Wednesday, December 28, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Nicole Moore Eisenberg


One of my best-loved perks of doing this feature is being able to help get the word out about some of my favorite vegans. About half the time, this is someone I have not met in person but I am so inspired by their work and their message; the other half of my interview subjects, I am fortunate enough to know in person. Nicole Moore Eisenberg is one such individual. We met some time back as part of the Mercy for Animals contingent with Chicago’s Gay Pride parade and I was immediately struck by Nicole’s great sense of humor and love of fun (she always was dressed really, um, memorably) and her warm, vivacious, unpretentious personality. Nicole is one of those “all in” people and as a fellow (sister?) “all in” type, I appreciate it when I recognize that quality in someone else. Let the others roll their eyes at our enthusiasm and spunk while we create the world we want to live in.

Sadly, Nicole is no longer local to me but Chicago’s loss is New York’s gain. Nicole and her equally sparkly husband are now based in Brooklyn where they run Veg Option Allies and Advocates, or VOAA, a non-profit that works to break down barriers to veganism – like social isolation, perceived difficulties and ingrained habits – to make compassionate living accessible to everyone. They do this with fun events, like their Massive Vegan Potluck Parties and educational, helpful videos on YouTube. Through their mission of community building, VOAA offers a powerful resource for helping those who are already herbivores to enjoy feeling solidarity and, more uniquely, encourages vegans to listen and hear about the reality of other lives so as to become true allies. The idea here is to create a win-win: we get to share the vegan love while gaining the empathy and understanding that comes from engaging outside of our usual social circles. I love the mission of VOAA and Nicole Moore Eisenberg makes me giddy. I am honored to feature her 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?

My “vegan evolution” story keeps getting realer and realer - lol. It’s probably pretty sad. But it’s honest and, to me, that’s the only thing that matters.

I was always that kid who freaked out with happiness when animals were around. I think a lot of us unheard, lost, lonely kids were like that. Unfortunately, my go-to coping strategies for childhood/adolescence were people-pleasing and stuffing down my emotions as to not inconvenience anyone. So, though I did get leafleted in college (and even watched a few seconds of undercover footage!) and around the same time realized my dog resembled a little lamb and began feeling guilty for eating animals, I didn’t change my behavior because I was deeply scared of being abandoned for being different or difficult. Years went by and I started running and working out regularly. At that point, I became vegan over a weekend because a popular health/weight loss-themed book I picked up presented all the health and vanity points for me. It was like my spiritual self wanted to go vegan for years but I couldn’t because of my immense self-doubt. Then, eventually, my physical self wanted to do it and did. But even after being vegan 7 years, I feel like I’m still doing the work of merging my emotional and physical selves; Of un-stuffing my emotions and ditching the false-self I adopted early on in life and that I have relied upon without even knowing it until recently.

The take-away for me - and what I try to impart upon folks when I give my “Finding your own voice in the veg/an movement” talk - is that there is no such thing as an immediate transformation, even if we do go vegan very quickly or overnight. I like to call our tendency for romanticizing our “vegan evolution” stories “the butterfly effect”. This totally happened to me, which is why I am comfortable sharing my theory with you. I am not judging here, just passing along this observation in hopes it might help others. When we’re in vegan circles a LOT and share “our story” a LOT, it tends to get fable-ized. We live in a culture seeped in competition, so it’s only natural that we want to out-do and out-vegan each other a little bit when we compare stories. It’s unfortunate for everyone involved because SNORE! I don’t know about you, but I get bored to tears hearing “here’s what I want you to hear” stories rather than “here’s what really happened” stories. Plus, it gets us in the habit of sharing our “fable” instead of our story, and I can say with certainty not many non-vegans are buying it!

So, here goes: “It all happened one day when I was serenely perched atop the Grand Canyon and a butterfly landed on my shoulder and spoke to my soul…that moment forever changed me as I dropped my beef jerky into the canyon and have been vegan ever since that exact moment. I have never missed anything and it was the easiest thing I ever did. I was immediately repulsed by all animal products, even grilled chicken, and I never even crave vegan cheese or meats. I am so pure and evolved.” Obviously it’s an exaggeration, but my point is that it’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy - especially yours - because you’re missing out on an opportunity to really CONNECT to the person with whom you’re speaking.

I’ll pull out one of my favorite quotes by Philip Seymour Hoffman here because, well, it always helps me and makes me less scared to be vulnerable and share the good/bad/ugly of my story!! "If you're a human being walking the earth, you're weird, you're strange, you're psychologically challenged."

