I am not one of those people who think that people are only motivated to stop eating animals by ethics. I have met people again and again who got their foot in the door through taking ownership of their health and then began to make deeper connections to compassionate living. People can speak all they want about their utopian standards but for me, the proof is in the pudding: some of the most active, passionate and ethical vegans I know came in through the side door of health. The idea that we would push anyone out of “the club” because they didn’t follow the personal trajectory we’d prefer is kind of appalling to me, especially seeing as how very important community is to integrating change successfully. At the end of the day, dogma is pointless and even harmful if more potential vegans are lost in stubborn pursuit of our ideals and, ultimately, the animals pay the price for that shortsightedness. I believe that our movement is anchored in social justice and as such, our outreach on behalf of animals is ideally rooted in a foundation of ethics -- ideally is key here -- but it should never come at the expense of losing people who might otherwise become phenomenal champions for the vegan cause if we were to allow them to gain access through a side door.
This is all to say that while I wish everyone were driven by compassion and justice, at some point we need to be grateful that they are exploring or have fully embraced not eating animals for their own reasons. This is where someone like Julieanna Hever, M.S, R.D., C.P.T. comes in. As someone whose own veganism is rooted deeply in her convictions about compassionate living, Julieanna has found a way to deftly move between worlds: her background in nutrition, health and science; her passion for animals and the earth; and her skill at conveying her message of wellness and kindness without dumbing it down and without condescension. This cannot be an easy feat and yet she pulls it off with uncommon diplomacy and grace. In short, Julieanna Hever is fabulous and you should know about her. I believe you’ll be just as impressed.
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?
Like for many others, it all started for me by reading John Robbins’ Diet For A New America many years ago, as a teenager. Once I learned about the hideous, atrocious, harmful ways animals ended up on a plate, I was devastated, shocked, and frustrated. I did not want to contribute to that industry anymore. But I was sucked into the fear of nutrient deficiency, of lacking options to eat, of my family and friends isolating me, and of going against the societal norms. It took me years of investigating and then, ultimately, going through graduate school in nutrition and a dietetic internship to come to the place I am at now...where I feel confident and secure in the fact that not only do we not need animal products to survive, but that we quite possibly do better without them. Everything evolved to make perfect sense in that eating vegan is the only way to stop suffering of animals as well as stop the destruction of the environment and just so happens to be the healthiest way to eat, too. I do not believe in coincidence and am passionate that it is a win-win situation for all when we eat the way my heart and soul knew was right since first being awakened to the information decades ago.
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 was honored and eager when I was asked to write my first book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. I felt like that was my chance to write the book I wish I had when I originally wanted to go vegan and didn’t know where to start. I have found that offering information (when requested) and role modeling are the most powerful tools for supporting others. However, an incredibly crucial lesson I have learned over the past few years is that saying less is more. When I started out and was exceedingly loud about veganism, I shut out a bunch of family and friends and seemed to have had the opposite effect I was hoping for. I wanted to veganize the world and had no problem talking about it at any opportunity. I still want to veganize the world, but have found that the less I say, the more people are interested. Apparently, the inspiration is in the subtlety and people really are curious. But if someone feels attacked, they naturally pop into a defensive mode. If you avoid that by not being confrontational or judgmental and meeting them where they are at, they are more likely to proceed further. Personally, if I were pre-vegan again, I can’t imagine myself being anything other than ravenous for facts and tips.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
This depends on the audience and the medium. When I am speaking, I can’t help but get impassioned and sometimes even emotional. Even when I am speaking to physicians and other healthcare practitioners, I can’t help but reveal my true feelings on the subject. But, I also tell jokes and try to make it fun. I always infuse as many facts and science to back up everything as well as tips and ideas on how to realize this way of eating. On social media, I play more with humor and sarcasm, using images and memes (particularly my absolute favorite, brilliant Vegan Street Memes, which I and my audience eat up), and a ton of documentation of facts, facts, and more facts.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
The passion of vegans is the biggest strength. The growing momentum is without doubt due to the persistent and consistent efforts of groups like PCRM, Mercy for Animals, PETA, Vegan Street, the growing base of vegan chefs and cookbook authors, healthcare practitioners writing books and speaking, and others who are lending their voices, skills, and talents to the media and other audiences. It’s exciting to witness. Another extremely critical element in the success of the vegan movement is the growing body of science in the literature confirming how a plant-based diet is the healthiest.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
I see many vegans get frustrated and angry at the lack of respect in the overall community and media. (And, believe me, I know there really is a lack of respect.) But that comes from fear. People are scared to death that they have been doing it all wrong. That they may have to face major changes. And that is because there is perhaps nothing more personal than food. When we use judgment and come from a place of anger, it is ineffective and turns people away. If there were fewer vegan police, more people would be open to trying to move in this direction without fear of having to be perfect. I have worked for years on being able to meet people where they are at and acknowledge all of their strides, regardless of how small they may seem. I prefer billions of people eat fewer animals overall and focus on that angle instead of trying to make a few completely vegan. Truthfully, it makes it easier for me knowing that once someone starts the journey and witnesses the deeply transformative effects and starts having revelations on how their forks affect the world around them, they continue down the path anyway.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
This, of course, depends on who I am speaking to, but when someone asks me, my deepest, most sincere pitch is: “I am vegan because I do not want to contribute to the suffering of animals, the degradation of the planet, and because eating plants is the healthiest way to live.”
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?
John Robbins started my journey and he is amazing. I have also found great wisdom and authentic, life-changing mentorship from Brenda Davis, Dr. Melanie Joy, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Other people who have supported and inspired me include vegan dietitians GinnyMessina, Jack Norris, Reed Mangels, and Vesanto Melina. I love and deeply admire Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Mercy forAnimals as powerful world-changing organizations. And I give huge props to the genius culinary artists Dreena Burton, Chad Sarno, Robin Robertson, Tal Ronnen, Chloe Coscarelli, Chef AJ, and Miyoko Schinner, who consistently show how delicious veganism is. Veganism is exploding and I absolutely love all the gorgeous voices that are emerging. I am inspired by people like Gene Baur for starting Farm Sanctuary and Dr. RichardOppenlander for defining the environmental impact of animal consumption. Fearlessness is powerful and it is changing the world.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
When I feel the impact of negative energies build up, I go to my friends that have been doing this for years and decades. Or I go to resources. I read information or watch documentaries and remind myself why this is the reason I am here and it rekindles my flame. So far, it has been easy because I am clear on all the work I have yet to do. I love and am beyond grateful to have a voice in helping others and, hopefully, in continuing to inspire people to recognize this necessary evolution towards eating plants.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
That we cannot only survive without animals, but, likely, we can thrive and do better without them. Because the implications of not eating animals are so vast and so hugely imminent.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
To me, being vegan is everything. Being vegan means compassion, wisdom, and interconnectedness.