Wednesday, August 24, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Dr. Casey Taft...

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Co-founder of Vegan Publishers
and professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Casey Taft is an internationally recognized expert in the area of violence and trauma, particularly in the areas of domestic violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among military populations. With his academic and professional background, Dr. Taft is uniquely suited to help society at large connect the dots between eating animals and continuing cycles of violence as well as helping the vegan community develop more effective approaches for our outreach. As such, Casey is also the author of Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, an acclaimed book I have seen so many people singing the praises of but I have not had a chance to read yet. (A review will be forthcoming once I do, though!) We are always looking for the most effective advocacy approaches  and Motivational Methods explores this not from opinion or dogma but from results-driven strategies Casey has drawn from clinical psychology models to encourage lasting behavior change. For all he is doing to create a more compassionate world, I am honored to feature Casey Taft as this week's Vegan Rock Star!

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

I believe that I was always a vegan at heart but I was conditioned out of it as a young person. I often felt I had to force myself to eat animal flesh, and I couldn’t eat seafood or anything where it was obvious I was eating an animal. But sadly, it wasn’t until my immune system was totally destroyed during grad school that I experimented with a plant-based diet. I was plant-based (and gluten free) for about 8 years or so and my health problems resolved. I finally made the decision to truly go vegan when a vegan friend called me out on it while at a trauma conference. I’m really lucky that my wife agreed to go vegan with me.

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?

Throughout the entire time that I was “plant-based” I thought I was actually vegan and didn’t realize until later that veganism isn’t a diet. Like any other diet, I sometimes cheated a little and had dairy. If anyone had talked to me about what veganism really was during that time, or talked to me about ethics and what we do to non-human animals, that very well may have helped tip the scale for me much earlier. This is why I constantly urge other animal advocates to be assertive in their advocacy and to not be afraid of asking others if they’re interested in going vegan.

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

With clarity and honesty. Others know when we’re bullshitting them, and others can handle the truth so long that we’re presenting it in a way that is not overly confrontational. I am matter of fact about the harm we do to non-human animals and this sometimes hits home with others if they’re ready to hear the message. I always try to deliver the message in a way that will maximize the likelihood the other person will respond. Part of the art of animal advocacy is assessing the situation and determining the best message and best approach for any given person at their particular level of readiness for change at that moment in time.

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

The biggest strength is the diversity of the movement. There is not one singular message that will reach everyone. It will take many messages put out there by those from all walks of life who operate within various social and political contexts. If we’re going to have a vegan world, it will happen because of those on the ground who are effectively communicating the vegan message and changing hearts and minds, and a pro-intersectional movement that brings in others who are fighting various forms of injustice gives us our best chance at having the kind of impact that we need to have.

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

What immediately comes to mind is passivity and fear. Too many animal advocates are so fearful of being viewed as the “angry vegan” that they silence themselves. It’s okay if not all advocates are going out and directly confronting people about their animal use, but the more that we can be proud to be vegan, and unapologetic in our advocacy, the more people will hear our message and the greater change we will see.

This fearful advocacy is also promoted by mainstream animal groups who often fail to promote our animal use as an issue of justice, and instead opt for asking others to simply reduce the harm they do to animals, which does nothing to challenge the speciesism that’s at the very heart of the problem.

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

“I’m vegan because we have no need to be eating or using animals. The great harm we do to animals is all completely unnecessary.” There is no valid argument against this.

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?

As a vegan book publisher, I’ve learned a ton from our own books, since I read all of them. Circlesof Compassion: Connecting Issues of Justice (with Vegan Street’s Marla Rose as a contributor!) [Ed. note: Woot!] stands out to me as particularly influential because I learned about so many different dimensions of veganism.

When I first went vegan, I just tried to learn the basics and how to counter the common justifications people use to continue to consume non-human animals. I then gravitated more towards animal rights books to figure out my own “theoretical model” of advocacy. More recently, I feel that I’ve learned the most from pro-intersectional animal advocates and I hope that I will keep on learning about how to better understand others and their experiences until the day that I die.

I’ve also been heavily influenced by folks on social media pages such as our own Vegan Publishers’ Facebook page. I interact with vegans and non-vegans every day and regularly field inquiries and challenges related to veganism. So I’ve learned a ton simply by navigating within this community trying to effect positive change. More than anywhere else, here is where I have been able to put my psychology skills into practice by helping others go vegan.