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?

See above. hehe. They could tell me their full, un-edited, flawed, ugly, honest story!! Every part of it. They would open up 100% and be real, human, imperfect, vulnerable, curious, patient, and still open to learning from me. They don’t have an evangelical, sales-person vibe to them. They share their story because they know I’m a good person who wants to do good in the world, too, and not because they want to “win” at being pure and right. They have self-love and inner-validation and don’t use veganism to feel validated (it took me years to figure out I was doing this!!) They would tell me that consciousness is a lifelong process of learning and unlearning, that everyone has their own path, and that I can start wherever works for me. It would be a collaborative conversation wherein both sides are being heard; them talking WITH me and wanting the best for me rather than AT me and wanting to feel powerful/important.

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

Based on the above, it won’t come as a surprise to you when I say; Honesty. But seriously, it has helped me a lot to recognize that I am right-brained and have fruitlessly been trying to turn my aspirational self into a left-brained person for as long as I can remember (2nd grade, to be precise). It’s been a revelation for me to do work that works for me; in the realm of emotions, creativity and intuition. Right-brained, creative, emotion-driven folks - IT’S OUR TIME!! BE YOU. OWN IT, EMBRACE IT, LIVE IT. Our country is full of other right-brained folks ready and eager to hear you, feel you, learn from you, and be inspired by you.

Anyway, my point here is that self-knowledge/self-discovery is paramount. We’re most effective when we’re being authentic and playing up our natural strengths. For some of my favorite resources to help with this, check out VOAA’s inspiration board.  

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

Facts. We destroy it on the facts!! We are ready to be fact-tested on a moment’s notice.

And I’m incredibly inspired by the strength, creativity and momentum of our pro-intersectional vegan movement. We are well on our way to ensuring that veganism is for everyone and that fighting oppression means fighting ALL forms of oppression!! There are so many vegans who get it - that small is the new big. We are community-based, community-facing, cooperative and collective!! By pointing our focus and attention toward those whose work also exemplifies community over competition, cooperation over capitalism, and collectives over hierarchies, we will empower each other, take power away from the oppressors, and change the landscape of veganism in the US.

Fred Rogers knows it and we know it, too. “But how do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can do to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own, by treating our ‘neighbor’ at least as well as we treat ourselves and allowing that to inform everything that we produce.”

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

We need to be more REAL and encourage others to do the same. Especially those with the most power and influence. Speaking of those with the most power and influence, if you’re listening, why not take a more reciprocal approach and help amplify the voices who don’t get the same air-time as you?

"As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has--or ever will have--something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression." -Fred Rogers

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

“I direct a communication-centric non-profit all about bringing together vegans and non-vegans - here, have a sticker! The website is on there - you should check it out.”

I’m always carrying VOAA stickers. I hand them out as my business card every time I meet someone new. And I put them up anywhere in the city where there’s stickers. I live in Brooklyn, so this means I have many opportunities!

I also LOVE this quote and use it often in VOAA videos to introduce folks to what will hopefully be a lifetime of being FULLY AWAKE: “It takes endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” -Marianne Williamson

To be honest, I am definitely still recovering from a few years of putting myself out there in way that really messed with my mental health, so VOAA stickering is my current elevator pitch! This sort of blends in to #8, but I just want to say 1) Your pitch - and your activism - don’t have to take away all your joy in life. You deserve to be happy!! Activism requires bravery and strength, but it doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice yourself. 2) If you can make your pitch actually be YOUR THING; something where you have autonomy over your duties and are able to be 100% YOU, it will be more fun for you PLUS folks will instantly FEEL all that amazing energy and pick up what you are throwing down!!! So, get out there, get started. Start an Instagram, a YouTube channel, a recurring event, a directory, a ‘zine, a book, a film, a support group, a community garden, a community kitchen, anything!!! It will be awkward and probably suck at first. 1) Awkwardness is way underrated 2) Everyone sucks at first. Everyone starts sometime; what better time than now??!

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?

SO MANY! I link to many of them on the VOAA site. I’ll also link to a few more who aren’t vegan, but who influence my work in #9.

