Veggie Tales

Vegan Survival Guide toasts Austin

Wernersbach (l) and Tracy
Wernersbach (l) and Tracy (Photo by John Anderson)

It may seem odd that Carolyn Tracy and Julie Wernersbach named their book Vegan Survival Guide to Austin. They both agree that it's ridiculously easy to be a vegan in Austin, framing the totable volume as a celebration of the diversity and pride of the local scene. If this is "survival," it's less of a Bear Grylls reality show endurance race and more of the kind Gloria Gaynor sung about. One of their survival tips even involves vegan cocktails.

That light tone is purposeful. Although the authors acknowledge the very serious moral and ethical reasons behind the decision to eat a solely plant-based diet – interviewing legendary activist Ernest Samudio of Action for Animals, among others – the guide wasn't intended to be a manifesto.

For one, Tracy's whimsical illustrations appear with each chapter title. Their interviews are kept breezy. And although specific dishes are mentioned, they are always recommendations. That part, at least, was accidental. "I guess it was sort of just lucky for us," says Tracy. Wernersbach agrees, "We weren't really ever disappointed [at the trailers and restaurants we tasted]; at every turn, we were really impressed." When asked what would have happened if they ran across a not-so-great eatery, Tracy laughs, "We did not even consider that."

What they did consider is making sure the book is a snapshot of Austin's vegan present that pays homage to its vegan past. The pair admit (and give credit to) the bloggers that cover the scene full time, lamenting that some of the places the book covers, like Veggie Heaven, are no more. Wernersbach says that the burgeoning scene is a lot to keep up with, as is the character of what vegan food in Austin is – a trajectory that spans from Mother's Cafe's beans and rice to Counter Culture's decadent use of nut cheeses. What has stayed the same is that vegan in Austin is heavy on comfort classics. "I do feel like it's a sort of Austin thing to not be too fancy about things," says Tracy. Wernersbach explains further, "There is this stereotype that vegan food and vegetarian food is very sparse or is rabbit food or a salad without much substance. ... So a lot of the dishes that are served at places like Counter Culture and Bouldin [Creek Cafe] are meant to be hearty, to disprove that and counter the perception that vegan food can't fill you up."

However, "that is shifting in Austin like everything else," says Wernersbach. "I mentioned Bistro Vonish, he has the truck, but the real goal is to have a brick-and-mortar, fine-dining gourmet vegan restaurant."

"His catchphrase is 'elevated vegan food,'" says Tracy.

Shifting culture or not, Tracy and Wernersbach have still created something that will appeal to longtime vegans and neophytes, dabblers, and omnivores. They may have conceived their Vegan Survival Guide in a casual bar conversation, but they achieved something indispensable.

Vegan Survival Guide to Austin

by Carolyn Tracy and Julie Wernersbach
American Palate, a division of the History Press; 192 pp.; $16.99
Available at BookPeople

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Carolyn Tracy, Julie Wernersbach, Veggie Heaven, Counter Culture, Bouldin Creek Cafe, Mother's Cafe, Bistro Vonish, Ernest Samudio, Action for Animals

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