Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Kristin Lajeunesse

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Kristin Lajeunesse
is a longtime vegan, master of social media, lifestyle and small business coach and all-around modern-day poster child for turning your life into something that is aligned with your passions. With her innovative Will Travel For Vegan Food project that began on her fifth veganniversary in August, 2011, Kristin created the fantasy endeavor of so many wander-lusting herbivores: she traveled the country in an extended road trip that took her to 48 states and 547 restaurants – more than 39,000 miles – to sample vegan food from Alabama to Wyoming.  Of course, no real road trip is complete without difficulties, personal growth and sometimes painful self-discoveries, all of which it sounds like Kristin received extravagantly on the road from the description of her new memoir from Vegan Publishers. I have not read Will Travel for Vegan Food yet but it sounds like a great summer read, maybe while renting a beach house in South Carolina. Or hiking through Yosemite. Or backpacking through Europe. Or even from my own front porch. Kristin is a role model of taking the road less traveled and creating a meaningful, rich life along the way. For this reason and more, Kristin Lajeunesse is a vegan rockstar to know.

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 16 years old when my parents told me that they wanted to become vegetarian as a family.
My brother Josh is five years older than me and he introduced the idea of vegetarianism to my parents. When they found out that he had already become vegetarian they were immediately worried about his health, as they thought—at that time—that eating meat was necessary for optimal nutrition. But instead of telling him why he was wrong or shunning him entirely, they did what awesome parents do: they researched the heck out of vegetarianism. I think they were looking for a way to prove to him why this diet was bad, but instead they came to the undeniable conclusion that not eating meat is a much better way to live.
So, there we were in 1999 transitioning to vegetarianism as a family. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, but decided to give it a go.
I went off to college and my parents kept up their research, joined a local vegetarian group and continued to learn about the influence that diet has on health, the environment, and animals.
Every time I came home for a break or holiday there was something new and “healthy” in the refrigerator—or worse, something missing. I still remember coming home one summer to no more milk or cheese. It was gone and I was devastated: not the ice cream!
By the time I finished college my parents were full-on vegan and I was still chowing down my beloved dairy ice cream and cheese pizzas. Aside from the fact that I had maintained a vegetarian diet, was eating vegan meals when visiting home, and gifted vegan-labeled sweatshirts, stickers, and buttons whenever my parents were given the opportunity, I couldn’t fathom giving up dairy. And then, in the summer of 2006, at a veg event in upstate NY, the sea parted and in walked Registered Dietitian, George Eisman. Despite the fact that my parents had at one time or another gently provided the same information that Mr. Eisman presented on this day, once I decided to listen and truly understand how very bad dairy was for my body and for animals, I was done with it. That very night I ate my last cheese pizza and never looked back. Well, I might have looked back once, or five times, but never did go back.
It took me a good year as a relatively unhealthy vegan to start doing even more research—like learning how to prepare meals instead of buying ready-made ones. But some new reading material (hello VegNews Magazine) and a change in my environment (hey there, Boston) soon helped me learn how to live a healthy vegan lifestyle.
In the fall of 2007 I moved to Boston for graduate school. I joined the Boston Vegan Association and started working part-time for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society. The friends that I made in these two organizations led me to so much support, inspiration, and so many new resources that being vegan became a cinch. I love telling people who ask about my diet how much more I enjoy everything about food now; from shopping to cooking, prepping, and purchasing a ridiculous number of vegan cook books. It feels like it has so much more meaning now and I take pride in the meals I prepare. I never felt this way as a meat eater…not even as a vegetarian for that matter.
Today my parents help run the AlbanyVegan Network and host an annual Vegan Expo (now in it’s seventh year!) in upstate New York.
It all started with my brother, was followed by my parents’ amazing support, and then happily grew into an education, a group of friends, and a lifestyle that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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?

Oh gosh, this is a tough one as I've changed so much since my pre-vegan days. I suppose I'd suggest that vegans around me be uplifting, positive, and show the benefits of plant-based living through example and gentle guidance. But only if I asked them to learn more. I wouldn't have done well (and didn't do well) when the facts or ideals around veganism felt forced or like I was being told I was wrong or bad for not being vegan. Lead by positive example, is what I'd say.


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

There's something to be said for all forms of activism—which is why there are so many groups with such a variety of ways for sharing their messaging, even if it all kind of leads to the same place.

What comes most naturally to me is simply a show and tell kind of method. I show yummy foods through pictures, share stories of my vegan related travel adventures and then often get emails from people asking to learn more (either about veganism or just places to eat when they're in a certain city).

Being authentic to how I'm comfortable sharing veganism, and how important I think it is, being honest and open yet letting people come to me when they're ready to learn more, seems to work best.


