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?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie Edition with Doron Petersan of Sticky Fingers Bakery...



A longtime animal advocate and lifelong food enthusiast, Doron Petersan has successfully combined these twin passions in her ahead-of-its-time bakery and café, Sticky Fingers Bakery, in Washington, D.C., which opened in 1999. At a time when people were still trying to figure out exactly how to pronounce the word, Doron and her team were slinging decadent vegan treats with a disarming nostalgic aesthetic that blew people’s minds and had them lining up for more. A pioneer in the practice idea of changing hearts and minds with great vegan food as the vehicle, Doron has gone on to win on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars twice, win Washington City Paper’s “Best Bakery” award for ten years (including 2015), write cookbooks (the paperback version with added recipes is coming out in the fall), and expand her restaurant’s offerings from her famous Little Devils and whoopie pies to delicious savory café food as well, helping to expand the public perception of veganism as a lifestyle that embraces abundance and joy without sacrifice.  Oh, and Sticky Fingers has a chain of bakeries in Seoul, South Korea, too.  Is total global domination next?

With her new restaurant, Fare Well,
406 H St. NE, opening in the summer (sign up for the newsletter and to get an inside scoop on all the exciting goings-on at bewell@eatfarewell.com), Doron is certainly poised for it. Fare Well’s menu is going to be inspired by Mediterranean comfort foods made vegan with an emphasis on local ingredients and locally grown produce. Her famous treats will be there as well, of course. Living in D.C. with her husband, son and adopted animals, Doron is a trailblazing entrepreneur who turned her love for animals and her passion for food into a successful model for conscientious movers and shakers. For this reason and more, Doron Petersan is a Vegan Foodie we love.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

One day after work, I stopped at a deli for a fresh turkey breast sandwich with mustard and Swiss on rye.  Earlier that day I had witnessed my first surgery as a vet-tech.  I realized the musculature of the little terrier had looked strangely similar to the turkey sandwich I was eating.  How could I choose to help one but eat another?  A vegetarian was born, albeit mad and angry about all of the foods that I wouldn’t be enjoying anymore. 

I’ve always been an eater. I would try anything once, and then again to make sure I either liked it, or didn’t.  And, like most kids, I wanted all things sweet, which were few and far between. My mom was the meal-maker in our home and being Sicilian, she focused on whole and healthy foods.  Most people think of cheesy-pastas and cured meats like sausage and prosciutto when they hear ‘Italian’.  Maybe around holidays and parties, sure.  But the daily fare was very simple, basic, and heavy on the veggies.   Lentils and rice, pasta and vegetables, roasted meats and fresh bread.  Lots of fresh fruit and nuts were considered ‘dessert’, but special occasions warranted the local bakeries’ cookie platter, or the coveted Carvel Ice Cream cake.  I was in high school before I ever tasted the horrible goodness that was a Ring-Ding, Devil Dog, or Twinkie.

Every holiday we watched and waited as my Grandmother, Aunts, Mom, and friends cooked, baked, sautéed, and sliced.  It seemed as if the cooking would never end, and I waited impatiently.  We would devour and enjoy, and do it again as there were leftovers for days afterwards.  I can still taste the memories of some of those dishes, like baked macaroni, my Grandmother’s meatballs, arancini, and spiedini.   Combined with the daily meals that were simple yet delicious and healthful as well, born was my love for food and the understanding that food is to nourish, to enjoy, and to celebrate. 


2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

One year, one of my aunts made me this porcini pasta dish that blew my mind; fresh porcinis (that melted in your mouth) tossed with hand made, fresh fettuccini.  That was for my 32nd birthday.  While I love making foods I remember as a kid, I’m constantly learning and tasting new favorites.  Often these new dishes or flavor combos make it into the star-line up and into a serving bowl at the table. Customs are about remembering and celebrating, right?  The foods help to tell the story of where we’ve been and where we are now. It’s not about the pork roast, or the roast turkey, or the tur-duck-en.  Finding dishes with staying power, void of animal ingredients is the easy part. Doing so with out insulting the elders can be more than difficult.  Think of traditions as journeys we continue to build upon.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

If I took all of the vegan favorites I’ve ever had and made a meal, it would look like this; Fried avocado tacos from Austin, the gnocchi pesto from my wedding; my Grandfather’s ‘veggie hash’, Korean pine-nut porridge, my mom’s spinach and rice stuffing, Roman artichokes, Kamber’s chocolate mint ice cream, and anything my Aunt Lynn makes for me.


4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create? 

I’m always looking for an excuse to make pasta, like gnocchi or ravioli.  How about a cashew crème sauce with basil, white wine, garlic cooked on low until soft, a pinch of salt and lemon.  Then, hot cookies right out of the oven topped with coconut-based vanilla bean ice cream, candied pistachios with cinnamon and sugar, and a dollop of thick, dark, luscious melted chocolate.  I’d make it for Father who passed two short years ago.  Whenever we would get together he would suggest ‘a nice dinner’.  I can imagine him taking a bite, and simply saying ‘nice’.  

