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The Vegetable Passion

A History of the Vegetarian State of Mind
Narrated by: Ted Brooks
Length: 8 hrs and 22 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

What did Adolf Hitler, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Frankfurt, Byron, women's rights leader Anna Kingsford, and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? They were all vegetarians. This is a digital edition of the classic exploration of vegetarianism which is just as controversial today as it was when it was first published.

Neither for or against vegetarianism, it is a social history of a way of eating as well as an exploration of the famous and infamous who practiced a meatless diet for nutritional and ethical reasons. Just some of the groups covered in The Vegetable Passion: A History of the Vegetarian State of Mind include the Pythagoreans in Greece, the Jains in India, da Vinci and the dietetic renaissance in Italy, the Doukhhobors in Russia and Canada, Richard Wagner, the communes in the U.S. and so much more.

©1975 (New introduction in preparation, 2013) Janet Barkas (a/k/a Jan Yager) (P)2014 Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc.

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Lots of historical info. A bit dry, Somewhat dated

To my knowledge, there is not another book that looks at vegetarian thinking and practices with such a wide-ranging historical perspective. Other reviews made me think this was going to be a terrible book. But it is actually not that bad. Quite listenable on the whole. The most difficult parts were the early chapters which deal with vegetarians in antiquity (ancient Greece and Rome, for instance). I am pretty ignorant about all things ancient, so I found these chapters disorienting and bewildering. Names of all sorts of people pop up. A few, like Pythagorus, I had heard of. But many more were new. The author seems to assume readers are well versed in ancient personalities, and so there is not much introduction for most of these characters.

The use of dates was also confusing. Rather than using terms like BC and AD, the author uses something called BP (Before Present), but it does not seem to be used consistently, or maybe I was just confused at times.

Later chapters dealing with more modern characters like DaVinci, Ben Franklin, Gandhi and Hitler seemed more accessible. I realized that vegetarianism has not exactly evolved in a linear fashion, but theories and practices have hop-scotched around with little in the way of continuity. Hitler's vegetarian ideas and practices were his own bizarre mix. But the same is true of all the other personalities assembled here.

Despite the title, there is not much that is passionate here. If anything, the writer seems dispassionate as she writes about vegetarianism through the ages. She seems mildly sympathetic to the cause, but just barely. If she is trying to push or persuade anyone to become a vegetarian, she is not trying very hard. Or maybe her arguments, to the extent they appear at all, seem so old-hat now that I, a long-time vegan, barely noticed them.

The book's biggest short-coming may be that it is very old now. It was written in 1975 and the research was probably done in the early 70s or maybe even the late 60s. A lot has happened in the nearly 50 years since then. So it provides an interesting snapshot of vegetarian thinking and theory in the early 70s, but there is no mention of so much that came later. There is no mention of John Robbins, Bill Clinton, or Dr. Michael Greger, for instance. Even Frances Moore Lappe, whose 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet influenced so many, is not mentioned.

The age of the book means that it talks about discredited ideas like food-combining, high and low quality proteins, and the then far-fetched notion of readily available soy-based milk. The author also seems to have a fondness for Freud, and sometimes tries to explain vegetarianism in some historical figures as being related to their closeness to their mothers, or their supposed "oral fixation," which seems rather ludicrous to me.

While the book recommends B12 supplements for vegans, it also mentions an intriguing study suggesting that at least in some vegans, B12 supplements may not be necessary. I have often wondered how much solid evidence there is for B12 supplements, though I take them out of an abundance of caution.

The narrator does a reasonable reading, but there are no embellishments, like accents or voices for the various characters. The narrator also has an annoying habit of mispronouncing a few words: Tree-uh-tiss for treatise, and Protee-in for protein. Or maybe my pronunciation is wrong.

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An interesting overview of vegetarian history

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I enjoyed the overview of the evolution of the vegetarian way of eating and a look in on some of the better known advocates and practitioners of vegetarianism. The section on what a vegetarian should and should not eat is very dated with a lot of erroneous information that food and nutritional science has since debunked. This section would do well with an update.

Would you recommend The Vegetable Passion to your friends? Why or why not?

Not really, as there are better books that explain the why, what and how with more accurate information. Too much time was spent on Hitler's life, outside of his dietary persuasion, that tended to stray from the topic.

Did The Vegetable Passion inspire you to do anything?

No.