Here are my top 10 books for 2016 plus two bonus 2016 books, plus one more bonus - in other words, a vegan holiday baker's dozen. Some are cookbooks, others are not, but all are, I believe, books worthy of vegans' attention. (Disclaimers added when appropriate for transparency.)
* Healing the Vegan Way by Mark Reinfeld (Da Capo)
Our number-one book is one that over several months, I kept trying to nail down a perfect time and place to mention, so this is gonna be it, which is perfect:
There's been a wave of "healthful" plant-based cookbooks over the past few years from the cardiologists and biochemists at The China Study, Forks Over Knives, Plant Pure Nation and such. But Mark Reinfeld has raised the bar on the genre with his latest, bringing together his training as a chef with a masters degree in holistic nutrition for a cookbook that's about more than health and more than cooking.
That's easy to see from the many intro chapters that lay out the health benefits of a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet, including both explications and testimonials from most of the top experts in the scientific subject area. Even the recipes and meal plans, Reinfeld pointed out in an email correspondence, were vetted by Dr. Hans Diehl, founder of the CHIP program, and "all are relatively low in sodium, have oil-free variations for those on an oil-free diet, and contain more wholesome sweeteners than their conventional alternatives. I also introduce the idea of a template recipe and show how one recipe can transform into hundreds or thousands of variations." Reinfeld ends the book with charts and appendices listing "which nutrients are important for each body system, what the nutrients do, and what are the plant based sources."
All of this would be academic, of course, if Reinfeld didn't know his way around a kitchen. And he sure does: Somehow he's approached the spectrum where more tasty is on one end and more healthful is on the other and collapsed the scale into one perfect blend that maximizes both. I can say this as a multiyear attendee of Vegetarian Summerfest, where Reinfeld has for the past few years designed all the meals we eat. I asked him whether he'd been forcing good health on us by implementing these recipes there: "There are some Summerfest recipes I introduced last year with recipes from the book," he replied, "and I plan on including several more this year. So yes...you have been eating healthy without knowing it (unless you only ate at the pizza station!)"
One of his skills is in healthifying well-loved junk food staples. Reinfeld cited the book's tempeh-based Sloppy Joe made and Cauliflower Mushroom Tacos with cashew sour cream as examples of reconceiving less healthful dishes in a healing direction. Whatever ones you choose to try, Healing the Vegan Way offers not just recipes to heal but to inform, educate and delight the palates of everybody who's willing to eat vegan food. A welcome contribution to any kitchen bookshelf.
* The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Little, Brown)
As mentioned in my recent column on vegan holiday cookies, this book is an overstuffed party tray of sassy, snazzy vegan creations from Moskowitz, who managed to put this together while running two locations (Omaha, Brooklyn) of her restaurant Modern Love. The theme is celebrations, but that covers a lot of fun stuff, from Spaghetti and Eyeballs to Green Falafel to Cheeseburger Pizza, all delivered with eye-poppingly colorful photos and prose.
* 100 Best Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Since Robin Robertson has certainly cranked out more than 1000 vegan recipes (given the title of her 2012 collection 1000 Vegan Recipes), you know her 100 best are gonna be pretty freaking amazing. This book, with snacks, desserts and everything in between (including sumptuous full-color photos) is more the size of a trade paperback than a standard cookbook, and might be a perfect gift for those trying out vegan eating who might be spooked or overwhelmed by a heftier tome.
* Vegan Mexico by Jason Wyrick (Vegan Heritage Press)
Wyrick, who grew up eating what he calls "Mexicanish" food (his mother's family is from Mexico), definitely has a thing for South-of-the-Border vegan creations, following his earlier Vegan Tacos with this more encomassing collection "from Tamales to Tostadas." (There are a couple tacos, but he tried not to repeat the earlier book's contents.) He walks you through the various chiles and spices and gets you grounded in basics like how to make tortillas before moving on to Empanadas, Chilaquiles, Enchiladas and Cocoa-Pistachio Churros.
* Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Franz De Waal (W. W. Norton & Company)
De Waal answers his title question with a qualified "yes," but spends much of the book detailing how animal science has often sold animals short or overlooked traits that demonstrate their intelligence and sentience. A provocative challenge to traditional views of animals, i.e. as commodities without cherished lives to be robbed of.
