Shelfie: Laryssa Wirstiuk Shares Her Bookshelf

Laryssa Wirstiuk talks about the books that inspired her to go vegan.

Throughout my early 20s, I often ate with my then-vegetarian best friend at a few of New York City’s meatless hotspots. At the time, I respected my friend’s lifestyle and liked eating clean, healthy food, but I’d usually feel unsatisfied after a plant-based meal; immediately afterward, I’d purchase a snack from a nearby bodega. As a fitness enthusiast, I lived on a protein-heavy diet of egg whites, ground turkey, and plain, grilled chicken. I could never give up animal products.

In 2010, on a whim, I asked my brother to borrow his copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s memoir, Eating Animals, because I had heard great praise about the book and am always interested in learning about alternative lifestyles and opposing perspectives. Safran Foer’s writing captivated my attention but didn’t particularly move me until I reached one two-page spread that would change my life. Drawn on those two pages was the outline of a box; this box represents how much space a chicken is allotted in a factory farm. A visual learner, I was suddenly able to conceptualize the amount of cruelty perpetuated by factory farming. Starting that day, I decided to try eating vegetarian, as an experiment, to see how long I could do it. Five years later, I’m now vegan and haven’t looked back.

This bookshelf represents some of the books that have helped shape my journey from omnivore to vegan. To be honest, I never completed The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I started reading it before Eating Animals, and I guess I couldn’t look back after reading Safran Foer’s powerful argument. Some of the cookbooks — like Moosewood and Bittman’s How to Cook Everything — are not exclusively vegan, but they still inspire me and have taught me cooking techniques.

A large portion of my shelf is dedicated to my love for my Vitamix® blender, which helps me make nutritious smoothies, sauces, and soups; the spiral-bound book in the center is the official Vitamix® cookbook. The Veganomicon is true to its promise of being “the ultimate vegan cookbook” and is probably sitting on the shelves of every vegan who likes to prepare meals at home. Most importantly, The Veganomicon has proven to me that I can cook filling and healthy vegan meals that can still support an active lifestyle; I no longer feel the need to run to the bodega after dinner.

One of the most unique books is Artisan Vegan Cheese, which has instructions for making vegan ricotta, among other cheese substitutes. Even more special about this book is author Miyoko Schinner’s autograph, which I acquired when meeting her at the New York City Vegetarian Food Festival.

Like Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Sexual Politics of Meat remains mostly unread, but I like to keep the book where visitors to my apartment can see it because the title usually sparks conversation. Adams’ text compares myths about meat eating with those about what it means to be a man in today’s society. I’m not one to push my beliefs on others, but I’m always kind of hoping that someone will notice my collection and inquire about my beloved books.

LARYSSA WIRSTIUK lives in Los Angeles, with her mini dachshund, Charlotte Moo. Laryssa’s collection of short stories, The Prescribed Burn, won Honorable Mention in the 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Word Riot, Barely South Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. You can check out all her work on her website.

Originally published on 8/29/15.