Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Save the Duck! You are saving me from winter!

I never thought I’d say the following five words, but I am saying them now: I can’t wait until winter. 



That’s right. Gross, cold, dreary, depressing win
ter, which I can’t wait to face winter with my new Save the Duck coat and show it who’s boss in style! Soft, lightweight but made with high-definition nylon and the most luxe, dreamy collar that lifts up against Chicago’s strongest winds, I feel truly prepared this winter. 



Best of all, Italy-based Save the Duck doesn’t use cruelly-obtained
down feathers or any other animal parts in their coat lines: all is entirely, proudly vegan and also committed to sustainability! Oh, I am so excited. This coat is the Iris from their new collection. You must check out these gorgeous coats - these are not your mother’s puffy coats - and this conscientious company!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Diane Randall...




I am so excited to be featuring the radiant and exuberant
Diane Randall as this week’s Vegan Rock Star. Diane has a great podcast, Balanced Living for Busy Professionals (subscribe and find the archives here), and stays active as a consultant and speaker who helps clients with everything from healthy living and achieving goals to finding balance in a busy life. We are lucky to have someone as passionate and welcoming as Diane working to build a kinder, healthier world. 

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?


I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where my experience with animals was visiting the local zoo and an occasional farm visit. I rarely interacted with animals outside of dogs, cats, fish and other domesticated animals as a young child. I remember an experience as a 9-year-old child visiting my great-grandparents at their farm in Mississippi. I was running around the yard playing with the chickens and a horse. I remember my great-grandfather walking over to the yard where I was playing with the chickens, picked one up by the legs and walked over to a chopping block, laid the chicken’s head on it and cut it head off.  I watched in terror as this chicken ran headless around the yard before it finally fell down. The chicken was served for dinner. I remember crying uncontrollably and I was not being able to eat for a couple of days because I was traumatized by the experience. This was the first time that I correlated animal consumption and food. This experience influenced my questioning of eating animals for many years to come, but was always over-shadowed by societal conditioning and messaging of animals being a part of the food chain.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

As I think about my pre-vegan days, if I had more of a one-on-one connection with farm animals when I was young, maybe visit sanctuaries where I could experience feeding, petting and nurturing them and reading books, this experience could have expanded my mindset as it relates to non-domesticated animals and would have given me another perspective and consciousness aside from “seeing’ them as a food source. These are all the things I model for my grandson, Miles. 

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

As a whole living consultant, my most effective way is through compassion, humor, education and modeling the behavior that I want to see in others as a vegan. I created my own podcast show called
Balanced Living for Busy Professionals where I have interviewed leading experts around the world and I’ve done solo episodes to effectively share information on vegan and plant-based topics, providing value tips for listeners on how to get started eating plant-based foods and bring more balance to the lives of busy people for the past three years. I also teach healthy eating workshops at a local college in the western suburbs where I educate participants on eating more plant-based foods for optimal health and balance, for the animals and for the planet. I want people to know that my vegan journey continues to unfold every day. I continue to grow and learn without putting pressure on myself or others to be one way or another. I am following my heart, advocating and being of service to others who are interested in learning more and improving their lives.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

It’s an “all hands on deck” moment in society for all. Too many people are dying and living with treatable diseases and conditions from eating unhealthy foods. The strength of the movement is raising consciousness, telling hard truths, opening hearts and improving the health for many people. The movement is literally saving peoples’ lives by educating and sharing information that supports them in making better choices and living healthier lives.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

I feel and witness so much judgement and mean-spirited people in the vegan community, along with “in your face” right fighters who are so passionate about being vegan and uncompassionate about everyone else who is not. In my opinion this behavior hinders or gets in the way of the messages conveyed and effectively received. I feel that more patience, compassion and empathy is needed as we advocate, and communicate our message more effectively where people 
hear us and receive the message in a positive way.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

People always ask me why I became a vegan and how do I maintain the meat-free, plant-based lifestyle. I tell people, I don’t eat food that have a face, a mother and is not grown in the ground. I share my vegan evolution of more than 12 years ago starting for health reasons to stave off chronic health conditions. Along the way I became more conscious, my heart opened up and I “saw” and connected with the animals. Because of this I experience I feel a deep soul connectedness and love, It’s the same love, compassion and empathy I experience with humans; I see them; they love, they grieve, they play, they hurt just like me. I cannot imagine eating another animal and continue to evolve my vegan footprint. 

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution? 

