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.