Friday, December 15, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstars with the Vegan Voyagers




Hayden and Aaron Hall, the Vegan Voyagers, are a recently married couple of vegan advocates who are on an exciting new adventure: traveling the US in an RV with their five cats, dog, and silkie chicken (Brienne of Tarth inspired by Game of Thrones). The Hall’s goal is to visit every state, every National Park, and eat at as many vegan restaurants as possible. Hey, that’s my goal, too!

With backgrounds working in a variety of roles at large animal rights and protection organizations, Hayden now works as the Grassroots Campaign Manager at FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) and Aaron, previously with Sea Shepard, now does contract work for animal rescue organizations in addition to working as a smarty developer guy. Taking their show on the road, the Halls are able to work remotely while enjoying the burgeoning vegan scene across the country. I am happy to feature
the Vegan Voyagers as this week’s Vegan Rock Stars.

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?

In college, one of Hayden’s professors was a vegan and taught a class called “Religion and Animals” which discussed the way different religions treat animals. We read a book called Next of Kin by Roger Fouts about a chimpanzee named Washoe who spoke ASL. Hayden made the connection that you can’t love one animal and eat the other, so she started cutting out specific meat products; pork, beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and finally cheese. Giving up cheese was the most difficult part of her journey, but she landed a job as a Campaigner at PETA in October of 2010 and never looked back.

Aaron grew up in the Midwest and was raised in a “meat and potatoes” environment, however, that all changed when he turned 30.  One day, while watching TV he had his “A-HA” moment where everything clicked and he realized that it was hypocritical to fight for one animal, but eat another. Over the next six months, he started transitioning to vegetarianism with the intent of going vegan. He finally committed to veganism on January 17, 2014 while on campaign in Taiji, Japan after witnessing the dolphin slaughter first-hand. Right then and there, he vowed to never consume any animal products from that day forward.

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?

Finding a way to make the conversation relatable to a person’s life seems to be the most impactful way to get someone thinking. Would someone be more impacted by the cruelty, the health benefits/ effects, or the environment argument for being vegan?  It’s very easy to get in the mindset of “that doesn’t affect me, I’m not physically killing them for food, clothes, etc.” Showing people the pathway to connect the dots is a far better way to reach someone than just showing them photos of slaughterhouses and memes.  But if you can’t reach them that way, then we recommend they watch Earthlings, also known as, the vegan maker.

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

Food plays a huge role in our lives and we think showing people that you can travel anywhere and still find delicious vegan food is our most effective way to communicate our message.  Taking photos of all of the food we come across seems to inspire and resonate with people.  We’ve also tried putting out photos of our own food so that we can show you can make healthy and delicious vegan meals at home.

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

Right now, the momentum is definitely on our side.  With the younger millennial generation and generation Z, we are seeing an incredible growth within the vegan movement.  These kids are the future and so it’s inspiring to see so many of them picking up the torch. There have also been huge strides in plant-based products, including the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger. We were lucky enough to catch the Beyond Burger at TGI Friday’s in Massachusetts during its short run there. It’s important for us to patronize these restaurants to show that there is a demand for vegan food at major chain restaurants.

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

Unfortunately, some people completely shut down when they hear the word “vegan.”  You can almost see their eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the word.  People are so stuck in their beliefs, so you really have to get creative to get your ideas across to them.  There’s also a LOT of in fighting amongst animal rights and vegan activists.  We have to remember that we’re doing this for the animals and it doesn’t matter if you wear a specific logo or volunteer for a specific organization, we’re all in this together and fighting for the same cause.

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

With all of the new products available on the market, it’s easier than ever to be vegan!  There is no reason not to give it a try when there is a vegan version of pretty much everything that you would want to eat.  Even if you only do things like Meatless Mondays or one vegan meal a week, you’re making a huge difference. Every little bit helps!

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?

Hayden has worked for PETA, Sea Shepherd, and currently at FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) and Aaron also worked at Sea Shepherd. We’ve has seen nearly every documentary and YouTube video about the horrors of factory farms, some of the most impactful include Earthlings, The Cove, & Meet Your Meat. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to see where their food comes from, so it’s important to have many avenues that get the message out there. One of Hayden’s favorite books is Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin. There’s also a version geared towards men, called Skinny Bastard.

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

Because we travel full-time in an RV, we have lots of opportunity to “get away from it all” and explore nature. We love photography and just got a new drone to bring more depth to our YouTube videos. We also enjoy spending time with rescued animals at sanctuaries, especially goats! They’ve found a special spot in our hearts! Plus, our 5 cats, dog, and silkie chicken help to reaffirm why we are vegan.

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

The issues nearest and dearest to our hearts would be anything that has to do with marine mammals, specifically whales and dolphins.  They are some of the smartest beings on the planet and the abuse that they receive at the hands of humans is absolutely awful.  Watching an entire pod of dolphins go from swimming free in the ocean to being forcefully herded into a cove, having a few selected for a lifetime of captivity and the rest slaughtered for meat consumption is something that will never leave Aaron, it was a truly life changing experience.

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

… AHIMSA: to do no harm.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

First I ruined Thanksgiving...



Welcome!

First, an introduction. I am the one who created the infamous Brussels Sprouts Sliders. Did you think I would stop at ruining Thanksgiving with my green buns of tiny cabbages forged on corner of I-HATE-AMERICA and Bitter Feminist Witchery? Please. I believe in being straightforward so I will tell you that it's not over, not by a long shot. I am now coming for your:


Whiteness

Pottery Barns
Classic rock
Hackneyed GIFs
Heteronormativity
Patriarchy
Football
Pumpkin spice
Targets
Neutral tones
Passive-Aggression
Will Farrell movies
Bacon - well, all meat but especially bacon
iPhone filters
Capitalism
Inspo Pinterest boards
Racist assholes
Coffee foam
RomComs
Cheese
Sports bars
Personalized Starbucks drinks
Cheesecake Factories
Non-vegan brunches
Gender reveal parties
American Apparel
Bath bombs
Foam fingers
Froyo
Paneras
Victoria’s Secret two-for-one coupons
Favorite episodes of "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Entourage"
George Clooney movies
"Legally Blonde," "Mean Girls," "Office Space" and "Anchorman" quotes – memes, too.
Man buns
The word “bro”
Bro culture – oh, dudes, I'm going hard against that
Fitness trackers
Matt Lauers

Abercrombie and Fitch
Your stupid Chipotle “secret” menu

You can see the coverage at Eater, People Magazine, Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, Food52 (award for most pretentious article), Country Living, PopSugar, Bravo TV (et tu, Bravo?), LA Times, Daily Mail, The Kitchn, Grub Street, Daily Break, AMNY, Fox News, Today.

The Brussels Sprouts Sliders were just my opening salvo. Feeling anxious yet? You should be.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Here Are Literally 50 Main Dishes You Can Eat Instead of Turkey This Thanksgiving


For the Thanksgiving holiday alone in the US, more than 45 million sensitive, smart turkeys that have been intentionally and sadistically bred for disabled, painful and short lifespans will be killed for meals in households across the country. Because somehow eating a turkey carcass reminds us to be grateful? Well, this year, I am grateful that there are more options than ever that are delicious and do not require anyone’s suffering and death. Is cooking not for you? Check out the last ten. 

