Wednesday, September 2, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with John Beske

So this is kind of weird. I had someone else lined up to be my featured profile today and he didn’t follow through at the last second so, bootstrappers that we are, we resolved the matter in-house, which means you all get to enjoy the musings of my husband, the wonderful (and perhaps long-suffering) John Beske.

John is just awesome. What can I say? He’s a great husband and father, he does the dishes like a champ, he thinks everything I cook is amazing and he can meme the hell out of animal ag like nobody’s business. A longtime vegan – I called him on Feb. 1, 1995, said that I thought we should go vegan, and he was like, “’Kay” because that’s the kind of guy he is – and a talented designer, John, a.k.a., Johnny, a.k.a., Johnnycakes, a.k.a., Cakey, comes from an advertising background, having worked his way up to a senior art director position at the big agency Leo Burnett, but the writing was on the wall when his values began to deeply conflict with his ability to work on accounts like McDonald’s. He left that career in 1993 to begin applying his advertising know-how to creating a difference with advocacy-based materials. First at Sustain, a pioneering environmental communications agency, and now my partner at Vegan and
Chicago VeganMania as well as taking clients at John Beske Communications, John uses his design savvy and his skills at communicating complicated issues to the public in comprehensible, moving ways to move people in the direction of more compassionate choices. He’s talented and hard-working and kind; in short, he is the perfect Lefty to my Pancho, the Watson to my Holmes, the Ethel to my Lucy. John quietly works in the background while I get more of the attention but, truth be told, he deserves much more of the spotlight. In my humble opinion, he is a behind-the-scenes hero and one of the most powerful allies we have in spreading the vegan message effectively and memorably. For this reason and more, John Beske is a Vegan Rock Star 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 grew up in a small town surrounded by farms, so I was pretty acquainted with some of the animals who would become food, but I never really connected the pieces. I even once toured the factory chicken farm of a classmate, and that disturbed me and kind of killed my taste for chicken, though a still would eat it occasionally.

And then, one night in late 1984, I was really sick with bronchitis, and lying in bed watching public TV when a documentary called The Animals Film came on. I was horrified, though too ill to move enough to change the channel, so I had to watch the whole thing. By the end of it I had determined to be a vegetarian. It would be several years before I was even aware of the concept of veganism, though I was slowly moving in that direction. I made the decision to become vegan in early 1995, partly because my then-girlfriend (and now wife and Vegan Street partner), was doing it [Ed.: smart man!], but further driven by the introduction of rBGH growth hormone in dairy cattle. The only way I could avoid that was to quit dairy altogether

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?

One may not have been able to sway me by simply talking about the violence toward animals. I spent time on the farms of my buddies and saw animals which seemed to be living the sort of seemingly idyllic life that we’re taught they live (these were very small farms in the 1960s and early ‘70s – factory farming hadn’t really caught on yet). But I had a pretty strong sense of morality, so it might have been easier to play to that by saying something like, “If I am able to let animals suffer and die simply for a few moment’s of someone’s gustatory pleasure, am I able to also turn my back on tyranny, war and other abuses of innocent people?”  It also would have helped to know that there was an alternative. As far as I knew, everyone ate animals, and it was natural, normal and necessary.

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’ve spent years trying to figure that out. I think different things reach different people. I try to focus on finding words and images that concisely and compellingly point out the absurdity of eating animals (as well as the cruelty, immorality, wastefulness and self-destructiveness of it). When we can point out how eating animals is causing so much pain to the animals, the planet, our own lives, and also the utter ridiculousness of every single argument in favor of it, we’re halfway there.

The other half is to constantly foment, nurture and promote the vegan community and lifestyle. People crave comfort and convenience and the belief that they are good people trying to do the right thing. Guide them and give them a supportive place to go.

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

I’m always amazed at the intelligence, passion, creativity and drive of vegan activists. There are many thousands of people trying many thousands of ways to share their messages, and we’re all continually teaching and learning from each other. Thanks to them, the movement is growing exponentially. It’s a wonderfully fertile time, and I’m always excited to see what’s going to happen next.