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, PlantPure Nation, The China Study, Free from Harm, Dr. Will Tuttle, The World Peace Diet, Mercy for Animals, Peta, Dr. Joel Kahn, Amy-Lee Goodman, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, many more.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

I am inspired and passionate about sharing and helping people for the highest good. My approach is always from a place of modeling and educating what it means to be vegan; I work on reflecting in myself what I want to see in others as they navigate their own vegan journey. Lots of patience, compassion and empathy is needed when educating people that are willing and open to changing their minds hearts to a healthy new way of eating and being on the planet.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

So many sick people in the world who are not aware that they can heal themselves. My intention is to raise their awareness when it comes to the food chain.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
one love


Thursday, June 28, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Reyna Tomasek...




Some
thing we didn’t have when I was expecting my son back in 2002 is the abundance of resources about vegan pregnancy and parenting we have today. The resources we had then – a few books, a few paragraphs from Dr. Spock on the safety of an animal-free diet for children – were helpful but nothing on the level of what prospective (and current) parents who are raising vegan children have today. One of the most exciting developments is the new website, Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting, and their greamagazine, Raise Vegan. Between that and their growing social media presence, it’s not such a steep (and lonely) learning curve to be a vegan parent anymore. 

One of the reasons Raise Vegan is on the radar like it is must be due to their great promotional savvy. Renya “Ree” Tomasek, based in
Temecula Valley, CA and mother of a 1-year-old, is their PR person and I am honored to feature Ree as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

Well, I have always been an animal (and all animal lover) in fact when I was super young I got teased for caring about a skunk that was hit by our school bus and I just couldn’t understand why the other kids thought it was funny! I remember looking at them like they were so insensitive to the loss of life and that always stuck with me. I had an Aunt that went vegetarian when I was in high school and that hugely influenced me too think about my diet differently. In my early 20s, I ultimately started to have some health issues and was recommended to give up meat and when I did I never felt better, physically and emotionally! Yet the connection to go vegan didn’t come until I turned 29 and started my org Girls For Animal Rights and partnering with the Animal Legal Defense Fund for a project. The Director at the time, Vaughn Maurice, simply said that “We don’t eat our clients and you should consider that with the dairy you still consume as it just as harmful if not more so to animals,” that’s what did it for me, that and the wonderfully delicious vegan foods I tasted at an event.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
Honestly, I still always do. I have a lot of people I have met either in person or virtually that have private messaged me to thank me for setting a positive example on how to go and live vegan. I think they just see my passion about the compassion aspect of it and my delicious food posts and are like, “Hmm this is something that I think I can try to do!”

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?


Really my food posts are what get the most unlikely people on my friend’s lists attention. I have had people from my past that are big time fisherman ask me to please start posting the recipes again (when I slack, lol) because they really want to start to try this “vegan” thing out! But I’m always aware that we all once didn’t make the connection (unless of course vegan since birth) and hopeful that everyone, if shown they can and why it’s better, will consider going vegan. I’ll use social media a lot to get my point across, like the videos that are sad to help people understand if you had a reaction (any) to this poor pig getting hurt than there is a reason why and you should look into that! I’m just not pushy in my approach and want people to see the good in it from my positive and (hopefully) impactful approach.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

Health! We are in a time where we are so much more aware, yet companies look to play that down with their marketing campaigns to cover up just how unhealthy the world diet has become. It’s actually quite frightening what is allowed to be processed in our foods with the majority being the meat and dairy industries. I think that along with the fact that people are starting to realize we no longer need to harm animals to survive and thrive are the biggest strengths of the movement.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

Our passion! Meaning sometimes some let that get into the way of us delivering our message. We have to remember first we are trying to communicate with others that may not be as emotionally connected to the message (yet) and have to speak to them or about them in a calm rational way that they can understand. Once they are not listening then we can hit them with the hard facts and let them make their decisions, but they will 100% stop listening if you are demeaning or argumentative off the bat.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

My why is simply: I have found a way to live my life free of harm to others while flourishing physically, mentally and emotionally. I have never felt better and am much more clear headed, I don’t have the fog I once had weighed down by heavy meat and dairy I was consuming and I’m contributing to a better planet for all. Veganism is really the ultimate lifestyle if you think about it!

