By Jack Norris
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Whether you’re considering going vegan or just want to learn more about plant-based nutrition, Vegan for Life is your comprehensive, go-to guide for optimal healthy eating. Registered dietitians and long-time vegans Jack Norris and Virginia Messina debunk some of the most persistent myths about vegan nutrition and provide essential information about getting enough calcium and protein, finding the best supplements, and understanding the “real deal” about soy.
Covering everything from a six-step transition plan to meeting protein requirements and even calorie and nutrient needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding, Vegan for Life is the guide for aspiring and veteran vegans alike, complete with an easy-to-use food chart, tasty substitutions, sample menus, and expansive resources.
For almost all of human history, people ate whatever they could get their hands on; availability, habit, and taste preferences were the factors that drove food choices. That changed a mere century or so ago, when the new science of nutrition revealed that food was more than just something to eat—it was part of an approach to optimal health. Today, our perspective continues to evolve with a growing appreciation for the ways in which food choices affect much more than our own health and well-being. What we eat has far-reaching effects on the welfare and rights of both humans and animals—and on the very future of life on our planet.
The term “vegan” was coined in 1944 by a small group of vegetarians who recognized that animal products like dairy foods involved the same exploitation and slaughter of animals as production of meat. They founded the Vegan Society in the United Kingdom, which defines veganism as:
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
Although the cruel treatment of animals used in sport and circuses, in cosmetic testing, and for clothing are all important vegan issues, most people who are exploring veganism begin with dietary changes. Factory farming of animals for meat, dairy, and eggs is an especially pressing issue because of the huge numbers of animals involved, the unspeakable ways in which they are treated, and also the impact of this industry on the environment.
LIFE ON A MODERN FARM
Most people would be uncomfortable with the way animals are treated on today’s farms, and that’s why so much of that treatment occurs behind closed doors. When it is shared with the public at all, it’s usually through carefully curated videos and photos and sometimes through meticulously planned public farm tours. These show pictures of clean facilities and animals who appear well cared for and in good health. Investigations by animal protection advocates reveal a different story: crowded conditions, sick and injured animals, and sometimes wanton cruelty by workers.1
In response to these investigations, the farming industry has sought to limit access to their facilities through Ag Gag laws. These state-level bills are designed to silence whistleblowers who reveal animal abuses on farms. As we go to press with this book, legal challenges have had some success in getting some of these laws struck down by courts as unconstitutional and a violation of First Amendment rights.
The animal agriculture industry says that the conditions that appear in undercover videos are unusual and are evidence of a “few bad apples.” Yet, undercover investigations continue to reveal these conditions. But even without undercover investigations and evidence of illegal practices on some farms, we know that standard legal practices on farms and at the slaughterhouse are cruel. While the industry might downplay the significance of certain practices, they don’t deny the use of many of the systems that we talk about in this chapter. In fact, much of the information we share here comes directly from industry publications. The practices that cause suffering among farmed animals are for the most part legal, and are discussed in agricultural trade magazines, among farmers on social media platforms, and on government websites associated with the farming industry.
There is not a single federal law in place to protect animals while they are living on the farm. While a few states have laws regarding the treatment of farmed animals, they are weak and rarely enforced. Farmed animals typically live in huge warehouses that you wouldn’t even recognize as farms. They can’t breathe fresh air, and they live on concrete or wire that damages their feet.
Most of these farms share three common elements, all aimed at maintaining high efficiency and low costs. These are confinement of animals, breeding for excessive growth, and mutilation.
Confining animals saves on space and also reduces feed requirements since the animals can’t move much. Because animals can become aggressive in these unnatural conditions, farmers routinely use different types of mutilation, trimming the beaks of birds or the teeth of pigs for example, so that they are less likely to injure one another.
This drive for efficiency as well as the large number of animals on most farms means that it isn’t always possible to consider the welfare of individual animals. On a dairy farm with seventy cows, a farmer is likely to notice a sick animal. But a single egg farm may house tens of thousands of chickens, which means that a sick or injured chicken is likely to go unnoticed. And if someone does see that she is sick, there is no veterinary care for her since that wouldn’t be economically feasible. Farmers say that the system wouldn’t be viable if it didn’t protect the health and well-being of animals. But the truth is that letting some animals die due to overcrowding is more economical than allocating more space and attention to keep them healthy.