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

Our biggest obstacle is the dark side of one of our greatest strengths: our passion. We often turn this passion into obstinance, self-righteousness and occasional bouts of just plain meanness. A lot of vegans are too quick to attack those we are trying to persuade. Many of us even attack each other for not being pure enough or focusing our energies in an imagined wrong direction. Unfortunately, the stereotypical “angry annoying vegan” does exist in real life, and is probably the single biggest hurdle our movement needs to overcome.

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

When you and others like you move away from eating animals, fewer animals will suffer, our water and air will become cleaner, global warming will slow, our oceans and rainforests will deteriorate at a slower rate, fewer animals and plants will go extinct, the world will waste far less food, water, fuel and money, more hungry people will be fed, and you’ll be able to extend your own life by lessening your chances of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. You’ll also feel better in your heart because your life will reflect your values. And you’ll be a part of a community of wonderful dynamic people who are making the world a better place for all of us.

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?

Of course, I was influenced by the aforementioned documentary, The Animals Film. And over the years, I’ve been inspired by far too many incredible activists to list them all here. When I was just getting into it, however, I got the most inspiration from Howard Lyman, Rae Sikora, Gene Baur, Satya magazine, and the activists of Animal Rights Mobilization in 1990s Chicago. In particular, my primary inspiration is and has always been my beautiful wife, Marla Rose. [Ed.: Aw, Cakey!]

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

I think we’re at our best when we can conjoin two passions and use each to inspire the other. My other passion has always been art and design. Being around artistic works (also including great music, books, films, etc.), gets me recharged, inspired and fired up to jump back into the ring. I also need to spend time in nature, just walking or cycling or just hanging out. This reminds me how connected we all are and shows me what I’m fighting to protect. Visiting sanctuaries is really good for this as well.

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

The issue I finding myself writing about the most is the sheer destructiveness of animal agriculture on the planet. Our oceans and rainforests are dying, water is in deep danger of becoming privatized, and the effects of global warming are exacerbating famines, wars and the flow of refugees around the world. Most vegans understand the vast harm we have inflicted on a few species of animals that we have turned into commodities that end up on our plates. But it’s hard to grasp the tenuousness of our own species’ grip on survival, and how severely animal agriculture weakens that grip.

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

… the greatest gift we can give ourselves, our planet and everyone and everything else.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Meat for Special Snowflakes

Do you know someone who simply must eat animals because he has a rare blood thing? Or she has something that’s hard to explain but is related to her hormones or her genes or her unique microbiome and her wellness coach insists that her PH will go absolutely bonkers unless she eats meat? Or maybe you know someone who tried to go vegan for almost a week and he almost died because of his ancestry? Or maybe you know people who claim to only eat animals that were raised in loving, empowering farming environments?  If so, you must know a Special Snowflake variety omnivore.

Even though such Special Snowflakes are ubiquitous, they’re not like any other meat-eaters; they are different in ways that make them more special than most and they want to tell you all about it. To assist with their efforts to prove to the world how very different their meat consumption is from the other billions of other flesh-eaters, I’ve taken it upon myself to create some brands that are tailor-made for the particular conceit that drives their meat-eating. Want to be an eco-minded animal lover who gets to have his meat and eat it, too? Look no further.

“The animals hand-picked for our label must fill out a 20-page application, produce no fewer than 10 letters of recommendation, pass an extensive background check and score in the top 5% of applicants on their IQ test to even be considered for our brand. Once accepted, each day will be spent being groomed for the most graceful and blissful end as they are consensually air-kissed day and night by our team of specially bred pink magical unicorns until they expire of old age. Our clients tell us that they can even taste the air kisses.”

