Thursday, February 28, 2013

Contest and Review of Veganissimo A to Z

The kind people at The Experiment recently mailed me two copies of their new resource book, Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Products, one to review and one to send to someone else! First, the review:

This book will be undeniably helpful for anyone concerned with where their food comes from, vegans most of all. It has instantly replaced my old guide, which I bought in London three years ago, AK Press's Animal Ingredients A to Z. It's sort of weird that Veganissimo uses the same "A to Z" trope, especially since the first edition of the EG Smith Collective's work and the first German edition of Proctor and Thomsen's work both came out in 1995. (I wouldn't want to guess whether they've ripped off the device or whether they've never heard of or read Animal Ingredients or what.) Titles aside, Animal Ingredients has the advantage of a preface by Carol J. Adams, but it pales in comparison to the scope of the research evident in Veganissimo.

Other positive comments: I like the design and typography. Plus, I didn't catch any typos!

On to the problems! My first gripe is with the title, actually. It makes me sort of uncomfortable that there's this fake dictionary entry for the word "veganissimo" at the top, complete with pronunciation guide. How is the first definition (of two) a noun?! "Grrrl, you're a veganissimo." No, I can't imagine anyone ever saying that. It's a turn-off to be told that the book is designed for vegans of "the highest possible standard." People will use it according to their desires and capacities and circumstances, and it's a shame to think they might be dissuaded to some degree from the jump by the prospect of failing to attain to "veganissimo" status. Of course, the authors say no such garbage in the introduction or anywhere else in the main text, but a cover's a cover and we should judge it.

Major issue number two has to do with the Key to the Icons. Each ingredient heading is flanked by an icon or icons that denote whether that ingredient derives from a vegetable, animal, synthetic, mineral, or microbiological source. Each icon comes in two colors, orange and gray. Orange denotes "always or often," whereas gray denotes "sometimes or rarely." Here's the kicker: almost all the entries come with a bull head, because the guide is designed to help you avoid animal ingredients, but many of those bull heads are paired with other icons, some of the same color! This is harder to explain in words than to understand by glancing at an arbitrary page, but here goes. How is it logically possible for the source of Ammonium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, for instance, to be always or often animal, always or often vegetable, AND always or often synthetic? It's not possible! (Or else I have a different notion of "often" than do the authors.) This probably won't bother some or many or most or few or a number of people, but it bothers me, not just because it's imprecise but because it's confusing. However impressive all those little icons look, the only information you can glean from them is whether you have to avoid something outright, worry about it, or whether you can eat it without hesitation. To that end, I'd like to see the next edition organize the ingredients list completely differently. One section should include all animal ingredients that are always animal-derived. Another section should include all ingredients that come from more than one source, in which case you'll have to contact the company if you want to sleep soundly. The final section should include all the ingredients that aren't animal derived but deserve mention for various reasons, whether because a vegetable-derived ingredient could be confused with a more common animal-derived ingredient or because an ingredient is made out of petroleum or yeast. There's a lot of valuable information in this book, and I trust that the authors have good reason for including every item they've included, but they need to revise the structure of the book.

Okay, that said, if you're vegan or vegan-leaning and you don't already have a solid guide to the numerous esoteric, arcane substances that pepper the packaging on packaged food goods in this country, you should totally enter the following contest and win a copy!

Here's the deal, then. For the next two weeks I encourage anyone and everyone interested to submit a comment. At 1:00 PM on Friday, March 15, I'll pick my favorite and ask the winner for their mailing address so that I can send them a copy of Veganissimo A to Z free of charge. The catch is that you can't leave any old comment (e.g., "Give it to meeeee"). In order to qualify for consideration, you'll have to write me either 1. an anagram poem (I recommend this generator); 2. a short anecdote or fable (or proverb?!); or 3. a charm, spell, prayer, or other incantation. If you flaunt the rules you better flaunt hard.

If you need some inspiring music to bob along to while you write your way to a slightly heavier bookshelf, you should probably listen to something other than the album I just released.


  1. Did you seriously receive no comments on this? What the heck?!?! I know you ended your giveaway already, but, man, you need at least some comment love...

    Here you go:

    In my info...
    Do I need to know?
    I noted, woken, eyes now open.
    Ones weep, yon.
    Hidden items, them died in.
    Protect my health, myth plot, reteach!
    Owner spews godlike...
    knowledge is power!

  2. I love it! Thanks for correcting the blemish of white silence that'd formerly followed this post. Lizzie, you win! Email me your address and I'll mail you the book.