1. Lentil Walnut Apple Loaf 

2. Sauteed Seitan-Stuffed Filo Purse


3. Tofu Turkey


4. Roasted Delicata Squash with Quinoa Salad


5. Cozy Butternut, Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Stew


6. One-Hour Vegan Shepherd’s Pie 

7. Apple, Feel and Sage Lentil Loaf


8. Sumac Ginger Tofu, Quinoa, Broccoli and Mushrooms


9. Seitan Stuffed with Walnuts, Dried Cranberries and Mushrooms


10. Pumpkin-Pecan Crusted Tempeh 





11. Seitan Roast with Shiitakes and Leeks


12. Citrus and Garlic Basted Holiday Roast


13. Thanksgiving Meatless Loaf


14. Lentil Shepherd’s Pie


15. Thanksgiving Nut Loaf


16. Creamy Pumpkin Penne


17. Mushroom Onion Tart with Goat Cheeze


18. Acorn Squash with Walnuts and Cranberry


19. Mushroom and Stout Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Crust


20. Roasted Squash with Shallots, Grapes and Sage




21. Herbed Nut Roast with Mushroom Gravy


22. Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice Salad


23. Maple Glazed Tempeh, Squash and Brussels Sprouts


24. Potato and Portobello Mushroom Gratin


25. Hearty Vegetable Pot Pie


26. Pueblo Corn Pie


27. “Three Sisters” Stew


28. Pumpkin and Sage Risotto


29. Smoky Mac-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes


30. Pumpkin Stuffed with Vegetable Stew






31. Seitan Roast En Croute


32. Festive Chickpea Tart


33. Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Creamy Makhani Sauce


34. No-Fu Lentil Loaf


35. The Whole Shebang Vegan Thanksgiving Roast


36. Savory Holiday Pie


37. Lentil Loaf


38. Vegan Turkey with Crispy Skin


39. Stuffed Roasted Butternut Squash






Don’t like to cook? Check these out…


40. Tofurky Holiday Roast


41. Gardein Holiday Roast


42. Native Foods Native Wellington


43. Field Roast Celebration Roast


44. Vegetarian Plus Vegan Whole Turkey

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Final Word on Health



With the rise of smartphones and the newly formed habit of humanity documenting our lives via pictures posted on social media platforms, our species had figured out yet another novel way to aggravate and torment one another: judging and shaming strangers from a distance. No subject is off limits but very often it’s about the health, body size, food choices and morality we can assume about one another based on those posted pictures.

Let’s look at just food photos and assume that we’re talking about ones that document vegan food. Here’s no need to argue about the ethics of eating animals because I am just talking about vegan food here. As much as some vegans say that omnivores are always attacking them, my observations lead me to believe that vegans attack from within just as often if not more. There are various ways that vegans make assumptions about and attack one another in the public square of social media using just food photos as the springboard.

One way we do that is to assume that a picture of one meal is indicative of that person’s entire diet. (Not that it is anyone else’s business if it is.) Another way is to issue random opinions on the healthfulness or lack thereof on social media shares where that opinion wasn’t solicited. Yet another way that we issue create a hostile environment around food is asking a fusillade of questions – some clearly “gotcha” style – or by blurting out shaming opinions about innocuous food posts: “Is it gluten-free?” “Is it GMO?” “Yikes, look at the sodium content!” “I don’t eat processed foods.” (Um, did anyone ask? And yes you do eat processed food.) I see this happening on vegan Facebook pages all the time. And there is yet another way that we feed into an environment of hostility and competition about food, one that I have seen creeping up a lot these days. It is acting as the arbiter of what is and is not the healthiest way to live as a vegan. No wonder people just exploring veganism are intimidated: they will post a picture of an ingredient’s panel, asking if it’s vegan, and an hour later, they’ll have 2,013 opinions – often very combative ones – on the ingredients that have nothing to go with veganism.

Let’s see the people they may encounter. We have:

* Vegan A, who claims that eating mono-meals of fruit is the ideal diet. Consuming massive amounts of bananas, mangoes, watermelons, dates and papayas is advised. If you’re not eating only fruit, you’re killing yourself! Or we have…
* Vegan B, who claims that Vegan A is wrong. Don’t just eat fruit: as long as you are a raw foodist, that is enough and that is the ideal diet. If you don’t cook anything over 104 degrees, you will be the eating the healthiest diet. If you’re not a raw foodist, you’re killing yourself! And we have…
* Vegan C, who claims that Vegans A and B has it all wrong. Vegan A isn’t eating enough variety and Vegan B’s diet is too high-fat with all the nuts, seeds and avocados. The true ideal vegan diet is high-carb, with lots of potatoes, beans and rice but very limited fat. If you’re not a high-carb vegan, you’re killing yourself! But don’t forget about…
* Vegan D, who claims that Vegans A, B, and C are all wrong because what you really need to do is limit carbs – simple and complex – to be the healthiest vegan. If you’re not a low-carb vegan, you’re killing yourself! Vegans A, B, and C are totally wrong. And, of course, we will return to...
* Vegan A, who claims that D is very wrong, as well and B and C, of course. Also: you’re killing yourself!

Be forewarned: vegans A - D will have ample proof and “proof” to back up their claims and they will post – again without solicitation – copious links to random websites, two-hour long videos you’re expected to watch, articles, memes, personal testimonials and on and on and on to make their case. If you don’t read their lengthy articles or watch their long, poorly produced videos, they will say, “Did you even look at the link???” They will often say that you can do what you like, but they are interested in being “healthy” vegans.

This is why I am wary of people who claim to be “healthy” vegans: while one person thrives as a raw foodist, another does not, whereas someone else can load up on grains and potatoes and feel great while another feels awful with an emphasis on carbs. The fact is, no one has the final word on what constitutes “healthy;” it really does come down to how individuals do best. Some of us do just fine as regular ol’ vegans and haven’t asked for opinions.

The conceit that there is one way to be a healthy vegan is just that: a conceit. Implying that you have the insider knowledge on being bulletproof is solipsistic, dishonest and presented on the wobbly platform of confirmation bias. None of us knows the ideal vegan diet for someone else and we need to stop acting like we do. Vegans creating a hostile and obnoxious environment around animal-free food is probably the worst thing we can do to the beings who so desperately need positive and effective advocacy on their behalf.

PS - Could we mind our own business unless asked for our opinions? That would be fab!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Introducing Vegan Holidays for Everyone!



You all. YOU ALL. Okay, so about two weeks before Chicago VeganMania, John and I had this wacky idea to create a little Halloween recipe e-book. But then the thought of creating something bigger – and actual holiday cookbook and guide – struck us like a lightning bolt and it just snowballed from there. (Yep. I’m overdoing it with the weather-related metaphors, but, yeah, this happens with the kind of sleep-deprivation that writing a 260-page book in less than two months will do necessitates.) Anyway, this book,
Fun, Festive and Fabulous Vegan Holidays for Everyone: Recipes, Puns, Historic Lore and More to Help You Celebrate Without Compromise, has classic recipes featured on VeganStreet.com and lots of new ones, organized around ten holidays and it practically wrote itself, it was that fun and natural to write. Not just recipes, Vegan Holidays for Everyone is also sprinkled generously with silly puns, great pictures, historical lore, vegan advice and much, much more. It was truly a labor of love and we are so, so proud of it and excited to show it off to the world. Written for vegans, people who are transitioning or trying to eat more vegan as well as the random omnis who just want to cook for their irritating vegan nieces and nephews, Vegan Holidays for Everyone has more than 70 vegan and gluten-free recipes for every skill level. Read more about it at the link and consider supporting your local vegan feminist agitator.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Mindful Interview with "Mindful Vegan" Lani Muelrath



I admit it: I did not initially approach writing this in the most mindful way because I was having a hard time finding the time to read the book.

I tried to squeeze it in between other projects. Didn’t work.
I aimed to do it on the weekend. I resented it.
I attempted to shame myself into powering through. Did not reap great results.
I was short-tempered with my loved ones. See above.

Finally, one night I read one page. Then another and another and another until it was something I wanted to ditch my other work to do. Even as someone who already tries to practice mindfulness, I had put off reading the book because I was too slammed with busyness and life to really immerse myself in it. (Part of why I am so busy is the story I tell myself that I am only worthwhile if I am slammed with projects but that’s a story for another day.) This busyness and avoidance was causing anxiety, guilt, resentment and on and on until I finally cracked open The Mindful Vegan: A 30-Day Plan for Finding Health, Balance, Peace, and Happiness by Lani Muelrath and realized that it was precisely because of that feverish, unsustainable pace and mentality I keep up that I needed to read this book. And it’s been very rewarding to do so.  