Zero Carbs and Carbon

“Designed for the Crossfit enthusiast who wants maximum Instagram-ready photo opportunities without feeling guilty about destroying the planet, our product provides the ideal workout fuel without the carbs or the carbon emissions. Avoiding the double bugaboo of carbohydrates and carbon emissions has never been easier, in fact, as our ambulatory commodity units have been bred to transform and divert their methane outflow from greenhouse gas production and into the creation of oxygen, which is necessary to life on Earth, and even more protein. Become the hardcore beast you were born to be!”
Uniquely You Heritage Meats ®
“Maybe you are half-Italian. Maybe you’re of Native American descent. Maybe your ancestors were peaceful nomadic shepherd people. Maybe your great-grandfather was a butcher. Maybe your mother was phobic of produce having rescued you from a pile of tumbling watermelons when you were an infant. No matter what it is, it makes you very highly special and while being vegan might be fine for some people, your genes or your background or your ancestry or your something-something deserve to be publicly recognized as often as possible. You’re not like everyone else. You are an exotic specimen and Uniquely You reflects your fascinating background.”

Purity Providers ®
“Reared on a steady diet of biodynamic, heirloom variety five-leaf clovers that are gently hand-watered daily with triple-purified Swiss Alps stream water by graduates of Lucerne’s most prestigious yodeling school, our animals are so pristine they don’t even touch the ground: they actually levitate. Hand-fed by our Swiss virgins in our verdant, temperature-controlled bio-dome, Purity Providers graduates will not befoul your exceptional structure with polluted, putrefying flesh but rather elevate your refined biological system to its deserved status.”

Rare Breeds for the Rare Breed ®
“You know that you are of an uncommon pedigree; shouldn’t your meat choices reflect that? Common animals are for commoners: our clients feast on a rare collection of meats from unique species like Yellow Goosetail, Cliff-top Swallows, Spiny-Antlered Moose Deer, Blunt-Tusked Boar Mules and Jersey-Striped Octoberfish. Leave the cows, chickens, pigs and other mundane creatures to the little people with less daring and sophisticated palates. When you bring an unforgettable Blue-Breasted Warbler roast with Mountain Ox cheese to your office holiday party, it will easily stand out from the run-of-the-mill casseroles and unremarkable meat trays, and it will be obvious for even the average plebeians to notice who is really a cut above.”

The Sensitivity Brand ®
“Engineered for the Specialist of the Special Snowflakes, we created the Sensitivity Brand for those whose specific inner-ecology demands that you eat animals or you will die a slow, painful death when your blood pressure flat-lines or your brain shrivels up due to flesh deprivation. No one understands how delicately calibrated your system is as well as we do. In addition to our carefully nurtured flesh that erases all physical and emotional imbalances with its signature blend of complementary nutrients, high frequencies and molecules, anyone who enrolls in our meat-of-the-month club will also received a framed letter personally signed by Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama, Jesus and Oprah that officially pardons your animal consumption. Rest well knowing that every day, our meats celebrate you in all your you-niqueness.”

Do you have any ideas for some more brands to appeal to Special Snowflake meat-eaters? I’d love to hear them…

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Amy Rebecca

The vegan world has certainly expanded far beyond what I remember of my early days of meeting in dark, musty church basements once a month to plan our next protest and complain about our boorish coworkers. With the new opening of Vegan Scene in
Venice Beach, CA, a glam 1,600-square-foot space that positively pulsates with the most excellent vegan vibes, I can see more than ever how far our culture has come. The brains and brawn behind the Vegan Scene (“…Studio 54 with more quinoa”) operation, Amy Rebecca, is a longtime vegan, activist and social media maven, having already established herself and her creative, compassionate vision with FurFree LA and Vegans of Instagram. With a stylish, carefully curated retail space, cooking classes featuring the fabulous Spork Foods sisters, parties (Halloween! New Year’s Eve! The Big Lebowski!), a wide array of fitness classes, animal adoptions, opportunities to see speakers, films and more, my only disappointment is that I don’t live closer. I am thrilled to hear about Vegan Scene and can’t wait to visit this exciting endeavor that establishes vegan culture even more as an accessible, fun lifestyle that is within reach. For all her work in expanding vegan culture and building a more compassionate world, Amy Rebecca 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?

