Where are all the vegan (or at least vegetarian) books?
Sure, I know what you’re thinking: there is an abundance of vegan cookbooks in the world, but that’s not what I mean. A person could just as easily go on Pinterest or, even easier, Google and search for vegan recipes.
I want to know where the vegan literature is. The stories, the novels, the heroines.
Recently, I read a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a novel that is set in Austin, Texas of all places. When reading, I latched on to a character for no reason other than it was said she was vegetarian. It was all I needed: the slightest sliver of representation for my vegan self. Of course, the character likely ate dairy and eggs, and she isn’t even close to a main character. But those things didn’t matter because she didn’t eat meat! And for me, that was enough.
For a while anyway.
As I looked for my next book to read, I decided to search for some more representation. After a brief Google search of “books for vegans” or something similar, I was led to Goodreads, where I found a list that claimed to include books suitable for vegans and vegetarians. For a moment, I was hopeful. In my mind, I was sure my eyes would be opened to a new world, full of vegan heroes and heroines, saving animals one block of tofu at a time.
But I wasn’t.
There were a few books in there about animals, some nonfiction accounts of vegans, and a book about a vegan superhero (yes, this is one I will very likely check out), but for the most part, the selection was lacking. The first book on the list (interestingly enough, another Austen adaptation), based on the description, reduced veganism to nothing more than a way to lose weight, a crazy fad diet. Other descriptions didn’t mention veganism or vegetarianism at all.
When I wrote my senior thesis, I made a lot of claims regarding veganism and animal rights as it applied to Anne Brontё’s first novel Agnes Grey. While I could analyze the work and say the eponymous character and, as a result, Brontё herself make a lot vegan statements, I know it is almost certain that neither the fictional woman nor the real one abstained from the consumption of animals (though editions of Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontё may indicate otherwise).
I can’t pretend I found my vegan heroine in Agnes Grey, but I still want to find her.
When I was in middle school, I read a book called Vegan, Virgin, Valentine. The specifics are a bit fuzzy, as I haven’t seen the novel in nearly a decade, but I remember the main character being vegan. Throughout the novel, she had been dreaming of cheese, and, by the end, she decided a number of things: she didn’t need to be the perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect vegan. She was going to eat cheese.
At the time, I thought nothing of it. This was my first time even hearing the word “vegan,” and honestly, though it was in the title, the character’s vegan status was not that important, apart from the cheese-filled dreams. In the two years since I’ve gone vegan, however, I’ve been thinking about that book, how it could have sent a message about animal rights and just…didn’t. Again, my thoughts go to Anne Brontё and her heroine Agnes Grey, who spoke more for animals as a non-vegan in the Victorian Age than a character who identifies as vegan.
Overall, media is lacking when it comes to vegan characters. Lisa Simpson, a cartoon character comes to mind, but even she is only vegetarian. However, a good thing about Lisa is her character: she’s more than just an ethical vegetarian. She is intelligent, she cares about the environment, she’s a musician…She’s well-rounded, instead of just being reduced to one character trait.
I don’t like one-dimensional characters and books. I appreciate depth and novels that say something. However, I don’t want a character whose only defining characteristic is that she’s vegan or one who eats a plant-based diet to stay in shape, but I do want her to be unapologetically vegan. I want her to talk about veganism, I want her to visit animal sanctuaries, and bake tofu. I want her to post pictures to her Instagram whenever she finds a new vegan product or tries a new vegan recipe. I want her to eat vegan junk food and do her best to buy cruelty-free products.
I want a three-dimensional, well-rounded, vegan heroine.
She can do a million other things – be a student, be a writer, a mother, a cashier, anything. In fact, she should do many other things. No matter how much of an activist they are, no vegan’s sole personality trait is that they are vegan. That’s far too robotic, and no one would want to read a book with that type of protagonist.
With veganism on the rise, gaining more and more popularity each year, now is the perfect time to craft well-rounded vegan protagonists. If people, especially young adults and children, read about vegan – or even vegetarian characters – it will get them thinking. And if those young adults and children are already questioning the consumption of meat and other animal products, having a character to look up to makes them feel less alone.
The vegan heroine of my dreams doesn’t necessarily look like me, talk like me, act like me. But she is vegan, and she has a story – a story I can’t wait to read some day.