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Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger?: And Other Questions People Ask Vegans

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For vegans and non-vegans alike! A highly readable, witty, original, and provocative book.

What about plants? Don't animals eat other animals? There are no perfect vegans, so why bother? If you're vegan, how many times have you been asked these, and other similarly challenging, questions from non-vegans? Using humor and reason, Sherry F. Colb takes these questions at face value and also delves deeply into the motivations behind them, coming up with answers that are not only intelligent but insightful about human nature. Through examples, case studies, and clear-eyed logic, she provides arguments for everything from why veganism is compatible with the world's major religions to why vegetarianism is not enough. In the end, she shows how it is possible for vegans and non-vegans to engage in a mutually beneficial conversation without descending into counterproductive name-calling, and to work together to create a more hospitable world for human animals and non-human animals alike.

256 pages, Paperback

First published June 18, 2013

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Sherry F. Colb

4 books8 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 38 reviews
Profile Image for Peacegal.
9,945 reviews90 followers
October 1, 2013
Has this ever happened: You sit down for dinner with a group of friends, coworkers, or family members. Suddenly someone notices you have no meat on your plate and comments on it. “Well, I’m vegan/vegetarian,” you cautiously explain. And then the folks around you let loose with a torrent of “How do you get your protein? What do you eat? I could never do that! Plants are living things too! Did you hear about PETA’s latest stunt? But the Bible says…” If you can relate to this experience, this is the book for you.

Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger? is basically a collection of explanations of, and rebuttals to, the Defensive Omnivore Bingos we all know and love. However, this book lacks the grace and in-depth examination of human motivations of Carol Adams’ Living Among Meat Eaters, so I’d suggest that title in addition to Cheeseburger.

The book’s title refers to that squirm-inducing moment when your omnivorous dining companion asks you if it is “ok” that they will be ordering meat. While they are trying to be polite, I don’t think omnis realize the cognitive dissonance this causes in ethical veg*ns. On one hand, we’re not like alcoholics struggling to stay sober; that slab of meat on your plate looks about as appealing as a dog’s rawhide chew and we’re not going to feel tempted or wanting in response. We don’t want to be the stereotypical “preachy” or “extreme” veg*n who bans animal foods from their sight (which isn’t even possible.) We recognize that each person makes their own choices in life. At the same time, of course we care that the vast majority of farmed animals lead lives defined by fear, pain, and cruelty. We recognize that these creatures have no choice in what is happening to them. And we know that the factory farming machine exists only because of consumer demand.

As Colb insightfully puts it:

The ethical vegan facing a table of people eating non-vegan food today is a little like the gay person forty years ago facing a table of people making homophobic comments, people who are otherwise fond of the particular gay person at the table. In both context, individuals who are otherwise compassionate people nonetheless say and do things that hurt others, because the zeitgeist has not yet moved beyond this sort of statement or conduct.

So while this book will not tell you how to answer when your friend asks you if she can order the cheeseburger, it may give you some ideas and insight into her question.

I wish the author would have discussed what to do when omnivores talk to you about eating meat. You know, “I’m making pork chops for dinner tonight,” “I got a great deal on rotisserie chicken at Walmart,” “I love eating at Bob’s Steakhouse! They have the best porterhouse in town!” These omnivores aren’t necessarily trying to be mean or make you uncomfortable. I get it. They’re just talking about their lives, and for omnivores, frying a pan of chicken parts is no more remarkable or ethically troubling than choosing what to wear each morning. Once again, I get it. Saying what’s really going through my head at the moment isn’t the proper response. But neither is, “Oh, that sounds good.” So what is the proper response? Silence? Some sort of noncommittal grunt?

Colb was also quite insightful when she examines the phenomenon of “happy meat,” the tiny yet much-ballyhooed segment of the food market in which farm animals are allowed to live on pasture and are supposedly treated more nicely before they are killed. Happy meat, Colb asserts, relies on a process much like the viral video that caused so much outrage a year or so ago, in which a British woman beckoned to and patted a friendly cat on the street before suddenly throwing the cat into a garbage can. Both interactions rely upon a small kindness leading up to the ultimate betrayal.

