Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Review: Vegan Bite by Bite
by Marilyn Peterson

Today is March 20th, the first day of spring, the eve of my birthday, and the official beginning of this year's Meatout, the world's largest grassroots diet education campaign. I dedicate this post to the thousands of caring individuals across the globe, who share the joys and benefits of going vegan with countless others, making Meatout an enormously successful annual event.

I've waited twenty-five years to say this: Vegan is going mainstream, baby. The "v" word is no longer just kicked around like some kind of hot potato with cooties or regarded as "weird," "fringe," "faddish," or "radical." Articles in major magazines and newspapers have extolled the virtues of going vegan, and millions of Oprah and Ellen viewers have heard about the multitude of benefits to be gained from eating a pure plant-based diet. Only a few years ago, most people couldn't wrap their brains around the concept of giving up meat, dairy, fish, and eggs. But now more than ever before, Americans are beginning to not only accept, but embrace the idea that eating exclusively plant-based foods is good for their health, the animals, and the planet.

I admit to cringing when I hear Veganist author Kathy Freston suggest that people "lean into veganism," because I want cruelty to end and people to stop eating animals now. But if I am honest with myself, I must take a step back and reflect that I didn't become vegan overnight (how many of us really did?) I did quite a bit of leaning myself—first giving up veal, then red meat, and eventually chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy. (The last animal foods to leave my plate forever were cream cheese, (there was no palatable non-hydrogenated and casein-free vegan option back then), chopped herring, and unagi (eel) sushi. I can still remember the last time I thought about ordering unagi, and my friend, Sangeeta, looked at me and said, "Are you sure you want to eat that? Think about the poor eel." She was so calm and gentle about it. I thought of the poor eel, and that was it for me. No more leaning.

Today there are delicious vegan options for almost every food imaginable—even vegan cheeses are starting to rival the real deal. (Have you tasted Dr. Cow Tree Nut Cheeses?) And talented chef/authors like Jenn Shagrin take their culinary creativity into the stratosphere with vegan recipes for everything from scallops to short ribs and flank steak!

In perfect synchronicity with all the new vegan awareness, chef and author Marilyn Peterson, (herself a leaner for many years and a vegan for the last thirty), offers a gentle, step-by-step guide to overhauling your diet and achieving your most vibrant health in her wonderful new book, Vegan Bite By Bite.

In Vegan Bite By Bite Marilyn becomes both mentor and cheerleader, offering a clear and simple path to healthier, more compassionate food choices that can be made over the course of two stages. Stage One includes packaged comfort foods like mock meats and cheeses, allowing the palate and the body to ease into the elimination of animal-based foods without giving up many familiar tastes and textures. In Stage Two, whole plant-foods predominate, and more raw foods are included. There are no time restrictions, and readers are encouraged to lean in at their own pace. The transition is presented joyfully and light-heartedly, and as you read, you will feel as though you have a partner and friend holding your hand and guiding towards more vibrant health and vitality.

At 75-years-young, Marilyn Peterson is the perfect vegan ambassador.
How many 50-year-olds do you see every day who don't look nearly 
this youthful, trim, attractive, and fit?

The book opens by asking (and answering) the questions, "Why Vegan?" and "How?" and is peppered with thought-provoking, inspiring, and humorous quotations from famous vegans. There's a chapter on karma that connects readers to her own inner voice and shows us the connection between our food choices and our spiritual evolution.

What Marilyn succeeds at doing next in her book, is something I have done often in people's homes. She walks readers through a complete kitchen makeover, teaching them how to organize, store, substitute, and shop for healthier vegan foods. And since so much of the apprehension people have about going vegan is centered on wondering what they will eat, in Vegan Bite By Bite Marilyn offers more than 100 delicious recipes along with six-week menu plans so that readers don't even have to think about what to shop for or prepare.

In later chapters, readers will gain insightful health and nutritional information from medical doctors and be inspired by transition stories from celebrities, students, authors, and others. Don't be surprised if many of these stories sound a lot like your own. It's comforting and supportive to know that other people had the same questions, doubts, and struggles with their diets as you do. From these stories we also learn that there's no one right way or single path, and that we're all still fine-tuning and tweaking our diets.

My favorite chapter by far, is the one in which Marilyn shares her own story. It's a moving survival narrative detailing an extraordinary life journey filled with suffering, joy, challenges, and successes.

Readers won't feel stranded when they reach the end of the book, as Marilyn has thoughtfully provided supportive books, websites, and other resources for newbie vegans. One of those is her very own website, And it's filled with photos, recipes, and other valuable resources. You can even sign up for workshops and cooking classes with Marilyn!

Whether you are fully committed to taking the great vegan leap or only ready to dip your toe into vegan waters, Vegan Bite by Bite will not only answer the question, "so now what do I eat?" but will show you how to lean into eating vegan with flavor and ease.

I couldn't get through the whole book without preparing at least one of Marilyn's recipes. Eggplant Minestrone Stew beckoned to me, so I went shopping for all the needed ingredients. To my astonishment, there was not an eggplant to be found anywhere! (First it was raw pistachios—I still can't find themand now it's eggplant!) I went to three different stores, and at each one they told me they'd been out of them for several days. I had already purchased all the other ingredients, including my new favorite pasta, Ancient Harvest Gluten-free Elbows, and while I had a real craving for eggplant, I decided to substitute potatoes and carrots, rather than figure out an entirely new dish to prepare. As it turned out, this almost entirely new dish was flavorful and filling. (So good, that yes, I added it to our dinner rotation!)