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

Definitely the larger organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA have were the greatest influence in the beginning and have been amazing resources still to this day! Mercy for Animals is what keeps me honest and I love their gentle to approach to why we should be and stay vegan. But in continuing my evolution it’s the smaller sanctuaries locally that I volunteer for and rescue networks I’m a part of. The daily grind of these animal heroes is absolutely incredible and it takes each one involved to keep things going. The recent sanctuary I am hosting an event for in September is run by a woman who left her job in corporate marketing when she was left with 15 horses that were all on death’s door. Literally someone dropped them off at her property and never came back. She just knew he had to do something, started a sanctuary and other animals came pouring in.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

To unwind, I take day trips to vegan restaurants I have never been and make it a whole fun day of exploring the area! I’m also actively involved in a vegan society and we host monthly meet-ups and potlucks where we invite new vegans to attend and it’s so inspiring to see them excited to start their journey just like I was. And of course, now, visiting animal sanctuaries with my little vegan baby boy is soul-filling!

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

In May of last year I had my first son. Being vegan, I of course made the choice to stay vegan throughout the pregnancy (and ultimately raise him vegan afterwards) and was met with some positive, but mostly negative remarks, which was very confusing. Some thought that is wasn’t safe to be vegan and raise a baby vegan and some vegan acquaintances offered unwarranted opinions on my choice to even bring another little being on the planet the way it currently is. So I sought for a resource and support system that saw the same beauty in a vegan pregnancy and thanked my lucky stars to find the online group Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting started by a strong lady, Janet Kearny, with global parents sharing their pregnancies and raising their kids vegan. I loved their mission so much so that in November of last year, I joined the team to help with the world’s first ever Vegan Parenting Magazine they were producing called Raise Vegan which offered digitally and now with our first published issue in May, we have had support from Alicia Silverstone and most recently the newly pregnant Kat Von D.  

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

The only way we need to be to survive and thrive. I truly believe it is the needed next step in our human evolution and the way we are meant to be. Once the world makes the connection we will not only save the planet and e pthe animals that reside on it, we will become a more impactful and happy species ourselves. It’s a bit of altruism, but I do believe someday we can get there!



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Nicole Sopko




You know that whole vegan ladyboss phenomenon covered recently in Forbes? I think if there were ever a patron saint for vegan ladybosses, it would be Nicole Sopko, also known as Gopi Om.

Nicole and her partner Dan Staackman run Upton’s Naturals, the seitan, jackfruit and vegan prepared meals company recently profiled in Crain’s Chicago Business, a business that seems to be on fire with success and growth right now. When she’s not doing her Upton’s work as Vice President, and helping to run the Plant Based Foods Association (of which she is a founding member and Secretary of 
the board), Nicole also runs not one, but two yoga studios and, again, not one, but two restaurants. I just got tired from typing all that out. Nicole is a staunch believer in the many benefits of yoga and runs Nature Yoga studios, one in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, and more recently, one in Oak Park. She also helps to fill bellies with tasty vegan food at Upton’s Breakroom in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and the lovely Nature Yoga Sanctuary & Café, attached to her Oak Park yoga studio. Okay, that’s a lot! To me, Nicole is the living embodiment of balance: a smart, conscientious entrepreneur who also happens to want to share the yogic principles of mindfulness and compassion with the world. She is kind, generous and a deeply committed vegan who happens to love hugging a cow or two or three or more. I am grateful to know her and honored to share feature Nicole Sopko as this week’s Vegan Rock Star. 

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

So, I first learned about veganism through the hardcore punk music scene. To be honest, I didn’t even really know that much about it in terms of the specifics of either the ethical arguments or the day-to-day lifestyle stuff, but the idea instantly appealed to me as a concept, because I mean…why DO we use animals if we don’t need to? As soon as I heard that, I was in 100%. This was in 1996. Prior to that, I’d always loved animals and spent as much time with them as possible. I spent a lot of time living with my grandparents as a child and they had a large property with a lot of barn cats and I would spend hours and hours out in the barn just hanging out with cats. They also had a chicken that had fallen off at transport truck and just showed up at dinner one night with the barn cats, so she was my first “farm” friend. I would come into the kitchen and my grandma would be cooking chicken and would joke that it was her and I would run outside to make sure she was alright. So, that didn’t hurt in terms of making me a vegan.

When I was 8, I wrote a poem at school for Thanksgiving:
There once was a turkey named Fred,
He never wanted to get out of bed.
He had a brother named Matt,
Who was very, very fat.
On Thanksgiving they sang a low gobble song,
Cause they knew they wouldn’t live very long.
And they didn’t.

