A longtime vegan, a bestselling author of twelve books, podcaster, inspiring speaker and co-founder of a school that actually trains and certifies vegan ambassadors through her groundbreaking Main Street Vegan Academy, Victoria Moran is a veritable firecracker of vibrant vegan energy and goodwill. Crackling with enthusiasm and charm, Victoria brings her message of compassionate living and empowered action to audiences and readers around the world and she grounds it in practical guidance and a real gift for extending understanding without compromising her message. In short, I think she is kind of awesome.
Victoria is coming out with a new book, TheGood Karma Diet: Eat Gently, Feel Amazing, Age in Slow Motion (pre-order before its release date of May 19 and you will get a couple of gifts). The premise of the book is straightforward and smart: with kindness toward other living beings and the planet informing your actions, you are creating an ethical-lifestyle alignment that could also be one of the most powerful wellness tools available to us. If there ever is a Vegan Rock Star Hall of Fame, Victoria will surely be one of the first inductees. Please check out her interview and check back next week for a recipe from The Good Karma Diet.
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 came home from first grade and proudly announced to my caregiver (it was before daycare) that I’d learned the 4 Food Groups: meat, dairy, grains, and the fruit/vegetable-smoosh-them-altogether group. She replied, “Hrumph: there are people who never eat meat. They’re called vegetarians. I could take you out to Unity Village and buy you a hamburger made from peanuts; you’d think you were eating meat.”
I remember thinking at that moment: “Vegetarians. How interesting. I get the sense there’s an awful lot I don’t know, and I’ll bet I won’t learn most of the good stuff in school.”
This woman – grandmother figure, nanny, guru – raised me to love animals and to have an assortment of other unique predilections (she knew about reincarnation and Eastern religions and a host of fascinating things). I didn’t connect the dots about caring for animals and eating them until I was thirteen and attempted vegetarianism for the first time. That lasted for a summer, but I knew that one day I’d find out how to do this right and would return to it.
I started reading yoga books at seventeen and realized that, if I was to be serious about yoga, the meat had to go. By nineteen, it had. Going vegan would take me much longer since I was a practicing binge eater and had to recover from that before I was able to do something as ‘extreme’ – at the time, it really seemed that way – as eliminating eggs and dairy. That process took some time, but once I knew that, a day at a time and keeping in some semblance of fit spiritual condition, I could indeed refrain from eating for a fix, I opted to embrace the vegan lifestyle I’d long admired.
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 had the best mentor ever in the late Jay Dinshah, co-founder of the American Vegan Society. I believe that if someone had been around who understood my eating disorder and veganism, I might have been able to make the transition sooner.
We think it ought to be as easy as, “See here: look at these horrible conditions for animals. And good Lord, half the people die of heart disease and we have a way to virtually guarantee that you won’t. And for Pete’s sake: the planet is dying and animal agriculture is largely responsible. Go vegan yesterday!” That seems logical, but humans are complex. We’re not Spock from Star Trek with only rationality in play. There are influences and memories, what we’ve learned and who we’ve loved, all feeding into whether or not someone will make this shift overnight, or over time, or not at all. I don’t know whom I’ll influence, so I share with everybody, and go to any lengths for those who express an interest in taking this path.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
We all have talents and we all have a story. It’s that combination that is a powerful tool for activism. For me personally, my gift is words, written and spoken – and my story includes certain aspirational aspects. For example, I happen to look younger than I am. A lot of women in the over-fifty age group (I’m sixty-five) are very interested in aging well. I think fresh, beautiful vegan foods – I’m a big fan of the green juice/green smoothie/giant salad thing – can really help with this.
Now, do I want to share my age with the world at large? Not really. We live in a culture that is turned off by maturity, especially in women. If I could “pass” for younger, my ego would like that, but it wouldn’t help any animals, so I let everybody know that I’m old enough to go to the movies for half-price and don't look or feel like what I thought sixty-five would look or feel like. That makes some women take a strong second look at this way of eating and living.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
I believe the biggest strength is that it is so absolutely right. It’s like the abolition of slavery, something that today we look at and think, ‘Why did that take so long when it’s so obvious?’ To us, the liberation of animals is obvious. It’s the next phase of moral evolution.
Another strength is, I think, the people in the movement today. Whether we’re talking well-known vegans or the rank-and-file, an extremely high percentage of the people in this movement are extraordinary human beings: brave, smart, committed, irrepressible.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
As strange as it sounds, I think one big hindrance is the kind-heartedness of omnivores. When they say, ‘Don’t tell me what goes on with animals – I don’t want to know,’ their caring is a problem. They don’t want to see so they don’t have to change.
