I met Camille DeAngelis a few years ago. I was giving a talk to Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan Academy, and Camille was attending. We’ve stayed in touch since then, as MSVA alumni tend to do.
Camille is is the author of Mary Modern and Petty Magic: Being the Memoirs and Confessions of Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker, as well as a first-edition guidebook, Moon Ireland. Her brand new book Bones & All just came out in March, and is about a young cannibal named Maren. Why would a vegan write a book about eating people? I wondered the same thing, so I had to ask!
Chic Vegan : What motivated you to become vegan? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
Camille DeAngelis: I’d been vegetarian for more than a decade, but when a longtime-vegan friend lovingly convinced me to cut out all animal products I went all the way, right away. I was volunteering on a reforestation project in Tamil Nadu called Sadhana Forest, which is a wonderful international vegan community. I was already eating Ayurvedic vegan food all day, so it didn’t feel like there was anything to give up. Not all the volunteers were vegan—sometimes we’d bicycle to the nearest town and people would order ice cream or grilled cheese sandwiches from an American-style cafe—but once I made the decision, I never felt remotely tempted to join in.
The night I came home from India I ate a Quorn cutlet I’d left in the freezer. (Why can’t Quorn make their products without egg whites?!) I did not enjoy eating it, but I didn’t want it to go to waste. “That’s it,” I thought. “That is the last non-vegan food I will ever knowingly consume.” There’s something about my personality where I flourish through light-switch sort of changes, but over the past few years I’ve become more sensitive to the fact that not everyone is able to make such a sudden and complete change to their lifestyle. It didn’t feel at all sudden or abrupt to me because I was psychologically primed for that epiphany.
(You can read more about my “vegan transformation” in Victoria Moran’s new book, The Good Karma Diet. My story starts on page 159!)
CV: When people learn that you are vegan, what is the #1 question they ask and what is your response?
CD: You’d think it would be “where do you get your protein?”, but I haven’t been getting that one as much lately. It’s usually some variant of “Isn’t being vegan hard?” or “Isn’t it inconvenient?”
“Not at all,” I tell them. “And it’s getting even easier every day.” The question comes up most often at the yoga studio—I practice Jivamukti, which includes ahimsa as one of its five basic principles—so it helps the vegan cause that I am looking and feeling fit and energetic. People see you happy and full of verve and they want what you’ve got. Even if they’re not quite ready to cut out the animal products, at least you’ve given them that motivation. They see you’re happy and peaceful and what used to look like a completely alien lifestyle starts to feel doable.
CV: What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
CD: This is a tough one, because I make a point never to “deprive” myself. (Not that I’m eating a half dozen cupcakes a day or anything!) I adore Taza chocolate, which is made right down the road from me in Somerville, Massachusetts; my favorite flavors are cinnamon, gingerbread, and the “winter warmer,” which is meant to taste like vegan eggnog chocolate (though these last two flavors are seasonal). There’s nothing cozier than curling up with a good book, a cup of tea, and a round of Taza chocolate. (You can also melt a round in non-dairy milk for the most delicious hot cocoa ever.)
I also love the coconut frappes at a vegetarian diner in Cambridge called Veggie Galaxy. Everyone who orders one agrees they are orgasmic.
CV: Tell me a little bit about your new book Bones & All and what inspired you to write it.
CD: Bones & All is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Maren who eats (as in gobbles up, like an ogre in a fairy tale) anyone who gets too affectionate with her. When her mother abandons her on the day after her sixteenth birthday, Maren goes looking for the father she’s never met, and encounters other “eaters” (and potential victims) along the way.
Every novel grows from a seed of some sort, and in this case it was “cannibals in love.” This was a paradox I found quite hilarious, but of course, the whole vegan-writing-about-cannibals thing was even more so!
CV: Why would a vegan write a book about cannibalism?
CD: It seems counterintuitive if not downright insane, doesn’t it? But the more you sit with it, the more sense it makes. Most humans are (or used to be) flesh eaters, and as consumers of animal flesh, we are predators even though we probably didn’t slaughter our dinner ourselves. I wrote Bones & All to get readers thinking, “Am I okay with being a predator? Is that really who I want to be?”
Of course, many would argue that eating animals is a much lesser sin than eating other humans, that the latter is murder while the former is sustenance. But who are we to say which lives matter and which lives do not? Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for our food bond with their young just as we do, and they grieve when they are forcibly separated just as we would in their place. Animals are far more human-like in their desires and feelings than most people would care to admit.
Oh, and as T. Colin Campbell writes in The China Study, “Can you guess which food we might eat to most efficiently provide the building blocks for our replacement proteins? The answer is human flesh.” We must file both cannibalism and carnivorism under Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
CV: You’ve said that you didn’t enjoy writing this book. How were you able to get through it?
CD: You’re right—my first two novels (Mary Modern and Petty Magic) are what I would characterize as cozy fantasy reads, as fun to write as they hopefully are to read, so writing all this gore was a complete 180 for me. The deeper I delved into Maren’s story, though, the more strongly I felt that Bones & All had the potential to flip that switch in somebody else’s head—someone who had never truly considered that we, as omnivores, are predators (even if only by proxy). I really wanted to write a work of fiction that would be illuminating to someone in that way. Having this sense of purpose gave me the stomach to continue writing!
CV: Are there any vegan authors who inspire you?
CD: Victoria Moran (Main Street Vegan, et al.) and Will Tuttle (The World Peace Diet) are the authors who have inspired me most. I have to put pretty much every vegan cookbook author in this category too, of course; two I’ve been cooking and baking a lot out of recently are Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese and Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
CV: What projects are you working on now?
CD: I’ve just finished another round of revisions on my next novel, tentatively titled Immaculate Heart, which will be published next year. Soon I’ll start revisions on my first work of nonfiction since my travel guide (Moon Ireland)—it’s an inspirational book on creativity, humility, and community. (I know that’s a vague description, but I’m not ready to announce it just yet!) I’m also working on a free ebook called Can-Do Vegan, which addresses the cognitive dissonance regarding where our food comes from and who it used to be, helping the veg-curious to dispel their own concerns and misconceptions.
CV: In your wildest dreams what will your life look like in 5 years?
CD: There’ll be several more books with my name on the spine, for starters! By 2020 I will have hopefully finished my pet project, Vegan Cookery & Pastry, with recipes and historical tidbits inspired by an 18th-century Scottish cookbook. This project sprouted out of my next adult novel, which is set in Enlightenment-era Edinburgh and features an eccentric family of Pythagoreans (I’m sure many readers already know this, but that’s what vegetarians called themselves before the word “vegetarian” was coined in the mid-19th century.) This new novel will occupy a great deal of my time over the next half a decade—it’s more epic in scale than anything I’ve attempted so far.
And on the more personal side of things, I want to own my own home with a thriving vegetable and herb garden, plus all those eco-friendly technologies: solar energy, composting toilets, a gray water system, all that sort of thing. I also want to have visited at least ten countries I haven’t been to yet!
I have even more plans, but they are classified for the time being. 😉