Give or take a few wks., I've been vegan for 14 yrs. last month, and 20 yrs. vegetarian before that. It started out as a spiritual/physical health "experiment," and evolved to incorporate environmental and animal rights issues.
For many, being vegan is a lifestyle choice, and not just a diet that omits meat, dairy, eggs, and honey (etc.). For them it is an all-encompassing philosophy of how one live their life, relates to other living entities, and respects our common local and global environment.
For those of us who've gone down this path, it hasn't always been easy. In my earlier years, harassment or ridicule was often the case. So-called nutritional authorities, food corporations, and even our government, seemed to co-conspire to make our lives as vegans a living hell of having to defend ourselves at every turn and go hungry at restaurants.
I can't imagine there isn't a self-professed vegan living who hasn't at one time or another, wondered what it would be like if the President of the United States (or an individual running for that office), was a true vegan. How many of us were impressed, maybe even thrilled, when vegan Congressman Dennis Kucinich threw his hat into the Presidential race? How many of us hoped that the values he expressed as a vegan would translate into better and more rational governmental policies?
Even though he's not President, how many of us take pride in Bill Clinton has been trying hard to maintain a vegan diet? How many of us didn't ponder on how the media and general population would respond to a philosophical approach and lifestyle so diametrically opposed to the average in this country?
The very talented author Glen Merzer has addressed these issues, and done so with creative flair, acute insight, and small measures of whimsy and wit scattered throughout. His new novel, "Off the Reservation," could have been full of stereotypes, predictable confrontations, and a godawful lot of preaching.
Instead, he's accomplished a masterful feat of presenting a touching, moving, thought-provoking and intriguing story of the first vegan to win his party's Presidential nomination and the consequences before and after this unusual feat. Glen wisely avoids the direct issue of diet until well into the story. I write "wisely," as at first I was puzzled as to "why?"
Upon more reflection, I realized it was, in part I believe, because a person's diet shouldn't be an issue (something any vegan can fully relate to). His political philosophies and rational reactions to political chaos and the governing of this country ARE the issues that are important. In this day and age of a 24/7 news cycle and faster-than-light social media, the focus is often on the ephemeral and superficial, which is alluded to throughout the campaign.
It's a smart and subtle approach to the lead character, Evan Gorgoni. A reader learns more about the man from his speeches, interviews, private introspections, and approach to running for office (originally deciding to not run for Congress again and go back to teaching), then realizing that he had deeper responsibilities and potentialities. We learn much more about the man by the context of his life than a quick stereotype related to what he does and doesn't eat:
"Congressman Gorgoni, why haven't you been open with the American people about your dietary inclinations?"
"I never imagined it was relevant. If I get elected, I thought they'd be playing Hail to the Chief, not Hail to the Chef." (p. 158)
A smart read, Glen's done his homework on parsing out the true solutions to the REAL problems besetting this country (and indeed, the world in general). Simple answers to complex issues as posed in one debate denote an almost zen-like ability to break difficult issues into easy to, well, swallow solutions. Throughout this book Evan remains steadfastly true to his internal integrity, despite intense differences of opinion with some of his closest friends, advisors, and family.
I don't want to be a spoiler to anyone not having read this marvelous novel. However, it wouldn't spoil any surprises to note that one of the climaxes to this odessy is aptly entitled "The Speech." Here are a few selected passages from Gorgoni's nomination acceptance speech (given off the cuff without a teleprompter). It is awesome in scope, depth, and vision. I urge Glen to release it as a standalone for printed and social media. I'm only barely scratching the surface of this seriously amazing tome with the following excerpts:
"...Folks, the time has long since come to declare an end to the age of ideology. It is, quite frankly, a nuisance. Let us stop thinking of ourselves as liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, hawks or doves, Keynesians or supply-siders, cat people or dog people, right-brained or left-brained, and let us remind ourselves that we are all human beings standing on a planet that is spinning on its axis and revolves around the sun. Spinning and revolving. Think of that. It will be hard for many in Washington to understand this, but it is possible to do two things at once..." (p. 115)
"...President Clinton famously said, 'it's the economy, stupid.' I say, it's the food, stupid. We need to eat healthier foods, and stop being the sickest, fattest population ever to walk the face of the earth. Of course our health costs continue to skyrocket on a diet so extraordinarily rich, so dangerously high in fat, so preposterously high in sugars, and so tragically low in nutrients. We can't go on eating the same lousy food and imagine that we will be saved by drugs and interventions. That again is an arrogant fantasy. The elegant solution is always the the simplest one. Eat healthy food..." (p. 117)
"...Our government has been in the business for generations now of subsidizin precisely the farmers who grow our unhealthiest food with the highest demands for water and energy. That costs needs to stop now..." (p. 119)
"...I say to you with deep conviction in my soul, let us do away, totally, irreversibly, and permanently, with leaf blowers. What a foul, execrable piece of machinery tht is. To state what should be obvious to all, no human being should make his living wearing an internal combustion engine strapped onto his back. It simply makes no sense to burn fossil fuels for the purpose of blowing leaves from one yard to the next..." (p. 121)
"...It's an age-old battle. Greed versus decency. Ignorance versus reason. Intolerance versus inclusion. Fear versus love. I have chosen my side. You have Election Day to choose yours..." (p. 131)
"The Speech" is full of amazing raw, clarifying, and indisputable truths that are so often obfuscated or ignored by mainstream and social media. Rational, connecting, and important perspectives on important issues generally not shown on TV.
It's obvious that Glen has put a tremendous amount of soul searching and effort into this thought-provoking and unique novel. Even as he's been behind the scenes, so to speak, in co-authoring the landmark books "The Mad Cowboy" and "No More Bull!" with Howard Lyman, as well as "Food Over Medicine" with Dr. Pam Popper, "Unprocessed," with Chef AJ, and more books than I can list here, he's obviously been absorbing a lot of ideas and knowledge, and in this wonderful novel, steps up to the plate and hits a solid home run.
I will most likely read this book a second time, which doesn't happen to often these days. The amount of subtleties, deep concepts, the underlying messages, and ideas presented are well worth re-visiting. Again, "The Speech" alone, is worth the price of admission.
Oh, and I'd be remiss in not mentioning that the meals eaten by Evan and his family mentioned in the novel are presented as actual recipes by Glen's wife in a second section of the book. How clever! Another example of the creativity, thoughtfulness, and desire to help us all learn, think, and eat better for ourselves and our planet.
Kudos, Glen! I recommend this novel highly. It is not so much a "vegan" novel as it is a true inspiring "call to arms" and a rallying cry for rational approaches to solving society's (and indeed, our planet's) most serious problems. A thoughtful thought experiment that explores the question of what if a truly rational politician ran for the highest office in the land.
And the amusing digs at a few prominent media commenters are also great sport (Chris Matthews beware). Glen's sense of humor shows throughout this speculative journey. Buy a copy and enjoy the ride!
BTW: "Off the Reservation" would make a great movie (hint to any smart producer out there....).
Book available in print & e-book at:
The author on Facebook:
Short video of author speaking about being veg: