Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Twenty Years Vegan: How to Age Without Regret

I want to write about getting old today. How about that for a great hook? Don’t worry, it all gets better after I get that out of the way.

You see, I just turned 48. Forty-eight, no matter how you try to buff and shine that sucker up, just doesn’t sound dewy and fresh unless we’re talking about giant tortoises, bacterial spores, solar systems or along those lines. When octogenarian millionaires threaten the inheritance of their adult children, the lady friends who have gotten them to take leave of their senses are generally not perky 48-year-olds. So, I am getting old and there’s no way to spin that otherwise.

Bette Davis dryly observed that getting old isn’t for sissies* and for the most part, I am at peace with both aging and not being a sissy. After all, what is the alternative? Being a dead sissy, that’s what. As someone who was always young for my age in terms of maturity, I still feel a little unsteady on my feet sometimes when the reality of my age splashes cold water in my face and – cliché warning, but it’s true - I immediately feel how rapidly the years have whizzed past and it’s like I’ve suddenly been deposited at the end of a time warp or I’ve just gotten off a Tilt-A-Whirl and I need to get readjusted to land because I’ve got the spins. In those moments, as with dizzying carnival rides, the only way to get reoriented is to sit down and breathe between my knees. When I look around and notice how many of my contemporaries now have aged parents and are sorting through and dividing up the acquisitions of a lifetime, at first I always find myself shaking my head, thinking, “Isn’t this for people older than us?” Then, no: This really is us. We were kids yesterday, though, weren’t we?

This is really turning out to be a buzz-kill, isn’t it? I promise, I will get to some more uplifting stuff. The suspense is probably killing you, so I will jump right into it.

On February 1, one exact week after turning 48, I will also mark a much more exciting milestone: My 20th year of living as a vegan. On February 1, 1995, I called my ex-boyfriend (current husband) and said, “John, we should go vegan,” and he said, “Okay,” without even a pause and so over the course of a sometimes-maddeningly imperfect first year, we did just that. Twenty is pretty young but definitely venturing into elder territory for the length of time as a vegan. I can say this for a fact now with twenty years of hindsight at my hind: Going vegan was the very best decision I ever made, right in front of deciding to go out with that smiling guy who wasn’t a jackalope (my ex-boyfriend/current husband). Despite some eye roll-worthy claims to the contrary, veganism will not give you eternal youth but it is a way to become renewed again and again when the hope and promise of our ideals triumph over the defeatism and cold-heartedness of custom.

With twenty years behind me, I can say that the only reason I’d want to live forever is so I could keep doing this work for as long as necessary, which I hope isn’t forever, because it is so damn fulfilling and important. Veganism is not about checking labels, being vigilant and feeling out of touch with the rest of the world (though those things are certainly part of the experience sometimes); it is not about sacrifice, hardship or martyrdom (not even for a moment). If I could get people instead to understand how incredibly empowering it feels to not be owned by corporations, social pressure or habit, I will have done something worthwhile. So I am saying just that – if you’re looking for meaning in your life and a sense of higher purpose, going vegan will do this for you. I feel like I get paid back every single day that I put more distance between the last time I told an animal that a temporary pleasure of mine mattered more than his or her life. Twenty years since the last time I decided that my taste buds were more worthy of being listened to than the cries of another living being in anguish. Twenty years of rejecting the cynical notion that because I am allowed do something, this confers the right to do it. This is an indescribably liberating feeling. At the end of the road, though, it’s not about any of this.

 It’s about him.


And her.

And them.


And, yes, us too.

What started twenty years ago as a desire to not inflict harm has evolved into my life’s purpose. I have screwed up in many areas of my life but living as a vegan is one thing that I have done right. I wake up with a passion for this work and this deeply-held purpose every single day. Yes, I’m 48 but for the past twenty years, I’ve felt renewed every time I get to say yes to my ideals. This sustains me. I get to help create change from the right side of history. I couldn’t be more honored and grateful for this opportunity I get to enjoy every day of my life. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that it keeps me young but I will say that it keeps me at peace and this is worth everything.

Getting old isn’t for sissies; neither is living our truth but it is more rewarding than anything I know.

