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Revisiting The Compassionate Cook

Posted: 10/09/11 09:00 PM ET

A review of The Compassionate Cook: Or, "Please Don't Eat the Animals." (Grand Central Publishing, 1993)

This reader well remembers the 80s and early 90s, when being vegetarian was not always easy. Special foods required visits to any number of health food stores to find the ingredients necessary to meet not only nutritional needs but also those of the taste buds. There was only a handful of cookbooks dedicated to eating vegetarian, and one of those was from PETA's fearless leader, Ingrid Newkirk, called The Compassionate Cook: Or, "Please Don't Eat the Animals."

Enter the 21st century, and it seems that every cookbook author has his or her own culinary label and touts special needs to go with it. Being vegetarian is practically mainstream now, with grocery aisles, cookbooks, and restaurants dedicated to satisfying vegan needs. It's a perfect time to reintroduce Newkirk's book.

Even those who aren't keen on the PETA mission will find this cookbook nonthreatening; there's no preaching -- just a few facts about the health benefits of a vegan diet, some guidance on substitutions, and then right on to an animal byproduct-free cornucopia of recipes.

Consider a typical day's menu: Pancakes for breakfast, eggless egg salad for lunch, soup and lasagne for dinner, and chocolate-dipped crescents for a sweet finish. Those are just a few of the more than 200 recipes, including entrées, breads, side dishes, and desserts. All possible and quite easy to prepare, thanks to straightforward instructions that also detail preparation times and serving portions. Scattered throughout are inspirational quotations from famous vegetarians.

No changes have been made since the book was first published 18 years ago, and no changes are really necessary. The extensive ingredients glossary does seem a bit dated, though; items such as "soy milk" and "egg replacer" are said to be available in "some regular grocery stores." Happily, those items, along with just about every ingredient in the book, are now available nearly everywhere that groceries are sold.

So whether you're already vegan or are considering the switch for dietary, ethical, or environmental reasons, The Compassionate Cook would be an excellent go-to book to add to your culinary library.