Friday, 17 February, 2017
Elena Orde and Ali Ryland pick their top seven vegan-friendly books that demonstrate a subtle vegan message.
I’m a massive Harry Potter nerd. I know the books back to front, but the last time I re-read the series was the first time I had done so as a vegan. I was actually a bit thrown by how un-vegan it was – the characters seem to be constantly tucking in to huge feasts laden with animal products and concocting potions made with eyes and hair and blood, and don’t get me started on the mistreatment of dragons …
I feel we may have already got a bit off-topic here. My point is that, although of course we can still enjoy our old favourites, sometimes it’s nice to read a book which doesn’t leave you with those moments of frustration. Personally, the books I have most enjoyed recently have had a subtle vegan message – something which indicates that the author, while they are not necessarily vegan themselves, isn’t portraying animals as commodities.
Here are a few of my favourite novels which fit into this category.
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
This book is about Alice, a code-breaker with a troubled past who works for a toy-making corporation. If you ever, like me, feel as if you’re in dire need of learning something new in order to prevent your brain from turning to mush, this book is a good bet. It outlines various code-breaking methods in a way which respects the reader’s intelligence, and also briefly explores the history of cryptography, which is fascinating.
Alice isn’t vegan at the beginning of the novel, but meets several vegans over the course of the book and is curious to learn more about their values, which in this book is tied in with other themes such as anti-capitalism.
This book is also a great one to lend it to your non-vegan friend as an insidious method of educating them about where animal products come from.
The Humans by Matt Haig
If you haven’t read anything by Matt Haig before, you’re in for a treat. A spokesperson for openness and support for mental health issues, he’s probably best known for his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, which is also fantastic.
The Humans is about an alien who’s transported into the body of a university professor named Andrew – but if you don’t generally go for books about aliens don’t worry. I don’t usually, either. It’s more about relationships and feeling like an outsider, and is a really interesting way of viewing the strangeness of humanity from an outside perspective.
Although it’s only a small part of the story, one of the strange things the protagonist can’t understand about humans is the way they eat other animals.
Andrew does, however, find something that he does enjoy eating – peanut butter. He also forges a strong relationship with Newton the dog. Is there really anything not to like?
The BFG by Roald Dahl
I was Roald Dahl-obsessed as a child. I think I had The BFG on cassette tape – I seem to remember listening to it on long car rides with my parents. It had that wonderful dark edge that all good children’s books seem to have – I’m sure my parents didn’t mind listening along too (although that may have changed as we approached the fifth playing).
I’m sure that everyone knows the story, but just in case a few of you out there seriously missed out – the BFG is the story of an orphan, Sophie, who is kidnapped by the Big Friendly Giant, the only giant in Giant Country who does not eat children.
Suitable for all children, adults, in-betweens and dogs, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Now here’s a novel that is decidedly not suitable for children. While not a vegan novel, it is essential reading for anyone who has not grasped the calamitous effect we are having on the natural world. In Atwood’s society where rightwing libertarianism and global warming have run amok, what’s mainly on the menu is soy-based snacks. While the latter part sounds like rather a good thing, it’s frustrating that none of the characters have made the connection between animal agriculture and climate change. Instead, all (barring the vegan cult contingents – yes they exist) wish for a bygone age when meat production was still viable. But this longing for a time of human domination is not depicted in a positive light.
Pigoons, pigs used to grow human organs for transplants – as is horrifyingly beginning to happen – ironically turn on their oppressors after the novel’s central catastrophe, even eating them. The novel is an interesting read from a vegan perspective as it unpicks various themes, including modern day disgust with lab grown meat, and then sees humans pay for their rampant and cruel consumption.
This book is a great one to give to your eco-conscious friends, as you can debate with them how different the world may have been if veganism had triumphed.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
I love the story of how Watership Down came to be published after being rejected seven times. ‘Who would want to read a story about a bunch of rabbits?’ you can imagine an intimidating publisher-type asking (probably while doing something evil and corporate-looking, like chewing on a cigar). Millions of people, apparently.
Watership Down is a story about a group of rabbits who are forced to leave their home, as the warren is demolished to make way for building works. Right from the beginning it shares a powerful message about our disregard for the countryside and the wildlife who live there.
It includes a terrifying scene in which one of the rabbits finds himself caught in a snare, and is rescued by his friends. It also shares a message about the animals we call ‘pets’, and the quality of their lives. This excerpt is from a chapter in which Hazel and co rescue a group of rabbits kept in a farm, ‘in a box’.
The Bees by Laline Paull
Considering The Bees is labelled as “Watership Down for The Hunger Games generation” it’s no surprise we’re placing them one after the other. This well-researched novel into the life of a honeybee is one that will have you think twice about picking up that honey jar. Many people do not realise how advanced bees really are: it’s thought that they may even be able to dream, while honeybees’ complex actions within the hive are truly extraordinary. This is what Paull is attempting to show, albeit with a heightened fantasy element. The amount of times I Googled for answers to questions such as “Do honeybees really have a ‘fertility police’?” or “Do they massacre drones before the onset of winter?” were many, and each time I was surprised to see the truth.
This insight into the hive makes it all the more emotionally riveting when disaster strikes, and the entire roof of the hive is ripped off, causing death and misery. The reason? For honey of course! The novel also warns of the effects of climate change, which have destroyed the lives of many bees via late frosts and other unfortunate events. These ‘small’ changes may pass us by, but not other animals.
Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies
Young adult fiction is choc-full of personified animals, but all ages will appreciate this compelling fantasy that follows the trials and tribulations of a red deer named Rannoch in ancient Scotland. While the primary antagonist of the novel is another stag evilly named Sgorr (a good mix of scar and gore there – of which said deer has seen plenty of!) you never forget who the deer’s main enemy is: us.
Since the launch of this blog we’ve had people suggest other titles to add such as The Martian, Under the Skin, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Would you like to add your review of these books or books like these to our blog? You can email us using the email below.
By Elena Orde and Ali Ryland
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