*Yes, I understand that the expression “sissy” is problematic. I’ve decided that I don’t care (one of those perks you hear about that comes with age) and you can insert the word you’d prefer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

At the risk of sounding like a Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
fangirl, well, I am a total Colleen Patrick-Goudreau fangirl. I don’t think it’s too much of an overstatement to say that Colleen is the vegan fairy godmother we all need, floating ear-level to advise us in times of dispute how to be our most articulate, calm-and-collected but confident selves; cheering us on; giving us the encouragement to be a joyful vegan in this messy, flawed world and pouring us a tea and showing us cute pictures of her kitties when it just gets to be too much. (Or is this just in my imagination?) As a bestselling author, a popular podcaster, a speaker, a video creator and much, much more, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has really set herself apart with her powerful, positive-but-pulling-no-punches advocacy that is understanding of the challenges individuals face while never equivocating. This is no easy task. While acknowledging the fear many people have of change, Colleen still closes the gaps in awareness, deftly dismantles excuses like the vegan Superwoman and keeps her laser-sharp focus on the bottom line: by empowering people to manifest their own convictions about compassion, she is helping the animals, helping the people who are no longer consuming them, and helping the planet become a more compassionate, more just and healthy place. Heady stuff. Oh, plus she creates some pretty fabulous recipes, too.

With the audacious aplomb we’ve come to expect, Colleen’s new, revised book, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Healthfully and Living Compassionately (which I just reviewed) takes a topic that feels daunting to many people regardless of their culture and upbringing and helps them gain the know-how and skills to achieve the self-assurance over 30 days to emerge confident, savvy vegans who can take on any challenge. This book is really an amazing resource for creating a more compassionate world and if we didn’t already know that Colleen is an absolute treasure for our community, we know it now. For these reasons and more, Colleen is vegan rockstar royalty.

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 – like most people – grew up loving animals and intervening if I saw them suffering – but I was taught to compartmentalize my compassion for them and to compartmentalize them into those who we should care about and those we should use for our own pleasure. I could have gone about my whole life desensitized -- or asleep, but luckily I woke up and realized I was contributing to a culture of violence that I would never participate in directly. So, I very naturally and joyfully stopped eating animals and their secretions once I saw the violence I was contributing to.

As far as early influences, I really believe that we come into this world innately compassionate, so I really think we already have a compass that leads us to our compassion. It’s inside us the whole time -- even though we might not be manifesting it outwardly and unconditionally. So, I think it was my own compassion that kept calling to me, guiding me back to the instincts I have not to cause anyone harm.

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?

Such a great question. I was about 19 years young when I started on this journey to awakening. Perhaps if someone had given me a book a little earlier I would have made the connection sooner. For me, it really was exposure to the truth about our use of animals -- for consumption, in laboratories, for entertainment - that opened my eyes and compelled me to change my behavior. So, I think education and bearing witness is absolutely key.

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

When people are tuned into their compassion, they act from it, and their paradigm shifts. So, I see my job as shining the light on the compassion that already exists in them to enable them to have that paradigm shift. I’ve always seen my advocacy role as a guide – giving people what they want – rather than as someone who dictates what action should be taken. So, over the years as I was trying to find my place and my contribution, I just kept asking the questions: “What am I good at?” and “What do people need?” and I kept finding the answers. It’s not about me; it’s about giving people what they need to make it possible to make the changes I know they want to make.

So, I use everything in my personal arsenal. Everyone has an arsenal. Mine comprises communication, humor, language, history, literature, ethics, and practical tools. I taught cooking classes and wrote cookbooks to give people the recipes they need to make delicious food; I produced a podcast to answer all the questions people have about the social aspects, ethical aspects, and nutritional aspects of living vegan; I launched The 30-Day Vegan Challenge to guide people to making these changes confidently, healthfully, and joyfully. My present and subsequent projects will continue to be driven by “what tools do people need to make the changes that will reflect their values of compassion and kindness?” As long as I can fill that gap with the skills I’ve been given, I’ll do it.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
The intention to do the right thing.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Small thinking. Fear. Egos. Competition. Fear of success. Fear of other people’s success. Judgment. Losing sight of the big picture.   

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
When I realized I was paying people to do things to animals I could never do myself -- things that are the stuff of horror movies, I stopped participating. I’m vegan because I don’t want to contribute to violence against anyone.  

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?

John Robbins' book Dietfor a New America planted the first seed for me, but it was Gail Eisnitz, who wrote Slaughterhouse, that truly opened my eyes. I was in awe of this woman who had the courage to visit slaughterhouses and talk to the men and women who killed and dismembered animals. I appreciated her strategy of asking the same questions to workers in whatever slaughterhouse they were in so that her expose wouldn't be accused of just focusing on "a few bad apples." And what struck me most by her findings was the violent culture we're all supporting by paying people to kill for us. These men and women were desensitized to the animal suffering and also to their own compassion. Aside from the slaughter, which is horrific enough, they hurt and torture the animals --- because they can. So, thanks to Gail Eisnitz, I became vegan upon reading her book, and it changed my life completely.

I’m grateful to every person who documents the horrors we want to avoid looking at. Without their bravery, we wouldn’t know what goes on behind closed doors.

