Book review: The Vegan Cheatsheet

We received a copy of “The Vegan Cheat Sheet: Your Take-Everywhere Guide to Plant-based Eating“*, by Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey, so we could read and review it.

The book is presented as a guide and reference for new vegans. It starts with what is veganism and why you should adopt a vegan diet, talks about some myths and misconceptions and then jumps into dietary advice and cooking ideas. Most of the book is comprised of recipes, but they also have sections on grains, vegan replacement ingredients, restaurant guides and advice on being vegan on-the-go.

Overall, I thought the book is exactly what it claims: a useful guide for recently converted vegans or people who are trying to switch. And I don’t mean that in a bad way: if you are starting out, this is a very quick, concise, easy to use and well organized reference. It’s just that if you’re a “veteran” vegan, you will probably be aware of most of the information they present.

Here are my thoughts about some of the chapters of the book, followed by my final thoughts:

No-brainer recipes: I didn’t try any of the recipes, but read through most of them. They seem simple to prepare and look like they would be tasty. There’s quite a variety of recipes in the book, considering its size.

Great Grains: very nice list of grains, very useful for most people. Nowadays we eat a variety of grains that we had no idea existed before we went vegan. We rarely eat rice anymore, since there are so many other (arguably better and tastier) options out there.

Vegan replacements for things you love: another great reference with vegan alternatives for commonly used ingredients. This is something most people ask us about, e.g. “what do you use instead of eggs/milk/cheese/bacon/etc?”. I just think they should also have mentioned that sometimes it’s better to look for vegan recipes instead of trying to substitute ingredients in “regular” recipes — it doesn’t always work and the result might be disappointing.

The twenty-one-day vegan transformation: the book contains a full 21-day vegan menu to facilitate the switch to veganism, using a lot of the recipes presented in the book. The menus tend to be light on the breakfasts and heavier on the dinners, which is the opposite of what you’d probably want — but I can’t fault them since most people eat like that. I just think it’s strange since they say they’re both physically active. I work out in the mornings twice or thrice a week and have a physical job, so those 1 or 2 slices of bread with fruit on the top for breakfast just would not cut it 🙂

Restaurant survival guide: the restaurant survival guide lists a number of different restaurant types (American, Chinese, Italian, etc) and which menu items are usually vegan. I thought that was a good idea when I saw it, but their listings end up being more depressing than encouraging. For example, under Chinese restaurants, they only list brown rice and steamed vegetables and steamed tofu as options (same with Thai restaurants). To me, those are the best restaurants to go when you need to find something vegan, they usually have a lot of options. If I were to use their advice, I’d probably never step into a Chinese restaurant.

I should point out that the authors are not vegans for ethical reasons; they do it for health, taste and culinary challenge. Because of that, there are some problems from the ethical vegan point of view throughout the book: they don’t worry too much about honey (they list Lara Bars as vegan, even though some contain honey) or the processes that go into certain foods, as long as the final product doesn’t contain animal ingredients (for example, they say that all alcohol is vegan, but some are not). They also don’t worry about things like L-cysteine or dough conditioner in bread, so they list bread as safe in the chapter about restaurant chains.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book as a tool to try to convince people to switch to veganism (I think we should switch because it’s the right thing to do, not because of potential health benefits they could also achieve with other diets), it would be helpful for vegan newbies who have little or no idea of what to do when they stop consuming animal products. The book is very well organized, it’s easy to find the information you’re looking for and they also provide a nice index in the back of the book, something which always gets extra points from me. I think it’s a good buy for the price as a vegan beginner book or as a gift for someone who is starting out as a vegan and needs culinary help.

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