Although the practices vary among different types of farms, confinement, mutilation, and selective breeding are common approaches for production of all of the commonly consumed animal foods: eggs, chicken, pork, milk, and beef.
The life of an egg-laying hen begins at the hatchery. Because these birds are not bred for their meat, male chicks have no function on an egg farm. Within minutes of emerging from their shells, they are separated out and killed. As with all aspects of animal farming, efficiency is key, since millions of these unwanted birds are hatched every year. Most commonly, the tiny, conscious birds are tossed by a spinning auger into a grinding machine. In other hatcheries, live male chicks are simply loaded into dumpsters and left to suffocate or die.
The female chicks are sent to egg farms, but first they usually have one-third to one-half of their beaks removed. This keeps the chickens from pecking each other in the cramped conditions in which they are housed. Their highly sensitive beaks may be painful for weeks or can cause long-term chronic pain and stress.2
Although the practice has been outlawed in some states, most egg-laying hens are housed in cages so small they can’t stretch their wings. The United Egg Producers, which is a cooperative of egg farmers in the United States, recommends that the cages provide at least sixty-seven square inches per bird.3 This is smaller than a piece of 8 × 11 paper, and it is where hens spend their entire lives. The cages aren’t particularly comfortable, either. They have wire bottoms that can cause sores and bruises. With thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of chickens living on a typical farm, no attention is paid to individual birds. Many die from dehydration or starvation if they become caught in the wires, if their toenails grow around the wires, or if the mechanized food or water delivery system malfunctions. Others die from inhalation of ammonia from the manure pits below the cages.
Conditions are sometimes better in cage-free facilities where hens are more able to move around but can still live in very cramped conditions. Some of these facilities have “enrichment” features that allow hens to perch. But they suffer many of the same abuses as their caged sisters. While the words “cage-free” may conjure up an image of happy hens scratching around the barnyard, most are housed in huge buildings with no access to the outdoors. And regardless of how they are housed, because they are bred to produce eggs at an unusually high rate, both caged and cage-free hens are at risk for a prolapsed uterus. This occurs when part of the uterus is pushed out of the body. It leads to infection and a painful death.
Selective breeding is not the only way in which animals are forced to produce more. Some egg farms still employ the practice of forced molting, in which birds are starved for up to two weeks after the first laying period so that they’ll start producing eggs again.
For birds living in these unnatural, highly stressful conditions, egg production begins to decline after just a year or two. Hens are loaded onto trucks and taken to the slaughterhouse. Their bones are brittle from excessive egg production and many of them suffer fractures as they are ripped out of their cages.4 Some, referred to as “spent” hens by the industry, are in such poor condition that they can’t be used for food. In that case, they might be killed right on the farm. On one farm, “spent” hens were tossed, while conscious, into a wood chipper for disposal. But the most common legal means of killing these hens is by carbon dioxide gassing using gas concentrations of 30 percent or more. Research has shown that at this level, birds feel pain and distress, probably associated with suffocation.
Birds Raised for Meat
It takes a lot of chickens to meet Americans’ appetite for wings, nuggets, and fried drumsticks. Modern agriculture meets that demand by growing chickens as fast as they can. Unlike laying hens, who just need to produce as many eggs as possible, “broilers” need to pack on pounds. They grow four times faster than birds raised in the 1950s.5 And while that is good for the farmer’s bottom line, it’s awful for the chicken. The excess weight leads to severe leg problems, sometimes even the inability to walk, which means that a chicken may not be able to access food and water. We know that these chickens feel pain because studies have found that birds with deformed legs are more likely than those with normal legs to eat feed that is laced with painkillers.6
“Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory,” an issue of Hog Management trade magazine advised back in 1976.7 On today’s hog farms, breeding sows are in fact treated as piglet-producing machines with no consideration for their natural needs. These mother pigs are confined for nearly all of their four-month pregnancy in gestation crates. The crates are so small that for this entire time, they can take a step forward or backward but can’t turn around. To give birth, they are moved to farrowing crates which allow them to lie on their sides so they can nurse their piglets through bars.