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

I’ve created a life based on what I love -- not only in my work but in my personal life as well. Although I’m not skilled at reading the signals that tell me to stop when I’m running on fumes, luckily I have people in my life who remind me to do so. But I have many ways I refuel -- I love spending time with my husband and watching movies. I love running, hiking, traveling. I spend a lot of time in nature and with my cats. Ultimately, I’m fueled by the people who tell me they’ve returned to their own compassion. It’s the good in people that gives me hope.

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

Really, my overarching aim is to guide people to their own compassion so it’s reflected in their behavior, and clearly I spend a lot of time talking about the animals we raise and kill for human consumption because in terms of human actions that directly impact animals, it’s the consumption of them (and their secretions). It’s all part of the same goal, but our decimation of natural habitat and our slaughter of wildlife to serve our desire to build, eat meat, and make more room for ourselves just breaks my heart. And so, I keep trying to speak to the heart...

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

“...just a succinct way of saying I removed the barriers to the compassion that had been inside of me all along.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How To Go Vegan Without Really Trying (A Life Map)...

Be born. This is really the most significant part and you can take comfort in knowing that if you’re reading this, the biggest task is already behind you. You’ve got this!

Be raised in any number of homes and environments. Meaning you may grow up as the child of hippies or hunters or business people or politicians or schoolteachers. You will grow up in a rural community, the suburbs or a city. Believe it or not, you don’t need to be raised on a commune or by parents who met during an Earth First! tree-sit to grow up to be vegan. It really doesn’t matter. You will still eventually go vegan.

Grow up eating “normal” food for your familyIn our house, it was macaroni and cheese from the blue box, scrambled eggs, Lipton Ring-O-Noodle chicken soup, turkey and cheese sandwiches, my grandmother’s brisket, hot dogs, Fudgsicles. Guess what: I grew up liking those things and this still did not stand in the way of me letting them go. Today – spoiler alert! – I’m a vegan. You might grow up eating Greek food, Italian food, junk food, whatever. You might hate vegetables. You will be pleased to learn that it need not interfere with your eventual veganism. Phew! You may even learn to love vegetables. (Or you won’t.)

Your books almost all feature animals. Tenacious rabbits, clever foxes, irrepressible pigs, maternal hens, endearing crocodiles and more are well represented. Many of your toys are stuffed animals, some of your favorite songs are about animals and when you draw, you often draw animals. You are taught that kindness to animals is a virtue and cruelty to animals is immoral. Despite all of this, you will grow up eating them, probably without even really being aware of it. 

You may or may not have a household animal or two growing up. You may or may not make a connection to this animal that may or may not hasten your eventual veganism.

You will go to school or be home-schooled. You will play. You will have lots of friends or not too many. You will be very social or not very social or sometimes social. You will learn your ABCs, how to tie your shoes, simple addition and to not put paste in your hair. No matter your education, you will probably not learn much about the animals you eat.

You will grow up loving nature or not loving it. You will spend your time outside climbing trees or inside looking at books or riding your bike or your best friend’s house or or the beach or the library. No matter your experiences, you will still grow up to be vegan, so that's a relief.

You will feel a deep affection for other animals or you will not feel this or you will feel this for some but not others. No matter your affection or lack of affection for animals, this will not necessarily have a bearing on your evolution to veganism.

At some point you will become an adult. Maybe you’re already vegan.

Over time, you will become an outspoken liberal or be a staunch conservative or be moderate or an anarchist or completely apolitical. You will be an atheist, of faith, agnostic, spiritual or skeptical. You will date males or females or both or neither. Whatever! Who cares? You’re still going vegan. 

At some point in your life span, you will have an epiphany or you’ll just connect the dots and then you will go vegan. You will make the change overnight or it will be gradual. You will have an influential friend or you will read something or hear something or watch something that makes a deep impression on you or maybe your roommate is a great vegan chef or your doctor says something to you. You will go vegan for life or else you’ll quit and you’ll return to it maybe more than once before it sticks. 

It will be the best decision that you ever made. 

The end.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Emily Moran Barwick of Bite Size Vegan


I first discovered Emily Moran Barwick of Bite Size Vegan some time last year and I was immediately taken by her smart, engaging videos that chomp down big, thorny topics into digestible portions, or, as she refers to them, nuggets. I kind of imagine her as a human advocacy machine who can take any vegan subject and resize it for optimal comprehension, like she's from The Jetsons but even way more fabulous.