* Naturally Lean by Allyson Kramer (Lifelong / Da Capo)
As with any host laying out a sumptuous spread of vegan-oriented goodies, I want to make sure there's something for my gluten-free peeps, and we're lucky enough in Philly to have Allyson Kramer, who corners that market recipe-wise and also takes her own amazing food photos. This book features items that come in under 300 calories per serving, something it's easy to "lean" in to. Rainbow Veggie Chili, Avocado Chick'n Salad, Banana Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, all and more are here, plus per-recipe nutrition info.
* Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective by Casey Taft (Vegan Publishers)
Among other level-headed points, Taft's book argues for candor in communicating vegan ideals and weighs its effectiveness in spurring behavioral change. From the desk of the publisher himself, it introduced many of us to this house which has continued with subsequent 2016 titles such as Farm to Fable and The Skinny on Soy.
* Aquafaba: Sweet and Savory Vegan Recipes Made Egg-Free with the Magic of Bean Water by Zsu Dever (Vegan Heritage Press)
Hopefully my readers are by now familiar with aquafaba, the magical ingredient from a can of beans - usually chickpeas, which have the mildest "beany" flavor - that you can use to make vegan meringue and so much more. (You may recall my Dec. 2015 column on the topic.) Here Dever surveys those multitudinous options, including quiches, cheeses, burgers, waffles, doughnuts, pies, candies, brownies and more. Plus a whole welcome chapter of recipes to use up your surplus chickpeas.
* How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger (Flatiron)
Dr. Michael Greger, the plant-based-nutrition explainer, and though he's already written several books, this is the New York Times Bestseller in which - as he keeps saying - he's not promising to make anyone immortal, but to offer a way around some of the most unpleasant ways to end our years. How Not to Die presents a huge amount of peer-reviewed research, delivered in Greger's wry but exacting style. (Released at the end of 2015, after I did that year's best-of roundup.)
Disclaimer: I drew the illustration about BMI on page 120.
* The Carol J. Adams Reader (Bloomsbury)
Adams is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, a topic that never manages to lose its relevance as time goes by. This collection gathers writings and written conversations across the a wide-ranging philosophical and pop-cultural terrain but always from an ecofeminist perspective, subverting patriarchal assumptions and hierarchies, always pulling the animals back to the center of the conversation.
Disclaimer: I drew the illustration "Putting her foot down" on page 183.
I would be remiss not to mention these 2016 books particularly relevant to vegan eating in Philadelphia:
* V for Veg: The Best of Philly's Vegan Food Column by Vance Lehmkuhl (Sullivan St. Press)
This selection of Daily News V for Veg columns from the past five years came out this summer - and since that point, the columns have aged well. They're arranged by general topic area. Supplemented with a couple of longer magazine pieces on veganism and the lyrics to the plant-based patter song "Leftovers."
* Eating Vegan in Philly by Vance Lehmkuhl (Sullivan St. Press)
Guidebook listings of plant-based plates, complemented by a history of this city's role in vegetarian and vegan advocacy, starting in Colonial times with the first U.S. vegetarian group, and with a quarter-century Philly-vegan-dining chronicle, from a few scattered seedlings to today's blooming vegan boom. Plus: Behind the scenes at the Vegan Cheesesteak contest.
Disclaimer: I wrote these.
AND ONE MORE
* UNITED by Cory Booker (Random House)
United tells much of the story of Booker's rise to become New Jersey's first African-American U.S. Senator, and now the first vegan senator. Throughout, Booker focuses away from his own accomplishments and heralds the unsung heroes that help make communities work. True, there's only a slim mention of vegan living, but United resonates throughout with vegan themes. When Booker was here in March he urged us to search for commonality in the shared struggle to live truthfully without staking out separate ideological fiefdoms.
Disclaimer: Cory Booker hugged me.
OK, three more, but that is really it: Despite the pithy headline, the 2016 books above do not represent the entirety of this year's best books for vegans - an implicit qualification is that they're the best ones I came across that I haven't managed to spotlight yet in V for Veg. But let's not forget those, as I've had readers and commenters asking "how could you have done a whole column on vegan bacon and then not name Baconish?" or "you... you do remember that the V Street cookbook came out in 2016, right?" And in the case of Senator Cory Booker, I made an exception, and should have gone ahead and extended it to others that had their prior own shout-outs.