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

Within the movement: diversity in messaging, an unspoken shared bond, community, and unending support. Outwardly, one of the most important thing vegans can do to support the cause is to “vote” with our dollars. Pay for the foods and clothing and other items that we support and want to see more of.

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

Sometimes there are pockets of us who believe that there are wrong ways to promote veganism. So much so that they become very outspoken against others who are doing the best from where they are. I've seen this result in a sort of “in-fighting” in the community. If our end goals are the same perhaps it's best to continue promoting veganism in the individual ways we're comfortable with, as the more diversity in messaging, the more people we'll reach. Not everyone will be moved by my pictures of food, but maybe something that PETA does will speak to them. You just never know who is listening and how they'll absorb a message.

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

For the animals, for the planet, and for my health. 

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?

George Eisman, Howard Lyman, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, VegNews Magazine, and Cowspiracy.

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

I take ballroom dance lessons. It's the one thing I do that enables me to focus solely on what my body is doing, and on absolutely nothing else at all.

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

I would like people to know that traveling while eating only vegan foods is not only possible but fun and exciting. I've built a project around the concept and truly believe that there is so much joy in exploring other countries, or even just other parts of your own country. Also, everyone should travel alone at least once in their life. I talk in much detail about why, in my new memoir, Will Travel for Vegan Food. [insert shameless plug] :)

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

...the only way to live.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ten Signs that You’re Grasping at Straws When Arguing with a Vegan…

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1. When you say that plants feel pain, you are grasping at straws. You know that one YouTube video that defensive meat-eaters post as incontrovertible proof that plants feel pain? The one where it proves simply that plants respond to stimuli in order to maximize favorable conditions and decrease unfavorable conditions just as any living thing would? Your opinion that plants feel pain does not merit equal consideration with the proven fact that animals feel pain as animals possess brains, central nervous systems, pain receptors and a demonstrable fight-or-flight response, not plants, and stating so creates a specious false equivalency that we are somehow expected to accept. Claiming that plants feel pain - an opinion - and that this is analogous to animals feeling pain - a fact - brings to mind those who insist that creationism must be given equal time to evolution in high school science curriculums. You’re allowed to have your beliefs and your speculation but should they be given equal consideration side-by-side with actual facts? Um, no.

2. When you say that your ancestry or your ethnic background makes it necessary for you to eat animals, you are grasping at straws. Your ancestors were meat-eaters? Well, what do you know: so were mine. In fact, so were pretty much all of our ancestors with rare exception. The great thing about evolution is, you know, a capacity to evolve. As someone whose ancestors were discriminated against and largely wiped out due to their heritage, I find ethnicity to be a very problematic source of personal pride or stable ground for anchoring excuses.

3. When you say that you give thanks for the animals you eat, you are grasping at straws. If you want to know how patently absurd it is to think that we can erase a senseless act of violence by “giving thanks,” I wonder what you’d think of it in different scenarios. “That arsonist set fire to my house but before he did, he gave thanks, so I guess I don’t really have anything to complain about.” “At first I was pretty bummed out I was robbed at gunpoint but the thanks I was given by the robber made all that unpleasantness disappear.” “My son was pushed out a window by his roommate but it gave his roommate pleasure and, most important, his roommate gave thanks, so I feel a sense of peace with everything.” I could go on and on. This reminds me of that old thought experiment that asks if a tree falls in a forest but there’s no one to hear it, does it still make a sound? Here we have the quasi-spiritual meat-eater’s equivalent: if an animal’s life is taken but thanks was given, was the animal still killed? Allow me to meditate on that for a moment: Yes.   

4. When you try to justify eating animals today because you were raised eating them, you are grasping at straws. Similar to blaming your choices on your ethnic background, saying that you grew up eating animals should be a no-brainer as almost all of us did but instead people repeat this inanity as though it is something that confers onto them a Special Snowflake status. In reality, I grew up eating meat. So did Robert Grillo. So did Carol Adams. So did Gene Baur. So did Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. So did Nathan Runkle. So did Melanie Joy. So did Alex Hershaft. So did Jenny Brown. So did Donald Watson, the man who co-founded the first freaking Vegan Society. My point? Ancestry is not destiny, thank goodness, and neither is personal history. I grew up on the standard American diet of the 1970s, which meant bologna sandwiches, Kraft singles and Hostess cupcakes; contrary to common assumptions, those who grow up to be vegan were not necessarily raised by health-minded parents who prepared us for our future lives with miso soup, mung beans and kale. Keep trying to work that angle, though!

5. When you say that eating animals is okay because vegans are big meanies, you are grasping at straws. You had a roommate once who was vegan and, whoa, she was such a pill! Or your cousin was vegan and so controlling. Or once you worked with a vegan and he was so judgmental. Or you just had a negative experience with a vegan on Facebook when you shared that bacon meme. These interactions might have led you to announce with great flourish that you are going to go off and eat a big steak because that’ll show those mean vegans. This is akin to telling an anti-domestic violence activist that you are going to beat your partner because you have a bad impression of him or her. It’s sad for the ones you’ve harmed but at the end of the day, your actions are solely your responsibility. Trying to pin the responsibility of your actions on someone else is admitting that you are not in control of your own decisions.  

6. When you use the fact that vegans cannot be perfect as a justification for you to keep eating animals, you are grasping at straws. Please have a seat. I have to break some bad news to you. Are you ready? Okay. We live in an imperfect world. A wildly messed up world, in fact. Vegans are actually trying to fix this. Vegans aren’t saying, “Be like us. We’re perfect.” We’re saying that despite this very flawed world, we are still doing to do our best to reduce harm and keep it from, you know, getting worse. Yes, there is evidence of animal exploitation all around us, in everything from bicycle tires to asphalt. Does the fact that vegans cannot be perfect point to hypocrisy or simply the pervasiveness of animal agribusiness and their profiting off of every last bit extracted from an animal’s corpse? I’m thinking the latter. Any guess who is actually trying to change the status quo altogether? That would be the vegans.

7. When you say that it’s your personal choice to eat animals, you are grasping at straws. Saying that eating animals is your “personal choice” while not acknowledging the senseless violence against those with no personal choices to exercise for themselves – and endure things like forcible impregnations, stolen babies, mutilations, and a short, misery-laden lifetime of confinement – is the ultimate in myopia. It shows what a poor grasp you have on the practice of extending empathy to others and it’s not a good look.

8. When you say that there are bigger issues to worry about, you are grasping at straws. Can you name one change we could all adopt that would have a positive, wide-ranging effect on world hunger, water scarcity, water pollution, land use, climate change, worker exploitation and the well-being of billions of sentient lives in one fell swoop? This is by no means an exhaustive list, either. Going vegan is the best bang for your buck in terms of a ripple effect of creating positive, meaningful and lasting change. What were you saying again?

9. When you say that you only eat “humane meat/animal products,” you are grasping at straws
. 1. Vegans don’t believe that such items can be humanely acquired so we are already at an impasse. 2. Anyone who has researched the industries with an open and rational mind would also not believe this. 3. You really don’t exclusively eat these products, either, unless you don’t ever dine out at places that don’t meet your exacting standards. 4. How is it that a niche market that actually serves a very small percentage of the market somehow also reflects the purchasing habits 99% of defensive meat-eaters? 5. Welcome to the mystical fantasyland that is Magical Thinking, where free-range unicorns knowingly (and painlessly) sacrifice themselves for our palates. It looks like you have your passport ready! 6. Did you remember to give thanks?  

10. Saying that vegans eat “fake foods” is grasping at straws. We eat vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and spices. The animals people eat have heads, bones, feathers, appendages, gills, organs and more removed; they have been artificially (and forcibly) impregnated, they’ve been mutilated, castrated, and selectively bred and manipulated for production. Please don’t try to pull this card on us unless you are prepared to hear about how “naturally produced” the things you eat are.

We get that you don’t like being wrong. We get that you’re feeling defensive. We get that this pisses you off.
Still, you've got to improve your game, people. You being uncomfortable with accepting the consequences of your actions is not our fault. If grasping at straws had made you feel like a fraud, maybe it’s time to accept the truth: there is no justification for being complicit in another’s needless death. Whether knowing this inspires you to embrace veganism or simply stop engaging in logical fallacies is up to you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Amy-Lee Goodman

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Amy-Lee Goodman is a zesty former Texan who is making waves by sharing her knowledge and take-no-prisoners attitude about the animal agribusiness industry with two recent books, Rethink Food: 100+ Doctors Can’t Be Wrong 
and her newly published The Meaty Truth: Why Our Food is Destroying Our Health and Environment – and Who is Responsible, both co-authored with Shushana Castle. As someone who personally saw her teen sister’s once crippling rheumatoid arthritis go into remission once her mother implemented the plant-based diet recommended in T. Colin Campbell’s landmark book, The China Study, Amy-Lee has dedicated her life to letting the world know about the myriad benefits of veganism as well as the shocking – but all too real – consequences of animal agribusiness to our health, the environment and billions of animals’ lives. For this reason and more, Amy-Lee Goodman is a vegan rockstar worth knowing.

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 vegan evolution was greatly impacted by my family as well as influenced by the ethical, health and environmental reasons to take meat and dairy off my plate. 

I grew up as a meat and potatoes girl in Texas. My freshman year of college though I had watched Meet your Meat and couple of other videos and I called my mom crying about piglets I had just seen that were stomped on in a slaughterhouse. Once you see that kind of cruelty, there is no way I could consciously eat meat or dairy again.

At the same time, I witnessed how my younger sister’s health was dramatically impacted by going vegan. My sister was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the young age of 9 and became a skeleton of her former vivacious self. Living on medication, my mom read The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell whose research showed how meat and dairy can contribute to autoimmune conditions. Within three months of taking my sister off all animal products, her arthritis had completely gone into remission. It was eye-opening.

I became so passionate about this subject that I started further research factory farming and discovered how unsustainable it is for our planet. The choice for me and my family, who evolved at the same time, was simple.

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?

For me, seeing the visual images of how these animals are treated was much more powerful than hearing about the cruelty. I had no idea what went on behind the closed doors of factory farms, or even what went into making clothes. The sad truth is most of us would rather not think about what we are eating or wearing. It is easy to disassociate the grilled chicken breast on our plate or the Italian leather shoes from the actual animal. Seeing the pictures though and having to look those animals in the eye that we consider dinner or a fashion trend is harder to justify.

Additionally hearing patient stories from those that have turned around their health, to the disgusting ingredients in our food were both turning points for me. For example, discovering that there is pus in dairy is beyond disgusting. Why would I consciously choose to drink that?!

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

Coming from an educational and non-judgmental standpoint is a great way to get through to others. I did not grow up vegan and therefore I don’t believe in judging and shaming others who have not been informed. Instead, I choose to approach them with the same compassion we show the animals by encouraging even small changes and showing them how much fun it is to be vegan!

I also choose to win over hearts and minds through food. I love taking my friends to restaurants that open their eyes to the breadth of delicious food available to them. Cooking an amazing meal with my girlfriends is an easy way to show them just how easy it to be vegan and dispel the myth about how intimidating it can be to shop or cook differently. 

When it comes to hard-hitting facts, I don’t shy away from the truth but adding a little humor never fails to make an impression. This was our approach in The Meaty Truth. To be straightforward and blunt but also add a little sass to keep the reader informed. We also included daily actions steps as we don’t believe in perfection but in progress.

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

The biggest strength of the vegan movement is the passion that these amazing individuals have to push the movement forward. The greatest asset is we do have undeniable facts and images that we can use to advocate for change. I truly believe that most people at their core are good people and they wouldn’t unknowingly participate in practices that harm such beautiful beings.

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

The issues I see are one of division and losing sight of the larger goal. We need to better appreciate that each organization has their own path and message and we should value the steps they are taking towards a healthier and cruelty-free society rather than bringing them down. So many of us tend to focus on what someone isn’t doing rather than what they are doing. This is hurting us as separately we can't make the change we need, but we can by choosing to work together. 

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

Veganism for many can seem like a foreign concept or a hippie fad. But there have been so many times in society where we have looked at progress with scorn from slavery to women's rights. Deciding that it's not okay to treat other creatures with harm and that it is disastrous for our health to eat animals is the next social movement. We have one earth, one body, and we are all interconnected. We spend so much time investing in our careers and very little investing in our bodies or thinking about the consequences of our actions.

I believe we have a choice everyday to choose the type of world we want to live in and leave for the next generation. Being vegan is an answer to a more compassionate, healthy and happy life.

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?

My mom is my greatest vegan inspiration. She is the most beautiful soul I know and the most amazing voice for the animals. It is inspiring to see how many animals’ lives she has changed as well as how many people’s lives she has impacted by helping them go vegan. She is my hero.

The organizations I admire are PCRM, Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The work they do is so important.

As for resources, some of my favorite books and magazines are VegNews, Naked Food Magazine, The China Study, Whitewash, Fast Food Nation, Animal Factories, and Skinny Bitch. The movies that I love are Forks Over Knives, Earthlings and Blackfish.  I am also a huge fan of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s cookbooks!

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

It’s so important to remember just how beautiful life is, especially when one can see so much misery working to make changes. I love to run outdoors, read fiction or inspirational books, cuddle with my kitties (I have two!), bake delicious vegan treats and take time out to disconnect from technology and reconnect with myself.

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

Factory farming is the issue most dear to my heart that I am working to change. It is not only one of the most horrific businesses but also one of the most damaging businesses to our health and our environment. Factory farming need not ever exist and it is one place where I believe there is so much hope for change as the public becomes educated about the faces behind their food choices. Most people find factory farming conditions deplorable once they learn the truth. I believe this public pressure could help in shutting down these factory doors forever.

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

Not about being perfect but about doing my part to make a sweeter world.




Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How to Honor All Mothers...

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When my son was born nearly 13 years ago, I capped nine months of perfect health with a complicated and stressful delivery that couldn’t have been more opposite from my idyllic pregnancy. My son was born after 52 hours of really trying to make it happen, the first 48 of them without intervention; it turned out that despite my detailed birth plan, my team of midwives (each one had a shift with me, my delivery was so maddeningly long) and two loved ones cheering me on at my bedside, it was just not going to happen how I’d envisioned it.

There was no music from home. There was no birthing tub. There was no “Okay, now…push!” moment as my team huddled around me. After all those hours of labor, most of them stuck in a transitional labor that pretty much made me want to break my husband’s hand as he tried to comfort me, I finally said uncle. I waved the white flag and I was wheeled into obstetric surgery. At this point, I just wanted my baby; I didn’t need to impress anyone anymore with my exemplary birthing story anymore. I wanted to go home.

In what felt like a matter of minutes after being wheeled in, the surgical team cheered: It’s a boy! I finally had my movie moment. “This is why your delivery couldn’t progress,” the surgeon said. “Your umbilical cord was too short. I’ve seen short ones before but this is really short, like eight inches.” My son was suspended; he couldn’t move despite my uterus contracting, my organs trying to push him down the canal. He was passed to me, my beautiful, perfect baby, red-faced from trying so damn hard. “He looks just like you,” said the anesthesiologist. After about 30 seconds, my son was taken from me.

Our son had aspirated meconium (baby’s first poop) in the womb and when that happens, respiration can be compromised. His breathing was labored as is common when meconium is is found in the water. My son was rushed away from us, suctioned, incubated and intubated. All the years I’d spent imagining this rapturous moment collapsed with a jarring clang as I was wheeled to my room, crying, sleep-deprived, drugged, probably babbling incomprehensibly and without my long-awaited baby in my arms.

The next couple of days were a blur of my husband wielding phone calls, visitors who were trying really hard to be cheerful and a doctor who said two words that shook me to my core, that I probably have etched inside me somewhere: my son was “very sick” and needed to be transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital, 35 minutes away, to receive special care. Very sick, she said. Very sick. Sick. Very. These two words rattled around my head and knocked against each other like marbles. My idyllic pregnancy had taken a very wrong turn.

Every day, we’d visit my son at the hospital and I’d tentatively hold his little body. I felt like a failure and also like I’d just lost a cage match with Freddy Krueger, I was in so much pain. Every shallow breath was excruciating. It didn’t take long in the neo-natal unit to turn my attitude around, though: we were, in fact, very, very lucky. My son was full-term, unlike most of the patients there. He had all of his organs intact and his lungs were improving every day. His scores were excellent. He didn’t have a disease. He didn’t have cancer. He was strong and getting stronger every day. Unlike so many babies and children there, our setback was temporary and a very minor hiccup at that. If he hadn’t been born at this time of human history and in this developed nation, we likely would have both died in childbirth because of nothing other than a rare biological fluke that couldn’t have been prevented.

Each day as I shuffled through the huge hospital, stopping at every bench to catch my breath and gather my strength, I noticed parents who mostly were facing down a much different scenario with their children. I began to recognize the dark circles under their eyes, their faces drained of color - days without sunshine, sitting at bedsides, talking to specialists, getting test results, having difficult conversations on the phone – sometimes smiling, sometimes holding hands, their knuckles strained. We were at the hospital to see our healthy, full-term baby who would be released to us in less than a week. This was all that I needed to see. We were beyond lucky, the three of us.

At home finally, my son and I worked out the kinks with nursing and made up for lost time. We would lie in bed, me recovering from surgery, my son from his difficult birth, and be in synch with each other, flesh against flesh that whole beautiful summer. I couldn’t touch his silky skin enough. He was here. Staring at my son, though, I was aware of a sadness that also tore at my edges, frayed as they were already from my difficult delivery. I couldn’t help but think of the other mothers who were not so lucky. I would be enjoying my son, marveling that my body, battle-scarred as it was, could provide his sustenance and then, suddenly, I’d feel a wave of such deep grief it felt like I could get pulled away in a riptide of sheer sorrow. What was the matter with me? It took me a while to realize that it was my body’s way of acknowledging how many other mothers and babies are denied the good fortune that we had. I felt loss for the mothers with babies born into violence and famine. For the mothers with sick babies that they could not help. For the mothers who would never be able to feed and comfort their babies as they should. For the babies not as fortunate as my own. I grieved for those mothers and babies, human and otherwise, who would never be able to enjoy what I was enjoying with my son at my side, nurtured, protected and loved, every inch of him mentally catalogued like he was a miracle. 


Before I even had my son, I was asked again and again, “Well, you’re not going to raise him vegan, though, are you?” In fact, lying with my son as he nursed, I don’t know if I'd ever so certain about anything. The mothers with babies torn apart by war or other cruel systems haunted me. The mother cows and pigs who would never know their babies; the mothers and babies in war zones, denied the right to be together safely and comfortably at home with the windows open in the summer. I couldn’t do something for every mother and baby but I could do something for some by not aiding and abetting a barbaric system that I could easily avoid.