Admirably, Emily is able to do this most often in five minutes or less but never by dumbing down the content. From talking about if eating animals is a personal choice to the strangely oft-repeated fallacy that vegans kill more animals than meat-eaters, Emily manages to create content (and she creates a lot of content) that is persuasive, smart, current and lightened up with great touches of style and humor. Not everyone is going to sit down and read an entire book and this is where Bite Size Vegan comes in handy, because she has done her research and so she is able to tackle these subjects with a common sense and factual manner that nevertheless cuts straight to the heart by always bringing it back to the animals. Back at her website, she provides resources for those who want to delve into subjects deeper. Like most things that look effortless, what Emily is doing at Bite Size Vegan takes a ton of work and time. Please consider donating to her Patreon page so she can continue her important work and subscribe to get her fabulous videos.

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?

My journey to veganism is a bit strange in that it began before I was even consciously aware of it in hindsight. My mother tells me that around the age of four I started to refuse to eat meat. She says if I could tell that something had ever been alive I would refuse to eat it.  I’ve always been a huge animal lover and when other kids were going door-to-door selling Girl Scout cookies, I was going door-to-door educating about the plight of the mountain gorillas in Africa and asking for donations to the Diane Fosse foundation. I was a very intense child and I had a lot of anger for my own species. I simply could not understand how humans could be so cruel and felt completely overwhelmed by the enormity of suffering in the world, and powerless to make any significant change.

As far as my eating goes, as I started to learn about the true nature of dairy and eggs - how mother cows are robbed of their own children so that we can steal their milk and male layer chicks are ground-up alive in an industry - I eliminated dairy and eggs from my diet as well. This, I think, happened sometime in middle school to high school.

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 honestly don’t think I really needed any convincing to go vegan - it seems to be a desire I had almost from birth, I just lacked the knowledge to implement it. I suppose what would’ve been very helpful for me would have been to have had a mentor or someone in my life who could’ve show me how to eat vegan properly, and even more importantly, that I wasn’t alone in my desire to fight for the animals and make the world a better place for them.  

What I try to focus on with pre-vegans is making a true connection at an emotional level with what the animals are going through. I think putting ourselves in the place of these beings and connecting with them as equals is the fastest way to create a new vegan. One of the best ways of accomplishing this is for someone to actually meet a survivor of the animal products industry at a farm sanctuary. Actually looking into the eyes of one of these survivors makes it very difficult to continue justifying their murder for something as insignificant as a meal. I think it’s also important to show pre-vegans that being vegan is not difficult. It’s not even revolutionary. It’s very simple and incredibly logical - something that everyone can do regardless of their backgrounds.

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

Well, as I said in the last question, I do try to connect with people at an emotional level, but it’s not always super intense. I use a lot of humor in my activism. I find that humor is a great way of lowering defenses so that we’re more open to receiving important messages.

I try to balance humor with my extreme passion for the liberation of all animals, along with research-based facts and well-placed usage of underground footage and disturbing imagery. The humor, as I said, is disarming, the legitimate facts lend credibility to my message and the imagery really shows the reality of what’s going on and gives a voice to the animals who are so often suffering and dying in silence behind closed doors. It’s a delicate balance to try to maintain, but when it all comes together, I’ve found it to be rather effective.

Also, there’s a reason that I chose the video format and the platform of YouTube for activism. In today’s culture, we have a limited attention span and we like things that are bright and shiny and moving - it’s got to be entertaining or we are onto the next thing. Using video and a platform like YouTube allows me to reach people all over the world. Video is engaging and grabs people - sometimes you can say more with an image or video clip than you can with an entire thesis. And I keep my videos rather brief because everyone can find a spare minute or two to watch something. It takes very little effort on their part. I’ve also created a website with accompanying blog posts to every video so that those who do want to take the time to read and find more resources can do so. Basically, in brief, I try to reach people at their level and allow them several options of how they want to take in the information.

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

I think the biggest strength of the vegan movement is that we have the truth on our side. There’s no way to logically justify what we do to animals for our food, fashion, medicine, and entertainment. All the facts and all the legitimate arguments are on our side. This is reflected in the absurdity that often arises when people try to justify their behaviors.

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

Sometimes I feel that the greatest hindrance to the vegan movement is vegans. Unfortunately, as with every movement and every time a group of people tries to accomplish something, there arises infighting and fracturing off of different beliefs and approaches. I think we lose strength when we argue with each other over petty distinctions. The veal calf who is awaiting slaughter doesn’t care what semantic battle we might be having - he simply wants to live. Vegans arguing with vegans about what veganism is becomes a level of cruelty onto it’s own. To know what’s going on - to really have seen it and understood what these animals are going through and still spend one’s time in meaningless discussion and circular arguments is an absolute insult to the animals.

