That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals:
A Book about Vegans, Vegetarians and All Living Things
North Atlantic Books
48 pp, $16.95
Review by Christine Gertz
Artist, teacher and vegan, Ruby Roth wrote That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals because the children in her art classes were interested in vegetarianism when they found out that she was a vegan. This picture book is her response to her students, and it is a welcome addition to libraries or personal collections that lacked a simple book to explain the vegan perspective as to why vegans do not consume animal products. Roth explains the ethical perspective for not eating meat, as well as the rationale to oppose spending more resources on producing and supporting a meat industry that depletes the environment at a cost to both humans and animals.
It is a beautiful picture book, especially attractive to children who love animals. The animals in Roth’s book are stylized while friendly and charming. They have squared, enormous noses and warmly colored, touchable curves. The colors are lush and vibrant when the animals are free and dark and shadowed when the animals are imprisoned. Each illustration describes the animal in the text and provides a contrasting depiction of their lives in factory farms. Not exactly subtle, but it is necessary to expose the difference between a childish illusion of signing or talking farm animals as depicted in most food product commercials versus the reality of an animal’s existence in a factory farm.
These illustrations have inspired angry criticisms, with Kirkus Reviews ranting that “the unsubtle illustrations feature black-bead-eyed animals that are adorable in the wild but terrified and dirty on the farms”. The author has spiritedly responded on the book’s Facebook page to this criticism by replying, “These illustrations are fairy-tales compared to the atrocities that a photograph would have depicted.” And Roth is right: her book is from the perspective of a vegan explaining to a child why vegans oppose the consumption of animals. By her own disclosure, Roth has also tried to depict the behavior of animals based on scientific research and personal observation. The majority of the “faces on our plates” do come from factory farms, and Roth does try to express what this means for animals in a way that children can view and understand. Clearly, her message is political, philosophical and personal, and it does offer a timely, opposing viewpoint to current food production practices. This picture book will not appeal to every family, but it is good to finally have a book that portrays the philosophy of veganism as a reasoned, principled belief and not as a fickle food choice.
The book is probably more suited to a six year old, not because the relatively mild images will traumatize a preschooler, but because the text might be a bit too difficult. Definitely a book for vegan and vegetarian families who want to explain to their children why they are vegetarian, and recommended for libraries that might want to have book that offers a different perspective on the lives of farm animals.
Christine Gertz is a librarian and blogger who lives in Canada.