Mindfulness is such a buzzword these days. Why? I think that as the world feels more chaotic and people understand more the importance of self-care in big picture of building a better world, it’s becoming more of a priority. Interestingly, I have heard some people voice displeasure with the term “mindfulness” because isn’t part of the problem that our minds are already full-to-bursting with thoughts and endless reams of information? Professor and Daring Greatly author Brené Brown suggests we use the term “courageous presence” instead. Regardless of what term you use, every day the benefits of mindfulness are becoming more evident and one of the primary vehicles to cultivating it, meditation, helps us to become less reactive to our thoughts and more tuned in to how we can shift to and nurture a more balanced, positive and supportive state of mind.

This is where The Mindful Vegan comes in. With a 30-day plan to take you through the often challenging early stages of creating a meditation practice – along with free guided meditations for each corresponding daily chapter – you can be on your way from not being able to sit in meditation for a minute to a full 30-minute sitting practice (and more if you desire). By providing the essential building blocks to meditation and growing on that minute-by-minute with each subsequent chapter and meditation sitting, Lani Muelrath sets her readers up for success. It is particularly written for both vegans and those trying to transition, making an excellent case for how veganism aligns with a mindfulness practice, and why vegans might benefit from living in the world with more mindfulness as well. As someone who was among the many that at one time thought they couldn’t meditate to being someone who now meditates daily, I think of the practice like a shower for my brain, or maybe windshield wipers that help to clear off my murky glass. I had many trials and errors on my way to building a consistent practice, though, sometimes giving up for years at a time. I wish I had this book – written with wisdom, compassion, understanding and lucid, helpful guidance – during many of my previous attempts. Her steps and guidance really create an excellent foundation for meditation, something that can feel so elusive and out-of-grasp, and mindful living.


As a longtime educator, public speaker and vegan living enthusiast, Lani brings her extensive experience with a mindfulness meditation practice and considerable strengths as a communicator to her latest book. It is written with grace, confidence, patience, passion and humility, keeping readers engaged and rewarded throughout. I cannot recommend this book enough. (In fact, I am honored to have contributed a small section to the book.) Having met the author in person, and being impressed by her positive, friendly and open attitude and warmth, I can say that if a mindfulness practice can help us all bring a higher level of peace and consciousness to our lives, the whole world would benefit.

1. What do you mean when you say “mindfulness”?

My working definition? It’s a good place to start as it clarifies the foundation for conversation:
 
Mindfulness is a specific form of mental training, and a particular kind of awareness you bring to your daily activities. Together, these lead to reductions in reactivity and the cultivation of positive brain states.

To elaborate on “reductions in reactivity” – how much of our day is filled with reacting out of habit to someone, something, some situation – in a way that multiplies misery? This is precisely what mindfulness practices help to alleviate. 

And as for positive brain states – our mental habit of wandering mind, ruminating over the past or chewing excessively on future “what ifs”  literally move us into a part of the brain where also reside sadness, depression, cravings - even addiction. By cultivating mindfulness – the ability to be more present in this moment, and actually doing what we’re doing while we’re doing it – unobscure our endogenous happiness, peace of mind, equanimity, and compassion. They are all there – we’ve just heaped busy lives and busy minds on top of them!

I teach mindfulness in The Mindful Vegan via two pathways: formal practice (specific form of mental training) and awareness you bring to the rest of our day outside of formal practice, called informal practice, or active, mindful living.

2. Do vegans necessarily automatically practice mindful living?

Um, no. Our automaticity with habits of thinking, reacting, behaving, are cultivated by years of lack of any kind of training at getting some degree of master over our habits of thinking. This plagues us just as it does everyone else.

Vegans do possess a consciousness about living that is certainly more mindful of the horrors of animal agriculture and awareness of human entitlement around animals. Vegans are more mindful of the millions of ways this shows up in how humans treat animals as objects for one use or another. This is one aspect of mindful living.   

3. Do omnivores necessarily not practice mindful living?

For years, I have seen and read – you may have seen them too - books about mindful eating and mindful living. Not a one of them – that I could find, anyway –addressed mindfulness from the perspective about what or who is on our plate, or how it or they got there, or the collateral damage it causes to our health, the planet, and the other sentient beings with whom we share her. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write The Mindful Vegan. Mindful eating does not mean chewing each bite of cowburger 32 times while eating off of nice dinnerware and listening to classical music. More important is the mindfulness surrounding the contents of our plate.

You included the broader ‘living’, though, and not just eating. The same thought reaches into every other aspect of our daily lives – mindfulness of what we wear, the products and services we buy. It can be an endless investigation so we do the best we can, keeping in mind that the main thrust of veganism is causing the least harm possible. It is so easy to do this in so many venues, especially with what we eat. We more often than not have a choice.

4. How does mindfulness extend beyond the table for vegans? For example, how can we practice the habits of mindfulness coexisting in the world as vegans? What occasions might arise that call for it? It seems to me that we could be better communicators of the vegan message if we’re less reactive and more mindful.

This realm of mindfulness potential for vegans is huge. And this is where we can also refer back to the definition of mindfulness and reactivity from the first question. 

Those of us who have been aspiring to be conscious eaters as vegans for any length of time know the stress and anxiety surrounding the reality of the food culture - right down to being the only vegan at the table. We can – and often do – anticipate the redundant questions, the resistance, even hostility from those who don’t - or don’t wish to - examine other factors of what they eat other than taste. Perhaps they are even concerned with health, yet without taking into the bigger picture of health, which reaches to that of our environment, and how our health is affected by the dissonance of saying we love animals while eating them. This is where the resistance comes from, not from anything, necessarily, that we may say. Even quietly enjoying our plant-sourced meal, who of us has not felt a degree of tension in the air?

First, it is important to understand where this tension may be coming from. That alone, however, is usually not enough to allow us to navigate these situations and conversations with equanimity, let alone skill.

With mindfulness practice, as I teach in The Mindful Vegan, you learn how to get some degree of mastery over your habits of thinking which includes anxiety and automated reactivity in these situations. You learn not to suppress or ignore these emotions, or tell yourself you shouldn’t feel them, or try to intellectualize your way out of them, but to navigate them in a new way so that you can actually be more present with others in a fashion that builds harmony and compassion, rather than exaggerating a polarized position. 

This makes us more effective as advocates or activists.  Being wrapped up in reactivity and anger - even rehearsing clever comebacks that are designed to blame and shame – pull us out of actually being present with others, ourselves, and life in each situation as it arises. As you become more able to tap into your natural equanimity and kindness, these become the more prevalent experience in these conversations and situations.

In my experience, the way we can be most effective at bringing others to vegan living is to embody, the best we can, those qualities that we champion: kindness, compassion,  non-harming, acknowledgement... Have you ever made a change, as an adult, that has been foisted upon you through blame and shame? Probably not. When we bring to the surface our innate happiness and ease, which allows us to live as happier, healthier, resilient, thriving humans, we are more likely to draw others to the joy of the vegan experience.

This is not to be confused with passivity. Inner connectivity, ease, and consistency strengthen our ability to make a difference in the movement in different ways depending on our personalities and strengths. The practice of Vipassana meditation, which I teach in The Mindful Vegan, grows your ability to observe yourself so that you can connect with your feelings and emotions, and respond with more skill. This awareness joined with the space around all of it that you create with mindfulness practices makes it increasingly possible to overcome your own fear and anger to respond with firm, non-hateful or belligerent, honest straightforward forceful speech. It is known as rightful speech. Not every time, but increasingly as you become more practiced in the basic practices of mindfulness training and bringing it to active living in the world. This is very important for the movement.