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

Honestly, I could go on about this for a long time, and I do have a section on my website that details the health, environmental, and ethical and moral reasoning behind veganism, but my true elevator pitch to the question “why vegan?” is “why not?”  Try throwing that of someone who asks why you are vegan and see what their answer is. I guarantee you there will not be any depth and weight behind 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?

The greatest influence in my life as far as my activism is concerned is Gary Yourofsky. I was vegan long before I first heard Gary’s speech, but he lit a fire inside of me and gave me the tools I had desperately been searching for to make a difference for the animals. He showed me that education was the number one way to spread the message, and he helped me get out of myself and take action regardless of my fear. 

I never stop learning and educating myself and I have a full library of books, too large to even detail here.  I did find Dr. Charles Patterson’s Eternal Treblinka particularly influential.

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

Ha! Unwind and recharge? Oh, yeah, I forgot about that…it’s very true that burnout is common in this line of work. It is absolutely exhausting and emotionally draining. But it is so worth it. Still the recharging aspect of my life is something that I’m trying to work on and develop. I do realize its importance and it’s something I really need to improve on. I do try to do a little bit of yoga every day and, of course, spend time with my dog Ooby - though at times that seems like indentured servitude - she has high expectations, that one. :)

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

For me the issue is always the animals. It’s all about them. I want people to know what they are experiencing. When you know that, I mean really know that, going vegan is no longer a choice or an option, it is a necessity, a total no-brainer, and the very least you can do. If you make that connection, you almost have no choice but to become an activist.

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

…Not even a question.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Do Good and Be Seen in 2015!

Happy New Year!

John and I are very excited to announce a new project through Vegan Street, which is called Do Good and Be Seen in 2015, because we love a catchy rhyme but we love to help empower people to create change even more. In so much of our daily lives, we are beaten down. We look at the news (or our news feed, which, ironically, many of us turn to for an escape) and we see example after example of senseless brutality and disconnection. We see images, hear stories and read what passes for conversations and these things rightfully scare us, emotionally eviscerate us, and ultimately feed the cyclical feelings of disempowerment, our bruised and battered hearts feeling more tender every day.

When we are coming from a place of such pain, it’s very hard to create change in the world that is not tinted or fully shaped by the violent, bleak picture we see. This means that what we are putting out into the world isn’t often formed in our own kiln of creativity and intention but is instead reactive to what we see. To change the direction of what we don’t like, hell, to create something altogether different, we need to believe in and own our power. When we are reactive, we are coming from a place of feeling stripped of our real power to influence the world we inhabit: we are reacting, sometimes desperately, throwing whatever rocks we can grab at the habituated disconnection that allows the world to continue to tune out. The rocks, though, ding right off, making no real difference at stopping disconnection on its hungry path, which makes splinters of anything that allows it. A big part of what it chews through is our own sense of knowing that we can effect change. When you are feeling beaten down, helpless, hopeless and nihilistic, you are very close to despair if not already there. To me, despair is the most wrenching worst of all emotions because despair acts as an echo chamber of our pain and also claims that we are powerless to change it.

Despair is the worst. Despair tells us to not bother getting out of bed. Despair tells us that our dreams are not worth trying. Despair tells us that it doesn’t matter, that nothing ever changes, that we are screwed. Well, we are here to say SCREW DESPAIR. Seriously. Nothing fosters disconnection more than despair and you know what disconnection allows – indifference, cruelty, discrimination, violence, cynicism. If you are like me, this will not do.

At Do Good and Be Seen, we are going to be posting 365 days worth of simple, straightforward but effective action ideas that can add up to not only to your personal antidote to despair but also to creating an ever-widening ripple of positive change in the world. As we are a vegan website and as other animals are so often not thought worthy of our consideration, the vast majority of the ideas will be centered around creating positive change for animals but there will be others shuffled in, too, as we are all interconnected. We have a sense of what we want to accomplish but the whole picture will unfold as it evolves, and we are hoping that you will be part of it. In fact, if we’re going to create change, you will need to be part of it.

Let us know what you think as the project crawls out of the morass of this sketchy idea and moves beyond our beta format. Please give us ideas for posting, your thoughts, your creativity, your experience and time. In the meantime, thank you for caring and thank you for acting on your power to create positive change in the world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Mark Hawthorne


After years of us both writing features for VegNews, I finally got the chance to meet Mark Hawthorne at the most recent Chicago VeganMania, which his wonderful partner, lauren Ornelas spoke at; we were fortunate enough to have Mark accompany her and also speak on a panel with me. In person, Mark is a very thoughtful person, soft-spoken but full of great insights and observations, bringing a refreshing curiosity, humility and awareness that comes from being a seasoned world traveler.

