Book Review: Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian

Title: Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian
Author: Rachel Meltzer Warren
Format: e-ARC from NetGalley
Genre: Health/Nutrition
Rating: 4/5

If you buy books for your library (I’m a librarian and assume most people who read this know me from the library world), buy this book. Your teens (or their parents) will love you for it.

The title is pretty self explanatory, but this book is all about how to decide where you fall in the vegetarian spectrum, how to make sure you’re getting all the right nutrients, and how to manage eating out, traveling, and family dinners. It walks you through how much you need of various nutrients (protein, iron, zinc, calcium, etc.) at different ages including tweens, teens, and adults. She warmed my little government documents librarian heart by repeatedly (and positively!) referencing MyPlate.gov (the food pyramid’s replacement). There were some great tips on how to eat out, including common vegetarian dishes at ethnic restaurants, as well as recommendations for chain restaurants. I find eating out at a lot of chains stressful now that I’ve mostly stopped eating meat, and this section gave me some great ideas for how to order. I also appreciated all of the discussion about how to be vegetarian in college and how to choose a veg-friendly college, but I wish the author had highlighted a wider variety of colleges and universities. My alma mater (a very small college) had vegetarian and vegan options at every meal, but from the college highlights in this book, you’d think you have to go to a giant school to get veg options.

Since this is a book for teens, it addresses the challenges of changing your diet when you aren’t the one cooking or going grocery shopping. There were some great tips (offer to help shop or cook!) as well as some ways to talk about diet with your parents, including discussing the role cost and culture can play in acceptance of a vegetarian diet. I was also really happy to see a frank discussion about eating disorders in this book, since it is really common for girls who are struggling with disordered eating to go vegetarian as a socially acceptable way to limit their food intake. I thought this section, like the rest of the book, was very non-judgmental and explained to teenage readers who might be offended by the suggestion that a diet change is an ED warning sign to some parents and coaches.

Normally I’m pretty good at knowing sneaky sources of meat or dairy (e.g. chicken broth in soup or rice), but I was really surprised to find out that cane sugar is processed with a beef byproduct. (Beet sugar isn’t – which works for me, since I live in sugar beet country and like to support local industry!) The book ends with a recipes section that includes recognizable food (vegetarian/vegan versions of common dishes) with clear and easy to follow instructions. They are generally the kinds of things you could make in a dorm kitchen, which is nice to see.

What I love most of all about this book is the non-judgmental tone. The author explains everything from ethical carnivore (people who only eat meat produced in a certain manner) to vegan, never suggesting that one choice is better than another. The only time there’s food judgement is when she points out that eating nothing but pasta and garlic bread (or her personal vice: french fries!) is not healthy. My biggest complaint, and the reason why this book didn’t get a 5/5 rating, is that the resources list was a little heavy on organizations and documentaries that I think show only one side of the issue. For a lot of people, that wouldn’t be an issue, but I struggle with the way both PETA and Supersize Me present issues of food and lifestyle.

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