A good example of right speech is vegan activist James Aspey. James has the uncanny ability – most of the time – in conversations with non-vegans, to be direct without being belligerently confrontational. You can tell while watching these conversations, many of which are on his YouTube channel, that he is listening to the other person, being completely present with them, and connecting with them as a human being. He is clear with his own opinion, without being caught in reactivity or a pre-set story. This is what impresses us so much about watching these interactions. And I am certain that, along with some natural talent for communication, it is because James practices meditation – the same school of practice as I do and as I teach in The Mindful Vegan. It is one important reason that he was so enthusiastic about endorsing my book and providing a cover quote.

As Dr. Melanie Joy penned for the very first page in The Mindful Vegan,
“Mindfulness is probably the most important practice we can ever under­take. The more we are able to be mindful, or present, the more we are able to feel authentically connected with ourselves and ‘others.’ The ability to be present is at the heart of all healthy relationships: with other humans, with nonhuman beings, with the planet, and with ourselves. When we are present, we relate to all aspects of our lives—including our eating habits—with greater awareness, compassion, and health.”

5. What are your first signs – physical or mental – that you are not being mindful?

Increased reactivity, excessive rumination, uncontrollable wandering mind – where you can’t stop running in unproductive thinking loops.  Automaticity – acting, speaking, and being hijacked by your thoughts on autopilot. This can show up as mindless snacking, cravings, compulsive behavior of any kind, surprising outbursts of anger, heightened stress, escaping through one obsession or another. These are all signs of being pulled out of a mindful presence.

Unchecked automaticity, reactivity, and excessive rumination hooks neural activity associated with negative brain states – cravings, sadness, depression, obsession, even cravings and addictions. Being mindfully present brings brain activity directly out of these states. It’s like turning on and off a switch, or changing tracks in the train station. Bringing yourself back to the present actually moves brain activity into another center of the brain where reside happiness, joy, compassion, and equanimity. 

6. It seems to me like I hear so many people say that they “can’t meditate” like there is something uniquely wrong with them when, in fact, it is just so much about how our frenetic brains are wired that it feels alien at first and people give up. What do you say to someone who thinks she “can’t meditate”?

This is a universal experience. We sit down to fill just two or three minutes with being present with the breath coming in and out of the body, and our minds become instantly rambunctious – like the windup monkey toy with the clapping symbols in his hands. In truth, that’s what our minds are always doing – we just don’t notice it. We are usually just listening to the mind’s every story and following its every whim, as if we had no choice in the matter. And actually, unless we undergo some kind of training for the mind – which most of us never got in school or otherwise – we don’t. We don’t even know that there might be the possibility of a choice.

It is very helpful to hear that meditation practice is not about trying to stop thoughts or to not think during meditation practice. Thinking is what the mind does. What we are doing with mindfulness practice is discovering that we don’t have to believe everything we think, or go with every story the mind conjures up. Viktor Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. Mindfulness practices are about expanding that space, so we can grow our ability to choose and live more skillfully, rather than out of reactivity. With mindfulness training, you do little things with your mind that make big changes in your brain and experience of living.

7. Does meditation get easier over time? Conversely, do you still have days that are challenging for you with your meditation practice?

Yes, and yes.  Easier is probably not the best word. But as you develop the ability, through simple mental training, to not let yourself be hijacked by every thought, and to bring yourself back to the present – whether in formal practice or living with all the ups and downs of life –it becomes a skill you are better at, just like any skill you might practice. Sometimes my sitting practice is spacious, still, transcendent, the mind seems to settle a little more, or I am better at not engaging it its constant chatter, and the experience is very pleasant. Other times I can be off and wandering in thought for five minutes before I realize it and must once again bring myself back to practice.

The important thing, I remind myself, is that it is the practice of bringing the attention back to anchor point from its habit of wandering that is key.  Having a quiet mind, no thoughts occurring, being perfectly happy every minute to sit still – these are going to come and go, just like everything else. The point is to learn to hold steady and navigate these ups and downs – a skill directly applicable to the next meal, the next challenging encounter – the next life experience.

