Thu, Nov 12, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Book review: Navigating the ‘vegan heart of Asia’

Jesse Duffield’s vegan guide to Taipei is a comprehensive and useful tool written by a long-term expat, but the layout could use a bit more pizzazz

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Taipei in 4 Days: A Travel Guide for Vegans, by Jesse Duffield.

Even though Taipei is often considered one of the most vegan-friendly places in Asia, the country’s offerings often aren’t obvious nor clear-cut for someone who doesn’t know Chinese, much less a first time visitor who only has four days in the city and wants to get on with their sightseeing without being constantly worried about accidentally ingesting or purchasing something that contains animal products.

Even though Jesse Duffield, author of the e-book Taipei in 4 Days: A Travel Guide for Vegans lauds Taiwan’s strict labeling policies, vegetarian-friendly attitudes and abundance of meatless options, he also details the difficulties of trying to follow a strict vegan diet here. Language barriers aside, many restaurants claim to serve vegan food but actually serve egg and milk products, and often the wait staff themselves don’t know the difference between veganism and vegetarianism.

Consider this entry on Minder Vegetarian (明德素食園): “Contrary to claims made by staff and even on their Web site, it’s not all vegan.” Duffield also mentions the existence of “completely vegetarian restaurants” that are “almost completely non-vegan.”

That’s where this book comes in handy, guiding the reader from how to read the food labeling system to recommending where to get vegan food and which destinations you should bring your own lunch because of the lack of options.

Duffield says he has personally visited every restaurant and location, and from his writing you can tell that he’s lived in Taiwan for an extended period of time.

Although the book teaches its readers the Chinese characters for “vegetarian food” before they learn how to say ni hao, knowing your vegan ins and outs isn’t enough to survive in Taipei.

Publication Notes

Taipei in 4 Days: A Travel Guide for Vegans

By Jesse Duffield

250 pages

Vegan Travel Guides

E-book: Taiwan

Duffield provides detailed information such as transportation, hotels, postal services, safety, shopping, the mess of the country’s Romanization systems (to go to Chinan Temple you have to get off at Zhinan Station) and even how to use Taiwan’s ATMs, which can be very confusing at first.

There’s a sprinkling of vegan info here and there — such as where to get vegan food at the airport or while you’re shopping for electronics at Guanghua Market (光華商場).

There’s also an extensive history and religion section, and of course, every book written about Taiwan must at least try to explain the dreaded complicated political history of the nation, which isn’t an easy task.

Duffield does a decent job here – his overview is a bit confusing at first, but it gets the point across that Taiwan is a de facto independent country and explains the Republic of China’s existence well. The politics are better explained later with separate entries on the various entities and figures that have contributed to the current situation. Some sections, especially the final part about Taiwan and former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) relationship with Japan may be too in-depth for a guidebook.

The religion/spiritual group section is viewed in a vegetarian/vegan context, as we learn interesting tidbits. For example, if a vegetarian restaurant serves egg products, it’s likely run by followers of I Kuan Tao (一貫道).

On to the tours, which are divided into four outings in different parts of Taipei and New Taipei City. The suggested itineraries combine sightseeing and eating, and has detailed information including recommended visiting times before going into detail about each location. Each general area is followed by vegan dining options nearby, all of which would show up on a customized map which links to Google Maps, making navigation easy. The use of the color of the MRT line while referring to each station is also a clever touch.

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