One film every vegan needs to add to their list is the documentary 13th. Watch it, recommend it, talk about it, host a screening (Netflix is offering free screenings). The film summarizes the issue very succinctly: slavery in our country never left. It turned into Jim Crow laws, which turned into mass incarceration. The 13th amendment turned slaves into criminals. We say we would have been on the front lines and been active in the civil rights movement, but why aren’t more of us getting active now when one in three Black men are expected to end up behind bars while it’s one in 17 for a White man? The United States is home to 25% of the world’s prison population even though we’re only 5% of the global population. Corporations are making a killing off of prison labor. We’ve now reached over 151 years since the abolition of slavery yet institutionalized racial inequality in our country continues. We have a moral imperative to be a part of this movement and fight for racial equality and justice.

Another note about awkwardness. Yes, when we’re new at advocating for something, we’re awkward. That’s just the way it is. New vegans are going to be awkward and make mistakes just like new White allies are going to be awkward and make mistakes. It’s just one more reason inner-confidence and inner-strength from a deep sense of self-love is so vital for spreading social change! We have to be OK with putting ourselves out there simply because it’s the right thing to do. And not having a meltdown if a Black person corrects us or calls us out on misinformation. We can’t link our ego and our activism or we’ll be fragile pieces of pottery; not sturdy enough to stand up to incredibly strong evil powers.

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

I got caught up in what turned out to be a pattern in my professional life: ignoring my own needs to please others; to gain love and acceptance from perceived authority figures in the movement. Habits learned in childhood die hard! I have seen this happen in other vegans, too. Since I started working on VOAA, it’s been such a relief and life-changer to start from scratch and get to know the real me. This is the first time in my career - and I’m 34 - that I’ve had autonomy over my job duties. I spent all the years before this biting my tongue and telling myself that if I just stay busy enough and say YES enough times that SOMEONE is bound to notice. What would happen once someone noticed?? I had no idea! It was an exhausting, unending treadmill of seeking-validation/love/acceptance-from-outside-myself. Anyway, nobody noticed. THANKFULLY! lol. I thoroughly and completely burned myself out. So, I decided I had nothing to lose. Now, I feel like I’m making up for lost time and learning who the hell I really am!!

The best thing we can do is figure out how to do activism that is 100% US. A funny thing starts to happen when we do this. We realize how much we need others. So, then we get to join forces with other amazing activists also doing their own thing!! We learn emotional, intellectual and spiritual skills from them. Boundaries become easier; being able to turn off WORK and turn on PLAY. It’s awesome. I’m just beginning to experience all these awesome changes and can’t wait to really LIVE THIS in 2017.

That said, it’s always a delicate balance. It’s just like Janelle Monáe says, “Whether I'm high or low, I got to tip on the tightrope.”

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

Abuse of power over children. Childhood emotional neglect is the cause of so many adults with boundary issues, debilitating self-doubt, living life feeling powerless; from the viewpoint of victims, inability to ask for help, unhealthy view of the world; issues being strictly black or white, having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, fearing authority figures, and becoming professional approval seekers. The books Running on Empty; Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jonice Webb and The Drama of the Gifted Child; The Search for True Self by Alice Miller have been very helpful to me personally as well as and the group’s printed resources. If you find yourself relating to these qualities, check out the “Laundry List” on It will get you started in the right direction!

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

An important part of my true self.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Eighth Annual Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet...

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Yeah, it’s that time. I’ll be honest: 2016 has kicked our collective asses and set the whole ass-mess on fire and poured gasoline over the top so I was a little hesitant to add to the negative vibes with my Eighth Annual Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet but, yeah, who am I kidding? Clearly, I love to vent and complain. Here goes!