Under natural conditions, piglets nurse for twelve weeks or more as they gradually wean themselves. On hog farms the weaning period has gotten shorter and shorter in an effort to squeeze more and more pregnancies out of the sow. Piglets are typically weaned at about three weeks and sent to a weanling facility, where they are housed in pens with bare, slatted flooring. Or they go directly to the finishing barn where they are crowded into pens.
Because of ammonia levels, respiratory problems are the leading killer of pigs grown for meat.8 Like birds, they are bred to grow faster than their bodies can handle, and many develop painful leg conditions and eventually are unable to walk. If piglets fail to grow properly, they are killed on the farm. According to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and the Pork Checkoff, appropriate ways to kill young piglets include blunt trauma with a “quick, firm blow to the top of the head.” Although the idea is to kill the piglets quickly, this doesn’t always happen and videos show injured piglets writhing in pain. Older pigs who aren’t growing quickly enough to be economically viable may be killed through carbon dioxide, gunshot, or electrocution.9
Pigs are surprisingly social, intelligent, and playful. Under natural circumstances, they engage in nesting behavior and have a strong tendency to root and live in small social groups. With no opportunity to engage in any of their natural behaviors, crated pigs develop repetitive behaviors like banging their heads against the cages and biting the metal rails. Pigs who are crammed together in pens can develop aggressive behavior, so farmers often cut off their tails without anesthesia to prevent tail-biting. The male piglets are also castrated without any treatment for pain.
But the natural personalities of pigs aren’t reflected in the unnatural environment of a farm. Former hog farmer Bob Comis said it best: “During 10 years as a pig farmer I came to know pigs as well as I know my own dog. That’s why I quit.”10
Bucolic scenes of black-and-white cows grazing on a hillside create a sense of the happy and safe farm. But many dairy cows spend their lives enclosed in barns or they are kept on large feedlots, where they live on a layer of mud and feces and among swarms of flies.
Again, it’s efficiency at all costs, which means cows are bred to produce as much milk as possible. According to USDA statistics, the average dairy cow produces five times more milk today than in 1940.11,12 They are also constantly impregnated to produce more milk. Being pushed to such limits means they develop painful diseases, such as udder inflammation, and they often become unable to walk comfortably or at all.
On most farms, both male and female calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth. This allows the mother cow to return to producing milk for human consumption. Farmers say that the cows don’t mind, but cows have a strong maternal instinct that makes the separation traumatic. In 2013 the Newburyport News in Newbury, Massachusetts, reported on strange noises coming from a local dairy farm. The reporter shared that “According to Newbury police Sergeant Patty Fisher, the noises are coming from mother cows who are lamenting the separation from their calves.” The separation of mother cows from their calves is a yearly occurrence and is a normal function of a working dairy farm, Fisher said. “It happens every year at the same time.”13
Calves on Dairy Farms
Like any mammal, cows produce milk only after they’ve given birth. In the early days of dairy farming, male calves were kept or sold as breeding stock. As farms got bigger and the number of male calves outnumbered the need for breeders, farmers needed a new solution. That solution was veal. A direct outgrowth of dairy farming, veal farming is a way to turn unneeded calves into meat and money.
While female calves are sent to live in individual huts until they are ready to be bred and milked, the newborn males are sold and transported to a veal farm. They, too, are housed in individual pens for about eight weeks and then transitioned to small group pens. The calves are sent to slaughter at about five months of age.
Cows Raised for Beef
A common thread in animal food production is that most of these animals never see the outdoors until they are loaded onto a truck bound for the slaughterhouse. Cattle raised for beef are the exception since most graze outdoors for the first part of their lives. Of all farmed animals, beef cattle probably have it the best for these first few months. They graze and socialize as nature intended. They aren’t free from abuse though, since they are often branded with a hot iron and the males are tied down and castrated without any type of pain relief. Eventually, the cattle are moved to a facility where they will put on weight at a much faster rate. Even “grass fed” cattle may be sent to a barn to live the rest of their lives indoors where they are fed a mix of legumes and hay. (Grass-fed refers only to what cows eat; not where they eat it.)
