Book Review: THE HAPPYCOW COOKBOOK

Recipes from Top-Rated Vegan Restaurants Around the World

Author: Edited by Eric Brent & Glen Merzer
Publisher: BenBella Books
Book Publication: 2014

Think you’re a picky eater? Try being a vegetarian or vegan, even for a meal or two, and you’ll discover a host of difficulties, served with a side of limited options, when eating out. Add travel to the mix, where you’re navigating unfamiliar local customs, language and terrain, and you might as well prepare for a culinary crisis. But wait – vegans everywhere can now rejoice! Let The HappyCow Cookbook take you on a guided tour of top-rated vegan restaurants around the world. As the title suggests, even if you’re not leaving the comfort of home to jaunt off somewhere in the near future, and are only venturing as far as your kitchen, this fabulous resource contains recipes from far and wide that will have you going back for seconds.

In the foreword, actress and fellow vegan Emily Deschanel cites many different reasons why people choose to become vegan, and stresses the need for like-minded individuals to reach out to one another in their common purpose. She credits the HappyCow website with helping to establish an international veg community, which she is happy to be part of.

For those not familiar with HappyCow: it’s an online resource started in 1999 by founder and director Eric Brent, who is also co-editor and author of the book. Back in the 80s Brent, then a vegetarian, discovered first-hand how hard it was to find places to eat as he backpacked throughout Europe. By 1999, the avid traveller, who had grown frustrated and had practically starved in his search while abroad, was inspired to start HappyCow. com as a handy site to help other travellers find ‘safe food’. Today the site is fueled by user-generated content whereby, once you’ve signed on to become part of the community, you can post reviews, sweet or sour, of the places you’ve eaten and shopped. It’s refreshing to see so many successful vegan venues taking root among the vast array of mainstream restaurants, diners, and markets.

If you’re one of those people who avoid animal products, it no longer matters where you plant yourself. With just a few clicks of a mouse, you can easily find a variety of places that will not only welcome you but also share in your views. Unlike standard restaurateurs, these hosts are enlightened to the cost and cruelty involved in consuming livestock, and are committed to making changes regarding what we enjoy when we sit at the table – one meal at a time. As Dave Loan, owner of ZenKitchen, points out: “Diners are becoming more health-conscious and aware of factory farming and other cruelty issues while demanding more flavourful food. It’s up to us to step up to the plate – the dinner plate – and offer our supporters the full dining experience, while still respecting our values.”
Thanks to the book’s selection of go-to places, you can now travel the world and dine on international cuisine – from haute cuisine to fast food – simply by flipping through a few pages. Each listing features photographs of the establishment (making it easy to find), a brief interview with the proprietor, and one or more of their popular recipes.

Heading down south? Plan to make a pit stop at Cornbread Café in Eugene, Oregon and enjoy some southern-style hospitality. What started out in a parked food trailer has since grown into the present day diner, thanks to their ever-popular Chicken Fried Tempeh topped with cashew gravy, Skillet Cornbread, and Frozen Peanut Butter Pie. Not only does a local gardener pick up their food scraps, driven in a car fueled by their used cooking oil, but the café also offers discounts to patrons who walk or ride the bus when they drop in for a bite.

Should you find yourself across the pond in York, England, or Malaga, Spain and you’re craving a bit of Spanish flair, head over to one of El Piano’s locations and tuck into some Peruvian Leftovers Pie and Granada Chai. Taking a trip to our own Canadian capital? Raise the flag for Ottawa’s ZenKitchen, an upscale and award-winning gourmet vegan restaurant known for its Polenta Fries and Eggplant Parmesan. Fancy salad? Prepare for a salad showcase as their Tasting of Beets celebrates the root vegetable with its selection of boiled, roasted, and pickled beets. Bon appétit!

Suzanne Hartmann is currently an MFA candidate at the University of King’s College. She has been awarded the National Association of Japanese Canadians Endowment Fund’s 2020 SEAD grant for her MFA project titled Minyō Memories: Celebrating the Postwar Japanese Canadian Community in Toronto.

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