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

Using too many ingredients and too many flavors.  I try to stick with three or four flavors in most dishes.  Focus on complementing and separating rather than trying to pack everything into one dish.  Some of the most delicious are the most simplistic, like tomatoes sautéed with garlic, onion, and red pepper.  What about white beans stewed with onions, basil, and fennel seed.  Or, mushrooms with white wine, garlic, and mustard seeds.  Tofu baked with miso, tahini, and topped with fresh squeezed lemon.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

Everything ‘nuts’: almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, you name it.  They taste great in everything; candy, cookies, breads, pudding, sauces and cheeses.  Try to name another that is so versatile!

I’m reminded of a meeting, where I presented our baking book ‘Sweet’ for review, hoping for a write-up in their well-known food-publication.  The editor said "While I love the recipes, we don’t like to use the word ‘vegan’ in our publication." Exit interview. Fast-forward four years and suddenly vegan is a-ok.  Most notably, a recent recipe they posted for vegan nut-cheeses. Oh, sacred cheese, flavors so complex and textures divine.  ‘But, how could you give up cheese’ was the question so many asked.  How?  Just check out the WORLD'S leading food publication, now listing vegan cheese recipes in print and online.  Go figure.  Ahead of our time, I guess. 

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

New York Jewish Italian Deli (no, really)
Spanish
Korean

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

My husband, for sure.  He’s the biggest supporter of the business and the mission, and has been right by my side for the entire ride. From the early days of pure ignorance and blind faith, to the days of long hours, late nights, and work-filled weekends, he’s wiped the tears and helped mop the floors. Creating any business is hard work.  Trying to create and run a business based on ethics and not (only) the bottom line is like riding roller coaster made of barbed wire (at times). Like you and most folks who are reading, Peter and I both started off as activists.  We interned at PETA in 1995, and soon after our first jobs were in the animal non-profit sector; we wanted to make a difference.  Peter went to law school to become an attorney, working to change the way we regard, treat, and view animals. Me, I made cookies without eggs or dairy, letting folks taste the fact that animal-ingredients were not necessary to make food taste good.  Two slightly different paths; same goal.   Peter reminds me that success is measured in many ways.  

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

I’m on the board of directors for Pinups for Pitbulls, and I am giddy about the work they/we do.  Through direct outreach at events and the yearly Pin-Up Calendar, we educate the public on the discrimination, abuse, and homeless-issues for all dogs. Most effected by all three mentioned are pit-bull type breeds. Breed-specific legislation and Breed Discriminatory Laws threaten our family’s beloved companion animals. Our goal is to put an end to the breed-bashing and media-exploitation, and restore their reputation as the nanny-dog, war hero and all around silly, face licking, wiggle butt pibbles that they are! After working in animal shelters I saw first-hand the damage done to these loving pups.  Without going into gory details, I’m haunted by the memories. Yet, grateful for the experience. In witnessing the suffering I discovered my mission: to make great food for everyone to enjoy without using animal-based ingredients.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

…About making choices every day that is better for you, the animals, and the environment. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Patriarchy and Eating Animals: Why Violence has No Place in the Vegan Movement



“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” - Audre Lorde


You don’t have to spend a lot of time on social media to see how pervasive the culture of glorifying violence against those who eat and harm animals is in the vegan community. It’s not something I see people acknowledging much, but there it is, every day, in comment threads regarding everything from intentional cruelty to the often-mindless act of eating animals.

“I’d like to smash his face in.” “I hope that dumb bitch gets what’s coming to her.”

I understand the anger, I really do. I spend my days researching and creating content to help with transitions and raise awareness about veganism. I understand as well as anyone the depths to which humanity will sink in order to excuse and maintain the status quo of our habituated use of animals. The mothers and babies ripped apart, the mutilations, the forced impregnations, the brutal suppression, the chillingly ordinary horrors we inflict on billions just so we can have “our” meat, dairy and eggs. Even in the absence of these glaring acts of cruelty, even with all the shiny bells-and-whistles of so-called humane meat and animal products, the idea that animals are ours to do what we will with simply because we desire to do so is anathema to me. I don’t need the gross injustice explained to me; I spend my days absorbing it and, more often than not, I lie awake at night with the atrocities I’ve seen haunting my thoughts like a horror film on a reel that simply won’t end.

I understand the anger and I even understand the impulse to be violent given what animals go through and how the voices against it are routinely derided, undermined and suppressed. It’s maddening to know what these animals go through needlessly and to not be able to get people to listen, let alone acknowledge, the astonishingly sad reality we inflict upon these innocent beings. I have fought for the animals since I was a teenager and, like many people, have been harassed, mocked, verbally abused and even arrested because of my passionately held beliefs. As well as anyone else, I understand the fist-clenching rage. Still…

“If you wear fur, you deserve to be raped.” “I’d like to run him over with a truck. Repeatedly.”

I cannot abide the culture of chest-thumping violence that is excused and glamorized by some in the vegan community and I’m not going to stay silent about it any longer. It’s not because I don’t feel the same sense of immediacy and conviction as others. It’s because I cannot stand the mentality that underpins the violence and I believe that these eye-for-an-eye sentiments – stretching all the way back to the fire-and-brimstone Old Testament, hardly a document of progressive, revolutionary change – stem from the same warped lens of patriarchy that has justified and allowed the domination of other beings to continue and expand without interruption. The violent messaging within vegan culture – alongside the grandstanding, the posturing and the bloodlust – is not part of the world I am trying to create. These are the shackles that I would like to leave behind.  