Another problem is the rampant addiction to animal foods that the world at large thinks is normal. Even though it’s widely written that sugar can be addictive, a lot of health-conscious people take it out of their diet with relative ease. Why are animal foods so much harder? People say ‘I could never give up cheese. . .I have to have my salmon. . .I tried not to eat eggs, but I craved them so bad. . . .’ These foods carry so much cultural currency. They’re seen as having nutritional value, traditional value, patriotic value. It’s a lot to overcome, but the positive side is that we’re more visible than ever, and the positive reasons for being vegan are out there as never before.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
The title of the first vegetarian book I ever read was, Why Kill for Food? I guess that’s my elevator speech. If I don’t have to kill someone else in order to survive, why would I do that? Another way to put it might be: ‘I see animals as individuals with the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as I claim for myself.’ I believe that I also experience lots of health benefits from being vegan, but that’s not the reason I’m vegan; I’m vegan for the animals. However, if I were in an elevator with some health or fitness person, I’d get that in, too. The animals want there to be more vegans in the world; if the health angle works with a particular person, I’ll pull that one out.
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?
What a great question! I believe that the vegetarian/vegan movement has been a series of books, and now documentaries are part of the tradition, as well. I mentioned Why Kill for Food?, a UK book by Geoffrey Rudd that I read as a teenager in the late '60s. Then there was Eating by Life, by Nathaniel Altman, the first book on vegetarianism to be published in the U.S. in the 20th century. Nathaniel and I worked at the same place at that time (1970-71) and he’d type his chapters on his manual typewriter, and I’d re-type them on the fancy electric typewriter in my office! And then there was everything Jay Dinshah ever wrote. His daughter, Anne, has done a beautiful job of collecting his writings, and commentaries on them, in her new book, Powerful Vegan Messages.
I was also greatly inspired and motivated by Diet for a New America, by John Robbins, which came out after I was vegan. (I had, in fact, written my own vegan book by then, Compassion theUltimate Ethic, published in 1985.)
More recently, I’ve loved Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, because it’s so beautifully written. As a writer, I’ve long believed that non-fiction should be literature, too, and Foer proved that it can be.
As for documentaries, I adore them all. The first really influential one was TheAnimals Film, back in the '90s. It was something of a precursor to Earthlings, showing human atrocities to animals in a profound and powerful way. More recently, gosh, there are lots: Vegucated, ForksOver Knives, The Ghosts in Our Machine, May I Be Frank?, Raw for 30 Days, Cowspiracy – I’m a great fan of all the pro-veg docs, whether they come from the animal rights, health, or environmental angle. It’s all connected.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I’m not great at this one. I’m prone to overwork, and especially in the age of email, when it’s impossible to ever be ‘done,’ I have to put strong limits on myself. In addition to writing vegan books, I’ve written several ‘self-help’ books about living a more delightful life, and I think I wrote those because I wanted to read them.
The things that help me are bodywork – reflexology, especially – when that’s in the budget; movies in the theater (at home, chances are I’d multi-task); and being with real people in real time. I love my friends so much – and my daughter, OMG: she’s so busy that trying to see her is like getting an audience with the Pope, but time with her is the best thing ever. Something else that I love is reading. I mostly read nonfiction – vegan books, some spiritual stuff – but when I get a really great novel, I’m in another world. Right now I’m reading this fabulous dark but engaging book called Bones & All, about a teenaged cannibal. It’s by vegan author Camille DeAngelis and is a total page-turner.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Whatever animal issue I’m thinking about the moment is apt to seem nearest and dearest, but if I had to pick one, I’d say the beasts of burden in India, simply because I’ve been there and seen that and it broke my heart. I went to India with the expectation that I was going to vegetarian-land where everybody respected animals. What a rude awakening! When I got there, I found that many of the rich people ate meat – maybe not beef, but meat – and the poor people ate whatever they could get.
Beyond the dietary side of things, I saw so much animal cruelty. I know there’s just as much going on here, but there it’s out in the open. The bullocks pulling carts hurt my heart the most. They were loaded down with weights that no animal could bear, and the drivers beat them incessantly in some awful attempt to defy physics and get these animals to carry impossible loads. PETA has a special section devoted to the bullocks and other animals used in this way throughout the Indian subcontinent; they’ve established sanctuaries for rescued and retired animals, and when the resources are available, they can sometimes provide poor people who formerly used animals with trucks or tractors so they won’t use animals again. This is called Animal Rahat.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
. . . a glorious adventure. I can’t imagine a more ethically satisfying, morally fulfilling, physically energizing, and spiritually uplifting way to live. And I get to know amazing people like Marla Rose!