When I was seven I adopted three hens. It wasn’t long before I made the connection that the chicken on my plate was the same kind of animal as my pet chickens, so I stopped eating chicken right then and there. Eventually I learned where all meat comes from, and soon after that I went vegetarian. I didn’t even know what a vegan was until I was 15, when I took an animal rights workshop in high school. The first day of class they showed us a video about how much animal abuse has permeated our culture and how avoiding animal cruelty extends far beyond just abstaining from eating their flesh. I was horrified, so on the spot I declared myself a vegan. That was 13 years ago, and I haven’t wavered since.

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?

My animals are my family; their rights matter to me as much as my own. Once I learned what veganism was all about, I knew that was what was destined for me. So, to be frank, it wouldn’t take much to convince me. The one challenge that I wish I had known about beforehand was how to deal with the rest of the world. I was vegan before it was cool. I think that is becoming less of an issue, however, now that veganism has gone mainstream.  

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

Definitely humor. But that didn’t come about right away. I’d say my journey is a bit like the Preston Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels. It’s about a filmmaker that wants to direct a socially relevant drama, but discovers that his comedies are his most valuable contribution to society. As a fresh vegan, I was much more in your face about addressing veganism. I wanted people to see the horrors of factory farming and feel just as outraged as I did. I quickly discovered that did not work for me. I was met with pushback or “yeah that sucks, but I’d rather not know.” I wanted to find a way to reach people in a way that they could not only absorb information, but also enjoy it. So I stuck with what I knew: fashion, humor and parties. I’d also say, beyond that, the most effective way to communicate the vegan message is to be respectful and informed. Communicating veganism is like working in sales. You want the person to trust you, so you strike up a common interest and adapt your pitch to their personality, and make what you’re offering the right choice for them. You can’t force someone to buy something, but, if you’re good at communicating your message, chances are they’ll buy it.

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

That we’re right. What’s happening to animals and the environment is repulsive and heartbreaking. I cannot think of any argument against veganism. At the end of the day, it’s “Will you kill?” I will not. Period. Pass the quinoa!

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

I’d say it’s both a branding issue and infighting within the vegan/animal rights community. When people think of animal rights activists and vegans, they think of granola or throwing red paint. Obviously that’s false. That’s like saying everyone that votes democratic is the same.

There is a divide between the abolitionists who want to smash the cages and those that tackle welfare, basically by haggling for more cage space. We can’t decide on tactics, and it divides the community. A perfect example is how people view PETA. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. They kick ass, but some of their stunts just make us cringe. Thing is, there’s no “one way” to combat animal cruelty. No “magic bullet.” The level of animal cruelty is stacked so extraordinarily high that many different types of tactics are required. That’s why it’s so important for us to stick together.  

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

If you’re trapped in an elevator with a meat eater and a vegan, and one of them farts… who do you think is going to do less harm to the elevator’s aroma? The one who eats plants or the one that eats flesh? Also, great food, cute boys, amazing shoes and no animals harmed. Plus you can take longer showers with all of the water you save by not contributing to factory farming. Or animal farming at all for that matter.

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 animal rights workshop that I took in high school that introduced me to veganism; my dad for always trying to see the good in people and reinforcing the fact that there are always two sides to a story; and Jared Leto for looking delicious.

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

Never underestimate the power of retail therapy. Endorphins and Vitamin D are cool and all, but nothing feels like a new pair of heels or a summer sundress. I’m also big on hugging puppies and kitties. That’s why I live with so many of them.

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

That’s a hard one. As an activist I focused on fur. Not only because it’s frivolous, but also because it seemed like the easier win and a gateway platform. If you can feel compassion for a fox who’s killed for his or her fur, you have empathy for a piggy killed for his or her flesh. They’re all important, but specificity is required.