I believe that using animals for our purposes is born of the same mentality as patriarchal society, which uses the same blunt instruments of control and violence to keep some at the top of the pack and the "lessers" below them, serving them. It seems short-sighted to be exalting the violence that grows from the same seed of domination, suppression and vengeance as that which says that animals are commodities to use as we wish. Unfortunately, though, when you speak up against this and say that maybe, just maybe, this swaggering bravado is reminiscent of the mindset of those who also harm animals, this is what inevitably happens: you are called a “kumbaya” vegan, which means that you are an airy-fairy coward. It is implied that those doing their best Rambo impressions are decisive, strong and courageous while you’re off in a little meadow in your mind, weaving wildflower necklaces and tickling ladybugs.

I call bullshit on this.

If violent grandstanding is framed as courageous and masculine, then the voices against it are cowardly and not masculine and suddenly we’ve got sexism problems, too. If chest thumping is strong and those who reject that mentality are weak, then, once again, the twisted and sick paradigm that has harmed and destroyed so many is accepted and strengthened. With buying into that same violent messaging, we have accepted the patriarchy and with it, the Old World Order that is rapaciously destroying our planet and its inhabitants. Our actions are still driven by sick beliefs because we haven’t examined and rejected what we are accustomed to in times of conflict, which is the template of patriarchy.

If we keep repeating the same mistakes, we will have the same nihilistic outcomes. How can we expect different results for changing the world when we continue to glorify and romanticize violence? This is not to say that I have the answers. I would do anything I could to protect my son from harm, for example. Sometimes, that might necessitate a violent response. Venerating pain, suffering, rape, destruction and violence is not the path to the world we are trying to create, though; it is part of the same limited mindset. Just like violence does not equal strength, rejecting it does not equal cowardice. It’s time for a new approach, one that rejects both patriarchy and speciesism, with bold, courageous, creative and radically forward-thinking actions. I don’t know what it will look like yet but we have to start somewhere.

In the meantime, let’s think before exalting violence. Our voices aren't all going to sound the same, and that's a good thing, but I can't see that we will ever create the world we want to live in if we, the very ones who are trying to create a major shift in consciousness, don't evolve ourselves. As Audre Lorde also said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In the vegan movement, there are many things that we are at odds with one another about but violence is one thing we should be unified against. There is nothing revolutionary or brave about it. In fact, it is the very mindset that has created the mess we are trying to fix.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Robert Grillo



What did we do before Free from Harm?

Founded by my friend Robert Grillo in 2009, Free from Harm is a non-profit based in Chicago but with a global outlook dedicated to promoting animal rescue, education, and advocacy through a variety of means: an engaged social media presence, compelling articles, presentations and more that keep the focus on the animals with a message of compassionate living that never equivocates. In person, Robert is down to earth, funny, smart and fairly soft-spoken but self-assured, a perfect ambassador to the public for veganism. With an extensive background in branding, marketing and design, Robert brings a savvy and uncommon skill set to creating positive change for the animals. I cannot wait to see what he and Free from Harm do next. For this reason and more, Robert Grillo 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 think my earliest influence was the forested ravine where I spent a lot of time as a youngster, hiking and exploring nature. But it wasn’t until my early forties that I connected my food choices with my love and reverence for nature and animals. It was films like Food, Inc. and powerful video footage that ultimately provided the wake up call that was so long overdue. For me, the real breakthrough came from identifying with the victim. Or, should I say, recognizing that a victim even exists, since we are conditioned all our lives to believe that animals can’t be our victims. It took time for me to see how our animal-eating culture teaches us to block our awareness of the suffering of the animals we consume, to deny the existence of any problem, and, worse, to stifle any critical thinking on the subject.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could people 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’m sure I would have become vegan far earlier had there been stronger and more influential vegan voices in my life, but there were none. My interest in yoga led me to vegetarianism but yoga largely ignores the suffering of animals used for dairy and eggs.

In any case, I believe the most effective way of reaching people is by telling the truth in a way that engages them. That leaves a lot of room for truth-centered creative advocacy. It has become popular in animal advocacy today to borrow the strategies of corporate branding and marketing, but here truth competes with other goals and principles, like the profit motive and selling fantasy. And, as someone who has worked inside of this industry for the last 20 years, I pick my lessons learned carefully, still finding truth and transparency as more valuable and more convincing than what some market research study tells us. The vegan truth is that each time we sit down to eat, we choose to either spare a life or take a life; we choose to violate or respect one’s basic right to life, and to a life free of exploitation. And life, freedom and justice are principles we claim to value most.

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 try to employ the skills that I’ve developed over the years in design and branding to guide me in my advocacy work. My focus is on creating content, using words, images, video, presentations, websites and social media. When other people ask me if I have any suggestions for ways to get involved, I suggest the same: look at what strengths / skills you have and figure out how you can leverage them to empower your advocacy.

