Even though the official release date of The Vegucation of Robin was postponed for seven months, there were a few copies floating around for sale on eBay in late March. I bought mine for $15.99 (cover price is $35), and that included free shipping. It's a very annoying read, and it took me a long time to motivate myself to finish it. But here's my review:
Frustrated that steroids and drugs were the only treatment her doctors recommended for her condition -– she was fat, sick, tired, “almost disabled” (her words) and ready to face death -- Robin publicly denounced all Western doctors and their medical practices and embraced an extreme new lifestyle made of detoxifying green drinks, a vegan diet, coffee enemas, advanced machinery that forces blood circulation (each session required an expensive cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles), Chinese healers, functional medicine practitioners (the kind who don’t take insurance), mysticism and magic beads. According to her new book, The Vegucation of Robin (subtitled How Real Food Saved My Life), these changes that she advocates (she doesn’t mention the coffee enemas, the mysticism or the magic beads that we know about as listeners of the Stern show) improved her health in ways not possible with Western doctors calling the shots. Forget counting calories; Robin says that’s not necessary with a plant-based lifestyle. She emphasizes how great you’ll feel when you go vegan, promising it’ll cure you of your ills -– physical as well as mental -- just like it’s done for her. “Look at me," she says. "I only eat plants, and I haven’t died! I haven’t come up with some kind of crazy deficiency. In fact, I’m healthier than I ever have been in my life.”
But there’s another side to this story that developed after Robin had already signed the book deal with her publisher: In the five years since Robin embraced this lifestyle, a mass in her pelvis grew to the size of a grapefruit. None of the Chinese healers, mystics, blood circulators or functional medicine practitioners she relied on for her health analysis detected this massive growth. And in May of 2012, Robin underwent a 12-hour surgery performed by the Western doctors she’d so vocally turned her back on. “Sure, the brilliant team of doctors and nurses who cared for me deserve some credit,” Robin concedes, but she insists her new lifestyle was what truly saved her. “When life threw me a grapefruit-size curveball, my body was up for the challenge.”
There’s no doubt this other side of the story would’ve prevented the publishers from doing this book, had they known about it beforehand. Nobody wants to take healthy living advice from a person whose idea of a healthy lifestyle landed her in the hospital, and who’s been unable to return to the office in the14 months and counting since her operation. But the publishers signed a contract, so they’ve tried to salvage this project as best they can. They’ve softened some of Robin’s familiar anti-Western doctor rants with reminders that these doctors shouldn’t be cut out of your life completely. And despite the foreword by Russell Simmons that praises Robin for making the case to go vegan, there are statements throughout the book that tone down any advocacy of a plant-based diet, like: “This book is not about being a vegan, vegetarian or ovo-lacto whatever,” and, “This book isn’t about advocating that you never eat another cheeseburger.” (My favorite is “Whatever you do, don’t expect to learn everything from this book.”) They even tone down any promises of weight loss due to this lifestyle, presumably because Robin had gained back a lot of the weight she’d lost between signing the book deal and taking the photos for the book (before she had her surgery; she hasn't been photographed since her surgery).
What stands out as the biggest attempt at salvage is the abrupt transition from Part Two to Part Three. That’s where this first person memoir/essay switches gears (and authors) and becomes a vegan cookbook. In fact, the majority of this book is made up of vegan recipes, largely created by Manhattan chef Christopher Sanchez. (Robin’s part takes up about 104 pages of this book; the recipes by Sanchez take up about 116.) Although Sanchez is shown in some photos with Robin, his name isn’t mentioned on the cover, the inside of the jacket, or even near his recipes.
So who is this book for? Well, it’s hardly a must-read for Stern fans/haters. Howard is mentioned casually here and there, but the stories are nothing we haven’t already heard on the air. In fact, they feel forced in. And aside from calling her job very stressful, there’s only one amusing bit of show-related insight, where she talks about some back office scenarios: “In my life, dealing with stress in a healthy way is a major priority. I’m constantly under pressure, and if I’m not careful, the silliest thing can set me off. I’ve had episodes where I’m standing in the middle of the office screaming because somebody took my umbrella. Finally some poor guy hands me his just so I’ll get out of there!" That was before she became a vegan, she points out. "When you eat a clean, plant-based diet you’ll find that you feel less stressed in the first place because your mind is clearer and not so tangled up dealing with your body’s issues.”
And the book definitely isn’t for the poor, or even lower-middle class. Robin stresses eating a diet of locally grown organic fruits and vegetables (Locally grown organic, not imported organic!) and forming a relationship with a functional medicine practitioner (the kind of physician who won’t take your insurance). She adds, “The most common excuse I hear about not seeing an out-of-network doctor or requesting extra blood work – or buying organic food, for that matter – is that it’s more expensive. But I don’t hear those same excuses when it comes to springing for kids’ sneakers or iPods or the latest had-to-haves.”
Speaking of kids, non-parent Robin has this to say about their aversion to veggies: “If there’s one thing parents say that makes me crazy, it’s this: ‘My kid hates vegetables. … I promise you that if all you’re putting out is carrots and some hummus, your kids –- if they’re hungry –- will eat carrots and some hummus.”
And when it comes to family and friends, Robin isn't so up on them, either. “Have you ever really looked at the quality of the people in your life?" she asks. "Are your friends truly your friends? Is your family truly supportive? Do you truly enjoy being around them? … You can’t control everything in your life, but you can control whom you spend your time with. Well, for the most part -– there are holidays.”
And don’t even think about making one meal for the whole family. Robin says, “You need to get past the idea that food is communal –- it’s not. Eating is personal. You’re not having what your spouse is having …”
I’d be hard-pressed to say who, besides Robin, this book is actually meant for. For that reason, I won’t be at all surprised if the book that comes out in October -– if it ever does come out -– is even further revised, stripping out all of Robin’s melodrama, nastiness and attitude (she talks down to the reader, as always) and treating her contribution as a slightly extended foreword to the vegan cookbook by Christopher Sanchez.
Although Robin is quick to blame her weight problems on her parents, the government, big business and Western doctors, she does share a tiny bit of the responsibility in this exclusive confession about her ice cream addiction (though she purposely uses drug-related phrasing to detract from her own responsibility): “I could go home with just one cigarette left in the pack, but if there was only half a pint of ice cream, forget it. If I walked in and my stash wasn’t big enough, no matter what time of the night and no matter how tired I was, I had to go replenish it ... It was [Note: I think she means wasn't] about fantasizing about that initial high that I got when I first started my ice-cream habit, but really just struggling to get enough of a buzz to feel normal.”
In honor of Robin, I give this book a big DD rating. And that's assuming the recipes -- which I haven't tried yet -- are really good.