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

I’m lucky that I have my amazing 3-year-old daughter to hang out with. She makes it hard to get too stressed out. When I do need a break or to unwind, we will have a lovely picnic together under a tree at our favorite nearby back yard park that nobody seems to know exists except for us, or we will take a long walk to the beach. She always cracks me up and makes it very hard for me to stay stressed out for very long. She inspires me to keep fighting for a vegan world.

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

Prevention of violence is the issue that I’ve focused on the most in my life. In my day job, I work in the area of domestic violence prevention, and I am the lead developer of the only program shown to be effective for this problem. What I would really love is for others to have a more expansive view of violence prevention to include not only survivors of domestic violence, but other forms of interpersonal violence, as well as violence towards non-human animals, racism and other forms of oppression, the violence we inflict upon the planet, and so on. When I go to anti-violence conferences, most are only focusing on one small part of the problem without recognition that various forms of needless violence are all inter-connected with similar root causes.

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

… the least we can do and a good starting point for fighting all forms of injustice.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Talking Trolls with Dr. Casey Taft...



On Friday of last week, John and I were talking about this-or-that trolling comment of the day (it honestly happens so much, I don’t remember the specific incident) and John had the brilliant idea of Troll Week. From there, it all kind of came together. We’ve spent the last week mining the depths of our social media to bring a new winning (?) comment to light each day and have just generally explored the idea of online trolling. Monday morning, I thought about capping the week off with an interview with Dr. Casey Taft, Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, co-founder of Vegan Publishers and author of the widely acclaimed Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective. As an internationally recognized expert in the study of trauma, Dr. Taft understands the importance of acknowledging and ending our violence towards other animals as a way to build a more compassionate world. He will also be joining me next week as my featured Vegan Rock Star. I am so glad that he could join us this week on such short notice and share his professional and personal insights and wisdom with us.

First, how would you define a "troll"? 

A troll is someone who posts only to get a rise out of others. 

Are there any obvious markers of trolling behavior online?  

The most obvious marker is if they frequently post "BACON" in all caps. 

What if it's not all caps? Just kidding. Is there anything else that strikes you as an obvious sign someone is engaging in trolling? 

It's kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest. One needs to feel things out and determine whether or not the person is making an honest attempt to engage in discussion, or just attempting to inflame a conversation.

Conversely, what are some more subtle strategies of trolls? 

More subtly, some trolls will attempt to derail and sidetrack a discussion in an attempt to take it away from an important ethical issue. For example, rather than discuss the fundamental question of whether we have any need to be killing and consuming non-human animals (we don't), a troll would like to change the conversation to focus on plants rights or the diets of early humans. This way, the troll and their target can engage in pointless debate for hours while never discussing the important issues. 

I see vegans falling for this a lot, the moving of the goal posts. I do myself when I'm not paying attention as well. What do you recommend doing as soon as you notice this happening? Just bring the conversation back? Is there any advantage to pointing it out, like "I see what you're doing there"?

Yes, I recommend bringing it back to the core ethical issues and avoid going down that road to nowhere. 

Knowing what you know about human psychology and motivation, what strategies do you recommend for being able to shift a trolling comment into a more meaningful interaction that could result in a positive outcome, for example, a person seriously considering what you have to say? 

If we are talking about online, I think it's really important to keep in mind that our audience is larger than the individual troll we're interacting with. Often, there are many other "lurkers" who are witnessing the interaction, and our response to trolls can make a big difference in how we are perceived. It's a good rule of thumb to never give in to our inclination to jump down the troll's throat. If we can respond assertively and non-aggressively, we can show others that we are fully rational and composed when we present our vegan view. There will also be times, however, when the discussion has reached an impasse and we will just have to let the troll know that there isn't really any point in continuing an unproductive conversation. 

Great point and this leads to my next question: Many of us struggle with wanting to get the last word in even when we know that it's futile. When should you know that enough is enough and there isn't the likelihood of a transformative dialogue with someone? 

This is really the challenge for us advocates: to learn to diagnose the situation and determine our best approach and when to call it a day. When it seems that both people in the discussion have stopped listening and are just trying to argue their point of view, that's a good sign that the discussion is not productive. 

Have you had any experiences that come to mind where you wrote someone off as a troll but were pleasantly surprised? What do you attribute that turnaround to?

I really try not to do this and I work to give everyone the benefit of a doubt, but I see others make this mistake all of the time! So often I see others assume that someone is trolling, probably because they're burnt out from dealing with so many of them. They come to assume that anyone asking a somewhat naive question is just trying to piss them off. This is something that I teach my patients as a psychologist; we should try not to assume the intentions of others, and if we assume anything, we should assume the best in their intentions. 