The first thing that I learned after becoming a mother is that not everything always goes according to plan. The second thing I learned is that once you become a mother, part of your heart lives outside of your body, which makes us profoundly vulnerable. How could we be indifferent to that vulnerability once we know? I was never stronger with my commitment to veganism than after I had a baby. I was a mother now, too.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Victoria Moran



A longtime vegan, a bestselling author of twelve books, podcaster, inspiring speaker and co-founder of a school that actually trains and certifies vegan ambassadors through her groundbreaking Main Street Vegan Academy
, Victoria Moran is a veritable firecracker of vibrant vegan energy and goodwill. Crackling with enthusiasm and charm, Victoria brings her message of compassionate living and empowered action to audiences and readers around the world and she grounds it in practical guidance and a real gift for extending understanding without compromising her message. In short, I think she is kind of awesome.

Victoria is coming out with a new book, TheGood Karma Diet: Eat Gently, Feel Amazing, Age in Slow Motion (pre-order before its release date of May 19 and you will get a couple of gifts).
The premise of the book is straightforward and smart: with kindness toward other living beings and the planet informing your actions, you are creating an ethical-lifestyle alignment that could also be one of the most powerful wellness tools available to us. If there ever is a Vegan Rock Star Hall of Fame, Victoria will surely be one of the first inductees. Please check out her interview and check back next week for a recipe from The Good Karma Diet.

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 came home from first grade and proudly announced to my caregiver (it was before daycare) that I’d learned the 4 Food Groups: meat, dairy, grains, and the fruit/vegetable-smoosh-them-altogether group. She replied, “Hrumph: there are people who never eat meat. They’re called vegetarians. I could take you out to Unity Village and buy you a hamburger made from peanuts; you’d think you were eating meat.”

I remember thinking at that moment: “Vegetarians. How interesting. I get the sense there’s an awful lot I don’t know, and I’ll bet I won’t learn most of the good stuff in school.”

This woman – grandmother figure, nanny, guru – raised me to love animals and to have an assortment of other unique predilections (she knew about reincarnation and Eastern religions and a host of fascinating things). I didn’t connect the dots about caring for animals and eating them until I was thirteen and attempted vegetarianism for the first time. That lasted for a summer, but I knew that one day I’d find out how to do this right and would return to it.

I started reading yoga books at seventeen and realized that, if I was to be serious about yoga, the meat had to go. By nineteen, it had. Going vegan would take me much longer since I was a practicing binge eater and had to recover from that before I was able to do something as ‘extreme’ – at the time, it really seemed that way – as eliminating eggs and dairy. That process took some time, but once I knew that, a day at a time and keeping in some semblance of fit spiritual condition, I could indeed refrain from eating for a fix, I opted to embrace the vegan lifestyle I’d long admired.

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 had the best mentor ever in the late Jay Dinshah, co-founder of the American Vegan Society. I believe that if someone had been around who understood my eating disorder and veganism, I might have been able to make the transition sooner.

We think it ought to be as easy as, “See here: look at these horrible conditions for animals. And good Lord, half the people die of heart disease and we have a way to virtually guarantee that you won’t. And for Pete’s sake: the planet is dying and animal agriculture is largely responsible. Go vegan yesterday!” That seems logical, but humans are complex. We’re not Spock from Star Trek with only rationality in play. There are influences and memories, what we’ve learned and who we’ve loved, all feeding into whether or not someone will make this shift overnight, or over time, or not at all. I don’t know whom I’ll influence, so I share with everybody, and go to any lengths for those who express an interest in taking this path.

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

We all have talents and we all have a story. It’s that combination that is a powerful tool for activism. For me personally, my gift is words, written and spoken – and my story includes certain aspirational aspects. For example, I happen to look younger than I am. A lot of women in the over-fifty age group (I’m sixty-five) are very interested in aging well. I think fresh, beautiful vegan foods – I’m a big fan of the green juice/green smoothie/giant salad thing – can really help with this.

Now, do I want to share my age with the world at large? Not really. We live in a culture that is turned off by maturity, especially in women. If I could “pass” for younger, my ego would like that, but it wouldn’t help any animals, so I let everybody know that I’m old enough to go to the movies for half-price and don't look or feel like what I thought sixty-five would look or feel like. That makes some women take a strong second look at this way of eating and living.

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

I believe the biggest strength is that it is so absolutely right. It’s like the abolition of slavery, something that today we look at and think, ‘Why did that take so long when it’s so obvious?’ To us, the liberation of animals is obvious. It’s the next phase of moral evolution.

