Wednesday, October 28, 2015

!0 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Laura Theodore...

Laura Theodore is an acclaimed actor, jazz singer-songwriter, cookbook author and host of the celebrated weekly PBS show, The Jazzy Vegetarian. Her path as a vegetarian eventually led to her embracing veganism, which she’s been championing since the 1980s, long before there was widespread familiarity with the word. As a talented performer and recipe creator, Laura’s work has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, New York Post, PBS Food, Readers Digest, JazzTimes, VegNews, Variety, and Time Magazine and many other outlets. Laura believes in taking the classic, familiar dishes she grew up on in the Midwest and recreating them as easy to prepare, delicious vegan recipes for all audiences today. Laura is inspired to build a more compassionate, sustainable and healthy world, and she just released a new cookbook, Laura Theodore’s Vegan-ease: An Easy Guide to Enjoying a Plant-Based Diet. I am thrilled to feature Laura Theodore as our Vegan Foodie this week.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

As a child, visiting and learning how to prepare delicious food with my Grandma Cook fascinated me and eating my mom’s tasty dinners every night was something I looked forward to. One of my first fond memories is of me, standing on a stool in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen, stirring apples for her yearly batch of applesauce. On Sundays or holidays, I looked forward to entering my Grandma Cook’s kitchen. (Yes, Cook was her real last name!) It was always filled with the intoxicating aroma of a big pot of simmering spaghetti sauce or some other wonderful culinary creation that she was preparing for us to feast upon.

At home, I remember being fascinated when my mom took beautifully cooked artichokes out of the pot, or when my great aunt came to visit and made homemade pasta noodles. So when I became interested in a healthier and more compassionate lifestyle, I looked to recreating the traditional recipes from Mom and Grandma’s kitchens, and I started preparing vegetarian, then eventually the vegan versions of their classic recipes you see in my books and on television today.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

I liked Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Meatloaf, Burgers, Stuffed Peppers, and Casseroles, along with Ice Cream, Cookies and Cake…just like most kids! Now I have created delicious vegan versions of these classic dishes and I do not miss the meat!

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

Oh, THAT would be tough! Hmmm….One of the best was at my house last winter when I served a meatless loaf based in shredded zucchini and ground sunflower seeds, smashed potatoes and a vegan sweet potato pie for dessert! YUM.

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I would prepare one of my delicious vegan mousse or cake recipes for Ellen DeGeneres.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I think the biggest mistake in vegan cooking is to try and follow recipes perfectly, rather than making a recipe your own. I believe that, like when preparing omnivorous recipes, everyone has their own tastes. Experimenting in the kitchen is the best way to create delicious, individualized recipes, so maybe it does not taste perfect the first time, but next time around a new recipe is born that will truly please your family!

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

All the colorful and hearty fall root veggies! I love to stuff squash and bake apples!

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Italian, Mexican-Style and American.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

Christina Pirello pioneered vegan cooking on television, and opened doors for others to follow.

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

That dairy and eggs are one of the cruelest of foods. The industry is far from the idyllic picture we have of cows happily grazing with their young, and chickens pecking and parading in spacious farmyards.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

To me veganism is the most compassionate way to live on this earth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Making Peace with Weird...

I grew up – pull out the violins – as a kid in an increasingly unhappy home and, from fifth grade through eighth, school life also got more Lord of the Flies-like each year, if restaged in an affluent Chicago suburb with upwardly mobile sadists. Thus I had no refuge: there was no respite from the difficulties at home when I was at school and no respite from the stresses of school at home. What I did have: a bushy mushroom cloud of black hair fashioned in a perverse attempt at a Dorothy Hamill cut (no one knew how to deal with curls in the 1970s), a tamped down personality that had grown leery of any attention and a rich inner-world that contrasted mightily with my real life.