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

The future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Drained from Within: The Causes and Consequences of Burnout in Our Movement

When I was at the Animal Rights Conference recently, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a session called “Healing the Movement from Within.” This spoke to me for obvious reasons: one doesn’t need a background in social work or psychology to notice that there is a great deal of emotional pain among vegan activists and social justice-minded individuals in general and that this emotional pain can manifest in ways that create real consequences for our entire movement. How we manage this pain – or fail to do so – is writ large on social media platforms as we lash out against each other, shame one another, mistreat each other and jump to the worst possible conclusions about each other based on the merest suggestion of grounds to do so. This is not a startling insight; anyone can observe it daily.

Of particular interest to me at the panel was the contribution from Associate Professor Paul Gorski, who spoke emphatically about the serious repercussions of burnout, described by Merriam-Webster as “
exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration,” among activists and what we are beginning to understand about its roots and consequences. The research says that burnout among social justice activists has some consistent patterns on the emotional spectrum: it can register as depression, anxiety, exhaustion, a growing sense of cynicism and hopelessness, and combinations of these things. According to Mr. Gorski, these psychological symptoms are distinct from the daily travails of life in that they are chronic and they are debilitating. If the consequences of burnout persist, they pose a threat of diminishing our normal resilience and disrupting our ability to sustain our activism, which singularly jeopardizes our potential to create meaningful change for the animals. If the symptoms persist and are not addressed, a common result is the withdrawal from activism, perhaps temporarily, perhaps irrevocably. The research also tells us that 50% to 60% of social justice activists eventually drop out of their cause.

Maybe many who leave activism would quit anyway – we all know someone who got swept up in the initial emotional rush of a social justice movement but missed the deeper connection that is needed for the long haul – but do some, perhaps many, get pushed out the door by the continual hammering away at one another that is so pervasive in our movement? While the research is still being conducted (more on that later), Mr. Gorski believes that contrary to the common assumption that burnout usually happens as a result of butting up against a society that is antagonistic to our message, it is actually hostility from within the movement – in other words, intra-movement combat in the form of in-fighting and an unwillingness to address oppressions, like sexism, racism, classism, etc. – that wreaks the biggest toll on our ability to sustain ourselves for a lifetime as contributing, effective activists. Further, according to Mr. Gorski, it is the “culture of martyrdom” - a pervasive attitude that denigrates and mocks the need for self-care within our movement - that is one of our biggest challenges to the well-being and longevity of our activists and one of the biggest sources of burnout. (From my notes taken during the panel: “We need to see self-care as part of sustaining our movement.”)

What does this mean? It means that our growth as a movement is disrupted and stunted by the streaming out of those who might ordinarily remain active if not for feeling attacked from within. It means that our ability to collaborate and help one another with reaching goals is hindered. It means that progress stagnates. It means that the entrenched, powerful forces that benefit from a disrupted, more fragmented movement – in our case, animal agribusiness and other industries that exploit and violate animals – gain even more traction as we lose precious momentum despite holding the moral high ground. It is the animals who pay the ultimate price for our unwillingness to foster fewer conditions for burnout as we continue to try to score points off of one another and disregard our innate need for connection, support and being treated with respect.

I am a longtime vegan. I don’t feel particularly vulnerable to burnout but I can tell you that I am not impervious to it, either. For example, when a hunter shows up on the Vegan Street Facebook page and says, “Mmm…bacon” or verbally attacks us, it makes no impression on me. Nothing. What causes me to lose morale, though, is meanness and vitriol from other vegans. Truly, that is what feels like a punch to the gut to me and what makes me question if my efforts are worth the abuse. I am absolutely not alone with this; I observe the internecine attacks daily and I also see people who were once active become silenced, cynical, isolated and withdrawn as they grow tired of feeling pummeled by those within their very movement. Every day, I see vegans, newbies and seasoned activists alike, treated like the worst kinds of offenders by people within the movement and I just cringe. We are all going to disagree with one another and that is essential to creating a robust and effective social justice movement. Abuse and attacks, however, lead to nothing more than a flight away from vegan activism and this has profoundly negative consequences for our bottom line, which is building a more just and compassionate world. So:

If you say things like, “You should be doing [insert form of outreach] instead of [insert different form of outreach] or you are hurting the animals,” you are fostering burnout and you are hurting the animals.