A is for “Ach-oo!” Better not sneeze around certain people or they will blame your cold as well as everything from the dry patch on your hand to your weird baby toenail on the fact that you are vegan.
B is for the Bohemian “influencers” on Instagram who embrace veganism with great fanfare one week and publicly ditch it as soon as they decide it’s less cool/quirky a week later. B is also for Buh-bye.
C is for the Challenge of hearing someone go on about how he “met a vegan once and she got really sick,” and doing your best to not roll your eyes.
D is for, “Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian?” Um, nice try but he was a meat-eater, just like Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin. Hitler was not a vegetarian; neither am I. So why are you bringing this up?  
E is for the Evil eye you shoot at the omnivores who chow down on the single vegan dish at your office's catered holiday buffet and then ultimately have to resort to physically blocking them because they are impervious to the subtle nuances of your death glare.
F is for Farmers markets being overtaken with purveyors of animal carcasses and the smell of cooked animal carcasses hanging in the air.
G is for the Gushing from your foodie friend about how tender her chicken is and WHY DOES SHE THINK YOU WANT TO HEAR THIS??? WHY???
is for Hosts who tell you not to bring any food to their party because there will be plenty of food for vegans and you discover that plenty = you're lucky if there's a bowl of tortilla chips and some pickles.
I is for Is it possible to die of irritation? Like should I be worried about this?
J is for Journalists who insist on inserting unoriginal and predictable snark to their stories about veganism, whether it fits the tone or not. GAH!
K is for Karma, as in, you’d better hope there is not such a thing as it but I am crossing my fingers for it so nah-nah.
L is for being Lumped in with flaky dietary faddists in the public view and the vegans who reinforce this with their random food rules that have nothing to do with veganism.
M is for the Mail that brings you a catalog from Heifer International. How did you get on their damn mailing list?!
N is for Naively not checking your pick-up order before you left the restaurant with it and coming home to discover animal flesh in it.
O is for Oh, my flipping God, he’s really president…
P is for the People in your life who send you every link that crosses their eyes that paints veganism in a negative light.
Q is for Questionable credentials of the guy in your office who considers himself an expert on nutrition (or agriculture, climate change, cruelty to animals, etc.) and sees it as a personal mission to try to "educate" you whenever possible.
R is for Roasting in your car in the summer as you eat the lunch you packed along because the amusement part has nothing for you to eat and they don’t allow outside food.
S is for Sitting next to the paleo enthusiast at the annual animal charity benefit, that, you know, also serves meat so as to not alienate anyone and YOU ARE AN ANIMAL CHARITY, DAMN IT. What letter was this? There is so much to complain about.
T is for Trying to get the kale out from between your teeth when you dine out with friends but you can tell it’s still there and they are all looking at you like “???” because you keep swishing water in your mouth and doing weird things with your tongue and you will never be invited out again because of kale and when will you remember to take dental floss along with you?
U is for Until lions decide to go vegan, a sizeable segment of the population will cling to their bizarre excuse for eating animals.
V is for Vacillating between wanting to be the vegan who indulges inane questions, predictable jokes, bigoted opinions, inconsiderate behavior and more with patience and trying that for five seconds before you want to explode in an angry fusillade of really bad behavior.
W is for Waiting for the server to take a breath in describing the meat-, cheese- and egg-laden specials of the night so you can say, yeah, nope, vegan.
X is for Xeno, as in thank goodness for the Scientologists because as long as they’re around, there will be a population the public wants to avoid even more than they want to avoid vegans.
Y is for YouTubers who happen to be vegan and obnoxious and embarrass you to death.
Z is for the Zen state of peace you feel when you block a troll on Facebook that gets punctured 20 seconds later when a new troll announces his arrival with an "Mmm...bacon," comment to your link about cruelty to animals.  

It’s out of my system now. Toodles until next year’s grievance session!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Jeffrey Cohan...


Hanukkah starts December 24 this year so what better time to talk to Jeffrey Cohan, Executive Director of Jewish Veg? With a background in journalism and Jewish communal service, Jeffrey is a longtime vegetarian and has been vegan since 2010. As blogger behind The Beet-Eating Heeb, Jeffrey explores the spiritual basis of veganism with humor, honesty and insight. Under Jeffrey’s leadership since 2012, Jewish Veg, once known as Jewish Vegetarians of North America, has shifted their focus to a vegan message and they have lots of events coming up, including a college speaking tour in the Spring (dates are still to be announced but you can see last year’s tour) and a free, Jewish-themed vegan starter guide. In October, Jewish Veg posted a video of their sponsored talk in New York, Alex Hershaft’s powerfully moving “From the Warsaw Ghetto to a Lifetime of Compassion,” speech. According to Jeffrey, Jewish Veg has become the fastest-growing vegan advocacy organization in the United States and it clearly shows no signs of slowing down. I am honored that Jeffrey is 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?

I was a big-time carnivore, regrettably, until the age of 41. That’s when, as a Jew, I first encountered Genesis 1:29, where God commands us to eat a vegan diet. I went vegetarian that day and, about three years later, went vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals.

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’d like to think that if someone had educated me about what’s happening to farmed animals, I would have gone vegan on the spot. I also would have been open to the compelling evidence that a healthy vegan diet is the only diet proven to reverse heart disease.

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

The most effective mediums are live presentations and personal interactions. The power of live, in-person, human-to-human communication is unmatched. Within those mediums, humor and authentic passion are an effective mix. In my blog, The Beet-Eating Heeb, and in my live presentations, I try to incorporate both. We need humor to get people’s guard down and passion to crack into their hearts.