At the same time, Colb unfortunately reveals herself to be yet another follower of animal rights theorist Gary Francione and his “abolitionists.” To abolitionists, any measure that isn’t the total abolition of animal use is to be opposed—even if it would reduce suffering for the animals caught up in the system, animals who were already doomed the moment they were born. Colb echoes the ridiculous rhetoric that the majority of omnivores are teetering on the brink of veganism until they hear that factory farmed chickens or pigs are being given slightly more space—then they go back to shoveling animal products in their mouths, their guilt assuaged. Who are these folks kidding? Have they actually met and interacted with 98% of the American population?

I also thought that in the first chapter, Colb spent entirely too much time replying to the "plants have feelings too" argument. “Vegans are cruel to plants” is a stupid argument made by frightfully stupid people. I figure if you can’t detect any difference between a pig and a potato or a dog and a stalk of celery, you have more problems than this book can hope to address, and you should probably check yourself into the nearest insanity ward.
Profile Image for Jennifer Greene.
2 reviews2 followers
October 10, 2013
This book surprised me—in a good way. What was I expecting? From the title, I thought it might be a light romp. I should have realized that the author, a Cornell law professor, has listened carefully and thought deeply about the questions people frequently ask vegans. The result is a book impressive for both its depth and clarity.

This is the first time I've read a clear explanation why it is consistent for someone to be vegan when it comes to animals, and pro-choice when it comes to abortion (Chapter 7). This is the first time I've heard a compelling argument why veganism is a harmonious extension of indigenous people's traditions, rather than a repudiation of them (Chapter 10).

I also appreciated the reminder (in Chapter 12) about what domestication has really meant for farmed animals: it has meant the selection of traits *not* beneficial to the animal (in contrast with natural selection). The traits desired by humans have been traits like rapid growth rate, and oversized body parts. This wouldn't be a problem for a vegetable, but, as Colb has already covered in Chapter 1, animals aren't plants. And she challenges the premise that we confer a benefit upon these individuals by bringing them into existence.

Her examination of the flaws of the "AA analogy," in Chapter 2, is great as well.

Colb shows that she understands where the questions are coming from. She, too, grew up eating meat, dairy, and eggs. She knows that these questions call for "a commitment to open, honest, and compassionate communication." I think that's why I found this such a good read. It's like having a conversation with someone who is incredibly smart and honest, and who also shows genuine compassion for you.
Profile Image for Max.
750 reviews19 followers
January 31, 2021
Interesting, well written book about veganism and the answers you could give to people asking questions. I must say I don't really agree with some of the things the author has said (especially about pro-choice and pro-life) where she never considers the trouble of people being born while they are very unwanted. She goes on about the mother having to have a pregnancy while she doesn't want the kid, which must be a horrible experience, but she misses a great point by not also considering feeling unwanted all your life. So she seems pro-choice, but it feels pro-life to me. (I am pro-choice) While this is only a really small part of the book, it really gets to me and annoyed me throughout. I also don't agree with some of the other answers. Those are the answers pedantic vegans would give and people would be annoyed by immensely. The reasoning is done well, and it's well researched, but just not for me.
Profile Image for Foppe.
151 reviews47 followers
January 2, 2019
Excellent book, a must-read for anyone interested in vegan advocacy, or who's interested in better understanding the reasons for living vegan / eschewing all animal use on principled grounds.

