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Dr. Neal Barnard and Robyn Webb's book, The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook, is a great addition to a vegan's cookbook collection. The book is divided in two parts. The first part, "Get Healthy!", is a guide to a healthy vegan diet, its benefits and caveats, while the second part is a collection of vegan recipes and menus.
Dr. Barnard's tips for a healthy vegan diet on part one feature not only advice on how to have a balanced vegan diet (including a lot of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and leaving aside processed "vegan junk foods"), but also motivational stories from people who have accomplished their health goals with a balanced vegan diet, including special advice on how and where to get nutrients that are often lacking in vegan diets, such as calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. Dr. Barnard backs his claims for the health benefits of a vegan diet with a number of studies on how dietary changes have improved the health of individuals, and focuses on some main goals – always followed by a scientific explanation and a success story – that can be achieved with a vegan diet: weight loss, lowering cholesterol, controlling hypertension, avoiding diabetes and cancer, and managing digestive problems.
The second and largest part of the book brings recipes and menus divided into five main categories: breakfast; lunch; dinner; snacks, dips, and desserts; and entertaining. Although this is not the most intuitive way of organizing recipes in a cookbook (as I tend to find the simple snack-appetizer-entrée-dessert easier to peruse), it is very refreshing to see a cookbook that offers creative and nutritious breakfast recipes, since overlooking that first meal, which is supposed to jump-start your day, could be one of the main reasons why a diet could fail.
One thing I do miss in this book though is a section for recipes for drinks (or maybe drinks and smoothies), but maybe it is because once you get the basics of what a healthy vegan diet consists of, then it should be fairly easy to come up with your own vegan drink ideas.
Now, as far as the recipes go, the book has a good, clean layout, featuring one recipe per page, and making it easy to follow the step-by-step instructions keeping the book open in your kitchen table or counter, without having to turn pages to continue to the rest of the recipe, which is definitely a plus on the practicality issue. In addition, all recipes come with a side bar with nutritional information for that dish, so you can better tailor your daily or weekly menu to your specific needs.
Most recipe pages also feature a "did you know?" box, with curiosities about the dishes featured, or ingredients used in each of the recipes, where you can learn interesting factoids, such as the fact that tofu was first used in China in 200 BC, or that cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which is used as a topical pain reliever.
A common criticism of vegan cookbooks is that they often call for a number of ingredients that are really hard to find at regular grocery stores, making some of the recipes hard to replicate if you live in an area which doesn't have a big vegan community. This book, however, seems to be the exception to that frustrating rule. The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook surprisingly calls for very few specialized vegan ingredients (barring the occasional vegetarian sausage links or egg replacer here and there), making the dietary changes less of a strenuous job for the novice or aspiring vegan.
In addition, the book appendices provide a thorough (and easy) shopping list complementary to the list of essentials to stock up your kitchen in the first part of the book. These two combined with the appendix for vegan-friendly convenience food will be great help for you to provision your pantry.
In a nutshell, the layout is good, in spite of the scarcity of pictures (only found in a small insert in the middle of the book), and the recipes are fairly easy to make, considering the ingredients and preparation required. Now, whether "this book holds the culinary secrets to lifelong health," as promised on the first page of the introduction, is something each reader will have to decide for him/herself, but The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook is definitely a good source for vegan neophytes, as well as for lifelong vegans, who can also probably use it as an instrument to expand their recipe repertoire.
© 2011 Aline Medeiros Ramos
Aline Medeiros Ramos, PhD candidate in philosophy, Université du Québec à Montréal firstname.lastname@example.org