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

Two things come to mind.

One is that our arrow is pointing up. We definitely have momentum. There are many indicators of that, none more obvious than the proliferation of vegan products on grocery-store shelves. A lot of very smart, hard-working people in our movement have helped make this happen.

The second is that we have the facts squarely on our side, whether you’re talking about ethics, health, the environment, or, in our case, Judaism. We do and will win the debate with carnivores every time.

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

Again, two things come to mind.

The first is, our opposition might not have the facts on their side, but they have a massive marketing budget, tradition, and majority opinion on their side. Did I mention a massive marketing budget? The fact that we’ve made such progress despite these enormous obstacles is pretty impressive.

Secondly, the animal-rights movement is very divided and is sending out conflicting messages to the public. To a certain extent, some degree of fracturing is inevitable in growing social movements. In some cases, a variety of approaches can be productive. However, in the United States, the animal-welfare message has become a little too dominant. I hope the funding community will recognize this imbalance and offer greater support to the vegan-advocacy movement.

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

There is no change you can make today that will have such a powerfully positive effect on animals, on the planet, on your health and on your soul. And today, it’s easier than ever before to make that change.

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 love to read, so books have had a big influence of me. Reading Eating Animals instantly transformed me from a vegetarian into a vegan.

The Bible, or what we call the Torah, has been a big influence as well. At Jewish Veg, we are bringing to light religious teachings that have been variously ignored, suppressed or misinterpreted. The Jewish Bible establishes a plant-based diet as the ideal, frames meat-eating as the manifestation of human gluttony, and mandates that we treat animals with exquisite compassion.

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the authors of the Bible knew 3,000 years ago that killing animals for food was wrong and that eating plants was best for our souls and our health. This was 2,900 years before the creation of the first factory farm.

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

Shabbat. My job, as executive director of Jewish Veg, is very demanding, which is a good thing. But if not for Shabbat, I would have burned out a long time ago. I don’t work on Saturdays unless I’m speaking at a synagogue. I absolutely love my job, but knowing that I have a 24-hour respite every week enables to me work harder and longer on the other six days.

I also try to do some form of exercise at least four times a week. And I meditate daily.

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

Here is what I would like everyone to know: The word “dominion” in the Bible absolutely does NOT give us permission to kill animals for food – or to mistreat them, period.

The famous “dominion” verse (Genesis 1:26) is part of the same, uninterrupted conversation in which God tells us to eat plants and only plants (Genesis 1:29).

Furthermore, Genesis 1:26 is where we also find the statement that humans beings are made in God’s image. This means we’re supposed to exercise dominion over animals in the same fashion as God exercises dominion over people. And in Jewish thought, there is no debate that God’s primary attributes are mercy and compassion.

So the English word “dominion” is really an unfortunate translation. “Compassionate stewardship” would be far more accurate.

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

… a spiritual awakening.” No one told me this would happen, but I’ve since found out that it’s a common experience for vegans. I feel a much deeper connection to the Universe.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why Strong Emotions Are a Rational Response to Tyranny

Yes, we’re emotional. No, we’re not irrational. These things are different. I’ll tell you why.

I should say that to write about this subject, I am going to have to use terms and broad generalizations that some people don’t appreciate, including myself. For example, the word “liberal” and its flabby, namby-pamby associations are proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard to me. I don’t relate to the word or the wimpy associations with liberalism at all. I will, however, accept that the word a person might come up with to describe me or someone like me is liberal. Yes, I just shuddered. I accept, though, that language is as subjective as it is imprecise and our understanding of one another, especially when we are strangers, is quite limited, so I can live with being labeled as a “liberal” for the purposes of this essay. Just for now, though.

I bring this up because a common refrain I am hearing these days from conservative circles - yes, sometimes I am close enough to safely eavesdrop - in the weeks after the presidential election is that the left, a.k.a., liberals, a.k.a., people like me, are so damn emotional about everything. As a vegan, I’ve heard this one-note assessment of our temperament for years but it has become especially noticeable lately as it gets thickly applied to the left as a whole. There are many who will dismiss vegans as overwrought tree-huggers despite the abundant, verifiable proof we supply of the widespread harm and brutality of animal agribusiness; it’s been interesting to see this broad and condescending assessment applied to so many on the left now.

Maybe there is some truth to the accusation of being emotional. From my observation post, conservatives do seem to be able to disagree and argue, often vigorously, but at the end of the day, be able to move on and not take it personally. It seemingly rolls off them like water off a duck’s back. People on the left, however, do not seem to be able to do the same. The common conservative take on it is…

People on the left take things personally.