I see this a lot too, especially on social media. People might be asking a question, not to undermine or get a rise out of anyone, but because they are genuinely curious and I've seen vegans can get very aggressive and angry with their questions. Most people don't realize how much passive-aggression and trolling vegans receive so they write us off as a bunch of really angry people. I think it's a good rule of thumb to take give people the benefit of the doubt if you don't know any better at least at first. Is there a good way to let your fellow vegans know that they should chill out? Is modeling a better example our best tool for this? 

There may be times when it is a good idea to say, "Let's hold on! I think John is sincere in wanting to know more about this. Let's give him the benefit of a doubt." Other times I will just delete the negative comments and try to engage directly with the false troll.

Let's talk about real life, in-person trolls! From family members to co-workers, many of us have to deal with people who undermine and insult us and what we stand for in life, some who are passive-aggressive and others who blatantly attack. Many of us who are activists have also had the experience of the "drive-by" troll, those who use the hit-and-run approach of saying something like "Get a life!" as they speed-walk past us at a protest. I know that this is a HUGE topic, but do you have any advice for dealing with an in-person troll? Does it differ from how you'd approach trolling from a stranger online? 

I think this depends on who the person is and how important it is to us if we want a continued relationship with them. Sometimes we need to decide that it's not healthy for us to continue to interact with someone who we feel is attempting to bully or upset us, and we need to set boundaries and limits. Other times, if it's someone who we want a continued relationship with, we need to find ways to express to them how their behavior makes us feel, and hope that they will listen to and validate us. In all cases, though, we have to make sure that we're really taking care of ourselves and are not allowing others to abuse us. That's obviously not good for us or for the animals who we advocate for. 

Self-care is so important for sustainability. So another question for you: what is an example of vegans trolling? When, if ever, is it justified? 

I will tell you a secret. I actually troll non-vegans on occasion. The way that I do this is to post provocative things on social media. They are always truthful, mind you, but I know that it will shake up some folks. For example, if we post something to the effect that one cannot claim to be an animal lover while eating animals, we get a big backlash on our page from dog and cat lovers. The reason we do this is because some people really do need a bit of a jolt of reality for them to question whether their behavior matches their beliefs. Secondly, when we do this, our posts go a lot more viral because of all of the angry comments and shares, which then causes our posts to show up on the newsfeeds of their friends. I know for a fact that we've helped many people go vegan as a result of our troll posts because we get many messages from those asking for help in their transition after such posts. 

I guess I don't call that trolling but being provocative. Potato, potahtoe and all that. Okay, last question. Burnout is such a real danger to vegans: do you have any general mental health tips for those of us who engage with the public as animal advocates? Sometimes it can feel so soul-crushing. 

Yes, try not to let yourself go to that dark place where you feel like everyone sucks. I think most advocates know this place I'm referring to. When we don't set boundaries and limits, when we don't take good care of ourselves, and when we don't know when to take a break from the trolls and the conflict, that's when we go to that dark place. Self-care in animal advocacy may sound cliché but it's really important if we are going to be effective advocates. It can be hard to give others the benefit of a doubt when we're in that dark place, and it's also hard to join with others in helping them change if we think that everyone is terrible. 

Thank you, Casey! I so appreciate your time and all you do! Thanks for participating in Troll Week. :)


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Open Letter to Tyson Ho, Offended Pitmaster…

 

Dear Mr. Ho,

I promise I will be mature. I promise I will not refer to you as an (arm)pitmaster as I did on my Facebook post as I have cooled off a bit and as I have nothing really against armpits per se as they serve an important and useful function in the world. Some consider the axilla an area on the body worthy of fetishizing. This is neither here nor there. I just didn’t want to jumble armpits up with the likes of you, Mr. Ho, as it is unfair to one of our most hardworking sweat gland locations.

Now I should add the obligatory trigger warning to anyone else reading this letter as depictions of gratuitous violence featuring you and the animals you slice up are forthcoming. I should also add that the inevitable vegans who will grasp at their faux-pearls at my lack-of-helping-the-cause with this open letter can, I don’t know, concentrate on their own efforts.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk, Mr. Ho.

