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Cookbook Review: Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day by Ellen Jaffe Jones

A couple of plates of food with the new of the cookbook on a banner over them.Summary:
This cookbook is a response to the myth that eating vegan must be expensive. Jones offers up recipes and a 7 day meal-plan where each day costs $4 or less.

Review:
The idea of this book is great, but the execution is poor, particularly compared to other eat cheap vegan cookbooks such as Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson or The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon.  The recipes simply lack creativity and skimp on flavor.

The book features an interesting introduction on why veggies and fruits don’t get ad space, followed by chapters on financial planning for grocery shopping and veggie nutrition and cooking.  Both of these chapters are kind of common sense, but I am fully aware a lot of adults, particularly young adults, are completely lacking in this common sense, so these chapters are good to have.

The recipes are divided into: breakfasts, soups, salads, salad dressings, entrees, spreads and sides, and desserts and snacks. Now, I have nothing against soups or salads, but to have three chapters really devoted to those two things (I mean, a whole chapter of salad dressings? Come on!) is not offering up much variety or doing anything to dispel the myth that vegans just eat salad.  To top it off, the entree chapter  starts with a chili and a stew, which are basically chunkier soups.

I also feel that a lot of the recipes are pure common sense.  There is a recipe titled rice and beans. COME ON NOW. You make rice, stir-fry up some beans and veggies, boom, rice and beans.  If you’re offering up a book on eating vegan on the cheap, don’t offer up recipes that we all already know anyway and that are commonly thought of as a poor man’s food.  What a person looking at this cookbook wants is creative, cheap, delicious vegan recipes.  What we are offered is basic stir fries, basic pasta and sauce, basic salad, etc…  For instance, the salad “recipe” on page 50 just offers up a list of veggies and nuts then says “combine any five of these ingredients.”  Gee, thanks, I had no idea that a salad is made up of a combination of veggies. What a help!

Now, I did try making a recipe in the cookbook, “Sweet Potato Muffins” on page 35.  The pros: it was cheap and edible. The cons: it was barely edible and I felt like I was having hockey pucks for breakfast.  There has got to be a better way to make vegan sweet potato muffins. There just has to be.  And, side-note, I’ve been cooking long enough to know that when a recipe fails this badly, it is most likely not my fault. Particularly when I try it a second time, and it still fails.

So overall I suppose if you are an absolute complete beginner in cooking and wanting to eat plant-based, you might find this book moderately useful.  I’d recommend to you that you get Vegetarian Cooking For Dummies instead though. (Seriously, that’s what I used when I first went veg).

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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  1. July 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I usually don’t waste my time responding to reviews, but since this goes down as the worst and really different review I’ve ever seen of my book in the year since it’s been out, I couldn’t resist. 😉

    I was a TV investigative/consumer reporter for 18 years, turned financial consultant when I wrote this book. I saw too many news stories with food stamp recipients loading carts with Twinkies saying you can’t eat well on a budget. I’ve eaten this way for most of 30 years, and place in 5K races while I’ve watched my mom, aunt & both sisters get breast cancer. I’m the only healthy person in my family by a long shot. My book and others go into detail about the politics of food, and what I’ve learned is you just never know the agenda behind reviews. Indeed, there is no money in broccoli, but there is much to lost by the food industries books like mine discuss.

    Most doctors don’t get a single nutrition class in med school. Other doctors on the national lecture circuit like Dr. Neal Barnard recommend my book in their talks because as they say, the idea that eating vegan is expensive is the last reservation many people have.

    I spent a year trying to find a publisher long before Robin Robertson’s similar book came out. Even with 2 Emmys and the National Press Club Award for Consumer Reporting, because I was not an accomplished book author yet, or a celebrity, I got turned down.

    Like most authors, I wrote 10 times more than what was published. If you’ve ever tried to get published, I’m sure you can relate. My book is only one of two in print that dared to put an estimate price on every single recipe, which the reviewer doesn’t even mention. THAT was the whole point of the book! To show that it doesn’t have to be expensive or that you need Ellen’s live-in chef to eat healthy vegan.

    Every time I’m at Walmart price checking, I see the people in the frozen, processed foods aisles who need this information. Preventable diseases are not sustainable, no matter who pays for them. This message needs to get out there. It makes me sad to see reviews like this because people who desperately need this information won’t get it. For the $9 it costs to buy the book on Amazon, it could save readers and taxpayers from paying for a $100K bypass. As a reporter who put the Miami school superintendent in jail for stealing gold-plated plumbing, I tell people that if they don’t make the $9 back they pay for the book in the first month, with all my money-saving tips, I’ll buy the book back. So far, no takers. I’m glad this reviewer read got it from the library. 😉

    A whole chapter on salad dressings? Absolutely! People need to eat a large salad at lunch and dinner and the dressings from the store are usually full of preservatives and expensive. My goal was for readers to find one or two they would love so that they would eat more salads…which most people, especially kids, do not!

    All I can say is that there are dozens of reviews on Amazon and elsewhere that contradict this review, in a big way. Interesting that the author talked about Vegetarian Cooking as being the book that got her to go veg. My book, to be clear, is about going vegan, which is very different. There are many health advantages to do so.

    P.S. She’s also the first to complain about the sweet potato muffins. If you pick the potatoes right, cook them long enough, they’re awesome and plenty of bloggers I don’t know have raved about them. Whatever.

    This book went to a second printing faster than any book my publisher has ever had in their long history. They’ve asked me to do 2 more books. Stay tuned.

    • July 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      First, I want to say, this is yet another instance of an author behaving badly online. Good job! You will *always* look bad when responding to a review, whether good or bad. Reviews are meant for the readers, not the author.

      Now, to address the content of what the author says, which frankly makes me trust the book even less.