8. How does mindfulness benefit someone who wants to transition to veganism easier?

Through mindfulness practices you become more acquainted with yourself in ways that may have previously been unimagined. You become more acutely aware of inconsistencies in your life, dissonance between what you value and what your actions may demonstrate.  You become more attuned to the impact of your choices - and that includes what you eat. I have a direct personal experience of this that I wrote about in The Mindful Vegan. It was my mindfulness practice that eventually pushed me to get dairy products off my plate, the last holdout from my previous vegetarian diet. I became increasingly uncomfortable with something as simple as driving on roads that passed through fields of cows, knowing I was contributing to their miserable fate. Mindfulness practices sharpen your interoception, or perception of how things feel in your body – with everything from emotions to hunger and fullness. Increasingly I became aware of the feeling of dissonance in my body when the cows in my presence brought up the inner conflict. Even though I had increasing cognitive knowledge about the problems with dairy, the actual feeling of that inner dissonance is what inspired the tipping point. Eating in closer alignment with your ethics and natural compassion brings a profound sense of well-being. This is the joy of being vegan, which so many of us wish to convey to others.

9. Why do you think that so few people in the personal growth world adopt a vegan lifestyle?

Food is one of the strongest foundations and connections of our experience – with family, and culturally and socially. For eons we’ve gathered around the fire to enjoy familiar foods, nourish ourselves and each other. Giving and receiving food are two of the kindest and most pleasurable acts we can engage in. When we make a noticeable shift in that tradition by changing what we eat and questioning what has always been on the table because we have seen the circumstances behind it, it brings up all the issues of breaking with the familial and societal status quo. This may then become relationship challenging territory into which people interested in personal growth may not want to venture. 

There’s also something known as the Meat Paradox – central to the studies on Day 19 of The Mindful Vegan. The Meat Paradox, briefly, is when people awakened to the contradiction of eating animals while loving them actually become more militant in opposition to giving up animal products. It causes the discomfort of conflict within them. We, as vegans, uncover this discomfort, even if we haven’t said or done anything to directly cause opposition. We become the messenger they want to shoot. Understanding this, as ironic as it may be, is very helpful in developing compassion for and being present in these circumstances.

10. I think it’s amazing that as part of the book, readers get access to your 30-days of guided meditations. It’s such a value added. What do you think makes your program different?

Thank you! I tried to think of as many ways as I could to encourage people to try these tools out for themselves. Setting it up as a 30-day plan is one of those ways – instead of having a book with some great ideas that you could get to later, I wanted to make the practice easily accessible, with full instruction, from Day One. The audios I made as companion - now downloadable immediately on my website (the instructions for how to navigate to them are in The Mindful Vegan in Resources) is another. And I wanted to make them free, to make it even easier.  I have partnered with Insight Timer App (to bring several tracks to the public at large, so people could try them and also so that people could find out that there is a project available that brings these two together – mindfulness and veganism – via The Mindful Vegan. Though she is a book, I actually see this as a project. I have been teaching and leading group meditations all over the place at no charge, to further the reach of this valuable message. My intention is to bring more ease of living and restore the pure joy of eating, and to assist and support the challenges of being vegan in an omnivorous world, so that we can be better advocates for change and more effective at touching the world. This starts with an inner connection and also reaches into the deep need to address compassion fatigue. I am deeply honored that Dr. Melanie Joy refers to The Mindful Vegan in her new book about living vegan, Beyond Beliefs, and that she recommends The Mindful Vegan in her Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy trainings.  This is a long answer to your question, yet together they all underscore the uniqueness of this book.

These qualities, along with the fact that this guide is written by a teacher – I have taught for over four decades at both the college and middle school level – which means I am practiced in figuring out how to take what might be a complex challenge and break it down into step-by-step doable bits. In this way, skills build one upon another. This is in contrast to meditation guides that present a random set of techniques, all of which may be excellent, but I have found can leave you a bit lost as you try to figure out how to best proceed. I’m also an academic, which means I value the science behind what I teach and practice, and The Mindful Vegan is packed with references to the research on the benefits of mindfulness training, of which there are now thousands of research studies.  These practices have been shown to have positive benefit on everything from stress and anxiety management to smoking cessation to binge eating – and it’s all there in the book.

Thank you, Lani! I am so grateful for this book.