You were brought to my attention yesterday, when I innocently clicked on a link in my aggregated vegan Google alerts. The link was to an article about the success of a Brooklyn-based seitan company called Monk’s Vegan Smokehouse and because it was in the mainstream outlet Gothamist, in order for everything to be fair and balanced and potentially clickbait-y, of course conventional flesh-slingers had to be quoted as well. For the most part, your brethren were gracious and showed courtesy. Not you, Mr. Ho. When asked about the concept of vegan BBQ, you took off your pitmaster gloves (I imagine you wear gloves and I imagine you took them off with what you consider panache) and issued forth this stunning quote: “Vegan BBQ is as nonsensical of a term as pork-chop sushi or composing a garden salad out of candy bars. BBQ centers around the philosophy of contextual communal feasting. Smoked seitan is violently antithetical to that. Rather than call to mind the excessive feasting of laborers at the end of the fall harvest, it's an anemic dietary constraint. Rather than
a celebration of abundance, it's a solution to a problem no one wanted solved.”

Wow.

Wow.

I meant it when I said that your quote was stunning. I was, quite literally, stunned, and as someone who tracks the public response to veganism as part of my job, that is saying something. Let’s dissect this cumbersome quote line by line like one of “your” hogs, Mr. Ho, but with a lot less gristle and viscera and no unnecessary violence. Rolling up my sleeves as I have no pitmaster gloves…

Vegan BBQ is as nonsensical of a term as pork-chop sushi or composing a garden salad out of candy bars.”

Why? Because you say so? Because you lack vision and you are a traditionalist who does not allow for adaptation and re-interpretation in your worldview? Is that why vegan barbecue is, as you say, nonsensical? If vegan barbecue is indeed nonsensical, is it in the first meaning of nonsensical, “
conceived or made without regard for reason or reality” or the second, “showing or marked by a lack of good sense or judgment,” because both sound like opinion to me, not something grounded in anything resembling fact. Who knew meat-carvers could be so emotional? 

Personally, I am very grateful for people who do not accept the status quo of traditions as they were handed down and have had the confidence and the imagination to leave behind the customs that are predicated on violence and harm. Further,
are the dead animals you barbecue covered with maguey leaves before they are set aflame in a hole in the ground, Mr. Ho, as in keeping with the original tradition? My good sir, please don’t tell me you are selling something that does not adhere to that exact preparation protocol and still referring to the flesh as “barbecue”. It is an abomination! It’s an act of aggression! It is just this side of veganish! Further, I hope you don’t think that all barbecue is the same when there are regional BBQ preparations that vary throughout the southern U.S, as well as Kansas City, Texas, Maryland and Chicago-style BBQs to name a few. If there can be all these different BBQ traditions just in the U.S., why can there not be a vegan one or even several vegan ones? It sounds to me like you don’t respect the art of the BBQ at all, Mr. Ho, and are sorely lacking in creativity. You have angered the BBQ gods!

BBQ centers around the philosophy of contextual communal feasting.”

So many fancy words, two of which are completely superfluous, to convey that BBQ is about sharing a meal together. Again, can vegans not feast together? Must roasted animal flesh be present for it to be an official Ho-approved bacchanal? The BBQ gods are angered again.

I have attended and hosted many community meals wherein no animals were sacrificed, a.k.a., vegan potlucks. To me, they felt like community gatherings and feasts. Alas, no smoldering corpses were present. I suppose they are now null-and-void in your view. Please validate my existence, Mr. Ho! Though I honestly don’t know how anyone could still have an appetite with this happening near them.

 
“Smoked seitan is violently antithetical to that.”

Again, why is smoked seitan antithetical to a community feast? Because you say so? You seem to be fond of making blanket pronouncements and having them stand in the place of fact. Seitan, also known as wheat gluten, has its origins in the Buddhist practice of nonviolence and was first referenced in the Qimin Yaoshu, a Chinese agricultural text written in the sixth century. Surely you are not implying that Buddhists who have shared communal meals for centuries with seitan and without dead animals feasted together in a way that was and is illegitimate. That would be, at the least, culturally insensitive and at the worst, highly arrogant. Seeing as the name of your business has the word “arrogant” in it, though attached to the sensitive animals who are slaughtered for your living, I will assume it is the latter. Also, should you be the one using the word “violently” as though it’s a pejorative after having posed for the above photo?

“Rather than call to mind the excessive feasting of laborers at the end of the fall harvest, it's an anemic dietary constraint.”

