Jon Stewart's been much in the news of late, what with his new HBO production deal and the announcement that Farm Sanctuary's fourth animal-rescue enterprise will be at his and wife Tracey Stewart's 12-acre farm in Middletown, N.J.
That HBO deal is all Jon's, of course, but even casual observers know that Philly-born Tracey, a former veterinary technician, is in the driver's seat on the couple's animal-rights efforts. And there's more proof in her new book, Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better (Artisan).
Spanning genres with a one-of-a-kind mix of info, advice, philosophy and hands-on activities, the book also has some local biography: Stewart talks about growing up in Northeast Philadelphia and encountering her first dead bird while wandering the grounds outside a Bucks County carpet store where her parents were shopping.
Generally, though, the author keeps the focus on her subjects - all kinds of animals.
Do Unto Animals isn't a cookbook (see sidebar below for a round-up of new ones), but it does have recipes. How about the yummy-sounding oatmeal and molasses cookies, on Page 169? Sorry, they're not for you or me; they're to feed horses.
"I am a terrible cook," Stewart confessed in an email conversation with the Daily News, "and that is why the recipes in the book are all for animals, whom I find to be a more forgiving audience."
And even though the book necessarily deals with food choices people make, it focuses on animals' individual interests. Chapters explain what makes a given animal happy, and what makes that same animal unhappy.
The tone throughout is good-humored and nonjudgmental, and Stewart paces herself carefully to avoid overwhelming the reader. She starts with house pets - the dogs and cats we know as individuals with needs and wants - then moves on to creatures we might encounter in the back yard, and then on to what makes cows, pigs and chickens unhappy. (Spoiler alert: It's being farmed.)
Stewart acknowledged working to meet readers where they are and ease them into the uncomfortable truths in animal farming, saying she was trying to "remind us that there are a never-ending amount of ways to [help animals]. I include just a small sampling of the horrors that animals face, because I know many loving and intelligent people that don't realize the magnitude of savagery that these poor creatures experience."
She points no fingers at those who, lacking information, may not yet be vegan. After all, "there have been many changes in myself over the years which included many different dietary choices. Along the way, I was still the same compassionate person I am today, whether I was eating meat or being vegetarian or vegan."
Still, she wants people to be able to make choices armed with real facts: "I know very smart people who assume that cows just always have milk and it's a relief for them when we come to milk them," she said, hitting on a tacit belief even I shared after 12 years as a vegetarian. She ran down the facts about forced impregnation, cows' maternal bonds and the immediate loss of their children (who would otherwise drink the milk the industry's based on), and how the males become veal.
"Knowing these things," she observed, "can move people to look for other alternatives that they otherwise might not have."
Stewart also spoke to the difference between small farm operations and sanctuaries, suggesting that we look beyond the green grass and sunshine: "An animal at a sanctuary receives individual care, medical attention and the promise of a full life. This promise isn't dependent on whether the animal provides something back. Even at the most 'humane' farms, you'll find that if an animal's medical care becomes counterproductive to profits, that animal will most likely continue to suffer or be 'culled.' "
On a sanctuary, animals "earn their keep" by being themselves. Stewart mentioned the pigs Anna and Maybelle as "the first ambassadors at our sanctuary," who already have a Facebook and Instagram following. "They are so funny and sweet!"
She encouraged readers to examine "what happens to the chickens at the farm where you buy your farm-fresh eggs when they start to lay fewer eggs or no longer lay eggs at all?
"For some individuals, the answer might not effect a change in them. However, others might then want to research further about what kinds of foods can be substitutes for eggs. In baking, mashed bananas can be used instead of eggs. That's a yummy fact to discover!"
So maybe Stewart does have some culinary chops. Is a cookbook next?
"If there is ever a Do Unto Animals Cookbook," she vowed, "you can trust that there will be a co-author." But she seemed to warm to the concept: "It probably would be a great project for me to work on, because it would force me to learn to do better in the kitchen. My family would certainly appreciate that!"
As for her family, the Stewarts have two kids who are exploring dietary choices. But what about her husband, described in the book as a meat-eater? A recent New York Times piece brought up the reports that he's now vegetarian, and Tracey Stewart explained that "he's nervous about saying it publicly, because he doesn't want to mess up. But he really is trying to figure out what vegetarian foods he likes, and I'm helping him with that."
Be still our bleating hearts! Will the Jon Stewart who hits HBO in early 2016 be a new, improved, veganized version?
His wife was circumspect: "The best way to insure that someone will not become vegan is to try to convince them to be vegan. Live your own life, and, hopefully, your joy, and better health will intrigue and inspire."
Exquisite vegan dining at a Philadelphia restaurant might also inspire, so how about a hometown trip? Stewart herself was shocked to report that "I have not been back since I graduated [from Drexel University in 1990]." But she's eager to try out what she aptly described as "a ton of fantastic vegan eateries awaiting me" here.
She stressed that her absence doesn't mean a lack brotherly/sisterly love: "It's funny," she remarked, "whenever I meet someone else from Philadelphia, I immediately like them. Not only does Philadelphia make great soft pretzels, they make great people!"
Yeah! Tracey Stewart's husband isn't the only one who knows how to work an audience.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia.
VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.
Here's a sixpack of new vegan-themed books:
* Crossroads by Tal Ronnen (Artisan). The eponymous L.A. restaurant is the closest thing to Vedge on the West Coast. Ronnen holds his own devising gourmet creations that spotlight vegetables in this sumptuous volume.
* Cook the Pantry by Robin Robertson (Vegan Heritage Press). The prolific and always dependable Robertson follows up her power-outage classic Vegan Unplugged with recipes that combine one or two fresh ingredients with stuff you already have in the pantry.
* The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner (Penguin Random House). The godmother of the artisan vegan cheese industry shows you how to stock up with homemade staples, including yogurt and tofu, as well as veganized condiments such as Worcestershire sauce.
* Thug Kitchen: Party Grub By Thug Kitchen (Rodale). This foul-mouthed blogging/meme duo, who are white, have been criticized for coopting African-American street slang and attitude. They've dropped some of that but are still cursing with this irreverent but accomplished guide to fun and tasty party food.
* Simple to Gourmet Vegan by Peter Tarantelli (twitter.com/gourmetsimple). This homegrown South Philly collection includes White Bean Asparagus Cakes with Vegan Basil Aioli that was inspired by the author's walk through the Italian Market with only pocket change to spend, a display of fresh asparagus and "69-cents-a-can cannellini beans."