      First, I’ve been a vegetarian since January 2007 and have been working on going vegan for the last year. So the implication in the author’s comment that there is some anti-veg*n agenda behind my review is EGREGIOUSLY WRONG. Anyone who takes an iota of a moment to look at my blog sees that I am painstakingly honest and clear about any potential biases. I list my job, my interests, and the fact that I get a percentage of sales if someone clicks through to Amazon through me and buys the book. (Which, by the way, would make me more likely to always write glowing reviews, wouldn’t it? Which is obviously not the case given even just this review). This is obviously a case of her trying to discredit me as “the man” when I’m really a vegetarian and medical librarian who is passionate about health. I write reviews of the cookbooks I try in order to help other home cooks skip the fluff and find the right ones. I do it so that not everyone thinks that every veg*n cookbook is something like this one.

      Now the next bit of defense. Saying oh the publisher ruined my book. You let them. If you really felt that they ruined your book, you would have pulled it from them and looked for a new publisher or self-published or even (god forbid, I know) published your recipes on a blog online to let people access them for free. After all, you’re just out to help make people healthy, aren’t you? Not in it for the money at all. (Yes, that is dripping in sarcasm).

      Further, in addition to Vegan on the Cheap and The Happy Herbivore (which are both veg*n books), yes I did recommend a vegetarian cookbook because, like it or not, most people stumbling across this review will be omnivores, and it’s easier to transition through vegetarian first. It’s nicer and less intimidating, and the recipes in the cookbooks I suggest ACTUALLY TASTE GOOD AND ARE MORE THAN SALAD.

      So, to sum up, suggesting that I have some sort of omnivore/big meat/factory farming bias is not just offensive, it’s clear to anyone with half a brain who spends more than ten seconds on my blog that that’s entirely untrue. In fact, any bias I have is exactly the opposite. Second, it will always make you look bad to respond to reviews of your works, particularly to do so by attacking the person who wrote them. Third, I am a great cook. The problem is your recipes, home-slice. Fourth, if your book actually is good, you woudln’t be so overly concerned over one bad review, would you?

    • July 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Dear Ms. Jones,
      I’m very sorry your editor didn’t tell you this when you started writing books, but not everyone is going to like your work. It’s just the subjective nature of book publishing. Alas! The best way to handle criticism is with the grace to accept this fact. If you find something useful in what the reviewer has said, wonderful. If you don’t, then disregard the review and move on with your life. Responding to the review in such a way as you have done here makes you sound defensive and childish. Respect the right of your reader not to enjoy your work.
      Sincerely,
      Former cookbook librarian, Michelle Belmont

  2. Ging
    July 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    No amount of winking emoticons makes an author look less ridiculous for commenting on a book review (quite the contrary). So someone didn’t like your book. That’s normal! I have a distaste for Kerouac, but I’m sure he wouldn’t give a fuck about what I said on my blog about On the Road. You publish a book, you promote it, but you don’t attack reviews that aren’t completely positive.

    Incidentally, maybe it took a while to find a publisher because the recipes weren’t that great. That’s why a cookbook is published, right? Since it’s so salad heavy because you believe salad to be a vital part of one’s diet (which probably IS a good idea), perhaps publishers just thought a book like “The Joy of Salad” wouldn’t be sexy enough to sell. I do actually read cookbooks, but with the mind to cook something, not as literature.

    Another reason it was hard to find a taker could be that you write things like “I’m glad this reviewer read got it from the library”.

  3. July 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    If you’re a great cook, please do let us know when your book comes out and let us know how the process of getting published goes for you. I am not blaming my publisher for anything. Since they’ve asked me to do 2 more books, and I’ve agreed, we’re both pleased. I love them! They listened and believed in my concept. Accommodating publishers is just part of the process. I was simply trying to address one of your many criticisms.

    I have a fine day job as a personal trainer and running coach which is what allows me to spend the time and money it costs to try and help people avoid the pain and suffering I’ve seen and experienced in my life.

    If you know anyone still left in publishing these days, especially someone who is doing their first book, you know most aren’t in it for the money. After the first book, when the first check comes in, they know. Jo Stepaniak, a great cookbook author including the popular classic, “The UnCheese Book,” did a recent radio interview saying she’s written or co-authored 17 books and still works 2 jobs as a senior editor at a publishing company and as a legal mediator. It is the biggest myth in publishing believing that you’ll get rich or make money. I know many authors who blew their advance (if they even got one) and then some on marketing.

    I would have thought that with death threats in TV reporting, I’d have a thick enough skin. But I’ve seen authors like T. Colin Campbell and others respond to Amazon and other online reviews. It’s a whole new ballgame, and if you’ll send me the rules, I’ll check them out.

    All I know is I spent 3 years researching my book, on the floors of big-box stores, tracking prices, researching. It was a lot of work to do for free, and when the first check came for $3000 after 9 months, I can totally see why the quality of authors these days is all that publishers and distributors complain about. You have to be independently wealthy to be one.

    So yeah, when I see my years of hard, free work trashed in a venue with no other “balanced” opinions, I’m jumping in. But I’m done here. Gotta tweet and coach high school girls cross country.

    • July 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Yeah….because all great cooks spend their energy publishing? The fuck? But Ging put it eloquently, so I’ll just direct you to them, except to say, yeah, comparing bad reviews to death threats? Wowwww. Your comments on this review did far more to hurt your sales than my review by itself ever could.

  4. Ging
    July 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    You’re not getting it, Ellen. Responding to a review to say they got it wrong isn’t helping you. It makes you look whiny and like you question your audience’s intelligence (and cooking abilities, wtf), which won’t win you any fans. Please do go work on your other books and your coaching- lurking here isn’t helping anything.

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