Most beef cattle are loaded onto trucks and shipped to crowded feedlots. After the relatively peaceful four to six months on the ranch, the feedlot is most likely an unpleasant adjustment for cattle. They are often crammed into these barren facilities where their diet is switched from grass and forage to grains and soy. Harris Ranch in Coalinga, California, is a feedlot that holds more than 100,000 beef cows for fattening. They live on a layer of dirt mixed with feces, and the stench can be smelled from miles away.
Because of the stress of their new environment and the switch to an unnatural diet, cattle in feedlots are prone to illness including respiratory disease. It is a common practice to lace their feed with antibiotics, which also help the cattle grow faster.14 One estimate is that as much as 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on farmed animals, and this may contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria. In fact the very air around feedlots has been found to contain DNA that codes for antibiotic resistance.15
ALL FARMED ANIMALS ARE SENT TO SLAUGHTER
Some farmed animals, like cows on small dairy farms or cattle grazing on the range, may live in relative comfort for at least the first part of their lives. But all farmed animals, unless they die from starvation, thirst, infections, or injury on the farm, are eventually sent to the slaughterhouse. For many, it is the first time they ever see the outdoors as they are packed onto trucks. Some are healthy animals who have been raised specifically for slaughter. Others are tired and worn-down dairy cows, breeding pigs, and laying hens who have outlived their economic value. All of these animals are killed well before they achieve their natural lifespan.
As slaughterhouses have consolidated, animals are trucked long distances to their deaths. They are typically not fed for many hours at a time and are subject to extreme heat and freezing cold, as well as highway accidents. It is legal to transport cows and pigs for up to twenty-eight hours without providing food or water. For chickens and turkeys, there is no limit on how long they can be held on trucks. Dairy cows may be so weak and tired that these gentle animals are unable to walk from the truck to the slaughterhouse. Animal science experts note that many of these cows are far too sick to be transported long distances, but are loaded onto trucks anyway. In a journal of veterinary medicine, one group noted that these practices are common and that they mean considerable suffering for the cows.16 Once she arrives at the slaughterhouse, a cow who can’t walk can’t legally be slaughtered so she may be repeatedly shocked to get her to stand up.
Some of these stumbling, confused animals are the youngest of calves. About 15 percent of calves are slaughtered when they are just a few days or weeks old for “bob veal.”17 One investigation showed workers kicking and electrically prodding newborn calves who struggled to walk to slaughter.
With the exception of kosher and halal slaughter, mammals must be rendered unconscious before they are killed according to the federal Humane Slaughter Act. This is often done with a shot from a captive bolt pistol. With the fast pace of the slaughter line, it’s a given that some animals won’t be properly stunned on the first try. The American Meat Institute considers a 95-percent stun rate acceptable, and research suggests that between 95 and 99 percent of animals are stunned with the first shot.18 But the fact that “only” 1 to 5 percent of cows are insufficiently stunned on the first try means that as many 345,000 to 1.7 million cows per year must be stunned more than once—or they remain conscious during at least part of the slaughter process.19
Fast line speeds at the slaughterhouse are typically to blame for the fact that animals are often conscious as they move down the line. Workers are under too much pressure to keep the line moving and cannot take the time to worry about a still-conscious animal who has slipped by.
And as weak as the federal Humane Slaughter Act is, it doesn’t even cover chickens and turkeys (or rabbits). There is no federal requirement for these animals to be stunned or unconscious when they are slaughtered. Hung upside down, their heads are dragged through an electric stunning bath before a blade cuts their throats. Then they are dunked into a scalding tank for easier feather removal. Although standard practices in slaughterhouses are aimed at ensuring that they are dead by this time, USDA data shows that as many as a half-million chickens and turkeys each year are still alive as they drown in near boiling water.20
NATURAL DISASTERS AND ACCIDENTS AFFECT FARMED ANIMALS, TOO
When the flood waters swept over eastern North Carolina during Hurricane Florence in 2018, tens of thousands of chickens and pigs had no way to escape. Estimates are that more than 5,000 hogs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys drowned, many of them presumably imprisoned in their crates. There was nothing the farmers could do. Because huge numbers of farmed animals are confined in massive sheds on today’s farms, when catastrophes strike, there is no escape. In 2010, for instance, 60,000 chickens died from heat exhaustion on a North Carolina farm when the fans stopped working following a power outage. A year earlier, nearly 4,000 pigs met the same fate when a vandal turned off the fans on an Iowa farm. And on a single farm in Texas, 800,000 hens died in a fire.