Okay, I could harp again on your opinions stated as fact, but I’m getting bored with that. I hope you are, too, and will adopt a different rhetorical style. Instead, I will ask you to please consider exhibit A, B, and C before you wax rhapsodic about the experience of laborers again. Or are you only interested in the golden-hued vision you have of our glorious past? Could you be laboring under a romanticized pastoralism? I hope you will click on those links to get a better sense of the lives of modern agricultural workers. But, but, but, you and your fellow flesh fetishists might sputter, I only buy free-range, organic, coddled, massaged noble beasts who have but one bad day…To that I have to ask, Who is the sentimentalist now? And, yeah, I’m calling bullshit on that. Are the laborers treated better? Most likely, considering that working in industrial agriculture is as dangerous, low-paid, exploitative and degrading a job as they come, they are treated better. Is this the bar, really as low as they come, one that you want to really boast about vaunting over, though? 




As per the “anemic dietary-constraint,” you get points for your purple prose but I must deduct more points for your lack of vision and awareness of the abundance and variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes and herbs available to us. How sad for an alleged culinary artist to be so limited in inspiration and sensuality. The BBQ gods, they are pissed.

I’m running out of steam, but this last pithy remark, oh, it’s a doozy.

“Rather than
a celebration of abundance, it's a solution to a problem no one wanted solved.”

For real, Mr. Ho, are you punking us? Yes, no one wants the “problem” of needless violence and suffering solved. No one at all. No one wants the “problem” of workplace exploitation solved. No one at all. No one wants the “problems” of water pollution, water scarcity, air pollution and climate change that are inextricably tied to animal agriculture solved at all, certainly not the future generations who will inherit this mess. Why would we want any of these problems solved when we could be sitting around a smoking pig's corpse in Brooklyn and picking our teeth with small-batch dental floss, ranting about seitan and patting ourselves on the back for being awesome, if completely narcissistic and oblivious, BBQ pitmasters?

Mr. Ho, you are the living manifestation of everyone’s dinner party-meets-Portlandia nightmare that unsuspecting, unlucky-as-hell people get seated next to and are forced to hear blather on and on about your sentimental version of BBQ culture of yore and history and sociology and philosophy and veganism and whatever random thing you pull out of your hipster ass and, speaking of your hipster ass, I am betting $100 in craft beer that you have at least two or three deeply regrettable tattoos.

)

You had to be this cold-hearted and psychopathic looking and be photographed doing whatever sick thing it is you’re doing to this tortured body with a FREAKING CIGAR in your mouth? Because it wasn’t mean-spirited and obnoxious looking enough without the cigar. Smoked seitan did not cause this problem. Human arrogance did.

Get help. And buh bye.

Sincerely,

Marla Rose

PS – Seriously, I mean it, get help. I am an optimist so I still believe it’s possible that you can be reformed. That may just be an anemia-fueled fanciful notion of mine, though.

PPS
You should be paying for the exorcism of my laptop I'll need to have now that I saved your demonic photos to my desktop even briefly.
PPPS – The BBQ gods really hate you.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstars with Lacie and Robin

 

Okay, so somehow this video came across my eyes and I watched the video and even though I was prepared to get all rage-y, I fell in love! (Even if I had to forgive them for their very wrong position on tempeh, though I may also have to face that only about four of us on the planet are actually fans of the stuff.) Lacie and Robin are a couple who have been together for 20 years and have gone vegan together in more recent years. They are both from comedy backgrounds and this is evident in the wonderful rapport they have together and use to tackle all kinds of subjects on their YouTube channel, from what does LGBTQIA mean exactly to simple steps you can take to help create better gun control. Oh, plus vegan videos, too! (And they’ve made a film together!) Their affectionate, warm chemistry, candor, maturity and refreshing lack of clickbait-y behavior made me so happy, especially given the often-toxic vegan representation on YouTube. We need to replace all the screechy, look-at-me vegans with more Lacie and Robins. Get off my lawn!!! Oh, and please subscribe to their YouTube channel and follow them on Facebook.