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

I think the most promising strength we can leverage is our connection with other successful social movements. While there are important differences among them, the similarities are far more striking. We need to keep the focus on what connects us, which strengthens our case to potentially broader audiences. This is the premise of a new anthology of 26 authors to which I also contributed called Circles of Compassion:Connecting Issues of Justice.

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

Silence and inaction. I come across too many caring people who admit that fear of ridicule or some other form of backlash prevent them from even sharing Facebook posts. Silence and denial are part of the problem, and a big part of what keeps the problem alive and well. We need to provide them with the support and empowerment they need which is part of the mission of Free from Harm.

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

The vast majority of us already believe that it is wrong to subject animals to unnecessary suffering, especially when we can so easily avoid it. But we make one glaring exception and for no good reason. Now it’s time to close that gap and apply what we already believe to the four species for whom we’ve made that exception: chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows. Done.

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?

Critical animal studies has helped me understand the big picture and find strong leadership voices for our movement. A major proponent of this school of thought is professor JohnSanbonmatsu. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns is an author and activist from whom I’ve drawn a lot of important insights and inspiration. I also greatly appreciate the work of many others, including but not limited to Will Anderson, Lee Hall, Melanie Joy, Lesli Bisgould, Will Tuttle, Charles Horn, to name just a few! There are countless others that I meet through our Facebook page or email that are doing great things as well!

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

Biking makes me feel really good. Hiking somewhere beautiful is less practical since I live in Chicago but gives me a big high too. Taking the time to celebrate the results of my work helps inspire me to move ahead. A good martini once in a whole can really take the edge off.

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

Broadcasting the personal stories of our rescues out to the public. They are the best stories we have and they directly challenge society’s assumptions, stereotypes and negative attitudes about these animals.

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

…the foundation for honoring our connection to other animals. The least we can do is spare a life rather than take a life in cases where it so easily avoidable, such as in what we decide to eat or wear. Once we’re vegan, there is much we can explore to deepen our commitment to the cause of helping other animals and keeping our planet livable for all of us. There are far more complex issues that also need our attention. When we look back, chances are, we’ll see going vegan as one of the easier and more straightforward changes we’ve made and one with an enormous impact on many of the other social, political, economic and environmental problems we face today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

13 Reasons Why I am No Longer a Vegetarian...

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After many years of being a vegetarian, I can no longer claim to be one. Before you judge me, please read my story.

I grew up as a typical animal-loving kid and as soon as I was a teenager and put two-and-two together, I finally gave up meat and became a vegetarian. I felt righteous! I felt virtuous! I had found my way!

For most of those 12 years, I was happy and content. I would bring my egg salad sandwiches to work for lunch and order the vegetarian option when I went out with friends. No chicken wings for this animal lover. Over time, though, I started to not feel as passionate about being a vegetarian. The more I thought about it, the less that it meant anything to me. I felt like I was just going through the motions. Eventually, I decided to do the very thing no one I was close to would ever imagine possible. I became an ex-vegetarian. It was a process with some ups-and-downs, partially because my self-identity had become so entwined with my vegetarianism, but eventually, I gave it up for good. Today, I have to say, I’ve never felt better: body, mind and spirit.

As a former vegetarian, I feel that I am uniquely qualified to speak to the elephant in the room (actually a whole herd of ‘em) about vegetarianism, having been one for so long. I hope my words here help anyone else who is conflicted about being a vegetarian. Maybe some of you have also struggled with vegetarianism? Here are some reasons why today I am a proud former vegetarian.

1. Being a vegetarian was not convenient. The harm and destruction of eggs
and dairy became an inconvenient truth that was increasingly difficult to ignore. The more I learned, the less mollifying the justifications became, which made excuses very inconvenient.

2. I felt weak when I was a vegetarian. Feeling controlled by the cruel dairy and egg industries did not exactly instill a sense of self-empowerment within me.

3. I felt excluded. All these amazing vegans were changing the world for the better and there I was still chewing on eggs and gulping down milk. I wanted to be on the right side of history, not supporting industries that I find abhorrent, so I became an ex-vegetarian.

4. I felt limited. When my interest in maintaining my habits was greater than my concern about other living beings or the future of the planet, I realized that I was very limited in my capacity to extend compassion to others.

5. I had cravings. I craved being self-reliant, aligned from within and to maintain consistency with my values and practices but eating animal products made it impossible for me to attain those things. The cravings just got worse and worse the more I learned.

6. It didn’t feel natural. Going against my values each time I ate animal products was counter-intuitive and every time I did, it felt unnatural for me because I was buttressing the very industries that compelled me to stop eating meat in the first place.

7. I didn’t want to be different anymore. I didn’t want to be different – in fact, I needed to be different, which meant finding my own compass for my morality instead of just fitting in and not making waves.

8. I wasn’t listening to my body. My brain is part of my body: my brain was telling me that I understood how harmful and violent the animal products industries are and my actions went against this until I finally listened.
 
9. I always felt hungry. I hungered for feeling a deeper connection to the planet and to others; cutting off my innate empathy every time I ate animal products only made my hunger for this more pronounced.

10. I realized that farm animals didn’t have it so bad. Whether one eats “free-range” eggs or cheese from “happy cows,” a tyranny of cruelty, domination and needless violence is intertwined with animal agribusiness no matter what the packaging looks like. Also, the flesh that people eat comes from animals who aren’t brutalized any worse than those we subjugate for their secreted fluids.

