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I recieved The Vegetarian Pocket Bible as a late birthday present at the beginning of the year. I can see why the book was chosen for me - the sub title of "everything you need to know to live meat-free" makes it sound like something that even a long term vegetarian such as myself would find interesting. The introduction also suggests that the book is aimed at both new vegetarians and seasoned ones. However, I beg to differ!
THE BOOK ITSELF
The word "pocket" in the title gives the clue that this book is small in size, although it may be a bit of a struggle to stuff it in your pocket. It is hard back, with a simple cover design that bears nothing more than the title and a picture of a pepper. There is a whole range of books in the "Pocket Bible" series covering subjects such as history, pets, and sport, but this is the first I have read. This edition is written by Carys Matthews who is not an author I am otherwise familar with.
On the back cover there are a few quotes, not about the book itself, but about vegetarianism in general. I am not sure that if they were intended to be inspirational, they are very well chosen. For example the quote from Drew Barrymore reads "I have been a vegetarian for years and years" while Kate Bush contributes "Not eating meat is a very good thing.." Thankfully, on the inside cover comes the promise that I will find "delicious recipes, fascinating tips, and practical advice" inside. What you won't find is any pictures or colour. This is a very monochrome book, so it isn't the most attractive. However, the pages inside are full of sub headings and bullet points which does make it easy to read.
Although I have seen this book stocked alongside regular cookery books in the shops, it actually contains relatively few recipes. The ones that are included are quite basic veggie staples such as falafel and carrot and coriander soup, but still useful to have especially if you are a new vegetarian. I have only made one - a beetroot and cheese puff pastry tart which was described in just a few lines and it as simple to make as it sounds. That was the only dish that I didn't already have several recipes for! The main focus is on general advice about living as a vegetarian.
The first chapter is about becoming a vegetarian for the first time. As an established veggie, I did not find much of interest here which is only to be expected. I was impressed by the supportive tone to the pages though, and the fact the author recognises that one approach doesn't suit everyone. She explains about the different types of vegetarian diet, and also explains the difference between that and veganism. Some people like to give up meat overnight while others work best with a more gradual process. Some vegetarian books can have quite a serious tone, and can make you feel a failure if in the early stages you accidently eat an animal derived product. This book gives a gentler approach and is very enthusiastic and encouraging. I also thought that this early section was balanced - it acknowledged that a vegetarian diet can be just as unhealthy as a meat based one if you still eat a lot of junk food. It then gives tips to help keep the health advantages the diet gives you.
The remainder of the book contains a mixture of facts and snippets such as the names of famous vegetarians [Einstein, Isaac Newton etc], nutrition information, recommended websites, cooking tips and some recipes. As a longer term vegetarian, I already knew information such as the existence of the Vegetarian Society, and as a keen cook, I didn't really need information such as how to do basic vegetable preparation. I couldn't find much that was new to me, so I don't really feel that this book does offer a lot to experienced veggies, unless you do not normally cook from scratch. However, the nutrition information would be a useful section to refer back to, as it doesn't do any of us harm to check every so often that our diet really is a healthy as we think it is! However, I have noticed that a section on specific vegan nutrition contains a major error. Vegans do not eat any animal derived products, so it is amazing that egg and cheese are listed as a recommended vegan source of selenium. These ingredients were listed under the same category in the vegetarian nutrition section, so I think the information may have been pasted into the vegan section without anyone noticing the mistake. It still made me feel that I could not really rely on the healthy eating guidelines, if such an obvious error has gone unnoticed.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BOOK?
I think that as a pocket reference, it doesn't contain enough useful information for me. I can think of facts that would be useful for me to have at hand - such as which E numbers indicate a non vegetarian ingredient, and what type of cheeses are definitely not vegetarian but that info isn't here. If you are a new vegetarian then there is likely to be more useful information to be found inside, but I still don't think it is as comprehensive as it could be. I feel that in some ways it is trying to cover too much ground, and therefore can't include enough information about each subject. There is, for example, a chapter on eating out as a vegetarian which incudes listings of vegetarian restaurants. Not many are included, so the chance of finding one near to you is quite slim. The international listings are sparser still, and are no substitute to a vegetarian restaurant guide or even a quick flick through yellow pages. The same section lists a few handy phrases in various languages such as " I don't eat meat or fish" but you are not given any vocabulary to help you understand the reply! This and the fact that there is the mistake mentioned above in the vegan nutrition tables, makes me feel the book is only so-so. It costs £9.99, and about £6.85 for a new copy on Amazon. I would not recommend you pay even the lower price, unless you want a mildly interesting book on vegetarianism because you are new to it, and you aren't expecting a book full of recipes. I personally would buy a straightforward recipe book that includes a section on nutrition and vegetarian ingredients, as so many do, as this would be a more versatile choice in the long term.
ISBN 9781907087295, Published by Pocket Bibles 2012.
[This review also appears on Ciao, under my user name.]