want something to argue with, then, The Vegan Solution is a great option.