11. I didn’t want to be rude. It’s kind of the ultimate rude thing to behave as if my temporary cravings matters more than one’s very life. Actually, rude doesn’t even begin to cover it.

12. It was a spiritual thing. How was I going to function as a spiritual being when I was complicit in harming others? Nonviolence, compassion, justice, empathy: these things are consistent with creating a spiritual life. Violence, cruelty, injustice, self-involvement? Not so much.

13. Ultimately, it was just too hard. It was hard to deny my deepening convictions. It was hard to maintain the status quo when my word and my self-respect were at stake. It was hard to be complicit in a lie. It was hard to quell my feelings. It was hard to deny what I knew. Ultimately, it was just too hard to remain a vegetarian.

Please don’t let anyone pressure you into staying vegetarian. As you can see, so much of my vegetarianism was fueled by unexamined myths, habituated behaviors, a desire to please others and self-sabotage. I look back at that vegetarian I used to be and I know that I intended to do the right thing, I just didn’t know any better. I was so naïve. Don’t be like me; don’t waste 12 long years as a vegetarian when you can evolve and move on to the next logical step toward manifesting your convictions about kindness. If you listen to your innate wisdom, do some research, tune into your compassion and move toward the future, you can leave the self-deception and harmful practices in the past.

Like me, you can go vegan. Today, I am proud to say I’m former vegetarian. Are you a vegetarian like I was? Maybe it's time you go all the way, too.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Chloé Jo Davis

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She’s sexy and she knows it. She’s Chloé Jo Davis.

I’ve been vegan long enough to know that vegan and style are not two words that have always gone together so harmoniously. As a movement rooted in a passionately-held ethical foundation, this is not surprising: we’re too busy saving the world to care much about how we look while doing it. But do style and ethics need to be mutually exclusive? Can’t we have a love of aesthetics while still rocking out with our powerful message? Thankfully, we are living in a time when false dichotomies are burning to the ground as designers, artists, entrepreneurs and the fashion-forward are proving to the world that these two things – ethics and style – don’t need to be mutually exclusive. What’s more, today we can live green from head-to-toe using recycled, re-purposed and toxin-free options. Leading the charge for the past 16 years has been Chloé Jo Davis, founder of GirlieGirl Army.

Known as the “Glamazon Guide to Green Living,” GGA has amassed hundreds of thousands of devotees under Chloé Jo’s unapologetically confident direction, helping the world at large learn more about everything from cruelty-free cosmetics to gentle parenting, vegan noshes to eco-friendly crafts, all served up alongside a current list of adoptable animals. All of this (and more) is on the GGA website and by signing up for their newsletter, you can have all the links to new content, along with other carefully curated news links, delivered to your email once a week to stay au courant. As a mama (soon to be of three), speaker, writer and content creator at About.com’s green living series, Chloé Jo proves that a having a beautiful heart and living a purposeful life does not mean that your personal style needs to suffer for it. For these reasons and more, Chloé Jo Davis is a Vegan Rockstar you should 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 always had an innate sense of compassion for the underdog - growing up in a family like mine, I had to as a survival mechanism! It was a slow path that turned to a fast roar, first by dating a boy who had a big dog I was afraid of and slowly came to deeply love, then by adopting my own two mutts, and then dating a vegan and learning about factory farming. But really the full evolution came by education. Really steeping my mental tea bag into the world of animal agriculture, health, and karmic consciousness. A full monty of the full picture is what my Libran mind needed to see, and see it did! It was a very finite, almost British-no-nonsense definitive choice to never again contribute to suffering and hell for our sentient neighbors once many books were read and many documentaries watched.

I've come to see now, as I've watched so many come and go from veganism, that it really has to start and end at a love or respect for animals. Because if it's just health, it's easy to slack off a diet - and if it's just environmental, it's easy to rationalize having a hen in your backyard for eggs or choosing "local" beef over tofu from another state. I've seen too many narcissists fall off the boat once their raw food cleanse has ended. It has to be a deep love of animals and of being just - it starts and ends with your scruples. No way you can see what goes on with animals in factory farms and think that skews okay mentally. The 16 years I was blessed to have with my two rescue mutts showed me true, authentic love for the first time in my life – ‘til my Husband and children. I know that all animals can and do feel pain, love, calm, fear, and anguish - just like us.  My Husband and I took the full leap together almost a decade ago, and I think that informed the choice too - knowing we were going to spend the rest of our lives together and have a family and knowing we wanted to do things right. And being vegan just feels right when all the logic is displayed and the facts are clear.

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?

Really - all I'd have needed was someone I respected to show me a documentary. For my husband it was the original Peaceable Kingdom - I showed it to him and he went vegan that day. And he was raised on a truly all-American crappy diet, so for him it was a bigger transition than me who did eat a lot of healthy organic vegetarian food growing up Kosher in NYC. I always tell women with non-vegan partners, if they can watch Earthlings or Vegucated or Peaceable Kingdom - or any of the other powerful animal docs, and not go veg - they may have a compassion gene missing and you may want to move on. And if you’re dating a science or health-minded person who can read The China Studyand not realize there's no way to beat the scientific fact of plant-based superiority, then they are wearing blinders. For some people it's a slow crawl, and I support people on any place on their path with GirlieGirlArmy.com - I've been personally answering every vegan email question for 16 years, sometimes it's as simple as having the right answers for replacement foods or having a good community.