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?
It’s amazing as we’re thinking about it, but neither of us have early memories of being attracted to vegetarianism or veganism. We were both major animal lovers but it never occurred to us that that had anything to do with what we were eating. As adults, we dabbled in vegetarianism on and off but it wasn't until we met our friend, Barry, a vegan, who we love and admire for his all-around badassery, that we became open to it. He's always unassuming, and he never talked about being vegan when we met him. He just WAS that and we sort of watched and asked questions out of curiosity every now and again. Then, one night, we were surfing Netflix and we happened upon “Vegucated”, which we had always avoided like the plague, because we knew if we really faced the reality of what we were participating in, we wouldn't be able to eat meat anymore. But, that night, because of Barry, we were open to watching.
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?
Robin: I don't think there's any way I would have been convinced to change, except for seeing what happens to the animals. 
Lacie: Yeah, “Vegucated” was great because it lures the viewer into going along for the ride of whether people can go vegan for six weeks, and then, with a very light touch, actually, slips in two minutes of graphic imagery from a factory farm. That was that for us. We immediately looked at each other and said, “It’s over.”
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
Robin: We come from a stand-up comedy background so we always like to use humor to get the point across. We’ve done a couple of comedy videos on being vegan on our YouTube channel, “Lacie and Robin”, and we’re gonna be doing them more regularly because, hey we’re vegan. That’s what we do: we talk about it non-stop. But, we aim to be “safe” vegans, who aren’t going to try to convert you and make you feel guilty. One of the missions of our channel is to build bridges for people who wanna know more about veganism without feeling judged. We see ourselves as a place for people who maybe don’t necessarily want to become vegan but are just curious about it. We wanna be clear that people don’t have to become fully vegan to make small changes in their lifestyles that help the cause.
Lacie: We believe that making people feel guilty or wrong for eating animals is counterproductive. 



4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Lacie: The food is beginning to taste a whole lot better. There's a company named Beyond Meat now, that makes chicken that's so delicious and convincing, I actually it eat it out of the pan while I'm cooking it. That's amazing to me. This is what will begin to bring more people over. Lots of people aren't happy about the notion of hurting animals but they're not willing to give up delicious foods and they're not health nuts. Vegan "mayo" and "butter" are every bit as good as the dairy versions. Restaurants are popping up in L.A. that serve great vegan food. While we've become healthier eaters in the four years since we've become vegan, we still eat plenty of fake meats and cheeses. And, since it's all about the animals for us, we probably always will. So, these things matter to us a lot.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
We sometimes give ourselves a bad reputation by proselytizing. Nobody wants to be told what to do. That creates resistance and fear. The first vegan video we put up was called "Why Are Vegans So Annoying?" And, one of the jokes in it is that we vegans can never seem to get through a party without bringing it up. It's practically impossible because we genuinely care about the cause. But, no one wants to hear about death, taxes or veganism. We're better off being great examples.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
The sacrifice is nothing compared to the reward. Living a do-no-harm lifestyle has a hundred magical consequences you can never know unless you try it. 
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution? 
Bill Clinton's being vegan didn't hurt. And, it's totally encouraging that Scott Jurek, who won the ultra-marathon multiple times is vegan. In terms of films, we've talked a lot about "Vegucated" - a fun movie with a very light touch on the horrors of factory farming. "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" was a great watch and a real eye-opener with regard to the health benefits of being vegan. It was really about the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables but the outcomes for the participants, all of whom started with pretty serious health conditions, were plain undeniable.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
If we ever feel the slightest temptation, we think about the animals. We also like to drink beer and watch "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee."
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Lacie: I think sometimes people think that killing a cow, pig, etc. is not such a big deal if the animal has been free-range and allowed to live a reasonably natural life. But, factory farming means that animals never have anything like the sweetness of a natural life. These are fantasies created by marketing that have no relationship to reality. This includes dairy animals who, arguably, have even worse circumstances than meat animals.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...” 
Robin: . . . all about the animals.
Lacie: . . . the thing I'll be most proud of when I die. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Seventeen Examples of How Vegans are Poised to Rule the World...



1. We are obsessed with avocados and bananas and in a state of emergency, we have all the ripe ones while you are stuck with the sad, unripe ones, waiting in vain for them to ripen while the world burns outside your door.


2. Vegans can make people feel guilty without a word or even a glance. Let me repeat that: we can make omnivores feel guilty simply by existing. Who else besides your mother could make the same claim? I’m not sure exactly how this gift will be used to affirm our eventual ruling status, but, hey, it’s something for our toolbox just in case.

3. Put us in the least accommodating restaurant and the best of us can hack the hell out of the menu vegan MacGyver-style. I’m pretty sure this means that we’re resourceful and visionary, which are favorable traits for taking over the world.

4. Speaking of, we are like ruthless ninjas with flinging one-star reviews like we’re throwing shuriken stars at establishments that provoke our displeasure, which probably is evidence of our sharp reflexes and non-violent ruthlessness.

5. Not to brag or anything but we know approximately 700 things to do with cashews, which could be of value.  

6. With an hour’s notice, we can create an entire Instagram-worthy Thanksgiving meal out of pantry staples, parsley and a couple of onions. Can you?