Nitpick: while I very much appreciate Colb's desire and efforts to take her interlocutor seriously, by being as charitable as possible in constructing their arguments for them, and responding to it, I would suggest focusing less on the words, and more on the underlying worries, and making those explicit (because your interlocutor will generally not be aware that they're worried about that either, and also be focused on the example/question, rather than being connected with their worry); and then explain why you think that the worries are unwarranted, or irrelevant to the question whether someone who cares about animals should avoid (paying for) their use and killing. This approach is both more powerful -- because you're turning the conversation into more of a dialogue, which increases involvement, and the feeling of the other person that you're trying to understand their point -- and less time-consuming, because it (often) allows you to mostly avoid dealing with the words. It is also very different from how we normally communicate, as we are raised to be much more comfortable with mutual exposition of viewpoints, than with connecting and daring to listen (in the way Colb both embodies and explains very well in the book). :)
Profile Image for Jeffrey Spitz Cohan.
128 reviews8 followers
April 18, 2014
Part of becoming a vegan is learning how to cook delicious vegan dishes. And for that, there are literally hundreds of recipe books to help you.

But another part of becoming a vegan is learning how to respond to the multitude of questions, and even challenges, that friends, co-workers and family members will throw at you. For that, there have been precious few books to help you, which makes this one an unusually important addition to your vegan bookshelf.

A law professor at Cornell, author Sherry Colb has thought deeply and written clearly about many of the questions put to vegans.

Vegans have both the facts and ethics on their side in virtually any debate with meat-eaters. But unless you have learned the facts and considered the ethics, you can’t be an effective advocate.

You may be a vegan who does not consider yourself a vegan advocate, but the reality is, all vegans represent veganism within their families and circles of friends. “Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger?” will help you navigate those relationships more successfully.
Profile Image for Nikki.
1,730 reviews67 followers
November 20, 2013
First of all, Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger is not meant to entertain in any way, despite the misleading title. Yes, as a vegan you will be asked that question but I personally felt using it as the title of the book alluded to some sort of humor on the author's part. It did not. What you find within the pages of this book is a fairly thorough summary of why one would/should be vegan in the format of questions commonly aimed at vegans. As a long time vegan, I have heard it all and honestly? This book does not really help you answer those questions. Yes, there are ANSWERS but they are buried under so many analogies (poor ones), tangential information or stories and general verbosity that one forgets the question by the middle of the chapter. Had this really been aimed at answering the questions in a practical, real to life conversation way, it would be much more concise. The author should have put a brief, simple answer to each question put forth and then delved deeper as she did. Also, I felt her use of sources to be weak, especially regarding scientific data. The author needed to expound on the studies or results more than simply writing a sentence or two with no explanation. Are we NOT in fact trying to convince people via these studies?

As a no bullshit type of person, I largely found Colb's style of approaching non-vegans "kindly" annoying. Please approach non-vegans with caution as they are a skittery bunch liable to run away rather than listen to someone telling/showing them the brutal truth, whether they coddle or not. Overall, many of the questions put forth to vegans are not meant to actually gain information--it is called the internet, you can find all sorts of knowledge there! Crazy, I know. Instead the questions are simply there to mock or to exhibit the stupidity of some questioners (Seriously, where do you get your protein? Does no one know basic nutrition?).

Overall this book is directed at considering or new vegans, which is not surprising because after awhile you know how you answer these questions your own way or deal with non-vegans in general. While it does contain a great deal of information, I do think there are many more books on veganism that would be better and more inviting. This book is bogged down by analogies, verbosity and an overall feeling of being written for a college class.
Profile Image for Dusty.
13 reviews7 followers
January 10, 2017
Should you consume less animal flesh/secretions? Probably.

Should you read this book? No.
Profile Image for Andreas Thaler.
18 reviews1 follower
April 27, 2018
This is a very good book, well and compassionately written, and full of important and correct information.

It is helpful for vegans and non-vegans alike to understand the problems associated with a non-vegan lifestyle and the ways to resolve them.

I would add that it is especially helpful for vegans who care about educating their fellow citizens about the advantages of a vegan lifestyle in a friendly and informative way.

People have asked me "What is the most important thing you have taken from this book", so I tried to answer (unfortunately my words are nowhere near as clear or succinct as Sherry Colb's):

Imagine a non-vegan asking you a question that can be perceived as "silly", e.g. "What about Canines?", "What would you do on a deserted island?"

