Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Kristin Lajeunesse

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Kristin Lajeunesse
is a longtime vegan, master of social media, lifestyle and small business coach and all-around modern-day poster child for turning your life into something that is aligned with your passions. With her innovative Will Travel For Vegan Food project that began on her fifth veganniversary in August, 2011, Kristin created the fantasy endeavor of so many wander-lusting herbivores: she traveled the country in an extended road trip that took her to 48 states and 547 restaurants – more than 39,000 miles – to sample vegan food from Alabama to Wyoming.  Of course, no real road trip is complete without difficulties, personal growth and sometimes painful self-discoveries, all of which it sounds like Kristin received extravagantly on the road from the description of her new memoir from Vegan Publishers. I have not read Will Travel for Vegan Food yet but it sounds like a great summer read, maybe while renting a beach house in South Carolina. Or hiking through Yosemite. Or backpacking through Europe. Or even from my own front porch. Kristin is a role model of taking the road less traveled and creating a meaningful, rich life along the way. For this reason and more, Kristin Lajeunesse 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?

I was 16 years old when my parents told me that they wanted to become vegetarian as a family.
My brother Josh is five years older than me and he introduced the idea of vegetarianism to my parents. When they found out that he had already become vegetarian they were immediately worried about his health, as they thought—at that time—that eating meat was necessary for optimal nutrition. But instead of telling him why he was wrong or shunning him entirely, they did what awesome parents do: they researched the heck out of vegetarianism. I think they were looking for a way to prove to him why this diet was bad, but instead they came to the undeniable conclusion that not eating meat is a much better way to live.
So, there we were in 1999 transitioning to vegetarianism as a family. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, but decided to give it a go.
I went off to college and my parents kept up their research, joined a local vegetarian group and continued to learn about the influence that diet has on health, the environment, and animals.
Every time I came home for a break or holiday there was something new and “healthy” in the refrigerator—or worse, something missing. I still remember coming home one summer to no more milk or cheese. It was gone and I was devastated: not the ice cream!
By the time I finished college my parents were full-on vegan and I was still chowing down my beloved dairy ice cream and cheese pizzas. Aside from the fact that I had maintained a vegetarian diet, was eating vegan meals when visiting home, and gifted vegan-labeled sweatshirts, stickers, and buttons whenever my parents were given the opportunity, I couldn’t fathom giving up dairy. And then, in the summer of 2006, at a veg event in upstate NY, the sea parted and in walked Registered Dietitian, George Eisman. Despite the fact that my parents had at one time or another gently provided the same information that Mr. Eisman presented on this day, once I decided to listen and truly understand how very bad dairy was for my body and for animals, I was done with it. That very night I ate my last cheese pizza and never looked back. Well, I might have looked back once, or five times, but never did go back.
It took me a good year as a relatively unhealthy vegan to start doing even more research—like learning how to prepare meals instead of buying ready-made ones. But some new reading material (hello VegNews Magazine) and a change in my environment (hey there, Boston) soon helped me learn how to live a healthy vegan lifestyle.
In the fall of 2007 I moved to Boston for graduate school. I joined the Boston Vegan Association and started working part-time for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society. The friends that I made in these two organizations led me to so much support, inspiration, and so many new resources that being vegan became a cinch. I love telling people who ask about my diet how much more I enjoy everything about food now; from shopping to cooking, prepping, and purchasing a ridiculous number of vegan cook books. It feels like it has so much more meaning now and I take pride in the meals I prepare. I never felt this way as a meat eater…not even as a vegetarian for that matter.
Today my parents help run the AlbanyVegan Network and host an annual Vegan Expo (now in it’s seventh year!) in upstate New York.
It all started with my brother, was followed by my parents’ amazing support, and then happily grew into an education, a group of friends, and a lifestyle that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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?

Oh gosh, this is a tough one as I've changed so much since my pre-vegan days. I suppose I'd suggest that vegans around me be uplifting, positive, and show the benefits of plant-based living through example and gentle guidance. But only if I asked them to learn more. I wouldn't have done well (and didn't do well) when the facts or ideals around veganism felt forced or like I was being told I was wrong or bad for not being vegan. Lead by positive example, is what I'd say.


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

There's something to be said for all forms of activism—which is why there are so many groups with such a variety of ways for sharing their messaging, even if it all kind of leads to the same place.

What comes most naturally to me is simply a show and tell kind of method. I show yummy foods through pictures, share stories of my vegan related travel adventures and then often get emails from people asking to learn more (either about veganism or just places to eat when they're in a certain city).

Being authentic to how I'm comfortable sharing veganism, and how important I think it is, being honest and open yet letting people come to me when they're ready to learn more, seems to work best.


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

Within the movement: diversity in messaging, an unspoken shared bond, community, and unending support. Outwardly, one of the most important thing vegans can do to support the cause is to “vote” with our dollars. Pay for the foods and clothing and other items that we support and want to see more of.

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

Sometimes there are pockets of us who believe that there are wrong ways to promote veganism. So much so that they become very outspoken against others who are doing the best from where they are. I've seen this result in a sort of “in-fighting” in the community. If our end goals are the same perhaps it's best to continue promoting veganism in the individual ways we're comfortable with, as the more diversity in messaging, the more people we'll reach. Not everyone will be moved by my pictures of food, but maybe something that PETA does will speak to them. You just never know who is listening and how they'll absorb a message.

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

For the animals, for the planet, and for my health. 

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?

George Eisman, Howard Lyman, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, VegNews Magazine, and Cowspiracy.

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

I take ballroom dance lessons. It's the one thing I do that enables me to focus solely on what my body is doing, and on absolutely nothing else at all.

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

I would like people to know that traveling while eating only vegan foods is not only possible but fun and exciting. I've built a project around the concept and truly believe that there is so much joy in exploring other countries, or even just other parts of your own country. Also, everyone should travel alone at least once in their life. I talk in much detail about why, in my new memoir, Will Travel for Vegan Food. [insert shameless plug] :)

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

...the only way to live.


1 comment:

Jan said...

Kristin's input and responses are 'right on' and makes me smile.....Love You Daughter !!!