Thus I'm not likely to find a whole lot that appeals to me in VegNews, a seven-year-old title that explores the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. At the same time, I'm surprised that I'd never heard of the publication until I saw it on the newsstand earlier this week. We're a nation of fat-ass, wheezing dullards - wouldn't you think that VegNews would have tried to inject itself into the obesity debate by now?
That, of course, is a marketing/publicity concern. Looking at the magazine, though, its alternately shrill and giggly tone probably wouldn't play well in any pro-veggie-lifestyle debates.
Much of the July/August issue is devoted to fluffy fare: a half-clever column about a "practicing Veganista" flying from D.C. to Tokyo amid a host of carnivores, shiny happy pix from a veggie expo, and vegetarian-friendly recommendations for a bunch of travel destinations. As part of that latter series of one-pagers, the mag even offers an Italian phonetic translation of "I'd no sooner gnaw on that filetto al pepe verde than I would on a patient's gangrenous stump"... alright, not really, but it does serve up "I don't eat butter, cheese, eggs, or honey" and "Do you have a vegetarian dish?"
Interspersed with such flighty items are an emotion-first, reason-second report on media omissions in the wake of the pet-food scare earlier this year, a whiny critique of the "Slow Food" movement, and logey responses to reader questions about the "complete distrust of corporate ingredient disclosure" and frustration with "cheese-obsessed culture." The mag reviews a movie titled "Your Mommy Kills Animals" and warns readers about the perils of non-organic mattresses ("the chemical stew lurking beneath the cushy pillow top and satin piping"). Did I mention that these stories are included in the "Summer Fun" issue? Whee! Inflate the beach balls!
I'm not dismissing any of these opinions or products or services, or the legitimate concerns they address. I'm just saying that VegNews can't have it both ways. Be fun and frivolous, or don't.
A "reader of the month" blurb, which captures for posterity the "sinful indulgence" and "favorite VegNews feature of a thoroughly uninteresting veg-head, doesn't belong in the same issue as many of the items mentioned above. Nor do the punny headlines ("Ducking the Issue" for a story on the possible abuses associated with transforming a duck into foie gras, "The Puck Stops Here" for a bit on Wolfgang Puck's campaign against animal cruelty) or the hee-hee-hysterical story leads ("What do unicorns, Omega Monsters, and a vegan Texan have in common? If you answered 'they don't exist!,' meet Travis Nichols").
In two items alone does the August VegNews realize its sizable potential. The piece on a vegan/vegetarian pregnancy diet scores owing to its comprehensiveness and no-nonsense tone, while the first-person tale of a half-vegetarian couple's attempt to adopt a child abounds with straightforward information and telling details (like the warnings from a social worker that veggie mom might someday need to placate the child with fast food). One imagines the potential adoptee surveying the parental options in front of him and thinking "please, please, please let me get picked by the guy with a Double Whopper wrapper stuck to the bottom of his shoe." I kid, I kid. Vegetarians make just as good parents as pear-shaped diabetics and Nutrasweet fiends.
Vegetarians/vegans are often unfairly stereotyped as a cheerless and preachy lot. It's said that you're either with them (in which case you are a sensitive, well-nourished soul) or against them (in which case you are Bambi's executioner), with no in-between. The problem with VegNews isn't that it reinforces such stereotypes and mindsets -- it doesn't -- but that it pairs lifestyle fluff with pointed opinions; the tonal disparity between the two makes for a schizophrenic read. Its editors need to decide once and for all whether they want to go the cutesy-cutesey route or preach to the hopped-up-on-gluten-rich-animal-crackers zealots.