As author of the acclaimed book that I am eager to dig into, Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering (which follows his previous book, Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism ), Mark shines a penetrating light on the dark, hidden corners often not seen from our vantage point as dominator of other species: the deeply disturbing extent to which animals are abused and tortured to become the "products" we eat, wear and don’t pay much mind to is staggering, even to well-informed activists. Even with this knowledge, though, Mark maintains his vital role as a dedicated journalist with a big heart and a sharp, inquisitive mind. We are fortunate to have Mark as part of the vegan movement, shining a light on these hidden corners, helping our society to collectively evolve beyond our mentality of use, ownership and domination. Thank you for all you do, Mark Hawthorne.

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 was a sensitive kid who loved animals, but like most people, I grew up eating and wearing them without thinking that the animals on my plate could feel pain just like the dogs, cats, mice, and turtles who lived in the house.

My long evolution really began in 1984, when I read The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. It’s not a pro-animal book, but it made me think about my place in the world and what kind of person I wanted to be as did Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, which I read in 1986. Several years later, I began traveling around the world, beginning with Europe. I was still eating meat in 1992 when I went to Pamplona to run with the bulls, but the experience left me changed; it was the first time I had considered the lives of other animals, and I felt ashamed for participating. A couple months later, I was living with a Buddhist family in the Himalayas, and almost everything I ate came from their garden. As winter approached, the family dug a big hole in the yard, harvested what remained of the veggies, and buried them. A couple cows lived across the road in the village, and the family let one of these beautiful brown bovines into the yard to munch on the stalks and stems of the garden. I had never been so close to a cow, and as I watched her eat, I realized she had as much desire and right to live as anyone else. It was easy to go vegetarian at that point, but it took another decade to go vegan. That came after visiting a sanctuary for farmed animals and meeting some hens from the egg industry and cows from the dairy industry. I just didn’t want to be a part of supporting that cruelty anymore.

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?

If someone had said to me, “Mark, I know you are compassionate and love animals and are trying to lead an ethical life, so I’d like you to come with me to a sanctuary where cows, chickens, hens, turkeys, sheep, goats, and rabbits live in peace and never have to worry about being abused,” I would have gladly gone. If that person had taken me to Animal Place or Farm Sanctuary early on, it would have put me on the vegan fast track. Meeting factory farm refugees, learning their stories, and appreciating these animals as individuals are what finally got me to cut out dairy and eggs. Oh, and honey. I’ve never actually met a bee, but I don’t eat honey, either.

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

I believe every touch point we provide to people—whether it’s through a clever Vegan Street t-shirt or telling a story or sharing a documentary or handing out leaflets or doing a blog or whatever—is important. These messages have a cumulative effect. Rare is the person who has their “aha” moment right away.

Once a person “gets” the message, I think it’s equally important that we encourage them on their path. When someone you know goes vegan, be a mentor to them. Remind them to be patient with themselves; vegans sometimes stumble, and that’s OK. Recommend cookbooks and websites and restaurants. Lend them your favorite books. Tell them about B12 supplements. Share videos with them. Suggest they sign up for Food Empowerment Project’s free vegan-retention newsletter. In a recent HRC survey of former vegetarians and vegans, 84% said they had not been involved in veg*n groups or organizations, so clearly support is a big key to staying with it. Help make new vegans part of the vegan community!

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

Unlike animal ag, which is motivated by money, the vegan movement is motivated by altruism and a desire to make this world a better place, and I think that’s really powerful. That’s not to say we don’t have wonderful vegan entrepreneurs who want to make a living at it—I mean, just look at Hampton Creek or all the kick-ass vegan restaurants that we have now—but I think we are stronger as a group because we care so deeply.

Another big strength is the growing number of influential people who are either embracing a vegan diet or helping to back it. People like Russell Simmons, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Steve Wynn, and Biz Stone, not to mention many, many professional athletes. Bill Gates has famously said the future of meat is vegan. I am not a believer in lauding celebrity vegans, with a few exceptions—too many of them make headlines for going back to consuming animals—but those who stick with it, especially for ethical reasons, also help the cause.

Ultimately, though, I think the single biggest strength is the everyday vegan activist. Countless people who may never have the privilege of being interviewed for your blog, but who are constantly and cheerfully spreading the message by bringing vegan cookies to school or work, wearing animal rights buttons and shirts, leafleting at college campuses, sharing plant-based recipes with their family and friends, writing letters to editors, or hosting vegan potlucks. These are the people who make the vegan movement so wonderful.

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

Well, having just sung the praises of the vegan movement, I have to confess that I think we’re weakened by in-fighting within the movement. We are our own biggest obstacle, and it seems to get worse every year. Groups criticize other groups for how they spread the vegan message, for example. And we waste time and energy calling out people for not being “vegan enough.” As a result, we often send the false message that veganism is about purity, and we turn off potential vegans. But going vegan is not a pledge of perfection; it’s a promise to try your best.