7. We have been hit with every ludicrous excuse and justification for eating animals imaginable from people who want us to believe that the dietary needs of a carnivorous lion should dictate our moral decisions and those who make the should-have-been-disregarded-in-sixth-grade claim that plants feel pain. This is the landscape we dwell in, meaning that our lives are like absurdist comedies so we are ready for whatever life throws our way. Also: we’re basically Teflon.

8. Once you’ve been tagged in a bunch of photos wearing a tofu costume all over social media, you’re basically embarrassment-proof. I’m sure there’s some practical leadership advantage to that but I don’t know what it is right now.

9. If you’ve ever witnessed the conniptions that ensue when people find out that the wedding they’ve been invited to is going to be vegan and how irate they become at having their dietary preferences not catered to for one entire, single meal, you’ll realize that it doesn’t take much for some omnivores to collapse in a heap of self-pity and hollow righteous fury. Vegans, however, are accustomed to adapting to all situations thus we are completely poised for global domination.

10. Vegans who live in small towns and rural areas are practically survivalists but do it without killing animals, which is so much more awesome and less gross.

11. We invented and are perfecting an egg white replacement that is made from bean water. I’ll just leave that here.

12. We survived 1944 – 2000-something without decent vegan cheese. Some people say they can’t live without cheese, maybe the same people who will die if they have to endure an entire wedding without meat and animal products. Are these the people who we trust to take over the world? Unable to imagine life without string cheese and gruy
ère? Until recently, vegans have put nutritional yeast and almonds in the food processor, pulsed it together a few times, called it cheese, and carried on with our lives without colossal freak-outs. In short, we’re not babies.  

13. Have you ever wondered why we say or type the word “vegan” about 50 times a day? You can pronounce it correctly now, right? This will make power transfer much smoother. Thank you for your compliance.

14. You know how vegans are in and out of the bathroom quickly because of all that fiber? We’re using that spare time to foment the vegan revolution. What do you do with your time in the bathroom? Just sit there twiddling your thumbs? Whatever floats your boat.

15. We can scan an ingredients label in 10 – 20 seconds. We can scan labels in our sleep. We can scan labels while simultaneously making sure a toddler doesn’t upend a display of canned beans, figuring out dinner and planning our Fur Free Friday march. We’re like supercomputers when it comes to label scanning. Again, I’m not sure what we’ll be using this talent for in the new world order but it’s something.

16. The word “bacon” does not make us slobber uncontrollably. The new world order will reflect that Homer Simpson is a cautionary tale, not someone to emulate.

17. Who is better prepared for the revolution, the people who have meltdowns when there isn’t sufficient cheese, who care more about bacon than basic rights, and who feel completely violated when their every dietary preference isn’t met or the vegans? I think you already know the answer to that.
 


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Break...




Hi, all -

It’s come to my attention that I really need some time to reflect, recharge and get focused with some new goals. It’s not been an easy time, to be honest. I’ve become painfully aware that when you speak up about the things that matter to you, you may experience a lot of push-back in the form of verbal attacks and character assassination. This is not from outside the vegan movement, it is from within. I’ve dedicated my life to helping to build a more compassionate, just and sustainable world. I am unwavering in that. What is sad to me, though, that we can’t disagree, even vehemently, without stooping to such personal meanness. It makes me wonder what hope we have in ushering in a new consciousness when our default norm for engaging in critical disagreement is no better than what we see acted out on the political stage. I would hope that vegans would be modeling a different approach to dissension but I see that for many, vituperation and demonization is the status quo. We need to do better than this, even when our egos have been rattled.

Anyway, I am taking the time for a little self-care and reassessment, inspired by a generous and helpful friend, and I hope I return a little more rested and a lot more recharged. In the meantime, if you are in the Chicago area, please check out Veggie Fest this weekend! I will be doing a cooking demo on July 24 at 3:00. Details on the link.

See you soon!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Best Vegans Aren't Vegan and Other Absurdities...



