This post originally appeared on I Read Everything
Book: Skinny Bitch
Authors: Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Type of Book: Health, diet, veganism
Why Did I Read This Book: Because someone I follow on tumblr posted excerpts and it seemed delightfully and refreshingly rude. Also, because I read some Amazon reviews wherein people were shocked, shocked I tell you, that the authors were pushing a vegan agenda in their book! As if promoting veganism is a terrible, subversive, bizarre thing to do. Needless to say, I was amused.
Availability: Easily obtained, you can get a copy here:
Comments: I am a failed vegan. I fail for a lot of reasons but mostly it is because I am lazy. I was raised with a specific palate and it’s hard to change. Also cheese is an addictive substance and I will refudiate anyone who insists otherwise. I don’t give any excuses for my failure – I fail because I fail, and that’s all there is to it. So I was very interested in this book after reading some excerpts because it seemed like the authors cut their audience very little slack. It also appeared that the shallowness of the title aside, the book was about more than achieving a scrawny body, also examining the disgrace of the American food industry and the complete failure of the FDA to ensure food safety.
My first impressions were right and wrong. The book certainly pulls no punches in its approach. Take this gem, for example:
So before you say, “I could never give up meat,” realize that nearly every single vegetarian on the planet said those same words. Then shut the fuck up, look at an inspirational picture of a skinny bitch, and clean out your freezer.
Yeah, I am just enough of a masochist that those words made me dizzy a little bit. No sarcasm here. I like tough love aggression. I mean, one of the chapters is entitled, “Don’t Be a Pussy.” Seriously. These women don’t want to hear our shitty excuses.
Their refutation of the Atkins Diet made me love them a little:
So shout it from the rooftops until every one of your dumb-ass misinformed friends hears: YOU CAN EAT BREAD AND FRUIT!
And my last crumb of adoration before I start listing my objections:
Give up the notion that you can be sedentary and still lose weight. You need to exercise, you lazy shit.
Needless to say, my elliptical machine has a not-so-fine layer of dust on it. I really need a tough love friend to yell at me the way these women do, because despite their foul mouths and name calling, they also make it clear that this is a process, making these changes, and that every step you take towards eliminating animal from your diet is a step towards saving your health and your life.
But I have some pretty profound issues with this book. First, I must acknowledge that I am a person who has a crush on Morgan Spurlock. I like nothing better than someone who is willing to look into issues and tell us the truth, even if it means being smeared on Fox News. I’ve read almost every major book that discusses the American food industry, from Eric Schlosser to Michael Pollan(whom I have grown to loathe with the fire of a thousand suns or at least the heart of a woman who finds hunting wild pigs to satisfy some primal need to be distasteful) to Frances Moore Lappe. So my first issue with this book is one that may only be specific to me and those like me, but there is little in this book that will be new to people who are interested in healthy food and concerned about the increasingly libertarian, capitalist approach to regulating the food and drug industries. I read nothing in this book I did not already know.
Second, this book puts a couple of lines in to discuss the relative expense of a vegan, organic diet.
Recognize that anything worth having is worth fighting for… Fuck excuses about not having the time or the money… Certainly your health and your body and you are more important than anything else in your life.
Okay, yeah, I sort of get it. I mean, they are right to a point, health is worth fighting for. But money is a finite resource. If you don’t have it, you can’t just say, “Fuck it, I’m gonna pay more for food anyway.” So I was uneasy, but then my uneasiness was substantiated further.
Don’t be a cheap asshole. Yeah, yeah, yeah, organic produce is usually more expensive than conventional produce. But we spend countless dollars on clothes, jewelry, manicures, magazines, rent or mortgages, car payments and other bullshit. Surely our health and our bodies (we only get one body) are more important than anything else in our lives.
The authors make the point in the same paragraph that perhaps the costs will even out because the more you prepare your own meals and snacks, the less money you spend on costly eating out or impulse food shopping.
But this passage above, more than anything else, distills why many bristle at health food vegans. Veganism as practiced in America can be one of the most elitist diets ever. If one eschews animal products and animal cruelty in all forms, everything from food to shampoo to laundry detergent becomes more expensive. The vegan refusal to admit this troubles me.
You see, like many of our peers, Mr. Everything and I are precariously middle-class. I mean, I own a home, we have two cars, one of which is very old, and we can afford for me to spend money on books. We get to run the air conditioner in the hot, Texas summers. Compared to 90% of the world, we are blessed and privileged. But I don’t spend countless dollars on manicures. I’ve never had one, in fact. I wear no jewelry. I use an old computer. My purse is ten-years-old. And I find a vegan diet prohibitively expensive during the winter when the farmers markets are no longer open out here in the ‘burbs. I find vegan, organic products as a whole to be quite a bit more expensive than their non-vegan, non-organic counterparts. So to drill this idea down to its core – I am a privileged person economically and even I find the vegan lifestyle dear economically.