People on the left get angry and upset.

People on the left get emotional.

In conservative dog-whistle terms, it is that liberals are irrational.

[I want to submit that perhaps *cough*likely*cough* there is also an unspoken subtext of those on the left not being in possession of ostensibly “masculine” characteristics like rationality, self-control and cool-headedness and instead, being guided by the equally baselessly-assigned “feminine” traits of irrationality, hysteria and melodramatics but that’s a different subject for a different day.]

I will be the first to admit that much of this accusation is true in my case: I do take things personally, especially with this last election where there is so much to lose, even though the actual personal stakes are not that high. Many other “liberals” do the same. Why is this? We have this internal mechanism called empathy. What matters to us expands beyond the immediate parameters of our own skin because we empathize and because we feel a sense of interconnectedness, which means that we also feel a responsibility to try to reduce tyranny and injustice against others. This is not a spectator sport where we sit on the sidelines watching as we idly toss popcorn into our mouths. I can understand how strange our response must look to someone who is relatively untouched by oppression and who is more or less immune to the real-world consequences of systemic bigotry. In order to recognize and understand one’s own advantages in any significant way, it takes an awareness that is rooted in empathy for those who have had experiences outside of one’s own limited worldview, especially those who have been born with fewer advantages.

So, yes, I do get angry and upset when others are oppressed and I believe rightfully so: injustice matters to me, and it should matter to all of us. Racism matters to me, even if I am unscathed by it personally. Misogyny matters to me even if I am no longer worried about my own reproductive rights. Mocking the disabled matters to me even if I am not disabled. Again, this is not a spectator sport to some of us: This is all contact. The tackles, the punches, the body slams: They might not land on me but the assaults on others are felt and they are felt viscerally. I am not going to apologize for caring about the welfare of others. No one should apologize for that.

Here is where I will disagree, though, with the assumption of irrationality being a necessary consequence of strong emotions, in particular the emotions of those who are not ambivalent about bigotry and injustice. Emotions and rationality clearly diverge here because this is what is not rational: Believing that those who make racially problematic (to say the least) comments and engage in discriminatory practices can represent the interests of our citizenry in a fair and equitable way. That is not rational. It is also not rational to think that a man who boasts of his capacity to sexually assault women is someone who respects females. Further, it is irrational to think that those who are not heterosexual will be safe under the administration of someone who is filling his cabinet (as well as his Vice President position) with notoriously anti-LBGTQ appointments. It is irrational to think that someone who is not transparent about his considerable worldwide financial conflicts of interest might not be operating with the best interests of the nation guiding his policies and decision-making. It is not rational to think that someone who rage-tweets at Saturday Night Live in the middle of the night and re-tweets random bigots has the gravitas and temperament to be President of the United States. This is tip o’ the iceberg stuff. It is deeply irrational to be expected to suspend reason and fact to isolate the words and actions of an individual and reclassify it as something other than what the evidence continually supports.

Here is what is rational: To expect that a man who is continually digging himself deeper into a hole in terms of bigotry might just be, well, bigoted. And that someone who is as slippery about divulging and divesting his financial interests as Donald Trump might not have the best interests of the nation as his priority. And that someone who regularly tantrums and bullies from his Twitter pulpit in the middle of the night may just not be of the temperament needed to preside over the United States. In fact, holding these views would be highly rational as they are reflective of documentable reality: We have seen consistent examples of actions, behaviors and statements that lead us to believe that Donald Trump, his policies and his administration will be harmful for people of color, women, the LBGTQ and our national best interests yet we are being told to disregard and ignore what we have seen because, I don’t know, magic? 

That is irrational.

So, yes, I am emotional, but, no, I am not irrational. I am emotional and I am highly rational. These two states are not necessarily antagonistic to each other and, in a post-November 8, 2016 world, co-exist together more easily than ever. Can you be emotional and irrational? Of course. Indifference to tyranny and oppression, though, does not equal rationality. In fact, in some cases, it couldn't be further from it. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Jackie Day

I could not even come close to describing the impressive (to say the least) accomplishments of Jackie Day of the popular blog, My Vegan Journal. After reading her bio, I wanted to simultaneously take a nap and roll up my sleeves to get to work. Jackie is a long-time vegan, an award-winning educator, a children’s health advocate, a health policy innovator, an animal activist and more. As a well-known blogger, Jackie is able to bring her joyful message of health and compassion to a wide audience, empowering people to become educated on important issues and take a stand on what matters. A true grassroots organizer, Jackie doesn’t just maintain an online presence: she is out on the streets, creating positive change in her community and around the world.

Now Jackie is out with her first beautiful book, The Vegan Way: 21-Days to a Happier, Healthier Plant-Based Lifestyle that Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet and You, published by St. Martin’s Press. A generous and engaging guide for leaning into how and why to make a vegan transition, Jackie offers an inclusive road map for anyone. From switching out dairy to finding cruelty-free cosmetics, removing toxic cleaning products to educating about animals in entertainment, each chapter offers an attainable goal and is written in a breezy, accessible but honest way, removing roadblocks and myths as she goes. (Review coming soon!) I am excited to feature Jackie today as our Vegan Rock Star and happy to help get the word out about her fabulousness.

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?

There’s actually an entire chapter in my book entitled “My Road To Vegan,” which describes my journey, but in a nutshell my path involved a unique combo of a frozen TV dinner, the act of feeding our dog scraps of “meat” under the table, and a fortuitous encounter with a stranger who needed a ride home.

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?

Fortunately, all my brain needed was the information; the simple truth. My heart was open, and my mind was a sponge. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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

It all depends on the audience. When speaking to someone one on one, I think it’s wise to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who we’re trying to inspire; look through their eyes, as best as we can, and go from there. After all, we’ve all traveled on different paths with different experiences that can taint our perception of the truth, and our willingness to embrace change.

As an author, I tend to write in an upbeat fashion, that’s positive and hopeful, but I don’t skirt the truth.  I paint a picture with words to get the point across, but never leave readers feeling helpless or hopeless. We can make a difference with every bite we eat, and every dollar we spend – and we are, in a very big way!

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

The biggest strength of the vegan movement is this: we’re inspiring others to move towards the inevitable. As I explain in great detail in The Vegan Way, history is on our side.  We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift; everyone is going vegan.  It’s simply impossible for our species to survive without transitioning to a plant-based way of living.

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

I actually think all forms of non-violent activism can be effective as long as you’re targeting your audience wisely. Everything from a little humor (the talented cartoonist, Dan Piraro comes to mind) - or a gentle nudge to try a vegan cupcake - to large protests with graphic photos, can be effective.  We’re all so very different when it comes to being inspired. What works for one person, might not work for someone else.  We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful for all advocates who are trying to make the world a better place.

As for roadblocks, the fact that so many pro Big Ag folks wind up having power in the government, coupled with politicians serving as paid advisors to Big Ag folks once they’re done in D.C. is certainly cause for concern. Those creating legislation and regulations shouldn’t be so ensnarled in the promotion of cholesterol laden, saturated fat-filled, antibiotic and hormone infested animal products. It’s a conflict of interest, and the world suffers greatly because of it.

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

Whether it’s for your health, the animals, the environment or a combo of all three, going vegan makes good sense! It’s easy, affordable, tasty and fun! And since you have to get off at this floor - and we can chat no more - check out my book, The Vegan Way: 21 Days To A Happier, Healthier, Plant-Based Lifestyle That Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet, And You! Ciao!

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?
Oh, gosh, there are so many! Diet for a New America by John Robbins was immensely helpful to me in the late 80’s, and if we flash forward to today, I’m currently enjoying learning new plant-based nutrition facts from Dr. Michael Greger’s New York Times Best Seller, How Not To Die. The first animal rights pamphlets I recall reading in the early 80’s were from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals which provided ample food for thought and inspiration. And I’m delighted to see a surge in animal friendly books for kids, such as Ruby Roth’s Vegan is Love, and Santa’s First Vegan Christmas by Robin Raven and Kara-Maria Schunk, both of which nurture compassion.

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

Every few months or so, I enjoy a social media cleanse and detach from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. for a few days, or even a few weeks. It’s not easy; sometimes I even have my husband change my password on my accounts because I’m so drawn to social media these days, but the break is well worth it. I also find that spending time outdoors gardening, bike riding, or hiking relieves stress, or in the winter months, knitting, baking, writing, and cuddling with our kitties, helps too. I also like to unwind by surrounding myself with things that smell good: lavender oil, herbal teas, and candles that smell like sweet treats.

Helping others also provides fuel for inspiration. I launched my book at Barnes and Noble last night and was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of folks who want to know how they can make the world a better place right now; it’s so energizing to plant seeds of compassion, and watch them grow.