Now, there are two ways that this person can ask you the question, a) they want to get a rise out of you, or b) they genuinely do not know, consider it a valid question and want to find out about it.

You have essentially 2 ways to answer that question,
1) with a snarky reply to convey that it is a stupid question, or
2) to consider it as a valid question and answer it politely, assuming that the person asking the question truly wants to know.

Now, what are the outcomes? a-1 might be "the standard", a non-vegan tries to get a rise out of a vegan, and the vegan reacts angrily. Unfortunately, this happens way too often. b-1 is a missed opportunity, as the non-vegan will likely be insulted by the snarky answer. So in both cases nothing good comes from it.

Now, b-2 is the optimal case to consider, the non-vegan asks a question and the vegan answers and educates them, hopefully it helps in getting the person further on their way to considering and trying out veganism themselves.

However, even the constellation a-2 might lead to a positive outcome, with the non-vegan asking what they consider an insulting question, but they might be surprised by the vegan actually taking the time to answer the question as if it was intended seriously, and not only educating them about the situation in question, but possibly also impressing them with the calm and polite attitude that a vegan displays even when faced with a question not asked "in earnest".

So, for all those possible constellations, looking at all the possible outcomes, what's the worst that can happen?

That a non-vegan asks you a question that is meant as an insult, and that he finds your serious answer lame (or congratulates themselves on having made "a point"). The chance to get to one of the possible positive outcomes, however, is more important than this possible negative outcome.
This makes it clear that a vegan should ALWAYS try to answer even questions that are likely not intended as serious questions, as if they were, and give them polite consideration and answer them.
Profile Image for Chris Sosa.
Author 1 book9 followers
August 23, 2016
No matter how you feel about animal rights, read this book. It's a masterclass in persuasive argument for a mainstream audience. Anyone interested in the discussion of personal ethics will be engaged and challenged.

For those specifically interested in animal rights, this is the best introduction to the subject I've ever read. I cannot recommend it more highly. Sherry Colb presents a warm and thorough exploration of the issues, sidestepping the overwrought tone readers may expect from those who consider the treatment of animals a profound moral issue.

She consistently argues with compassion and clarity. Every major question I've ever been asked in my entire career about animal rights is answered here. From the simple ("What's so bad about dairy?", "Isn't some meat humane?") to the more complex ("Does the inability to completely avoid animal products in daily life render veganism futile?"), Colb addresses every inquiry with the precision of a skilled litigator.

There exists a cottage industry of animal rights books, but very few can match Colb's skillful writing. Don't let the casual title fool you. Grab a copy of "Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger?" You won't regret it.
1 review1 follower
July 10, 2013
I truly think this is a must-read for anyone interested in food, in animals, in the environment, in health, in ethics, in rights-issues, or in the law... Does that leave anyone out?!

And of course it's a must-read for vegans. As a vegan, I wish I could memorize entire paragraphs to be able to respond to vegan-related questions with the intelligence and nuance and humor that Sherry Colb has.

This book is so thorough, thought-provoking and and wide-ranging. I highly, highly recommend it!!
Profile Image for Jenny.
33 reviews
November 22, 2013
This book is incredibly well researched and thought-provoking. I would consider myself a seasoned vegan, and even so, Colb poses topics and questions that I have yet to even consider myself (for example, how can you be for abortion but against the killing of animals?). The author draws on comparisons and analogies to proves her points, but they work incredibly well and help the reader to think of the use of animals in our everyday culture in a different light.
Profile Image for Madeleine.
30 reviews14 followers
February 17, 2014
This was an excellent, concise discussion of many of the most common questions that people who consume animals ask those who don't, with respectful, thoughtful responses to each. An important read for vegans and non-vegans alike.
87 reviews2 followers
January 10, 2014
She does a great job of thoroughly addressing many of the questions that people ask vegans.
1 review3 followers
February 27, 2014

