The vegan world has certainly expanded far beyond what I remember of my early days of meeting in dark, musty church basements once a month to plan our next protest and complain about our boorish coworkers. With the new opening of Vegan Scene in Venice Beach, CA, a glam 1,600-square-foot space that positively pulsates with the most excellent vegan vibes, I can see more than ever how far our culture has come. The brains and brawn behind the Vegan Scene (“…Studio 54 with more quinoa”) operation, Amy Rebecca, is a longtime vegan, activist and social media maven, having already established herself and her creative, compassionate vision with FurFree LA and Vegans of Instagram. With a stylish, carefully curated retail space, cooking classes featuring the fabulous Spork Foods sisters, parties (Halloween! New Year’s Eve! The Big Lebowski!), a wide array of fitness classes, animal adoptions, opportunities to see speakers, films and more, my only disappointment is that I don’t live closer. I am thrilled to hear about Vegan Scene and can’t wait to visit this exciting endeavor that establishes vegan culture even more as an accessible, fun lifestyle that is within reach. For all her work in expanding vegan culture and building a more compassionate world, Amy Rebecca 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?
When I was seven I adopted three hens. It wasn’t long before I made the connection that the chicken on my plate was the same kind of animal as my pet chickens, so I stopped eating chicken right then and there. Eventually I learned where all meat comes from, and soon after that I went vegetarian. I didn’t even know what a vegan was until I was 15, when I took an animal rights workshop in high school. The first day of class they showed us a video about how much animal abuse has permeated our culture and how avoiding animal cruelty extends far beyond just abstaining from eating their flesh. I was horrified, so on the spot I declared myself a vegan. That was 13 years ago, and I haven’t wavered since.
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?
My animals are my family; their rights matter to me as much as my own. Once I learned what veganism was all about, I knew that was what was destined for me. So, to be frank, it wouldn’t take much to convince me. The one challenge that I wish I had known about beforehand was how to deal with the rest of the world. I was vegan before it was cool. I think that is becoming less of an issue, however, now that veganism has gone mainstream.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
Definitely humor. But that didn’t come about right away. I’d say my journey is a bit like the Preston Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels. It’s about a filmmaker that wants to direct a socially relevant drama, but discovers that his comedies are his most valuable contribution to society. As a fresh vegan, I was much more in your face about addressing veganism. I wanted people to see the horrors of factory farming and feel just as outraged as I did. I quickly discovered that did not work for me. I was met with pushback or “yeah that sucks, but I’d rather not know.” I wanted to find a way to reach people in a way that they could not only absorb information, but also enjoy it. So I stuck with what I knew: fashion, humor and parties. I’d also say, beyond that, the most effective way to communicate the vegan message is to be respectful and informed. Communicating veganism is like working in sales. You want the person to trust you, so you strike up a common interest and adapt your pitch to their personality, and make what you’re offering the right choice for them. You can’t force someone to buy something, but, if you’re good at communicating your message, chances are they’ll buy it.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
That we’re right. What’s happening to animals and the environment is repulsive and heartbreaking. I cannot think of any argument against veganism. At the end of the day, it’s “Will you kill?” I will not. Period. Pass the quinoa!
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
I’d say it’s both a branding issue and infighting within the vegan/animal rights community. When people think of animal rights activists and vegans, they think of granola or throwing red paint. Obviously that’s false. That’s like saying everyone that votes democratic is the same.
There is a divide between the abolitionists who want to smash the cages and those that tackle welfare, basically by haggling for more cage space. We can’t decide on tactics, and it divides the community. A perfect example is how people view PETA. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. They kick ass, but some of their stunts just make us cringe. Thing is, there’s no “one way” to combat animal cruelty. No “magic bullet.” The level of animal cruelty is stacked so extraordinarily high that many different types of tactics are required. That’s why it’s so important for us to stick together.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
If you’re trapped in an elevator with a meat eater and a vegan, and one of them farts… who do you think is going to do less harm to the elevator’s aroma? The one who eats plants or the one that eats flesh? Also, great food, cute boys, amazing shoes and no animals harmed. Plus you can take longer showers with all of the water you save by not contributing to factory farming. Or animal farming at all for that matter.
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?
The animal rights workshop that I took in high school that introduced me to veganism; my dad for always trying to see the good in people and reinforcing the fact that there are always two sides to a story; and Jared Leto for looking delicious.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Never underestimate the power of retail therapy. Endorphins and Vitamin D are cool and all, but nothing feels like a new pair of heels or a summer sundress. I’m also big on hugging puppies and kitties. That’s why I live with so many of them.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
That’s a hard one. As an activist I focused on fur. Not only because it’s frivolous, but also because it seemed like the easier win and a gateway platform. If you can feel compassion for a fox who’s killed for his or her fur, you have empathy for a piggy killed for his or her flesh. They’re all important, but specificity is required.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”