So, I mean, I look at that now and just, OF COURSE, I’m vegan. It was there all along.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

I guess I just feel like I didn’t need a lot of convincing, personally, but I think that anything heavy handed or accusatory probably would have turned me off and caused me to retreat even if I agreed with the message. Part of my becoming vegan was a rebellion against societal norms. I had become straight edge (abstaining from drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicants) the year before because I didn’t think it was ethical to participate in industries that profit off of the destruction of people’s lives, families, communities, social skills, etc. and I felt really similarly about veganism. What you do and what you consume is like a vote every time for the kind of world you want. I can’t control much, but I can control what I allow for in my own sphere. I was 16 when I put the pieces together and I was lucky that I had a job and was making a little money to buy my own food so that I didn’t put my family out. I think having somebody leading by example would have been helpful for me, but luckily I was stubborn enough to figure out the basics on my own and stick with it until I had a community to show me what else was out there.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

Personally, I’m just honest with people. Not like over the top, jarring “honesty” where I feel like I need to tell you the real truth about where your “food” comes from in graphic detail without consent (though, I will do that if you ask), but just that the reasoning is simple. I have this great shirt from The Herbivore Clothing Company that says, “I love animals too much to eat them.” I do. It’s that easy. Don’t you?

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

I think the vegan movement is so diverse and we shouldn’t miss that. My partner and I have two vegan restaurants in the Chicago area, Upton’s Breakroom and Nature Yoga Sanctuary & Cafe, and I see all kinds of people coming and going from those locations day after day and that is one of my favorite things. Vegans don’t look one way, they don’t act one way, they’re not all in it for the same reasons, and that’s part of what makes it so amazing. Because if you want to be vegan, I bet that there’s someone out there that you can really relate to who can help. It’s not one size fits all, but there is a right place for every body here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

Oh boy, I think sometimes we are our own worst enemy. I see a lot of confronting and seemingly ineffective tactics from other vegans sometimes. In fact, I think that generally speaking, if your way of interacting with other people is a “tactic” and you have an endgame with your interaction, they know and are going to be suspicious of you from the start. No one wants to be approached by someone with an agenda to get what they want. Let’s not be tactical. Let’s just connect. Lead by example.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

Personally, I’m vegan because animals deserve to be comfortable. When I look at the animals I live with (I currently live with a dog, 13 fish, and 3 snails), it’s clear that they have wants and needs (I know, because I’m tasked with providing for many of them). It’s important to do your best to minimize harm to other beings.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

I love the message of the Dhammapada, which I first read after becoming vegan which says, “All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” I think that about sums it up for me. I also love and try to follow the work being done by organizations like Farm Sanctuary, We Animals, and all of the dedicated smaller animal sanctuaries around the world that are giving animals the comfortable lives they deserve.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?


Okay, so outside of the work of “being a vegan,” I work a LOT. I run a global vegan food company, Upton’s Naturals, alongside my partner Dan. On top of that, I also own two yoga centers by the name of Nature Yoga Sanctuary. We also have the two restaurants that I mentioned before. I teach yoga multiple times per week and on weekends am often teaching additional trainings or workshops for yoga teachers and students. This year alone I’ve traveled so extensively for business that I’ve spent more than a week in the air. I love all of what I do, but it is a lot. I consider my work to be my form of activism. We are making vegan foods available in a number of countries worldwide and sharing the reasons for veganism at home and abroad. My studies on yoga and yogic techniques with my Guruji, Sri Dharma Mittra, are what make all of this possible. Letting go of attachment to the results of effort is part of a daily practice and yoga also offers a variety of relaxation techniques that can be helpful when life is hectic. Studying the truths of karma can give some comfort when confronted with the cruelties of the world. I don’t always have time to dedicate too much of a physical yoga practice at this point in my life, but the other practices and knowledge are always present.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

Oh boy! I don’t even know how to pick just one. I feel like issues are constantly capturing my heart, but the plight of dairy cows is one that just really touches me. When I have the opportunity, I seek out the company of cows. I love their presence. I have spent time with cows in the US, India, and other countries and one thing remains the same – they are loving beings with definite personalities and strong ties to their loved ones. I think many people see cows as “milk machines,” rather than as individuals with desires, needs, personalities, friends, and family and that breaks my heart. The dairy industry, no matter how big or small the farm, is harmful to them. Milk is for babies. 100%. No exceptions.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

To me, being vegan is living in a way that is consistent with my values.

Om Shanti!