If you say things like, “Sexism [or racism, homophobia, etc.] is nothing compared to what the animals go through! Stop being a selfish whiner and making everything all about you,” you are fostering burnout and you are hurting the animals.

If you say things like, “If you’re not a real activist [in other words, in the way the person recognizes as the only legitimate way], you suck and you should just disappear,” you are fostering burnout and you are hurting the animals.

We have always had a culture of blame, shame and misdirected aggression in our movement and now with social media, it’s like it’s been doused with kerosene. The end result is that people are continuing to get burned out, giving up their activism and muting their voices for creating the positive changes that are so desperately needed.

The way out of this? The more we lend one another support out of the line of fire and model more effective strategies for communication when we see other vegans being shamed, scolded or attacked online, the more we are helping to create a strong, healthy movement of people who are not afraid to contribute. I have no research to back this up but my guess is that connection and community are our best tools for sustaining and building our activist base. We are not robots: the human animal craves connectivity and community, which fosters a meaningful life of participation and altruism, believed by researchers to be more valuable than a happy one.

This isn’t rocket science. Want to help the animals? Don’t contribute to the burnout of other vegans. (By the way, if you would like to participate in research on activist burnout, please consider contacting Paul Gorski.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Mark Stroud

Culinary Olympic award-winner and vegan of more than 40 years, chef Mark Stroud is a beacon of peace ushering in a new, more compassionate world and has been for many years. Inspired by Dr. Will Tuttle's best-selling World Peace Diet, Mark has continued the message of the work with book studies in his native Cincinnati - along with classes, teacher trainings, workshops and more - as well as helped to create the popular Jubilee Peace Fest, now in its fifth year. Right now, there is a crowd-sourced fundraising effort to bring Mark's amazing recipes to publication as a companion to Dr. Tuttle's groundbreaking book in the form of a cookbook, The World Peace Diet Cookbook, which would make the teachings of The World Peace Diet even more practicable with his delicious recipes. In addition, the fundraising efforts will help to make the World Peace Diet Cuisine line of organic vegan food products available for everyone as well as a couple of other ambitious but important goals: creating the Peace House Grille dining area to offer locals the opportunity to try cruelty-free cuisine and funding their Jubilee Animal Sanctuary so that they can expand their capacity for taking in more animals in need. Please consider supporting this worthwhile cause! For all that he has done to help create a more peaceful, just and compassionate world, we are proud to have had an opportunity to get some more wisdom from Mark Stroud.

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?

This question was tailor-made for me. I grew up in the middle of my Grandmother Nana’s catering business. She was the matriarch of our family and a gourmet chef. My entire childhood until I was 18 or so was a culinary apprenticeship under the loving and watchful eye of my maternal Grandmother. It was in this fertile culinary ground where I developed a deep love for food and all its wonders, from cultivation all the way to compost.

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?

My family lived with my Grandmother for many years and my diet was, for the most part, very traditional American. What was unique was the high-end catering facet of my life. I started making hors’d'oeuvres and canapés for catered parties when I was nine years old. Those appetizers became some of my favorite childhood eats — and of course miniature dessert delicacies. When I started cooking professionally, it was most fun for me to create vegan versions of my Grandmother’s recipes, such as bacon wraps. Many of these creations are featured in my cookbook.

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

I learned a long time ago that, as a chef, I am incapable of pleasing all people all the time. That led me to cook primarily for me, with my own palate in mind when generating menus. Thank goodness that over the years many others have demonstrated a love for my food, too. One of my favorite foods and one of my favorite creations is artichoke tetrazzini, which is to be a star menu item at our new restaurant the Peace House Grille. 

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

My first thought is someone influential who might turn others on to vegan food. I have prepared meals for a number of celebrities, such as Forest Whitaker and the increasingly controversial Donald Trump, that might make that difference. In my heart, I see myself preparing a meal for my Grandmother Nana, who left a lasting impact on me and greatly influenced the trajectory of my life. I’d love to prepare for her the artichoke tetrazzini I mentioned earlier.