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

GirlieGirlArmy.com was the first vegan/ethical beauty and fashion website - we started over 15 years ago. People often ask if we are annoyed by how many copycats are out there since, and I always say not at all! The more people promoting kindness in a beautiful way, the better! So we were the first to use terms like "compassionista" or "veganista" and "glamazon" in reference to a plant-based lifestyle. My original intention was to be almost snobbish, "You put dead carcass in your body? How GAUCHE!" type of tongue-in-cheek attitude over the general apologetic downtrodden quiet so many vegans take on. It then become over the top humor and style, which I still think works wonderfully. I think what's not effective is stiff or boring messaging. But I prefer a firm message over a weeble-wobbling one.

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

The level of intelligence in our community blows my mind. The vegans I know are the smartest people I've ever met. They are all seekers and not afraid to step out of the dominant paradigm. That's so inspirational and radical. Sure, there's always a stray a-hole, phony, or grody self-promoter in the mix - but they are generally easy to spot and weed out. The crux of the movement rallies around the concept of doing what's right. How many other communities can claim that?

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

I don't really think we have any anymore with the virility of the Internet and so many celebs going veg…but I think our biggest hindrance may be apologists. It's a pet peeve of mine in general to not be loud and proud about whoever you are.

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

Baby animals cry for their Mother's when separated, and Mama cows bellow for their babies for days and will sometimes jump a fence to find their young. Some people don't even realize Mama Cows need to be kept impregnated on a rape rack and have baby after baby ripped from her to become veal in order for her to keep producing milk. People genuinely think Bessie the cow just makes milk on the mountain all the live long day. We are so separated from our food animals in this culture, that what needs to happen is more visits to factory farms. Go and visit one and see what you are choosing to contribute to. What we do to animals in modern farming is nothing short of a holocaust.

Animal agriculture via methane is also the biggest offense to global warming - even the UN says the world has to go plant-based based on their studies. And from a health perspective it's a no-brainer, diseases are literally reversed when people take on a plant based diet.  There's a reason for doctors like Dr. Robert Ostfeld - the Director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center - promotes an exclusively vegan diet. Because it's simply healthier in every way possible. So it's a triage of obvious: ahimsa/non-harming and not wanting to torture animals, caring about the earth, and wanting to live long, healthy lives. There's no reason not to with all the replacement products we have now…love cheese? You can still eat it -- just choose cashew cheese! Adore chicken? Fine - eat chicken - just eat plant-based chicken. The analogs we have now are cleaner and more delicious than ever. It's nonsensical to choose any other way, unless you literally live in a hut on the edge of the world, and even there, lentils and rice exist! Lentils have more protein than beef anyway, so there.

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 films I think I mentioned above. There are an endless stream of books on veganism now -- I think for a science/medical-minded person, nothing will beat The China Study.
I always say my friends Samantha Pachirat and Susie Coston at Farm Sanctuary are the biggest sheros of this movement.

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

Sometimes I take a step out from events and online controversy.  I used to argue with any contrartian carnivore who wanted to debate about plants feeling pain. Now I pick my battles. Real idiots get ignored or a swift one-liner. As a Mother of nearly three with a business to run and animals to save, I simply don't have the time for those who are clearly guilty about their own carcass-filled colons. Focus on your own life and being the biggest success you can be - that's the best way to help animals. The better we do in our own lives and the happier we are in personal lives - the more powerful our message spreads. We true animal rights activists do have some post traumatic stress from seeing the visuals and in person horrors we have seen and read about, which is why it's important to be tender and gentle with ourselves as often as possible.

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

DAIRY! As a Mom who has been breastfeeding and pregnant for five years - attachment parenting and nurturing my beautiful vegan baby boys - I can only imagine the agony of a Mother cow losing baby after baby. Seeing visuals of clips they put on calves nose/mouth area directly after birth so they can't nurse or bond so humans can get their milk is an image I'll never get out of my head.
That level of cruelty - when you are watching a Mother birth a child and inflict agony upon them directly after birth - is beyond inhumane - it's monstrous. We are the only species to ingest another species breastmilk.  Dairy is just not healthy for humans - unless it's human breastmilk for a baby - so why on earth would anyone still eat cheese when we have Treeline cashew cheese or drink milk when we have So Delicious dairy-free milks that aren't associated with cancer, bloating, acne, et al.? It's beyond my ability to digest why people wouldn't go dairy-free. And lest we forget -- there's a little bit of veal in every glass of milk.

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

To me, being vegan is just good sense. I was born in the North of England and have also always gravitated towards people from Massachusetts. I think people from those areas tend to be very no-nonsense and straightforward about things that just make sense or not. I appreciate honesty and blunt realness in my life, sometimes things are either good or bad. Veganism is good. Certain things in life are cut and dry, and the logic behind veganism makes good, clean sense. It's simply the right thing to do for everyone involved - your body, the earth, and the animals.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vegan Snark Attack!