Another strength is, I think, the people in the movement today. Whether we’re talking well-known vegans or the rank-and-file, an extremely high percentage of the people in this movement are extraordinary human beings: brave, smart, committed, irrepressible.

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

As strange as it sounds, I think one big hindrance is the kind-heartedness of omnivores. When they say, ‘Don’t tell me what goes on with animals – I don’t want to know,’ their caring is a problem. They don’t want to see so they don’t have to change.

Another problem is the rampant addiction to animal foods that the world at large thinks is normal. Even though it’s widely written that sugar can be addictive, a lot of health-conscious people take it out of their diet with relative ease. Why are animal foods so much harder? People say ‘I could never give up cheese. . .I have to have my salmon. . .I tried not to eat eggs, but I craved them so bad. . . .’ These foods carry so much cultural currency. They’re seen as having nutritional value, traditional value, patriotic value. It’s a lot to overcome, but the positive side is that we’re more visible than ever, and the positive reasons for being vegan are out there as never before.

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

The title of the first vegetarian book I ever read was, Why Kill for Food? I guess that’s my elevator speech. If I don’t have to kill someone else in order to survive, why would I do that? Another way to put it might be: ‘I see animals as individuals with the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as I claim for myself.’ I believe that I also experience lots of health benefits from being vegan, but that’s not the reason I’m vegan; I’m vegan for the animals. However, if I were in an elevator with some health or fitness person, I’d get that in, too. The animals want there to be more vegans in the world; if the health angle works with a particular person, I’ll pull that one out.

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?

What a great question! I believe that the vegetarian/vegan movement has been a series of books, and now documentaries are part of the tradition, as well. I mentioned Why Kill for Food?, a UK book by Geoffrey Rudd that I read as a teenager in the late '60s. Then there was Eating by Life, by Nathaniel Altman, the first book on vegetarianism to be published in the U.S. in the 20th century. Nathaniel and I worked at the same place at that time (1970-71) and he’d type his chapters on his manual typewriter, and I’d re-type them on the fancy electric typewriter in my office! And then there was everything Jay Dinshah ever wrote. His daughter, Anne, has done a beautiful job of collecting his writings, and commentaries on them, in her new book, Powerful Vegan Messages.

I was also greatly inspired and motivated by Diet for a New America, by John Robbins, which came out after I was vegan. (I had, in fact, written my own vegan book by then, Compassion theUltimate Ethic, published in 1985.)

More recently, I’ve loved Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, because it’s so beautifully written. As a writer, I’ve long believed that non-fiction should be literature, too, and Foer proved that it can be.

As for documentaries, I adore them all. The first really influential one was TheAnimals Film, back in the '90s. It was something of a precursor to Earthlings, showing human atrocities to animals in a profound and powerful way. More recently, gosh, there are lots: Vegucated, ForksOver Knives, The Ghosts in Our Machine, May I Be Frank?, Raw for 30 Days, Cowspiracy – I’m a great fan of all the pro-veg docs, whether they come from the animal rights, health, or environmental angle. It’s all connected.

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

I’m not great at this one. I’m prone to overwork, and especially in the age of email, when it’s impossible to ever be ‘done,’ I have to put strong limits on myself. In addition to writing vegan books, I’ve written several ‘self-help’ books about living a more delightful life, and I think I wrote those because I wanted to read them.

The things that help me are bodywork – reflexology, especially – when that’s in the budget; movies in the theater (at home, chances are I’d multi-task); and being with real people in real time. I love my friends so much – and my daughter, OMG: she’s so busy that trying to see her is like getting an audience with the Pope, but time with her is the best thing ever. Something else that I love is reading. I mostly read nonfiction – vegan books, some spiritual stuff – but when I get a really great novel, I’m in another world. Right now I’m reading this fabulous dark but engaging book called Bones & All, about a teenaged cannibal. It’s by vegan author Camille DeAngelis and is a total page-turner.

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

Whatever animal issue I’m thinking about the moment is apt to seem nearest and dearest, but if I had to pick one, I’d say the beasts of burden in India, simply because I’ve been there and seen that and it broke my heart. I went to India with the expectation that I was going to vegetarian-land where everybody respected animals. What a rude awakening! When I got there, I found that many of the rich people ate meat – maybe not beef, but meat – and the poor people ate whatever they could get.

Beyond the dietary side of things, I saw so much animal cruelty. I know there’s just as much going on here, but there it’s out in the open. The bullocks pulling carts hurt my heart the most. They were loaded down with weights that no animal could bear, and the drivers beat them incessantly in some awful attempt to defy physics and get these animals to carry impossible loads. PETA has a special section devoted to the bullocks and other animals used in this way throughout the Indian subcontinent; they’ve established sanctuaries for rescued and retired animals, and when the resources are available, they can sometimes provide poor people who formerly used animals with trucks or tractors so they won’t use animals again. This is called Animal Rahat.