a lot of great answers as to why be vegan. I have a better knowledge of veganism and I am prepared to answer questions about my decision to non vegans
Profile Image for Carol Cox.
26 reviews24 followers
April 18, 2014
Very intelligent reasoning about common questions vegans are asked.
Profile Image for Emma Peel.
64 reviews4 followers
July 7, 2016
Preachy and patronising I am afraid; had hoped for a more practical conversation guide as a vegan navigating an omnivore world.
Profile Image for Melissa Da Costa.
4 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2017
This book is the most important thing I've read in my life, and the best Christmas present I've received since I was seven.
Profile Image for Diane.
410 reviews
February 5, 2019
Interesting food for thought. I had a hard time with some of the comparisons. To me there was a lot of apples vs. oranges. Still, the author introduced topics I wouldn't have ever thought of.
Profile Image for Sam Brown.
Author 1 book13 followers
January 4, 2022
This is an excellent manifesto that goes through the most common arguments against veganism. I got strong “Why Marx was Right” vibes which is a very high compliment. It’s always lovely and interesting to see a critical approach to Peter Singer’s view of veganism (or, I suppose in his case, modified-veganism), very much the same joy you get from telling the emperor he has no clothes. This is obviously written for a non-vegan audience in mind but I got a lot out of it regardless. This does not feel like a work of activist material ala Gary Francione’s ‘Animal Abolition’, despite the fact that it obviously is. It’s a work with serious philosophical implications whilst also remaining accessible for the layperson. The concept of an “ethical slumber” was particularly interesting to read about. It is haunting to think about how aestheticized we are to animal death. Death that feels like it happened far away or a long time ago feels much less tragic to us than a death that took place right in front of our eyes, even if we were directly involved in the death that occurred far away or a long time ago. This has implications for human suffering as well. Peter Singer’s famous “child drowning in a shallow pool of water” allegory comes to mind. I know that a mosquito net costs about £3. That mosquito net could potentially save someone’s life and I easily have the ability to give away that much money, to say nothing of £6 or £9 or £12 which may save even more lives, yet, for the most part, I don’t give away that money. It’s an unfortunate reminder that much of morality is bent around our development as social creatures. It’s more a biological function than an intellectual one. In other words, abstract death turns us into sociopaths.
Profile Image for Deekshita Kacham.
25 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2022
Absolutely one of my favorite books of all time. I stumbled across this gem exactly one year ago at a restaurant called Herbivores in Kona, Hawaii (check them out, they have awesome food!!), and revisited it to provide a framework for how to approach my veganism. Sherry F. Colb is an incredible thinker who gives insightful and thorough advice to competently and compassionately answer several questions that vegans face, such as "what about the plants?", "why not just be vegetarian?", and of course, as in the title, "mind if I order the cheeseburger?". I frequently struggled to answer these questions in the past, and thus felt that my consistency with veganism was more prone to falter. However, after reading this book, I more than ever understand exactly why this diet is for me and for many others, as well. Colb stresses that most people fundamentally agree with veganism, in the sense that it is morally unsound and counterintuitive for humans to harm other sentient beings. Unfortunately, the factory farming industry and lack of transparency in purchasing meat and dairy fails to encourage many to question how eating animal products is not in line with their ideals. Before, I used to dread questions from others regarding veganism. Now, I look forward to these conversations, as it is a gift to have empathetic, compassionate discussions about shared ideals and how veganism can be for anyone and everyone!
Profile Image for Amy.
113 reviews25 followers
June 21, 2019
This has been the most impactful book on my thoughts about food since "Eating Animals," which I read about 10 years ago. Some of Colb's arguments/analogies didn't resonate with me and I skimmed a few chapters that were less compelling to my personal questions/curiosities, but overall it was the most clear, thoughtful, intelligent, rational, and well-written book I've read on this topic so far. Books that uncover the deeply sad and disturbing things happening in modern animal agriculture are overwhelming for me, and oddly don't have a lasting impact -- I think my brain has trouble processing them. But this book comes at the issue of ethical veganism from a place of philosophical, moral, and logical reasoning, which for some reason I'm more able to engage in. The chapters I was especially interested in were the ones about vegetarianism vs. veganism, and attempts at humane animal agriculture. Once I encountered some of Colb's arguments -- moral, environmental -- for ethical veganism, they made a big impact and, to my mind, were inescapably convincing. I'm grateful for the time she took in writing this book and will definitely use it as a resource in figuring out what to do in this arena.