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Sometimes you’re just in a mood, you know what I mean?

Usually, I try to be calm and positive and ever-so patient but there are times when the snark just must be unleashed so I get back to being calm and positive and ever-so patient. This is one of those times. This was written as what – in my mind, at least – I would say to those who keep coming at me with feeble justifications and obvious attempts to establish that vegans are all a bunch of hypocritical snobs. The fact is that anyone who’s been vegan for longer than a week has heard allllllll of these “arguments” and we are still supposed to sit there, smile and behave ourselves (lest we be accused of being hateful) when we’ve been through it a million times. Despite this, we gather our discipline and try not to actively guffaw in anyone’s face (or at least not roll our eyes) when the fact of the matter is that internally, sometimes we are doing just that.

Omnivores who like to argue, this is what I ask of you: Could you please develop some better arguments? Pretty please? I need the challenge and that one video on YouTube that you always trot out to convince me that plants feel pain has only convinced me that you’re just really desperate for more persuasive material. To the well-intentioned people who will without a doubt remind me that sarcasm is not the best route for creating allies, yes, I know. That’s why our material on Vegan Street is 83% snark-free. (Roughly.) I need an outlet, though, so I can continue to play nice. I have to also remind myself that most of the time when people bring up these ludicrous arguments, they really think they’ve got something impressive to work with, which is why it’s up to us to (patiently, calmly, effectively) prove otherwise. (By the way, please check out the exciting new resource for critical thinking, Your Vegan Fallacy Is for more, more, more of the good stuff.)

That being said, oh, snark, how I’ve missed you. Reunited and it feels so good…

Omni: “You vegans think you’re better than everyone else. I don’t like your superiority.”
Me: “I don’t like that you pay an industry to turn animals into products and destroy the environment in the process so you can consume their secretions and corpses. Should we call it even?”

Omni: “What about plants?”
Me: “What about them?”

Omni: “You kill plants when you eat them. Plants feel pain, you know.”
Me: “I make sure that they are treated well before they die and that they don’t suffer. Oh, wait. That only would make sense in this context if they had sentience. Carry on.”

Omni: “But -”
Me: “Oh, wait, I forgot to add that if you are truly concerned about plants feeling pain - also known as responding to stimuli, which is in keeping with Darwin’s observations about adapting to optimize favorable and reduce adverse conditions - you may want to stop consuming the animals that eat so many more of the plants than people do.”

Omni: “But I give thanks to the animals I eat.”
Me: “You thanked them? That's weird. I believe your manners are a bit confused. You were supposed to apologize to them.”

Omni: “Well, whatever. I always give thanks.”
Me: “I’m sure the ghost of the chicken you just ate is finally gratified because she’s been officially thanked. Her spectral form can stop roaming the earth seeking closure now that she knows she died for the noble cause of satisfying some random craving of yours. Everything is all better now. Our sewage system is certainly a dignified final resting place for all the animals you have ‘thanked’.”

Omni: “But what about the Native Americans?”
Me: “Which tribe are we talking about?”

Omni: “Um –”
Me: “Because if we are focusing on just the tribes indigenous to the United States, there are currently more than 550 tribes. The tribes are all distinct with different histories, practices and diets. You’re not implying that all indigenous people are one uniform mass, are you?”

Omni: “Okay, whatever. They ate animals.”
Me: “They also had no electricity, plumbing, refrigeration, modern medicine or surgical innovations but I can see that you’re mainly interested in cherry-picking what you want from the grab bag of vague Native American associations that serve you. (That’s not offensive at all!) I am guessing that the objective here is to align eating animals with a higher spiritual practice of some sort. Animals are bred into existence, the vast majority through forcible means, mutilated and castrated without anesthesia and kept in brutal captivity until they are no longer cost-efficient or they have reached market weight and then they are loaded onto trucks, often transported long distances in all weather conditions and violently slaughtered. So, yes, many Native Americans ate and eat animals, as have virtually all cultures throughout history, including the ones we don’t romanticize as much. What does this have to do with you and your own habits?”

Omni: “I buy my meat from a specialty butcher who uses everything. He even watches the animals get slaughtered.”
Me: “First of all, how very Jeffrey Dahmer of your butcher. Second, your butcher uses all of the animal? As opposed to the animal agribusiness model, which pretty much squeezes every last penny from an animal’s tortured carcass? I'm guessing you found a hipster butcher who pretty much follows the standard operating procedure when it comes to using animals for financial gain.”

Omni: “But I buy heritage pork from hog breeds that might not exist if not for these farmers.”
Me: “So these fancy breeds are maintained only so they could be violently slaughtered for a their flesh? That actually sounds like something a sadist or a degenerate would do.”

Omni: “I only eat humanely-raised animals.”
Me: “Only means exclusively so I guess this means that you never eat out and you’ve got a ton of money. Were they ‘humanely slaughtered’ as well?”

Omni: “Yes, they were, in fact.”
Me: “Using humane electrified water baths and humane bolts in the brain and humane knives? It’s almost as if you want us to believe in a humane myth of some sort.”