From within the vegan movement, I have always observed a tendency toward painting one another as either hard-line ideologues or compromising doormats and the tinderbox that is online communication has only made things more fractious. This is also nothing new. What is new, though, is the attitude that I’ve seen pushed with more and more frequency and more and more certainty by mainstream vegan “thought leaders” that by making concessions on our vegan practices to accommodate those who are inconvenienced, confused or threatened by them, we are making strategic advances for the animals. In recent months, I’ve even seen some make the wholly Orwellian claim that by eating animal products on occasion, we are actually helping the animals overall by appearing to be less extreme, more approachable, just generally nicer. It seems that by eating animal products on advantageous occasions, we can help to assure their eventual liberation, or at least the liberation of their future generations. This line of reasoning only works, though, if you have bought into the false dichotomy that it is more beneficial to be helpful and pragmatic than to be judgmental and dogmatic.

In the world I live in, though, there are many ways to live as a vegan within the brackets of these polarities that do not rely on an obvious straw man caricature as the boogeyman. According to this convenient duality I’ve seen pushed with an increasing confidence, vegans can only choose between being supportive, smart pragmatists or angry, irrational ideologues. While I will wholeheartedly agree that all of us need to communicate better, I also believe that it is entirely possible to not behave like shrieking militants while still maintaining our commitment to veganism. If we bend over backwards to accommodate what we think people are threatened by, if suddenly eating something with “a little egg” or “a little butter” is the difference between someone thinking we’re reasonable and that same person thinking we’re puritanical, where do we draw the line? What if someone who I really want to appeal to thinks it’s dogmatic that I won’t eat bacon? What then? Do I eat the bacon? Why end there? A little beef? I am to understand from our new pragmatic leaders that we should eat cows over chickens. Why not just make it a regular part of my life to consume some beef and dairy to be more accommodating and model for the world that eating cows is preferable to eating chickens? Why not? Maybe I will become the ultimate vegan by not being vegan anymore. This may sound absurd and rightfully so but it is the obvious outcome of the Orwellian claptrap I’ve seen championed by thought leaders in the vegan movement for the past year or so: The best vegans are the ones who are not even vegan at all.

I came home tonight pretty upset and heartbroken after hearing yet another vegan speaker promoting this view of the helpful pragmatist and the out-of-touch idealist, an out-of-touch idealist who is so very extreme that he or she won’t even intentionally consume animal products. As my husband said when I came home and told him about it, here we are, closer than ever to gaining legitimacy and beginning to make real inroads for creating change and the real challenge to our progress is coming not from well-funded industries or powerful special interests but from within the vegan movement. By making the term “vegan” so nebulous and shape-shifting it for what we see as strategic gains, we are cutting the ethical basis out of our social justice movement. Those are our own hands doing the cutting. It’s not industry. It’s not special interests. We are on the precipice of powerfully positive change and here we are voluntarily holding the scissors. Snip, snip, snip. Cut that pesky meaning from the word. Let’s make everything all nice and neat and non-threatening.

All of this is to say that I will not knowingly consume animal products because if someone’s convictions about living with compassion and justice are so tenuous and flimsy that I need to eat yogurt-covered pretzels in order to convince them that I am a reasonable person, this is not someone I am going to focus on influencing. I will move on. I will continue to show that it is entirely possible to be a vegan who maintains her standards while remaining friendly, welcoming, engaging, accessible and helpful. Just as I wouldn’t expect domestic violence activists to engage in “a little battery” to convince the public that, hey, they’re not so high and mighty with their whole anti-violence thing, we should not be expected to compromise our values to be effective. We can be effective without it.

I have gotten dozens and dozens of messages from people over the years who have learned about veganism through positive but honest advocacy and they are deeply grateful for being able to access and unlock this incredibly rich, rewarding and empowering reservoir they never knew was inside of them. Their intelligence, strength and basic goodness was respected. These are people who had never envisioned themselves as vegan but saw the possibilities because their capacity to grow was trusted. Intentionally eating some animals to score perceived tactical points with “normal people” violates the very foundational premise of veganism, which is that we don’t knowingly use other animals for our purposes. This isn’t about purity; it isn’t about judgment. It’s simply about consistency and believing in the foundational principles of veganism. As my husband said when we talked about it, we have worked really hard for this word vegan to mean something and to bring awareness to not only what it means but also why we do it. People who largely eat a vegan diet but advocate eating some animals on some occasions under the pretext of effectiveness need to call themselves something else. This isn’t splitting hairs. They are simply promoting something other than veganism.

Oh, and, hey, look at what just showed up in my Google alerts this very morning. Sample quote: "I think 'seagan' fits a huge need for vegans who want variety and, for health reasons, they now realize they can eat this."

Yup. When animals are eaten by vegans, we are truly in an Orwellian reality of our own doing. My sincere apologies to the animals. The “vegans” have sold you down the river.