I'm always looking for inspirational books, and one that just crossed my desk called Even Vegans Die: A Practical Guide to Caregiving, Acceptance, and Protecting Your Legacy of Compassion by Carol Adams, Patti Breitman, and Virginia Messina really got me thinking about lots of different topics that center on animal advocacy and the fact that even vegans get sick and die. The description for this forward looking book reads as follows:
Even Vegans Die empowers vegans and their loved ones to make the best decisions regarding their own health, their advocacy for animals, and their legacy. By addressing issues of disease shaming and body shaming, the authors present a manifesto for building a more compassionate, diverse, and effective vegan community. Even Vegans Die celebrates the benefits of a plant-based diet while acknowledging that even vegans can get sick. You will learn how to make the health care decisions that are right for you, how to ensure your efforts to help animals will not end after you die, and how to provide compassionate care for yourself and for others in the face of serious illness. The book offers practical, thoughtful, and sensitive advice on creating a will, mourning, and caregiving. Without shying away from the reality of death, Even Vegans Die offers a message that remains uplifting and hopeful for all animal advocates, and all those who care about them.
I wanted to know more about this very unique book, so I asked the authors if they could answer a few questions about it, and thankfully they were able to do so. Our exchange went as follows.
Why did you write Even Vegans Die?
We wrote this book to address myths about vegan health and disease shaming, while offering information on caregiving (doing it right and what one can get terribly wrong), and on death and dying.
That’s the short answer. But we’d like to take this apart a little because of some of the myths that have appeared both in the popular media and in vegan literature about veganism.
With the best of intentions, but often with heartbreaking results, many people promote veganism by promising perfect health, weight loss, improved vitality, and disease-proof longevity. Yet vegans can and do develop serious illnesses. We certainly reduce the odds of ill health when we go vegan, but being human, we are still susceptible to illness and certainly to death.
When people do get sick, or don’t lose weight, or find that the promise of perfect health has failed, they may abandon veganism and the movement loses a valuable advocate. Moreover, vegans with chronic diseases may feel they are not welcome at vegan gatherings. Our movement needs to be as diverse as vegans themselves are, and not exclude anyone.
Our book is for every vegan who has bought into the myth that a vegan diet is protection against mortality. We want to show the damage done when vegans shame other vegans who are not slender or who are ill; when vegans avoid seeing a doctor when they need one; and when vegans put off writing a will that could protect their animals and their legacy when they die.
What are your main messages?
Our book’s premise is that we are better advocates for animals and for our fellow vegans when we accept that vegan diets do not absolutely guarantee good health. And when we also face the fact of our own mortality. Additionally, we want to share the experience and advice from vegans who are living with chronic and acute disease about appropriate and effective care giving and support. We risk alienating animal activists and losing their voice and their power when we don’t acknowledge and embrace every activist regardless of their physical size, ability, or state of health. At the core of a vegan ethic is our effort to widen the circle of compassion to include animals. Shaming and blaming people for their body size, appearance, or for having a disease belies that compassion.
We celebrate the benefits of a plant-based diet but also acknowledge that even vegans can get sick. Our messages focus on the value of building a more compassionate, diverse, and effective community by challenging disease shaming and body shaming among vegans. We encourage self-care for self and others. We address the reality of compassion fatigue and burnout and encourage activists to sleep, find joy, and avoid stressful online spaces. And, we also offer practical advice on how to express care compassionately, being mindful of advice giving, and how to actually be helpful.
We argue that everyone who is an adult needs a will and offer advice on how to proceed. Animal advocates, especially those who care for companion animals, need a will to ensure the animals in their lives are cared for if the advocate dies.
It may seem strange to claim this, but we see our book as a very positive one. It argues that by engaging with death and dying we become more empowered in our life and our activism.
What will it take to make meaningful changes?
Among health professionals, it’s well-recognized that the healthiest eating patterns are those based largely on plant foods, and that we need to reduce animal food intake, not just for health but also for the environment. And consumers are increasingly concerned about animal welfare, particularly as it affects farmed animals. We can help people put this knowledge and these beliefs into practice with innovations that make the shift easier. Improvements in veggie meats and cheeses and the availability of more convenience products are already helping. We see this in the shift away from cow’s milk toward plant milks, for example. Eventually, cultured meat and cheeses will also play a role in giving people options that don’t exploit animals.
Many people fear change; what we’ve found is change might be hard, but not changing is harder. About death and dying, we think the more conversations we have, the more we treat the subject of our own mortality with honesty, we are not only protecting our legacy of compassion but modeling for others who remain afraid of talking about the subject. We are the solution to the problem of denial.
Who is your intended audience?
While the target audience is vegans and animal rights activists, the message we share is equally relevant to anyone whose faith in their fitness or health routine leads to denial of death, shaming within their community, and an absence of care for one another. This would include runners, yoga devotees, body builders, Paleo diet adherents, and everyone else who feels invincible. Our information on wills, and making plans for your death can speak to anyone.
How does your new book represent and further your earlier books?
Our earlier books show veganism to be a wise and compassionate way to live, and so does this one. Whereas Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Plant-Based Diet showed how adopting a vegan lifestyle is empowering at a time of life when many people feel less powerful in the world, Even Vegans Die shows how empowering it is to practice an inclusive vegan ethic of care. It is ironic that vegans, so caring about animals, need to be reminded to care also for our fellow humans and for ourselves. We do this by acknowledging our inter-dependence and our own mortality.
Thank you so much Carol, Patti, and Ginny for taking the time to explain your new and outstanding book. I fully agree that the message you share "is equally relevant to anyone whose faith in their fitness or health routine leads to denial of death, shaming within their community, and an absence of care for one another."
I hope Even Vegans Die enjoys a broad global audience. It really goes beyond the vegan community. Indeed, Dr. Lori Gruen's endorsement says it so well when she writes, "Overflowing with compassion and practical wisdom, this book tackles sobering issues of illness, caregiving, death, mourning, and isolation that all people, vegan and not yet vegan, will inevitably confront. Everyone should read this book and reflect on Carol, Patti, and Ginny's caring advice for living, and eventually dying, well." I couldn't agree more.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Lives For Dogs and Us will be published in early 2018. Marc's homepage is marcbekoff.com.