As advocates for the animals, the planet, and the health of our fellow humans, “How can I reach them?” is always the question at the forefront of our minds. A book, lecture, or documentary that rocks one now-former-carnivore’s world may leave another person unconvinced, so it helps to tailor your outreach. If you have any lovers of literary fiction in your circle of friends, turn them on to the work of English novelist Scarlett Thomas.
Alice Butler, the narrator of PopCo, is the granddaughter of a highly respected mathematician and WWII codebreaker (her grandmother, I delight in clarifying) and a cryptanalyst and crossword-writer. As a creator of products for brainy kids at an international toy corporation, Alice is compelled to attend the company’s weekend retreat at a sprawling estate in Berkshire. With each successive seminar on “mirror branding” or marketing to the profitable-but-elusive demographic that is teenage girls, Alice finds it increasingly difficult to overlook the sleaziness of a company that presents itself as nurturing the curiosity and creativity of tender young minds. “[S]ince I have devoted a lot of my life to not doing what everyone else does, why is it that I accept so much that is obviously wrong?” Alice muses. “Why is it that even I assume that some things are OK simply because everyone accepts that they are?” Corporations know people like to see themselves as nonconformists, that they’ll pay for products that “prove” they’re above manipulative marketing techniques, and are therefore invested in never noticing the irony. As New York Times reviewer Dee Mondschein writes in her review of PopCo,, “When you’re told to resist authority, don’t forget to ask: says who?”
Turns out quite a few of Alice’s colleagues have already copped on to this charade. What seemed to her at first like a band of misfit gamers turn out to be inspired sabotage artists who couldn’t care less about career development or cushy company perks. Alice’s new friends make a calm and rational case for veganism in PopCo’s closing pages, drawing the connections between animal cruelty and environmental devastation and corporate greed.
Thomas’s novel The End of Mr. Y takes a more subtle approach. She never tells you outright that her narrator, Ariel, is an ethical vegan—though she takes soy milk in her coffee and eats baked potatoes with mustard and capers—but when she temporarily enters the consciousness of a terrified mouse trapped in her kitchen, Ariel rushes to free the creature as soon as she can. Thomas doesn’t bonk you on the head with the notion that veganism is a kinder and more spiritually evolved way of being, but the message is there, woven artfully into a narrative about the terrors and rewards of exploring one’s innermost reaches.
Both Scarlett Thomas novels I’ve read so far are literary feasts: they revel in her nerdiest interests and show a great deal of heart. Buy her books for the meat-eating readers in your life, and while you’re waiting for their reaction, you can try the vegan lemon cake recipe Thomas includes at the end of PopCo.
Camille DeAngelis is a novelist and travel writer whose most recent book is Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People. She is currently working on a follow-up book about the creative benefits of veganism. You can read about her forthcoming children’s novel, The Boy From Tomorrow, on the Main Street Vegan blog. Connect with Camille online on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or on her blog, Comet Party.