Profile Image for Ingrid.
1 review
June 4, 2019
I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately I can't say it lived up to my expectations. The questions asked are well picked and listening to another persons reasoning was without a doubt interesting, especially as her reasons for being a vegan differs from my own. She gives long and detailed answers based on her own views and experiences, but it comes off as quite preachy most of the time. Her focus on gory details and emotions to spread her message rather than scientific data and references (except in the early chapter about human health and the environment, which I actually enjoyed) also makes her seem quite unprofessional. Her rather extreme parallels such as comparing animal products to animal torture as entertainment, child pornography and rape is also completely unnecessary in my opinion, and will most likely do more harm than good when wanting to convince people to become vegan. This last part in particular is why I actually had to force myself to finish the book, and why I can't give it a good review.
Profile Image for Wendy.
126 reviews
March 31, 2019
If you're seeking a philosophical explanation as to why people might be vegan vs. vegetarian or "plant-based" eaters, this is the book to read. The author uses numerous analogies to explain her points, and some of them are a little disturbing. I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't revisit it. The book that I found has the most convincing argument for being vegan would be Colleen Patrick Goudreau's On Being Vegan. For nutrition information, you can't beat How Not to Die by Dr. Greger. Cheeseburger comes from a completely different angle and will make you think about the less obvious reasons for being vegan. Her intent is to educate non-vegans, but I think this actually might be a little off-putting. The better book for non-vegans is hands down How to Create a Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach by Tobias Leenaert. I consider myself to be a plant-based eater, so maybe as a non-vegan I shouldn't criticize; however, there are many, many non-vegans who are still highly compassionate people, and the books I mentioned might be more appealing.
Profile Image for Erin.
100 reviews
December 7, 2017
What I liked most about Colb's writing is how balanced and unpretentious she is. I've read other books about veganism where authors have come off as haughty and arrogant, even when I fundamentally agree with a lot of what they're saying. It's a difficult subject to write about but Colb handles it with tact and logic which is really all you need with this kind of contentious debate. I NEEDED and appreciated the chapter on abortion. Excellent work.
Profile Image for Ismelina.
20 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2019
Well written and thoroughly researched, this book will enlighten non-vegans as to why vegans do what they do and also enable vegans to understand better and explain their ethical stand to others who are trying to understand. This book will also help those who are curious on becoming vegan but can't wrap their head on other concepts. Finishing this book enabled me to strengthen my knowledge and articulately wrote what ive been feeling and thinking all along.
Profile Image for Ali.
9 reviews
July 20, 2017
This is an amazing and informative book. Sherry Colb has backup to every statement that she makes. As an ethical vegan it was hard for me to finish because almost every page made me want to cry. Because I believe the torture animals go through to be on human's plates, in their cosmetics, clothing etc. is wrong. Would advise everyone to read it.
Profile Image for Dude.
34 reviews9 followers
April 29, 2021
I can vividly imagine Sherry Colb explain in great length and detail why she does mind if her friend orders the cheeseburger.

The book offers insights logically written by a professor of law. It is heavily informative.
Profile Image for Ari.
24 reviews
January 4, 2019
Highly clear writing style. Answered all my objections to veganism. Helped make my eating decision final.
Profile Image for Theo Smith.
26 reviews
July 29, 2022
it’s true! being vegan does in fact make you better than everyone else
2 reviews
April 26, 2023
I met Sherry Kolb, the author. Sadly she passed away recently. However, the book is incredible if you want answers to tough questions about a plant-based way of living.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 38 reviews

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