Here's my version of Marilyn's Minestrone Stew (with potatoes and carrots, instead of eggplant!) Buon appetito!


2 potatoes, peeled and cut into ½" cubes
8 oz elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
1 Tbs olive oil
6 cups plus ¼ cup vegetable broth
1 medium onion, diced small
2 carrots, peeled and sliced ¼"-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, minced
1½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
2 15-oz cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 14.5-oz cans fire-roasted tomatoes
3 large bay leaves
2 tsp thyme, dried
2 tsp oregano, dried
1 Tbs basil, dried
1 cup packed fresh basil, roughly chopped


Boil potatoes for 10-15 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.
Prepare pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water, drain, and return to pot. Stir in olive oil, and set aside.
Heat ¼ cup broth in large soup pot on medium-low heat. Brown the onion and carrots. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic. Stir and cook until carrots are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the pasta. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add pasta and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve. Makes 6-8 hearty servings.


Kathy Hester said...

I may make your minestrone for dinner. It was 80 yesterday and 57 today. One day salad weather and the next day time for soup!

Vegiegail said...

80°? I'm insanely envious! It will still be months before we see that kind of weather. Oh, please do make the stew Kathy. It's positively scrumptious!

Helen said...

That book sounds brilliant! Just the ticket for my vegan-curious friends.

Marie said...

Marilyn is living proof that a vegan diet is what nature intended for humans. She looks amazing, and so does your minestrone stew, Gail. I will be gifting this book to many dear people in my life who are in desperate need of overhauling their diets but feel overwhelmed by the idea of giving up meat and dairy. It sounds perfect.

And Happy Birthday!

Debra said...

The stew looks awesome! :-) My girls love making vegan stew, so we'll have to make this sometime.
Thanks for sharing!

Blessings, Debra
Raw Vegan Diet

Vegiegail said...

Thank you for the warm wishes, Marie! And you're right. And thank you, Debra for stopping by and leaving a comment. I love your blog!

Briana (AuD Runner) said...

"Vegan is going mainstream, baby." That sentence makes me crazy excited.

Books and other forms of literature are what allow me to quit leaning and completely fall into being a vegan. I've learned so much about the right and wrong ways to eat my way through life as a animal and earth lover. Thanks for your lovely review of Marilyn Peterson's book! Seems like a great publication to share with other lean-ers!

Cindi said...

Great post, Vegie-Gail! :-) I am very excited to learn about this book as yet another awesome resource to recommend or give to interested people who are ready to start making changes. Sounds like a great mix of info and inspiration! Thanks, also - for your honesty about your own path and for taking the time to make this important contribution for Meatout! Cheers for all the animals and to our health! ~ Cindi

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful book! For the benefit of every living thing on Earth, may all go vegan! Happy Birthday Vegiegail!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

What a fabulous book and review! The recipe looks terrific, too!

Jill said...

Oh my goodness--what an adorable banner! I too had a long, slow process of becoming vegan, so I try not to push it on people overnight. But if I can get someone to step back and realize how their food choices impact so much more than their immediate plates, I feel like I've done a good job.

Recipes look super yummy. I'm bookmarking this to come back to later. Happy Meatout!

VeganMarr said...

I've known Marilyn for 20 yrs, she's a brilliant vegan chef, and yes, an incredible example of a fit senior vegan! This book is very thorough in covering all aspects of going vegan. She has been working on this book for a long time. Pleased to see it came out so great! Valueable info & recipes. An important book to pick up & read.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Vegiegail! I hope you have a wonderful day!

This sounds like a fantastic book for quite a few people I know. (And the stew looks pretty amazing, too!) Thanks for sharing!

Anna (Green Talk) said...

I guess I am a leaner to vegan since I can't give up yogurt ice cream. Gail, can you do some posts on coconut milk based ice creams.

Plus, I love pizza and it is my go to food when I am running around and can't get anything vegetarian. I hope I look as good as Marilyn when I am 75!

As for eggplant, I have started picking them up when they in season. Cooking them and then freezing them. I grow them but something about growing eggplant and I just don't get along...

Vegiegail said...

Thank you for all the wonderful comments and kind birthday wishes everyone! Anna, have you seen my recipe for Artichoke, Asparagus, Spinach, Sun-dried Tomato, Mushroom, Onion Pizza? I swear you won't miss the cheese!
And if you really want cheese on your pizza Daiya Vegan Mozzarella is meltable and very delicious!

I joyfully write about coconut milk ice cream all the time! My favorite brands are Purely Decadent and So Delicious. Here are some of my posts:

I sometimes make coconut milk ice cream at home, too, and refer to my favorite ice cream making book, Vice Cream, for inspiration and recipes. Here are some links to some delicious recipes you can try, if you want to make your own:

Date Coconut Milk Ice Cream:
Dark Cherry Almond Fudge Ice Cream:
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream:
Chocolate Ice Cream:
Nectarine Ice Cream:
Coconut Vanilla Ice Cream:
Vanilla Soft Serve: