Wednesday, June 24, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Bonnie Goodman...

Okay, I cannot be unbiased about this. I love, love, love Bonnie Goodman.

Bonnie is a very talented artist who primarily works in colorful glass, creating gorgeous beads, pendants and more. She is also an ethical vegan in the town of Livingston, Montana, and she does her outreach – always infused with her playful sense of humor and welcoming spirit – in a community near Yellowstone National Park that is far from a vegan mecca. That hasn’t stopped her. With her Live and Let Livingston monthly potluck series organized around pun-laden themes – like August, which is “Eat Dessert First” day, and October, which is their veggie chili cook-off – Bonnie has fun but also makes her events informative for her mostly omnivorous attendees, who can learn more about plant-based diets from her cooking demos and lending library. (Check out some photos on Facebook to see all her lively and clever ideas.) More than anything, though, I think her greatest contribution is in her example of community building: not everyone lives in a vegan paradise and for those who don’t, whether they are coming at it from a health angle of wanting to reduce their cholesterol or feeling the beginning stirrings of wanting to live in alignment with their values of compassionate living, I wish they had someone like Bonnie Goodman in their community to give them the encouragement and support they need. For her amazing work with helping to facilitate an inclusive, friendly and helpful environment of support that is the lifeblood of a robust vegan community, Bonnie Goodman 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?

My Mom is a great inspiration to me.  She has always been interested in social justice issues, and her love of animals was contagious. We grew up in a house filled with animals of all kinds and our neighbors across the street had a horse and a cow. Getting to know those individuals inspired me to stop eating cows in high school,
and I'm embarrassed to say I considered myself vegetarian even though I still ate chickens and fishes and eggs and cow’s milk.  I didn't know any other vegetarians, and at the time it was a big change - after all, I grew up like most people in America, eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, meat and potatoes for dinner, and ice cream for dessert.

A few years later, I read Diet for A New America, and realized my food choices weren’t just hurting animals; my diet also had a huge impact on the environment!  I knew then that I wanted to go vegan, but I didn't know how. I knew I could live without eggs, but didn't you need them for baking?? And how could anyone avoid eating cow's milk or live without cheese?? I was a dang Woolworth's waitress at the time and had never heard of a vegan cookbook!

I remember how excited I was to find a health food store for the first time (this was long before the internet, mind you, and I didn't know any vegetarians!) So I went to that store, bought one of those little box-containers of room temperature soy milk, got in my Edsel, stabbed the soymilk with the little straw thingy - I just couldn't WAIT! - took a drink . . . and almost threw up. Why am I mentioning this?  Two reasons:
  1. Because the non-dairy milks today are so much better than those 20 years ago!
  2. Now I realize that if I had taken a big drink of warm cow's milk… well, that would have grossed me out, too.  Tasting that soymilk ice cold on cereal would have probably made all the difference!

So, I'm very ashamed to say... the soymilk incident kept me from going vegan for a few more years, even though I knew it was the path I most admired. I just didn't think I was capable of it!   I kept trying to go vegan and messing up.  So I guess I’m an ex-ex vegan? I didn’t have any guidance, cookbooks, or kids (so I didn’t know about the interwebs).

Tracy Martin, my best friend since 7th grade and founder of Rabbitron, was key in my final transition from veg to vegan.  After a Weird Al concert in 2007, we stayed up talking till 3 in the morning.  She had seen Howard Lyman speak and went vegan overnight; she gave me a copy of Mad Cowboy.  Then she really changed my life:  she gave me Veganomicon that Christmas.  I learned how to cook!  Tracy also shared various websites and resources, and the most life-changing one of all was Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast.  THAT answered all my questions, and finally… I’m vegan, for Life!

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?

Almost all my friends say the same thing:  that going vegan was the best thing they ever did, and that they wish they had made the change sooner.

The recent passing of Lisa Shapiro has had me thinking about this a lot, because in the late ‘80s I was in pharmacy school in Boulder, Colorado. How I wish I could have met her in those days!  I’ve always done volunteer work with animals - working with injured birds of prey, chopping veggies for the animals at the Children’s Zoo in Denver, cleaning cages at the animal shelter.  Meeting a kind mentor who would have said, “Look, you love animals and you care about the environment… here is yummy food, and here is where to shop and here is how to cook!”  That would have set me on this path long ago.

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 like to keep it colorful and fun…  Live and Let Livingston had a Veggie Pride float in the Rodeo Parade last summer, with lots of bright costumes and silly signs that got lots of laughs. 
Thanks to Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, I learned how to cook… and somehow I guess I’ve turned into a food activist.  I love sharing delicious dishes with people and showing them they won’t lose their favorite foods and flavors at a vegan table. 

I also think it’s really important to be approachable, respectful, positive, and NICE.  Everyone is welcome to our Live and Let Livingston monthly potlucks; our slogan is “you don’t have to be vegan, but the food does!”  We try to keep it fun with silly posters and a fun theme every month.

Another thing I like to do: every day wear a Vegan Street shirt or a button with a message on it - you never know when it will start a conversation! 

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

That the facts are on our side.  The passion might feel like religion, but it’s all based on facts. Veganism is a Win-Win-Win: for the animals, for the environment, and for human health.

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

In-fighting in the movement, and the fear of  ‘pregans’ to learn more about the issues or try new food.  The first time my friends and I handed out free samples of Field Roast sausage, we quickly learned that if we would say “Would you like to try this cholesterol-free sausage?” that people loved it.  If we’d said, “Would you like to try some vegan sausage?” they wouldn’t even taste it!

So share some delicious heart-healthy samples, and give people the recipe… after they’ve tasted it. :)

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

Once again, that veganism is a Win-Win-Win: for the animals, for the environment, and for human health.  AND it’s so much easier than you think!   If your goal is to reduce violence in the world, give it a try.  Then I hand them a cupcake, some kale salad, and the recipes.

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?

My favorite books are Diet for a New America, Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan, Thanking the Monkey by Karen Dawn, and The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle.  Lisa Kemmerer’s books are all so good, and the covers of Sister Species and Eating Earth are the coolest covers ever.  You could actually judge those books by the covers! Ruby Roth is another favorite: I wish her children’s books were in every library in the world!  Oh, and I wish VegNews magazine was, too.

My friend Melisa Syness has also been a big influence because she was the first other vegan I ever met in Montana, (what a thrill!) and she convinced me to join her at Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan Academy, which was the trip of a lifetime, and really helped me to guide others on this path.

There are so many wonderful organizations that inspire me:  The Food Empowerment Project, A Well-Fed World, VeganOutreach, United Poultry Concerns, Mercy for Animals, and I’m so grateful to VegFund and The Pollination Project for helping me to promote compassion in Montana this year.

My favorite websites are Our Hen House, Joyful Vegan, BiteSize Vegan (what a fun and darling little genius Emily is!), Gary Loewenthal’s Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, and Vegan Street, of course.  The Vegan Street Memes are pure genius. (chanting): Coffee table book! Coffee Table Book! Coffee Table Book!

This year, with the help of A Well-Fed World, I brought the film Cowspiracy to Bozeman - over 200 people attended.  I would love to do the same with Vegucated some day!

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

I love the multi-media powerhouse of Our Hen House.  Their podcast with Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan comes out every Saturday morning, and I refer to it as “mental health hour”.  I listen at work while making beads, enjoying the vegan banter, current events, raising anxieties, and interviews with incredibly inspiring people in the animals rights movement.

My favorite way to unwind is to snuggle with kitties, cook for friends, and watch ridiculous movies… The Wrong Guy and Death at a Funeral are my favorites. For some reason old episodes of The Office have a calming effect on me. I know at this point I’m supposed to mention exercise. I’m so grateful for my darling husband Parke, who makes me go to the gym with him. Thanks, honey!

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

We live with a variety of rescued, formerly feral, and special needs animals; and my first passion started with spay/neuter education and clinics. It’s hard to believe that even today thousands of healthy, adoptable animals are euthanized every year.

I think some people think that I live with a dozen cats because that was my life’s goal.  Yes, I love each and every one with all my heart, but we live with a dozen cats because other people aren’t getting their cats fixed!

For many years I coordinated free spay/neuter events for those in need who could not afford to get their animal companions fixed: at the first clinic in Livingston nearly 500 animals were fixed in 3 days, with the help of 100 local volunteers and The Montana Spay/Neuter Task Force.

Then I moved to the kitchen: providing free vegan meals for those in attendance at the spay/neuter clinics; feeding 60 people breakfast, lunch, and snacks. (Sadly, due to “raising anxieties”, Live and Let Livingston is no longer welcome at these clinics because the new lead vet is a rancher who finds the exclusive presence of vegan food to be insulting.)

To spread the message, one summer I put together the most ridiculous Star Wars/Star Trek /Spay /Neuter Education parade float ever, Members of Vader’s 501st Legion even showed up!

Spay/Neuter will always be near and dear to me.  Every cat, dog, and bunny is so deserving of a loving home, I wish each and every one were cherished.

 You can see pictures of it here.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
So much FUN!”

I wasn’t expecting that!  I remember assuming that vegans would be extremely serious boring people who were always depressed. The truth is the complete opposite.
Almost everyone I’ve met in this movement is kind, funny, generous, and warm. And lots of them can be downright silly.

1 comment:

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