Of course, on paper, many vegans also adopt a less consumer-driven lifestyle and don’t have closets filled with leather shoes, silk blouses, wool coats. But reducing consumer spending can only get you so far, meaning one has to be purchasing manicures, jewelry, and clothes to the extent that such dollars can be reallocated to purchasing organic and vegan foods. I would venture that millions of Americans don’t spend money on frivolities. They are not out buying french pedicures and the latest shoe style favored by celebutantes. They don’t have the money to redirect to healthier food options and to callously suggest that they do makes it hard to make a case for veganism as a truly sustainable way of eating for everyone, not just us reasonably comfortable white chicks who live within 25 miles of a Whole Foods and a regular farmer’s market.
Let me give this as one example:
There are a ton of awesome, soy-based fake meat products on the market, which are great for transitioning away from meat…
I’m glad they included the word “transitioning” because those soy-based fake meat products are so expensive I can’t see buying them permanently. (Also, on a strictly personal level, I have never smelled a fake meat other than bean-based veggie burgers that didn’t smell a little like what would happen if you microwaved PlayDoh but I have always had a sensitive nose.) At my local supermarket, a package of Morningstar Farms Chick’n patties costs $3.49 for 9.5 ounces of product, and Morningstar Farms is a more affordable vegetarian brand. That’s $5.92 a pound. That may not sound bad but bear in mind that this is the cost for a product that would be one element of one meal for a family of four. More exclusive brands cost far more. Fake meats cost far more than regular non-vegan equivalents. People who shop on a budget, especially for families, or those who use food stamps, flat out cannot afford food like this. People without cars who live in areas under-served by grocery chains cannot obtain fake meat from the frozen aisle. Of course, the authors don’t control the food inequity in the USA, wherein the worst calories are the most affordable, wherein some urban areas are under-served by supermarket chains. But this is not the first source I have read that glosses over the financial realities of eating well, making broad statements about how it’s affordable without really explaining the details of such statements.
For example, authors include a chapter on brands they like that offer nutrition, organic goodness and veganism, and overall, I think the list is awesome. But the Peanut Butter Puffins cereal by Barbara’s Bakery cost much more than Captain Crunch by Quaker Oats. At my local supermarket, I can’t even get the former. I have to drive into Austin proper, which requires gas, then spend about $1.50 more per box. The Barbara’s Bakery cereal is far superior, don’t get me wrong, but in order to get it, I need a car, the ability to drive 20 miles round trip, the gas for the trip and the money to pay extra for the product. I have no kids, so the box would last me a while, but the same could not be said for a family with a couple of children. This may seem like I am niggling, but this is important because at some point, we have to admit that the doctrine of veganism and organic eating in general is something only some of us can afford the way the world currently works and to insinuate that it really is just an economic choice for everyone is misguided and, frankly, elitist.
The part about spending money on rent or mortgages being “bullshit” is absolutely insane. Mortgages are not bullshit. Rent is not bullshit spending. It’s how we ensure we have a kitchen to prepare our hopefully vegan meals. I cannot imagine what sort of mindset considers paying rent to be bullshit. I just can’t. It was either horribly ill-conceived or speaks of a callousness that has left the authors so out of touch with that which really matters that they have no problem lumping in the costs of not being homeless with the same money spent on manicures.
Finally, my last quarrel with this book is that it has two versions: Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bastard . In the interests of making me happy, Mr. Everything read Skinny Bastard and we compared books. They are virtually identical, with small differences for sex-specific health concerns. It’s clear the book for women got edited a little for men. At $14 a pop for a new, small format, trade paperback with margins that permit only 20 lines per page, it was not a good investment. And like me, Mr. Everything has read a ton of books on subjects covered in this book already but unlike me, he didn’t like being called an asshole or a lazy shit.
All in all, if you are completely new to veganism, how the government is little help in determining food safety and healthy eating in general, I can see how this book would be of some help. For anyone who already follows the Post Punk Kitchen, for whom Isa Chandra Moskowitz has already revealed the awesomeness of vegan food, who has a battered copy of Diet for a Small Planet on their shelves, or those who don’t like ad hominem abuse, this book may be a miss. I’m not the sort to return a book because the content didn’t come through for me, but if I had a chance to not purchase it in the first place, I’d likely go that route even though me and my big fat ass could use some scolding.
(Also, in a shameless bit of online nepotism, if you are looking for a really good book of vegan recipes, try 500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, From Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies, co-written and beautifully photographed by my friend Celine Steen.)