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

“Our diet is learned behavior. We learn to love some animals and to consider others food. Look at it this way: Put a small child in a room with a kitten, a rabbit, a pig, a chicken, and a puppy, and she is going to pet all of them—she will not want to eat them. All animals feel pain and want to live, and if you wouldn’t harm the animals you live with now or grew up with, why support the killing of other animals for a fleeting gustatory pleasure? Being consistent with your ethics is as easy as going vegan! And being vegan has gotten so much easier than it once was. Well, this is my floor. Good chatting with you. If you have any questions, you’ll find me at”

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?

In addition to the novel The Razor’s Edge and the two films that have been adapted from it (my favorite is the one starring Bill Murray), I was deeply influenced by Diet for a New America by John Robbins and TheSexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams.

Soon after I went vegan I saw Bruce Friedrich give a presentation, and he was so articulate talking about veganism and animal rights issues. He made a big impression on me and helped me recognize that as activists we can argue our position and still be nice. Well, usually. I would also to listen to Erik Marcus’s podcast, which taught me a lot about factory farming practices. More recently, I am realizing the importance of true intersectionality in our movement, so I’ve learned much from such activists as pattrice jones, Breeze Harper, and of course my wife, lauren Ornelas.

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

Thank you for asking this. This is one issue we as activists don’t talk about enough, which is why I devoted an entire chapter to burnout in Striking at the Roots. When I interviewed activists for that book, a few of them told me, “I never get stressed; the animals are too important!” Frankly, I worry about these people. Your psyche cannot take in upsetting images or text and not be affected by it somehow, and with social media, we’re exposed to it more and more.

We are all subject to stress, and if we’re going to be in this long-term, we have to be good to ourselves. Basic self-care is the key: get enough rest, eat well, and get plenty of exercise. Also, find things you like to do outside the movement. I love to read (literature, history, anything by Bill Bryson) and watch movies. When I’m feeling stressed, you’ll find me next to lauren, sipping an adult beverage and laughing at a silly movie or TV show, like Psych or Mystery Science Theater 3000. I also believe it’s important to take real vacations once in a while, disconnected from social media and even the news, if possible. I’m so thankful that lauren shares my love of travel.

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

In addition to animal rights in general, I have a really big, fuzzy soft spot for rabbits. They are exploited for research, fashion, food, entertainment, and the pet trade. I have shared my home and vegetable crisper with many rabbits, and they are incredibly special beings. In addition to advocating for their adoption from shelters and rescue groups, I am trying to spread the word about bunnies being killed for their flesh. Whole Foods recently began selling rabbits, and I would be thrilled if every Whole Foods shopper reading this would ask their store not to sell bunny meat. And then ask their family and friends to go into their local store and do the same. I’m not saying that rabbits are more deserving of protection than chickens or cows or pigs or fishes or any other animals. We shouldn’t be eating anyone. But the last thing Whole Foods needs is yet another animal to kill, and the company is a trendsetter in the food industry; if Whole Foods is successful at creating a demand for bunny meat, other markets will follow. People can find more information about this campaign at Rabbit Advocacy Network and

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

“Compassion in action.”

 Thank you, Mark!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Sixth Annual Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet


Being vegan is awesome. I know that. You know that. (Well, you should.) As we know, though, just because we know that something is awesome, it doesn’t mean that the world around us shares this view. Because animal consumption is part of the miasma of disconnection that swirls around us all, most are unable to see it for what it is. Thus, I present to you my compilation of complaints and crankiness as one steaming platter of snarly ‘tude every year. This is my sixth annual airing of grievances, and while I am a little concerned about what I will do with the dreaded letter X in 2015, I have no doubt that people will continue to harsh my good vibes. Does this mean that I think being vegan is a burden? No, it does not: being vegan is fabulous, the best decision I ever made, one that I am grateful for each day. Could non-vegans stand to be less annoying in 2015? Yes. Yes, they could.

A is for Another flaky “former vegan” celebrity just went on a talk show and is now on the paleo bandwagon so could we please stop already with the celebrity worship? Pretty please? It never ends well.

B is for “But what about the Inuit? But what about the Native Americans? But what about the lions? But what about the microscopic insects you kill? But what about soy? But what about eating humane meat? But I’m part Italian. But eating meat is how I honor my ancestors. But I was raised eating meat. But I give a blessing. But I give thanks. But my guru said it was okay. But I need the protein. But I am allergic to soy, wheat, all grains, all fruits and all vegetables except for celery. But I need the iron. But I just eat a little meat. But I don’t eat red meat. But I only support the best farms. But…”

C is for Cough in front of the wrong person and it is incontrovertible proof that I have a vegan-induced nutritional deficiency.

