My Vegan History: A History

I’m really surprised to see how strong the demand has been for my vegan history book. In two days, I’ve sold twice as many copies as I thought this title would ever sell. Since a lot of you are reading it now, I thought you might like to hear how it was written.

Some books are the product of an author’s clear vision, and materialize without hitches within a matter of months. Other books linger on for years in a half written state, neglected and, for long stretches, forgotten.

I actually wrote much of my vegan history all the way back in 2003. Here is the story of its successive abandonments and its ultimate publication. I’m mostly writing this to show how messy and accidental the process of writing a book can be, and how much wasted effort can accompany a finished and polished book. If hearing about this sort of thing sounds boring or painful, please stop reading now and watch this delightful kitten in a box video instead.

Back in 2001, I had finished touring for my first book, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating. I decided I’d write a book full of animal stories taken from my experiences visiting Farm Sanctuary. I spent about a year working on that project. After I sent the finished manuscript to a book agent, I got a very kind but totally deflating thumbs down on the project.

So around 2003, I decided what the world really needed was a ginormous vegan bible, crammed with every last thing you could possibly want to know about veganism. I spent the summer writing the thing, and while there were parts of it that I thought were important and well-told, I just could never feel excited about the entire project. That said, my plans for the final chapter excited me tremendously: I wanted to end the book with an up-to-the-moment analysis of everything that’s wrong with animal agribusiness.

Because I’d already written Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating I felt like I had a background that would allow me to look at factory farming at a deeper level than had any treatment I’d encountered before. As the weeks stretched on, and this chapter grew, suddenly I had a godawful realization: “Oh shit, this isn’t a book chapter. It’s a whole ’nother book!”

That book turned into Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money. And all the previous chapters of my vegan bible became scraps on the cutting room floor. Looked at another way, the birth of Meat Market entailed the abandonment of two completed manuscripts.

Whatever. Meat Market was the book I truly wanted to write, and I expect it’ll always be the most ambitious and polished project I’ve ever completed.

After I finished touring for Meat Market in 2007, I once again got it into my head that I’d finish that damned vegan bible, so I dove back into writing and editing. The book was really taking shape, and there were parts of it that I thought were ready for prime time. But as the manuscript approached completion, I once again lost enthusiasm. I didn’t feel like there were  going to be too many people who’d want a 450 page book on the subject.

So I put the project down yet again, and relaunched Vegan.com—starting the daily blog you are reading right now.

Six months later,  in late summer 2008, I decided to condense all the manuscript’s practical advice into a short but very complete guide to becoming vegan. And so my book The Ultimate Vegan Guide was published in late 2008.

So, once again, my vegan bible went back into storage, now with a key portion cannibalized.  And there it remained until late October 2010, when I wrote this blog entry. While I still had no interest in publishing the book, I decided the lengthy vegan history it contained deserved an audience. The stuff I’d written could well help people become more effective advocates, if only I’d get off my ass and do one last push to get the thing published.

Trouble was, I hadn’t updated that history in years, and some of the most interesting stuff related to veganism has happened only recently. So over the past few months I added about 5000 words to my history, fact checked everything, and then, this past weekend, I converted the text to a Kindle eBook.

It surprises me that the vegan movement now has hundreds of cookbooks, and dozens of advocacy and activist-oriented books, but until now nobody has told the story of veganism starting from when the world was coined in 1944. Funny, then, to think then that my vegan history nearly didn’t make it to publication—and in fact had the longest and most tortured path towards completion of anything I’ve ever written.

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