FISH AND OTHER SEA CREATURES
It may seem difficult to warm up to a fish, but these animals are more complex than once thought. There is evidence that some types of fish are capable of planning and using tools and some even have the capacity for facial recognition.21 Research suggests that fish can feel pain and experience suffering as well. They react to pain by changing their behavior, which suggests a consciousness of discomfort. We don’t know what pain feels like to a fish, but it seems fair to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since the ways in which they are farmed, caught, and killed are particularly inhumane.
Bottom-trawling nets pull hundreds of tons of animals from the ocean, squeezing them together in the nets sometimes for hours as they are dragged along the ocean floor. When hauled out of the water, the surviving fish undergo decompression and suffer agonizing deaths. Other animals suffer and die as a result of commercial fishing since drift nets kill tens of thousands of sea mammals such as dolphins, whales, otters, seals, and sea lions per year.
FACTORY FARMS HURT HUMANS, TOO
In 1906 Upton Sinclair’s famous book The Jungle was published, detailing the lives of Lithuanian immigrants working in filthy and inhumane conditions in Chicago’s stockyards and slaughterhouses. His book led to landmark changes in the meat industry as well the establishment of the forerunner of the US Food and Drug Administration. But, more than a century later, slaughterhouse workers, many of whom are immigrants, still work under incredibly dangerous conditions. The fast pace of line speeds in the slaughterhouse mean that workers make thousands of repetitive movements per day giving rise to muscle and nerve injuries. Witnessing the pain and fear of the animals being killed can also give rise to psychological trauma.
Most slaughterhouse workers are people of color living in low-income communities or are immigrants from Latin America. Some are undocumented and are unable to report injuries or seek medical care or report harassment and violations in the workplace for fear of being deported or losing their job. Like exploitation and inhumane treatment of animals, the exploitation of slaughterhouse workers helps keep the cost of animal foods low and production high.
Alternatives to Factory Farms
Learning about the lives and deaths of farmed animals can be disheartening, but there is good news, too. There have been small changes in factory farming practices at the state level, nearly all in response to the efforts of animal protection activists. Voters in some states have passed measures to do away with some of the cruelest confinement systems. But given the extensive and routine cruelty associated with factory farming and the strength of an industry that resists even the smallest improvements, meaningful change for all farm animals is a long way off. Animal cruelty is an inherent part of factory farming.
For many people, the answer is to seek meat, milk, and eggs from animals who were well treated. A number of different labels are meant to identify food from these animals. Three labels that suggest better treatment of animals on farms, and sometimes during transport, are “GAP-Certified” (which is associated with Whole Foods Markets), “Certified Humane,” and “Animal Welfare Approved,” but none of these labels cover all animals and/or all aspects of production. It’s also easy to get confused. For example, the “American Humane Certified” label is not associated with better welfare for animals. You’ll see this label on pork that may have come from a farm that uses gestation crates and on cartons of eggs from caged hens.22 Terms like “all-natural,” “free range,” “humanely-produced,” and “pasture-raised,” have no legal definitions.
The organic label mandates some basic welfare standards for animals since it requires access to the outdoors and conditions that allow some freedom of movement. But there are no specific definitions for these space requirements or the quality of the outdoor environment. In 2010, the Cornucopia Institute, an organic farm watchdog group, released a report that was based on visits to more than 15 percent of USDA-certified organic egg farms and surveys of all name-brand and private-label industry egg companies. They found that most of the industrial-scale producers were confining tens of thousands of hens inside henhouses, commonly only offering tiny concrete or wooden porches as “outdoor access.”23 Whether or not organic farms comply with standards, animals raised on these farms are not protected from the same types of mutilation as animals on nonorganic farms and they are subject to the same suffering during transport and slaughter.