D is for Delusion, because apparently there is a just and compassionate way to needlessly slaughter other sensitive beings as long as you have an unlimited supply of it.

E is for the Eerie silence that happens whenever I get stopped by a Greenpeace canvasser or the Sierra Club calls and I ask them about their organization’s public position on eating animals.

F is for For once, could I either opt out of the Secret Santa exchange at work or get someone who doesn’t give me a basket of alpaca milk soaps from her brother-in-law’s farm?

G is for Gotcha moments, and, no, you didn’t “get me” with your inquiry about what my shoes or coat are made of but try again, sport, because this endless game of pin-the-tail-on-the-hypocrite never gets old or predictable.

H is for Har-har-har, writing People Eating Tasty Animals in the middle of a debate never fails to make an original and devastating counter-argument. Touché! How could anyone ever recover from such a salient point?

I is for Ick, no, I really don’t miss eating corpses. Do I look like Hannibal Lecter or something? Fava beans and a nice chianti, though, those would be fine.

J is for that Junk science video you posted about “plants feeling pain.” If this is more persuasive to you than, I don’t know, the lack of a central nervous system and an evolutionary incentive for pain reception and you ignore the fact that far more plants are consumed when eating a diet that includes animals, I am going to have to question if you are really sincere about your convictions.

K is for karma because sometimes that is all we can hope for in life and we have all heard about her general disposition.

L is for Logical Fallacies because whether were are talking about a strawman argument (“Vegans hate people and only care about animals!”), the slippery slope argument (“If we stop eating animals, they will take over the world!”) the tu quoque approach (“How can you talk about animal suffering when you are stepping on bugs, hmm?”) and an anecdote (“My cousin was vegan for two weeks and she almost died from a protein deficiency!”), these are all examples of the logical fallacies people who want to continue eating animals will wrap themselves in like a warm blanket. A blanket with a bunch of holes in it nonetheless.

M is for the Massive meltdown that happens when a vegan asks her affluent grass-fed, organic paleo cousin how many worlds we’d need in order to sustain the world’s population with his way of eating.

N is for the Namaste-spouting New Agers who try to justify eating animals and are so self-involved as to claim that “judgments” are worse than unnecessary violence and destroying the planet. Altogether now: om…

O is for Okay, do you honestly believe that vegans are pushing their views on you? Have you looked at the world through the lens of someone who doesn’t think that animals are “food” lately? Have you tried to look at the world through the lens of a being who is born and raised solely for the purpose of being eaten lately?

P is for Paranoia, as in, “I said soy milk, right? Because if my coffee has cow’s milk in it I will be really upset and disgusted. Okay, wait, I see you’ve charged me extra because apparently destroying our planet is not enough for animal product consumers, now they should be able to get what they want without any penalties at all and when is a vegan coffee shop finally going to open around here??? So, anyway, how do I know the barista didn’t make a mistake?”

Q is for having exceeded my annual Quota of weird looks and passive-aggressive remarks about my meatless roast at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner within five minutes of being there. Because family

R is for Really, I don’t want to hear about how much you love animals but vegans “just take it too far” because, you know, this is kind of idiotic if you think about it without your ego getting in the way.  

S is for being Self-righteous because it’s better than being self-wrongteous.

T is for Turducken because what kind of twisted, Caligula-minded sadist invented this grotesquery?

U is for the Universal sign of warm weather, which means that when I can finally open my windows for a few months, the smell of charred, tortured flesh filling the air greets me. Yay.

V is for getting Verklempt at the Vicarious thrill we enjoy when one of our protégés goes off and becomes an awesome little vegan agitator in his or her own right. Fly, little bird. Fly! Oh, wait. This was supposed to be complaining. Okay, V is for Vasectomy because, please, 98% of humanity, let’s look into it. Snip, snip, done.

W is for Wings as in do you know that people actually sit around and eat a bird’s severed limbs and then dump the bones in a bowl and, um, tofu is gross? Oooookay, then.

X is for the Xenophobes who think that Asian cultures that eat dogs are barbaric while they themselves eat dead chickens and cows. Um, what???

Y is for the boiled Yellow squash plate vegans are served at our cousin’s wedding that no amount of salt, pepper, denial or wishful thinking will be able to remedy. This is why an emergency nutrition bar should always be in the glove compartment.

Z is for the Zany situations that turn your life into a tragicomedy that will make for an excellent screenplay for a film that roughly two percent of the population might be willing to see one day.

Until next time!