Omni: “I buy my eggs from a lady in town and I know her chickens are treated well. I see them myself.”
Me: “Where did she buy her chicks? What happened to the male chicks at that hatchery? What happens when her backyard chickens are no longer productive? What happens when they need medical care? Even if that model is a feel-good solution for you, it is a mathematical impossibility for the rest of the world. Exactly how many earths do you think we have to work with here?”

Omni: “Well, fine, but what about soy?”
Me: “Yes, what about it?”

Omni: “Growing soy destroys the rainforests.”
Me: “You’re confused again. That’s not the soy I eat. That’s the soy you eat. How could this be? First the South American rainforest is razed for cattle grazing - if you eat cow flesh, you are responsible for this - and then when it’s been thoroughly grazed, soybeans are mono-cropped to go into animal feed and the petroleum industry, and then more rainforest is destroyed to graze cattle and the cycle continues until, viola, no more rainforest. I’m happy to keep talking about soy if you’d like.”  

Omni: “Well, what I don’t understand is why you eat all those fake foods.”
 Me: “Vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, nuts and seeds – yes, there really is some next-level synthetic sorcery going on here.”

Omni: “But why do you eat things that are imitating hamburgers and chicken if you’re so opposed to eating meat?”
Me: “Most of us did not grow up on vegan communes so there are old familiar tastes some of us like to re-experience. The beauty of it is that we can recreate these textures and flavors without violence and without destroying the environment. I actually have a question now: What is up with you adding plant seasonings to the hamburgers and chickens you eat? Also, why don’t the animals on your plate still look like the animals they were if you’re so hunky-dory with everything?”

Omni: “What about my canine teeth?”
Me: “Be honest: Is tooth sharpness the new penis length? Because I don’t mean for you to get a complex over it, but, dude, have you ever given your ‘ferocious’ canine teeth a good examination in the mirror? Do I need to spell it out for you? They aren’t that much to write home about. Do you really think you would instill terror in the hearts of zebras everywhere with those little things? Why don’t you compare canine teeth with a lion in his or her natural setting? Let’s see how your teeth stack up. Oh, also, let’s check how wide your jaw can open.”

Omni: “That’s all fine and good but I didn’t claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat salad.”

Me: “You clawed your way to ‘the top’? No, dude, you inherited the role you were born into as a human. Even if I believed that oppressing others were an achievement, the position you enjoy ‘at the top’ has nothing to do with any accomplishment of yours. The only thing you’re clawing at is any limp excuse that pops into your head.”

Omni: “Whatever. Being vegan is fine for some people but you shouldn’t try to force your views on others. It’s my personal choice.”
Me: “Selectively breeding sentient beings into existence in order to maintain a steady supply of future meals because we see animals as commodities we can do what we will with – this has nothing to do with forcing your views on others, right? Also, with water pollution and scarcity, air pollution, climate change and countless other examples of ecological devastation to which animal agribusiness is a or the major contributor, isn’t eating animals imposing your ‘personal choice’ upon others?”

Omni: “Animals would take over the world if we didn’t eat them.”
Me: “Seriously? Put the bong down. Have you really put any real thought or research into this idea? If we did nothing with the animals alive today and simply left them alone, they would die after too long due to the structural defects that we have intentionally bred into them to make them grow at an astonishingly fast pace in order to satisfy our desire for an abundant, cheap supply of their flesh and secretions. On a related note, the vast majority of these animals also wouldn’t be able to reproduce on their own due to our direct involvement in engineering their very bodies to optimize affordable and consumable portions of their corpses. It’s really twisted if you think about it, which I have. When an industry runs itself as a matter of course like something straight from the pages of a terrifying dystopian novel, maybe moral people should do everything we can to distance ourselves from supporting that industry. Last, have you ever heard of supply and demand? If people don’t eat them, they won’t be bred into existence simply to be killed.”

Omni: “But all those animals would go to waste if we didn’t eat them.”
Me: “Insert the word ‘black people’ for animals and ‘enslave’ for eat and your logic is virtually interchangeable with that of a 19th century slavery apologist. Congratulations! Further, maybe women who aren’t raped ‘go to waste’ from a rapist’s perspective. You really are scraping the bottom of the barrel to justify eating corpses here.”

Omni: “I heard somewhere that vegans actually kill more animals because of all the plants you eat. I guess you don’t care about mice and voles.”
Me: “Ah! Now you’re a voice for the mice and voles. How good of you. All of us create some kind of negative environmental repercussions. What we try to do as vegans is minimize the harm we might cause. If you are truly concerned about the mice and voles – which I am guessing is about as sincere as your concern about plants ‘feeling pain’ – you will want to reduce your consumption of eating animals because, by and large, the animals in fields that would be killed by machinery and chemicals live in the monoculture environment of cereal crops that are grown to feed the animals you eat. So, again, if genuinely you want to reduce harm, well, you know what I’m going to say...”

Omni: “Okay, well, the problem with you vegans is you’re so self-righteous.”
Me: “The paradigm you’ve set up is we can either be hypocrites or self-righteous, and, if I may quote myself, I’d rather be self-righteous than self-wrongteous."

Omni: “I just want to eat meat, okay?”
Me: “Why didn’t you just say that? Not that I’m okay with it but did we have to go through this whole song-and-dance when that’s really what it’s about?”