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

. . . a glorious adventure. I can’t imagine a more ethically satisfying, morally fulfilling, physically energizing, and spiritually uplifting way to live. And I get to know amazing people like Marla Rose!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Trouble is, You Think You Have Time...



Last week, I sat with a friend who is dying of cancer. She is such a thoughtful person that quite literally on her deathbed, she was concerned about me getting a ride from the airport (she arranged it) and that my hotel was comfortable (it was). My friend is such a dynamic, vibrant and engaged woman that even on her hospice bed surrounded by a maddening tangle of oxygen and hydration tubes, she still exudes a powerful presence that contradicts her 80-something pound body, riddled with the metastasized cancer that is advancing inside her fragile form, bit by bit.  She’s in her final weeks. She is 50 years old.

My friend is vegan (yes, we get sick, too, and denying that is deceitful and perhaps dangerous) and has been for 30 years; she was an early-early adopter. Behind the scenes, she has done more to promote and advance the vegan cause than anyone I personally know, which is saying a lot because I’m fortunate to know some pretty remarkable people. She’s been at the ground floor of many emerging cruelty-free businesses and advising them with her sharp business acumen, supporting new vegans and nurturing novice activists, and in her spare time, she’s created a very popular vegan potluck in her community. From her vantage point, my friend has watched vegan culture flourish and expand far beyond the early, lonely days where vegans were far-and-few-between, scattered around like a few isolated seedlings. She’s witnessed the expansion of vegan restaurants, offerings and products; the evolution of veganism from being considered a little-known oddity to a burgeoning social justice movement; a solution to our downward environmental spiral acknowledged by top scientists; she’s seen festivals, events and organizations dedicated to the promotion of compassionate living spread and expand their reach like wildfire. These things are finally blossoming from the seeds she helped to plant and cultivate for the past thirty years.

She wishes she had done more, though, when she was able. Even a year ago, she was still in her prime and she had so many ideas and plans, smart ones that someone with her savvy and connections could really pull off. She cannot do those things now, though. For the most part, she’s confined to her bed, my beautiful friend, this firecracker who has lived and breathed veganism more than anyone I know, and what she regrets is that she didn’t do more because she knows she had lots more to give. She hasn’t run out of passion; she’s run out of time.  

She could have - she should have - done more, she insists. More activism, more organizing, more creating, more collaborating, more outreach, more development. More veganism. Last week, I held her hand and cried with her, reassuring her of how many lives she’s touched, how the world is a better place because of her, how many people she’s uplifted with her confidence in their ability to manifest their values. She was right, though, and I couldn’t deny it: she could have and should have done more. This is true for each of us: we could and we should do more because we can never do enough, not even if we’ve dedicated our lives to it as my friend has.
I bump up against knowing this and wanting to be kind to myself, to believe that what I do is enough. There has to be a middle path.

Given what the animals are up against, we could never do enough to help them. There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in a lifetime. Knowing how hard it is to actually make a perceivable difference, it’s no wonder we distract ourselves with silly tangential arguments on Facebook and berating one another over semantics when, if we had some modicum of unity, we could create much more collective change for the animals. Fighting with other vegans, distracting ourselves with petty disagreements, blowing off steam at one another, not moving on when it is clear that is the smart choice, insisting on being “right” when what matters most is to be effective: this makes us feel like we’re doing something. It is an illusion, though, and I am as guilty as anyone of feeding into it. The animals’ lives are not improved because I really put someone in his place. When we do this, we are squandering our most precious resource in life and that is time.
My friend has no shortage of passion for creating change but she can’t physically do it anymore. At her bedside, she asked about Vegan Street, about our plans for the future, and her eyes lit up as we talked. As I described what I am seeing, I could see her imagining it, too, how our plans could work, how it could manifest. Her energy, so closely managed now, became buoyant and excited again. Then she started crying. She won’t be there to advise us, to introduce us to people, to cheer us on, to enjoy it. She won’t live to see it. The fact is, though, neither may I. There are no guarantees. All we have is this moment. I’m not saying this to be morose but to be honest: we are all one diagnosis, one careless driver, one strange pain that won’t go away from a similar outcome as my friend. What can we do now to create more good with the unknown amount of time that we have?

Last summer, I danced with my friend and we laughed together, co-conspired about the future and dreamed big dreams. Last week, I helped her navigate the tangle of tubes upstairs to her bathroom and helped to carry down her commode, one more door closing to her once vibrant life. This beautiful woman, my wonderful friend, this tireless advocate who has done more than anyone I know, she has run out of time to do what she loves most and this brings her the most profound sadness. We are all running out of time but we’re just not so painfully aware of it.

This moment is the only time that we can count on. What are we going to make of it?