For most products touted as “humanely produced,” cruelty lurks behind the cheerful label. Even if free-range dairy farms provide better treatment for cows, their male calves are still taken from their mothers within hours of birth and sold for veal production. Chickens in cage-free facilities can spread their wings, but they still spend their entire lives packed by the tens of thousands into windowless warehouses. The male chicks are still killed at birth and the females are debeaked. They go to the same slaughterhouses as caged chickens.
Seeking out these labels can be valuable while you are making a transition to a vegan diet. But there is no way to ensure that any milk, eggs, or meat you consume were produced with no animal suffering. And they always come from animals who died within years of their natural lifespan.
People dress their dogs in fuzzy coats for a brief walk in the snow, adopt kittens from shelters, and flock to national parks to photograph grizzly bears and moose. Most humans love animals and are sometimes in awe of them. How then can people sanction the practices of keeping pigs in gestation crates and hens in cages before sending them to an early death?
British psychologist Richard Ryder answered that question in 1970 when he coined the term “speciesism,” which was later popularized by Princeton University philosopher Dr. Peter Singer in his 1975 book Animal Liberation.25 Singer wrote that just as “racists violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of their own race, speciesists allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species.”
- "This book explains everything one needs to know about going vegan. Comprehensive and succinct, it is a must-have for nutritionists and anyone contemplating a vegan diet."—Library Journal
- "Armed with this compendium and a vegan cookbook, novices will make an easy, healthy transition to meat, egg and dairy-free meals, while practicing vegans can use it as a guide to the best food choices."—Publishers Weekly
- "Packed with science yet never boring, Norris and Messina -- both long-time vegans themselves -- put their wealth of knowledge at your fingertips while putting to rest any nutritional issues that concern those aspiring to a plant based-diet...No vegan myth goes unbusted...Vegan for Life is a complete reference guide that deserves a spot in your library or kitchen."—VegNews
- "Whether you've been enjoying a plant-based diet for years or are just starting on the adventure, Norris and Messina will prove to be outstanding mentors. Even if you don't plan to eliminate meat and animal products completely, there's valuable information here about incorporating foods that help you fight disease, build the immune system, and feel better in general. Vegan for Life is one of those books that you'll pull off the shelf for inspiration and consultation time after time."—Curled Up With a Good Book
- "Any general lending library catering to vegetarians needs this introductory guide."—Midwest Book Review
- "Vegan for Life is full of helpful charts that show specific nutrients found in numerous fruits, nuts and vegetables. I love how easy this makes it to be sure you are getting the proper nutrition in your vegan lifestyle."—Texas Kitchen (blog)
- "A book that is both so encouraging and so incredibly necessary right now."—Run Vegan (blog)
- "Vegan for Life makes going vegan doable. I would definitely recommend this book to vegans, the vegan-curious, and those living with vegan family members."—Veggie Voyeur
- "Beyond setting straight some outdated nutrition information, the book will put to rest most nutrition worries you might have."—Lone Star Plate
"Ginny Messina is one of the world's most highly respected pioneers of vegan nutrition. Her work is clear, insightful and meticulous. No matter where you are at on your vegan journey, this book will serve as an invaluable companion."
—Brenda Davis, RD, on Vegan for Her
- "Ginny Messina is one of the world's most highly respected pioneers of vegan nutrition. Her work is clear, insightful and meticulous. No matter where you are at on your vegan journey, this book will serve as an invaluable companion."—Brenda Davis, RD, on Vegan for Her
"Vegan for Her is an excellent and articulate resource for every woman who wants to eat with compassion while protecting and enhancing her health."
—Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat and Living Among Meat Eaters, on Vegan for Her
- "Vegan for Her provides sensible guidance for women of all ages. Whether your focus is sports nutrition, eating to prevent cancer or heart disease, or simply understanding how a plant-based diet can meet your unique needs, this book is for you. It's like a conversation with a savvy, caring friend."—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, author of The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book and coauthor of Simply Vegan, on Vegan for Her
- "Thinking of going vegetarian or vegan? If so, and you're a woman, don't miss Vegan for Her."—Hudson Valley News
- On Sale
- May 12, 2020
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Hachette Go