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

In my cooking classes and in the cookbook, I talk about the Three P’s. Fear in the kitchen is the number one thing I see holding people back from new culinary adventures, including vegan exploration. The three parts of a recipe are the Three P’s: Procurement, Preparation and Presentation. Knowing that the first P is simply buying food to have a well-stocked kitchen is easy and fearless for most people. Who doesn’t like to shop? And just by completing the first P, the recipe is 33% completed and one is well on their way, which eases that indoctrinated fear from family history and habits.

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

Sea vegetables, gluten-free ingredients, and a large dose of live foods get my juices flowing. In grade school, I remember reading in my “Weekly Reader” that seaweed will be the food of the future. Fast forward to now with our toxic land environment; the dense nutrients still found in the vegetables of our oceans are an Aladdin’s treasure. Bringing this under-utilized treasure trove of food to everyday households is, for me, a dream come true. The cookbook is gluten-free, full of live food dishes, and of course chock full of sea vegetables.

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

From childhood to this day, Italian has always been one of my favorites. My first restaurant was in San Diego, California, where my produce was purchased in the street markets of Tijuana, Mexico. So, from that experience, food from south of the border is high on my list. And, from my Grandmother, I still love food from the United States, particularly with a Southern influence, as she came from the most southern part of Kentucky.

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

My friend Paul, who is the spitting image of St. Germain, stands out for me. I particularly remember the day he asked me as a 20-year-old while sitting in a Chinese restaurant, “Why are you eating that chicken?” In that moment of realization, I had no good answer. Reading the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse was also a big influence in my freshman year of college; it exposed me to Buddhism, yoga and vegetarianism. More recently, it has been my association and collaboration with Dr. Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet, who is a constant source of inspiration. We think very much alike and are deeply invested comrades in arms.

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

I live with rescued racehorses and they remind me every day of the horrors our fellow animals must endure. It is a little known fact that horses have historically been — and to this day are — used by humans for so-called “food,” just as are cows, pigs, chickens, goats, ducks, turkeys, fish, rabbits, sheep, etc. It is my mission that it be brought to the attention of the masses that horses, along with their fellow animal friends, are no different from us, the human-animal. They deserve to be treated with kindness, gentleness, respect and unconditional love.

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

World peace! As a culture we are bankrupt physically and spiritually. One example is how we look at food. By definition, food has to be a substance for nourishment and growth. Eating dead animal parts and the secretions of enslaved animals is clearly malnourishment for the slaughtered and exploited animals themselves. Considering our current human health crisis, eating dead animal parts and the secretions of enslaved animals is a non-food event for us also. In my hometown of Cincinnati, there are over 1,500 restaurants that proclaim to be serving food and only two or three vegan restaurants actually are. The people who eat this purported “food” at these restaurants are actually filling themselves full of fear and violence and are literally starving to death physically and spiritually. They are consequently unable to live a truly authentic, peaceful life because of this horrifying norm. By shedding this practice and adopting a vegan lifestyle, each person now has the gift to be World Peace!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Gone faux-fishing!

Hi, all -

This is just the barest of updates to say that we will be out of town starting today and through next week and due to all the work to prepare for the trip as well as assignments due other places, I have not had a chance to write anything here. Yes, I feel guilty but short of simply posting incoherent ramblings written at 3:00 AM just to have something to publish, it was not physically or psychically possible to have an essay this week. (Though it could be funny.) Anyway, we will be slinging vegan message gear at the Animal Rights Conference and if you are in town, we’d love to see you at the Vegan Street booth. I will also be on a panel Friday at noon.

Otherwise, same time, same place next week.

xo -


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Ashley Leslie...