In my fantasies, I could escape to being a make-believe girl named C.C. whose blonde hair feathered perfectly and had a just-right sprinkling of cinnamon freckles on her lightly tanned face. I wasn’t sure what her initials stood for, but I liked the sound of it. Maybe her parents – very wealthy, genetically blessed, deeply in love, they never fought – named her C.C. at birth or maybe it was a family name handed down generation after generation after her ancestors first stepped off of the Mayflower. Her name was waspy, precise and perfect, just like I wanted to be. As I imagined her, C.C. was a popular and athletic girl and she was able to mingle with the brains or the partiers, the jocks or the ice queens with an easy, fluid grace. The one faction that C.C. never interacted with was the weird kids – known in the aggregate as the losers where I grew up – a messy grab-bag of special ed students, overweight kids, Trekkies, brilliant bookworms and artistic types who daydreamed and sketched dragons in their notebooks. C.C. didn’t have a drop of weird in her. She was defiantly un-weird. C.C. was the perfectly composed poster child for Normal. In other words, she couldn’t be more unlike me, who, by fifth grade, was already an active member of several weird kid classifications and subtypes.

It wasn’t fun. In fact, other than when I was with my grandparents or idling in my imagination as C.C., the years roughly between fifth and eighth grade were the worst ones of my life. I was “a weirdo” and I felt branded for life. The thing is, though, once I started high school, I started the journey of finding my way and finding my way meant embracing the weird. The things that made me weird were the things that led me down the vegetarian path and then the vegan one. It’s my completely unscientific guess that this is true of many people who eventually find themselves here*. Generally if you meet a vegan, you’ve met someone who has logged considerable time on the outside looking in because it is this outsider’s view that helps us to be more critical of the conventional worldview regarding our relationship to other animals. I am speaking very broadly, of course; people stop eating animals for a variety of reasons today, many of which are not rooted in a deeply altered perspective, but in going vegan, it is clear that one’s way of looking at the world has radically shifted from society’s norms.

I’ve heard recent speakers in the vegan movement assert that the latest in social science tells us that people are more inclined to listen to those who are like them as a way to encourage activists to be as “normal” as possible. Guess what? I’m not that normal. I am going to hazard a guess that you aren’t either.

I am concerned that in our quest to “normalize” veganism and skew ever closer to what we believe to be prevailing mainstream norms, we are being asked to ignore those who are traditionally the biggest allies in the vegan moment – the artistic kids, the ones who reject the status quo, the ones who are less afraid to take an unpopular position – and this could have very sad consequences for our movement, and, most important, the animals, if we decide that fitting in is the best tool in fostering acceptance.

Someone asserting that the respectable norm (which usually happens to line up with the affluent, hetero and white male norm) is what we should be aspiring to in our outreach simply is ignoring that we represent a multiplicity of individuals and we will be talking to a diversity of potential vegans who are influenced and dissuaded by a wide variety of people and approaches. We are not cyborgs. We have histories and interests, attractions and disincentives because our species is just not that predictable. If having a certain approach were that much more likely to result in success, and if by inserting Tab A into Slot B, our efforts would result in more vegans, I’d love it. Again, though, it’s not that straightforward. People who might be less influenced by me might be more likely to listen to someone else. People who unmoved by one argument might be thoroughly compelled by another. The real world is messy and disorderly and it is just not that predictable, as alluring as that idea might be. I have no studies to back this up; I simply know this from 20 years of advocacy work. We do not live in a controlled laboratory setting. We live in a complex, untidy and endlessly fascinating world that we need to remain curious about, not believe that we have all the answers to, because we most assuredly do not.

This is all to say that in our drive to create more vegans, I think it is wrongheaded to deny that we are, for the most part, a rather weird population, meaning that we are innovators, more independent and more likely to reject the status quo. We have a worldview that is informed by beliefs not shared by the vast majority of the population and that perspective has compelled us to change our practices to live in accordance with our values. That is unconventional and that is more than okay. Instead of trying to conform our personalities to appeal to some amorphous “norm,” I believe that we should be modeling to the world how amazing it feels to live with consistency and to care less about fitting in and more about creating the world we want to live in. Confidence and honesty are alluring and captivating; shrinking and disingenuousness are not. By owning our values without apology in this messy world, we inspire courage in others to do the same.

There would be no animal rights movement without the weird kids. The C.C.’s of the world would not have created it. When I got comfortable with the idea that I was weird for life, C.C. faded from my imagination. I embraced the weird and my life became better for it. We are going to reach a lot more people being genuine and speaking honestly than trying to conform to a vague notion of socially acceptable “normalcy.”

* If you are an aggressively conventional vegan, congratulations, you are now officially weird, too. It’s okay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Gary Smith


Often it feels like I just wish I could click my heels and return to the days before social media. Between all the petty disagreements and mindless distractions vying for one’s attention, it can enervate us and all this access to “information” and one another’s opinions can feel like it’s more trouble than it is worth. Then I think of people like Gary Smith, someone I may not have met if not for Facebook, and I instantly remember that there are indeed many benefits to social media. Not simply for meeting inspiring individuals but for being exposed to those who help us to step up our game as animal advocates because they are using social media to create a better world in very smart and effective ways. (Yes, there’s more to Facebook than cute cat videos and cupcake recipes.)

Gary Smith is leaving breadcrumbs to a better world with his blog, The Thinking Vegan, and through his savvy public relations firm, Evolotus, which he runs with his equally inspiring, whip-smart partner, Kezia Jauron. Evolotus’ clients are a veritable who’s-who of progressive and powerful change-makers such as Mercy for Animals, Forks Over Knives, Tofurky and Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Gary and Kezia get the best possible spotlight on their clients in the media, helping to bring issues, messages and products that might get lost in our increasingly crowded public sphere to a wider and wider support base.

I love Gary’s thoughtful and penetrating approach to animal rights as well as his unapologetic, passionate vegan convictions. I know you’ll love him, too. I am so honored to have Gary Smith as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

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?

Late one night in college, I was listening to KPFK, our Los Angeles Pacifica station, and heard about Diet For a New America by John Robbins. The next day, I went out and bought the book. I turned to the first few photographs of factory farms, and that moment, I stopped eating animals. About ten minutes later, I converted my first new vegan, just by describing the photos to my then-best friend over the phone.

I had no idea what I was going to eat, but knew that I could not support the brutality and violence that I had awoken to. Keep in mind, this was long before the internet. Fortunately there was a health food store nearby, and bean burritos from Taco Bell and Del Taco. Around that time, I took a class on the study of nonviolence. I became friendly with the professor, gave a couple of lectures for him at a community college, and did research for his books. With that foundation, I became focused, dare I say obsessed, with studying suffering. At the time, that meant human suffering, but now animal suffering is the obsession.

I ate a vegan diet for three and a half years before sadly going back to eating fish, dairy, and eggs. Though I went vegan for animals, in retrospect, I didn’t fully grasp the larger philosophy of veganism, didn’t connect it to anything else swirling in my head, and I didn’t make changes when it came to clothing, and entertainment. I did learn about or products tested on animals and purchased cruelty-free products.

After going back to eating fish, dairy and eggs, there was always a voice in the back of my head telling me what I was doing was wrong. The voice grew louder, until I heeded it, almost ten years ago. I gave up fish, then a few months later, dairy and eggs. I recall that I wanted to see what it would be like to eat a vegan diet again, but wasn’t fully committing to it. After a day or two, I had this peaceful feeling come over me. I knew that I would never consume animal products again.

What was different this time is that I educated myself. I pored over books, websites, etc., wanting to fully understand veganism. The more I understood, the more outspoken I became.

I’ve dedicated not only my life to activism, but also my career. My wife and I created Evolotus PR, a public relations agency, where the majority of our work is for animal rights and animal protection nonprofits, campaigns, and vegan-themed documentary films and books.

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?

The activist Anita Mahdessian has a story about this that rings very true for me. She wrote, “Many years ago, I had a very brief encounter with ‘my first vegan.’ He seemed to be a very peaceful man, a ‘love and light’ vegan. When I asked him, ‘what is a vegan,’ his answer was ‘vegans do not eat or use any animal products.’ He did not tell me why, and I failed to ask him. If only my first vegan told me the truth. If only my first vegan gave me all the facts instead of ‘love and light,’ I would have gone vegan that very day. My first vegan failed me. My first vegan failed the animals. However, my second vegan did not. And I am forever grateful that he was merciless with the inconvenient truth.”

I have often said, on The Thinking Vegan and elsewhere, that I advocate telling the truth about how nonhumans are being exploited and brutalized, in a forthright, sincere, truthful, factual manner. One of the most popular blogs I’ve written relates to this very topic. Certainly, we shouldn’t be assholes about it. We don’t have to be combative. But the truth needs to be told, whether people want to hear it or not, or are ready to hear it or not.

I’m not saying I would have been ready. But at least I would have had the truth, which I didn’t have.

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 is no one way to advocate, no one magical “tone” that will appeal to everyone, no single argument that will make the world vegan. I have to follow my own voice, and my own values. People can smell an inauthentic person from a mile away, and I wouldn’t be effective if I pretended to be someone that I’m not.

I tend not to pet people for taking baby steps, not eating animals one day a week, or switching to cage-free eggs. I don’t want people to become confused about what I advocate. There is no way to humanely or ethically exploit another being. Ethically, we are coming from a place of strength. Coming from a place of strength means we can ask for what we want.

I find that people acknowledge this strength, and one way it manifests is people often subtly seek my “permission” to use non-human animals. They’ll tell me that the zoo they take their kid to really, really cares about conservation. They’ll tell me they gave up red meat, or that their toddler flat-out refuses to drink cow’s milk. They’ll tell me they tried once to adopt through a rescue or shelter, but it didn’t have the brand of dog they wanted so they “had to” buy a puppy. They want me, the token ethical vegan, to give them a cookie for their labors, so they can carry on guilt-free. But I don’t give it to them.

This comes up while mentoring new vegans, too. People ask me if it’s okay to eat animals on vacation with their family, or in a restaurant once in a while, or to use a certain hair-care product that is tested on animals, or some other scenario when being vegan may be temporarily inconvenient or undesirable for them. These questions only represent new vegans lacking enough confidence to stick to their new ethical awareness. Happily, I find that when people trust in whatever brought them to that awareness, and are reassured that they can make different choices, they stay with me. It’s an empowering thing for people, and an effective thing.

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

We’re loyal to the companies, organizations, and movement leaders that have influenced us, innovate products for us, and share our ethics. We’re fairly well mobilized and we support our own when we feel we’re called to do so. The successful crowdfunding campaigns for documentary films, books, restaurants, or food companies speak to that loyalty and support. Having said that, I do wish there was less of a focus on veganism as a consumerist, capitalistic lifestyle, and more on veganism as the social justice movement that it truly is.

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

Being in PR, and working with mainstream media every day, my biggest hindrance is that veganism and animal rights are not yet taken seriously everywhere and by everyone. Bear in mind that our clients are usually very deeply offensive to the meat and dairy industries, fast food, processed food, pharmaceutical companies, the medical and healthcare industry. These are the industries that advertise on the nightly news.

Secondly, our credibility is questioned by media and the general public too. We are promoting ideas that are out of the mainstream, so we’re going to be scrutinized more. We have to be better than they are, more professional, more credible. There must be no factual or logical holes in our arguments and our materials. Unfortunately, we’re perceived as having an “agenda,” as if the animal-exploiting industries don’t also have an agenda, which is profit.

I still see a lot of sensationalist campaigns, protests for the sake of protesting, and a lack of strategy or substance behind some of what animal activists are doing. There is no longer a need to get media attention for media attention’s sake, and we’ve turned down many potential clients who wanted stunty campaigns. We really don’t need to scream and wave our hands at people, and media coverage can backfire very quickly if we are portrayed as fools or propagandists. We can raise the level of dialogue, we really can.

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

The ethical choice is vegan. All sentient beings feel pain. Meat, dairy, and eggs come from sentient beings. Meat, dairy, and eggs always cause pain. If you choose to eat meat, dairy, and eggs, you are choosing to cause pain and to participate in exploitation and murder. Participating in pain and murder is always unethical. The ethical choice is vegan.

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?

I’m inspired and influenced by so many people and animals. Our dogs, Frederick and Douglass, inspire me every day. I cannot imagine the life they had previous to living with us. They spent the first five years of their lives in cages in an animal testing laboratory, having all manners of terrible things done to them, and yet they are forgiving and open to experiencing life – some of life, at least. I look at their example and want to not only be a better activist, but a stronger and more resilient person.

I’m inspired by all of the farmed animals that I have met at sanctuaries, and those I’ve helped to freedom but never met. They have come from such horrific surroundings and yet seem to have made peace with the world.

I’m inspired by Kim Sturla, Marji Beach, Jan Galeazzi, and everyone else at Animal Place, Nathan Runkle and the entire Mercy For Animals team, and lauren Ornelas’ work at Food Empowerment Project blows me away. Some of my heroes are Thomas Ponce, who started Lobby For Animals at 12 years old; Jo-Anne McArthur, who puts herself through such personal suffering to bear witness to animal suffering; and Tony Kanal, who constantly combines bravery and thoughtfulness in his activism. Ari Nessel from The Pollination Project makes me want to be a kinder person, and his sister Dana Nessel, the civil rights attorney who nearly singlehandedly won the right to marry for everyone in America, makes me want to be a more kick-ass person. Kia Scherr from One Life Alliance taught me about forgiveness.

Aside from Jo-Anne’s book, I recommend Mark Hawthorne’s Bleating Hearts and Ruby Roth’s children’s books.

Through our PR work, I’m also lucky to be tapped into a network of vegan documentary filmmakers and to have early access to a lot of the most influential projects: Earthlings, Bold Native, Got the Facts on Milk, The Ghosts in Our Machine, Speciesism, Cowspiracy, and the upcoming, next big AR film, The Last Pig.

My wife Kezia influences and amazes me. We have been together for close to 20 years. She is my best friend and the smartest person I know. I learn from her all the time.

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

The reality is that I am preoccupied with ending animal exploitation. It’s quite literally the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to bed. But I get so much energy and excitement by working on these issues, and thinking about how we can be more effective as activists, that I don’t really notice the time go by.

Also the work we do at Evolotus inspires us. Getting the Wall Street Journal to write about a client’s work has the potential of being read by four million people. I could spend the rest of my life passing out leaflets and probably never reach that many people. We are constantly looking for the next big thing that will put animal rights issues into the mainstream. Finding that new next big thing is inspiring and recharging.

To unwind, I’m not ashamed to admit, we do a lot of cocooning with bad reality TV such as competitive tattooing shows, the home and garden channel, and lately binge-watching TV series on Netflix. I also love to shop for and read novels. I’ve already surpassed my goal of reading 100 novels this year! We also are lucky to live in a city with dozens of vegan restaurants, so going out to lunch or dinner, or picking up vegan donuts on the weekend, is something we do frequently. Maybe too frequently!

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

Living with Frederick and Douglass, clearly, the answer is vivisection. Rescuing beagles from animal testing laboratories, fostering them, helping them create a new experience of the world, has opened my eyes to how important it is to consider individual lives, versus abstract concepts and numbers such as ten billion land animals.

To say they have changed our lives would be a massive understatement. We are completely invested in making sure they are happy, healthy, and at peace, after the five-plus years they were confined in a laboratory. They still have emotional and physical scars, but with each day that goes by and each belly rub, they grow more comfortable and adjusted to freedom.

It also puts a different perspective on so-called “single-issue campaigns” because our dogs, and millions more animals like them, are simply overlooked by vegan education outreach. Just one or two decades ago, the animal rights movement included in its focus animals in laboratories and animals used for fur. The truth is, we’ve dropped a massive strategic ball on vivisection, and as a result we’re losing a relatively winnable issue. There’s simply no reason animal testing – at least nonmedical testing, meaning consumer products – should continue today.

Today, this movement is primarily concerned with animals used for food. I understand the logic behind this, and with my experience in hands-on rescue, and this expansion of my consciousness from abstract numbers to specific individuals, has made me appreciate the work of farmed animal sanctuaries differently.

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

The greatest gift you can give to yourself, the animals, and the planet.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chicago VeganMania 2015!

So here I am, just a few days away from our big event and I don’t really have much to share here except that I am knee-deep in stress dreams and my house is filled to the ceiling with boxes and, well, pretty much everything I wrote about here. Why do we do this, year after year? Because we believe that community matters and we believe that showing the public that the vegan movement is full of dynamic, diverse, creative and truly original people who are pushing forward the social justice movement of our time will help to turn the tide toward a more compassionate, healthy and sustainable world.

Because I am so slammed presently, I am going to re-post a bit from what I wrote about Chicago VeganMania in 2010 because it still fits.

Back when I started with this business of being vegan, back in the Mesozoic era of the mid-1990s when terrifying winged beasts beat their wings in circles above us and all the milk in local coffee shops came from udders, life ticked along at a distinctly different syncopation. In Chicago, there were usually between twenty and thirty of us who were consistently active, and we met monthly in church basements or spare rooms at the library. Photos from the time were, to put it bluntly, strange: fervent activists in their twenties working side-by-side with sad-eyed animal lovers in their sixties, with few ages represented in between. Back in the day, we got loopy from marker vapors together when we made our protest signs, we looked through an endless stack of boxes in a volunteer's basement to find the musty old chicken costume and played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would almost faint while wearing it at the World Vegetarian Day leafletting, we licked envelopes, people, and lugged all the newsletters to the post office downtown four times a year. We passed our favorite catalogue around the table at Mandy's house and put in group orders together for t-shirts, buttons, stickers. I still have one of those shirts, worn in and cozy like a favorite baby blanket, a black ink Rorsharch splotch on a sleeve from one of our marathon sign-making sessions. It's in the drawer of t-shirts designated only as sleep wear these days. It just has words on it: No, I don't eat meat. Yes, I get enough protein. No, my shoes aren't leather. Yes, I have a life. This shirt encapsulated the experience of a vegan animal advocate, and that particular time in my life, perfectly. Every time I pull it out, it's like I'm transformed back to the day, and I'm standing outside of a circus again or I'm in front of the McDonald's in River North, standing with my friends, rolling our eyes at the dirty looks, making our far superior snide comments about the idiotic snide comments. It's a t-shirt, and a time, that always makes me smile in recollection. 

Although I am nostalgic for the sienna-toned quaintness of that time, for the passionate connection that face-to-face hands-on work creates, I am very grateful to be able to enjoy this particular time right now perhaps because I remember what it was like before veganism had gained a little foothold in our popular culture. We are still very small in actual numbers, but somehow, we've become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, and the ripple effect of our influence is keenly felt. Recently, for example, I went with my son to an apple festival in the city. Back when I lived in that very same neighborhood of Lincoln Square, it was all about the German delis. (At the Brauhaus on a date, I asked the server if they had anything vegetarian and she recommended
hasenpfeffer, rabbit stew, but thankfully I had seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon where the king angrily - and with imperious sibilance -  demanded it so I was nobody's fool. Who says cartoons have no value?) In other words, Lincoln Square was pretty much the opposite of a vegan mecca. Today, the German food and culture remains, but shuffled between everything is more than a little hint at the change that's happening. At the apple festival, I could walk into pretty much any café with a boy Who Suddenly Could Not Wait Even A Second Longer to use the restroom, and know that I could pick up something in the treats-for-bathroom barter system. Later, when we picked up soy- and fruit-based gelato it occurred to me once again, as my friend remarked that they should carry more soy options, what a radically different culture my son is growing up in, thank goodness. Back in the 1990s, my friends and I would launch into spontaneous cartwheels and shout from the rooftops if one coffee shop offered a dry, tasteless vegan cookie or we spotted the v-word on a menu, elusive and magical like a purple unicorn, but today, my son and his little herbivorous urban peers take it for granted that there will be high quality vegan treats for them. Not only that, but they actually have a choice now because just chocolate or vanilla is soooo pre-school: pumpkin, cinnamon swirl, lemon poppyseed, blueberry-freaking-cream cheese. Yes, they're a generation of entitled little brats who will never have to walk three miles barefoot in the snow for mushy veggie burgers, but I can't describe the sense of happiness I feel when I go somewhere and we can just be like everyone else. (But cooler!)

A couple of things to make clear: a culturally diverse, large city, and all the bounty within, is in easy access. I understand that this effortlessness is not available everywhere and I am so appreciative of what we have here. Second, I don't mistake a proliferation of vegan cupcakes as evidence that the revolution is at hand. The revolution will not be found in a bag of powdered sugar. The shift is happening, though, and it is seismic and it is real, born of natural cultural change, smart outreach, talented animal advocates and people waking up to the inescapable reality that our dietary habits cannot continue if we are to continue. It has not translated into fewer animals being consumed or abused yet - these institutions are nothing if not entrenched - but I have no doubt that this will happen as the wave continues. What we are witnessing is this slow untangling in real time so we may not always see it in an obvious way, but make no mistake that it is happening. Imagine the evolution of the vegan lifestyle as it settles into our larger culture like stop-action photography, from 1995 until the present. The dust is still very much unsettled and I believe that the boomerang we tossed out is really in its infancy of its journey back, but progress is certainly happening. I have no doubt about that.

This all a very longwinded way to explain what I am up to these days. My husband and I, along with some of the very best kind of people you could know, are putting together an event called Chicago VeganMania… This is our second year. The driving force behind our event, the thing that gets us excited to send out press releases and answer questions about parking (okay, this last thing is an exaggeration) in addition to all the other work we're doing, is the idea of third and fourth wave activism. If you think back on the historic arc of social justice movements, which the animal advocacy movement is part of, you'll see that the first wave is usually confrontation. It's people not getting to the back of the bus, it is Stonewall. This is what propels us at the beginning, what gives us momentum and the passion. Education is next: this is the outreach, the written materials that make the case, the more recognizable advocacy work. Understandably, the vegan movement has largely centered around these first two waves of activism. What we are trying to do with Chicago VeganMania is to be a part of ushering in the next two waves: celebration, which is the sort of thing witnessed in cultural pride festivals, and integration, where the "whys" of veganism rarely come into play, and it is simply accepted as a normal and natural way of life. The first two waves are still vitally important and they work in tandem with what follows: it's not as though they dissolve when the next waves begin. It is an organic and fluid back-and-forth motion, as waves naturally will be, with different current systems throughout. We need the third and fourth waves, though, for the veganism to take root on a mass scale and become more than a fringe movement. This doesn't mean that we're adapting veganism for mainstream tastes: quite the opposite. By taking proud ownership and putting it out there in our unique and diverse ways with our unique and diverse gifts, we are ensuring that that this movement that flows outward whether we like it or not, will have our particular stamp on it. And our stamp is fabulous so Chicago VeganMania will be fabulous!
So get excited and come to see us if you can at Chicago VeganMania. If you can't join us, keep adding your distinctive talents and unique, compassionate voice to the mix. When people perceive veganism as something more than a dietary fad, as something different than an exclusive club you need to know the secret handshake to gain entry to, we will effect incredible change. Chicago VeganMania is part of the galvanizing entrenchment of the movement. We have so much at our fingertips, we really do. Keep your eyes on the prize, and keep moving forward!"

I hope to see you then!