When reading a new book about veganism, I always feel compelled to ask “What new light on veganism does this author have to shed?”. While reading Once Upon A Time We Ate Animals by Roanne van Voorst, I found myself returning to this question. The book provides a nonfiction account of vegan living while interspersed with scenes from a fictitious vegan future. The concept of a vegan future has been imagined by many already. Similarly, overviews of why a vegan future is necessary to address ever-present social and environmental issues are standard talking points of the vegan activist. Yes, animals do feel pain. Yes, ditching factory farming is an essential step to address climate change. These are facts that vegans are familiar with. Once again, when asking myself what new light Once Upon A Time We Ate Animals has to shed on veganism, it appears the answer is none.
Voorst’s work does not contribute anything new to the field of vegan writing while repeatedly falling into the trappings of vegan toxicity. Voorst’s repeated body shaming is particularly notable. There is no vegan body type. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes. And yet, Voorst both uses the turn of phrase “fat as a whale” when referring to “unhealthy” vegan diets and (in an embarrassingly titled chapter) refers to individuals living Voorst-approved lifestyles as “…Sexy as Fuck”. With that said, I struggle to determine who Once Upon a Time We Ate Animals is for. Prospective vegans will be turned off by Voorst’s sarcastic condescension and current vegans will find little information they do not already have.
By far the worst chapters of Once Upon A Time We Ate Animals are those that portray a theoretical vegan future. A future in which schoolchildren are taught about the inhumanity of factory farming and elders must answer for their past animal consumption. Though this is an interesting concept, Voorst’s narrative falls victim to a poor execution. Scenes of this imagined future are forced, filled with awkward dialogue, and so glaring that they border on parody. Any self-aware, reflective vegan is sure to feel at least a little embarrassment reading Voorst’s imagined future. And, with this said, any self-aware, reflective vegan should look elsewhere for vegan literature.