Ashley Leslie, a.k.a., The Vegan Peach, is a straight-talking, down-to-earth and unapologetic vegan activist who also happens to love herself some cruelty-free products, with an emphasis on body care products. As one of the most up-to-date people out there on the subject of cosmetics testing, an industry that always seems to be frustratingly hard to pin down, she always seems to have the most reliable information because in the cosmetics industry, a company that is safe for vegan consumers one week, can get bought out by an animal-testing conglomerate like the L'Oréal Group the next week. Before I turn anywhere, I check out Vegan Peach and her videos to get a run-down on the companies I can trust with my money as well as other cruelty-free products. I appreciate Ashley’s passion, wealth of knowledge, commitment to details and her hold-no-prisoners honesty when it comes to cruelty to animals, as well as, frankly, her frankness about some of the cruddier aspects of the larger vegan community. I am grateful for Ashley’s candor and her commitment to building a more compassionate world. For this reason and more, Ashley Leslie 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?

From a very early age, I felt strong connections with everything around me, being told I was highly “emotional” or “sensitive” making me feel like there was something deeply wrong with me. Now I realize it was a gift, one that has given me my ability for compassion. In the summer of 2002, my family rented the movie K-Pax. In the movie, Kevin Spacey believes he is from a distant planet. In one particular scene, he mentions how cows are killed and processed and at that moment I had a huge awakening. I gave up beef and pork at that time. In 2005, I met my now-husband who happened to be a vegetarian. He introduced me to the world of veggie meat alternatives. When I realized I could still enjoy the taste of “chicken” without harming any, I became vegetarian overnight. Flash forward six years, I got up one morning with no rhyme, no reason and simply said, “That’s it, I’m going vegan.” I had been feeling guilt for quite some time after learning the truths behind dairy and egg industries and finally made the leap. I’ve never looked back. I’ve now been vegan for four years and a few months and it’s honestly the best decision I ever made. I found purpose that day.

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

I am all about honesty and education. Everyone is different, some people are very receptive with very little effort and others turn away with just the word vegan being mentioned. For me, it was a very small moment that pushed me on my journey. Personally I am highly connected to other animals so I truly believe showing people the truths behind their food, clothing, cosmetics, entertainment, etc. is very important. I also am big on showing the amazing vegan food options available to people. You don’t need to kill something to have a delicious meal. In fact, I love food more now than I ever did before and my diet is much more varied then my pre-vegan days.

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

Honestly, I think a little bit of everything is great. I am a very passionate person, you can see this come through a lot on my YouTube channel. At the same time I also like to be approachable, down to earth and humorous. Images also have their place and I do use those from time to time. I try to be available to every type of personality. I don’t want to scare people off, I am just me.

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

I believe we are strong, passionate and relentless. Every day I see the strides veganism has made through products on the shelves and sheer numbers of vegans across the globe.

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

Honestly, each other. It saddens me to see how much “in fighting” and attacking of one another happens. I think our passion can do wonders but at the same time, it hinders us. We won’t always agree on everything but it’s important to stick together as a cause, even if we don’t personally like each other.

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

I don’t think “Thou shalt not kill” should be limited to humans.

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

I am inspired by many vegans, one actually being Marla and Vegan Street. I really enjoy the films Speciesism, Ghosts in our Machine, Vegucated, Got the Facts on Milk, Cowspiracy and Bold Native. is one of my favourite websites where you can find local vegan-friendly restaurants.

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

I think sometimes unplugging from social media is important. If you find yourself getting extremely upset and depressed by the endless amounts of cruelty, take a day or two off. I like to spend time in nature, walking by the ocean, in the public parks, exploring and taking photos. Also, of course spending time with my cats always makes me feel better. If I were closer to one, I’d definitely recommend visiting animal sanctuaries where animals are treated like they should be.

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

It’s really hard to pick one. I am passionate about all aspects of animal rights. I do feel very strongly against animal testing, though, if I have to pick one, as I feel it’s something that gets overlooked, so often. I actually created my website in the beginning to have my own cruelty-free list, it evolved from there. Beauty definitely doesn’t have to come at the expense of other beings. I also feel very few people realize what exactly goes on in labs. The very animals you share your homes with are those being abused so people can have longer eyelashes and plumper lips.

All animals deserve to be free. All animal cruelty breaks my heart into pieces.

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

A reason to exist.