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

All issues that concern needless suffering are important.  I encourage folks to learn more about an issue that’s dear to their heart, and then gradually increase their circle of compassion to include everyone else.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
living a lifestyle where your brain follows your heart; it’s easy, tasty and lots of fun, too!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Election Advice on Surviving this Year’s Thanksgiving from a Vegan

Hi, there!

How are you? Really. How are you?

I can see that you’re struggling. I know that this year has been a little rough with the election and everything so we’re all a little banged up and now we’ve got Thanksgiving to deal with as if the last couple of months hadn’t been enough of a kick in the pants. Now you’ll be sitting next to the same cousin who posted angry, embarrassing screeds on your Facebook page, the same brother who felt emboldened to forward you absolutely nutter messages from the NRA, the same aunt who goes out her way to tell you, apropos of nothing, that she is praying for you. On November 24, you and all of them will be smooshed together in the same claustrophobic room.  

On the bright side, if there’s anyone who is adept or at least experienced at powering through a hostile, unpleasant environment at Thanksgiving, it’s a vegan. See, we’re good for something other than making you feel guilty and/or resentful all the time. We’ve got real life skills. Here I am, your cheerful ambassador to an inhospitable holiday meal with the family, and, not to be all full of myself, but I have a metric ton of experience in this. Let me be your friendly guide. After all those years of being freaked out and more than a little despondent to sitting at a table where people are eating corpses, this year’s post-election Thanksgiving will be, if not a breeze, than at least nothing new. Please enjoy the following tips and pointers I’ve accrued from my many years of steeping in the family milieu at Thanksgiving.

And let us be thankful for the little things.

* Bring an ally if you can. Agree that you can lightly jab at each other under the table in lieu of banging your heard into a wall.
* Go in a bedroom and punch a pillow if you need to. Don’t explain your absence. Just do it.
* Carbo-load for mood elevation but have an exit strategy for the inevitable blood sugar crash. You should actually have the exit strategy even without low blood sugar.  
* On the exit strategy: The thing about strategies is they have to be strategic, in that they are already planned, you don’t just awkwardly try to wing them like some guy at his first improv class. People can see the flop sweat bead up on your forehead. Do you want that? Lay the groundwork for your early departure with an elegant, airtight alibi: Does your elderly cat need fluids? Have you been feeling a little under the weather? Do you have to get up super early tomorrow? Did you maybe leave your oven on, garage door open, back door unlocked? Whatever, man. I am not here to think for you. Just come up with a semi-plausible foot-out-the-door strategy, don’t try to be too creative or complicated, and commit to it, okay?
* Question: Is recreational cannabis legalized and accessible where you live? If so, you can draw your own conclusions.
* Repeat a mantra like “In with love, out with anger.” Coordinate with your breaths. (Do I need to say that the mantra should be silent?)
* Try this visualization technique when you get stressed: Imagine that you are on a beach or a peaceful meadow, whatever is more pleasing to you. Picture a perfect blue sky or the dappled sun on your blanket. Feel the warm sand or the soft grass beneath you. Sink into it. Hear the seagulls and waves, hear the songbirds and wind blowing through the leaves. Inhale the sea salt, the intoxicating wildflowers. Imagine it with as much detail as you are able and your uncle pontificating about “the Mexicans” will recede far away into the background.
* Less ambitiously, you could try to recollect every cute kitten video you have stored in your memory bank.
* Make a note of all the funny shit you’re going to post on Facebook when this shit show is over and make it a mental challenge to remember every last, shitty detail. Remember that comedy is tragedy + time.
* It could always be worse, right? This could be a Thanksgiving meal with the Duck Dynasty family or Ted Nugent or some other next level wing-nut crackpottery. Cultivate gratitude for the little things, like not having anyone actively try to murder you and dance in your still-warm blood at the Thanksgiving table. Keeping things in perspective is key to a positive attitude.
* Remember motivational and inspiring quotes like, “When you are going through hell, keep going,” “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” and, “It’s just a couple hours…It’s just a couple hours … It’s just a couple hours …”
* The Thanksgiving table is not the place to do your activism. At dinner, nobody wants to hear things like “You voted in a racist, misogynist, xenophobic regime with the most despicable, backwards platforms imaginable and a tantrum-inclined despot with Narcissistic Personality Disorder at the helm and so you might have an answer as to why the neo-Nazis are celebrating the results of the election.” Um, you know, for example.
* Find conversational common ground everyone can agree on, like that it is better to be healthy than sick. Ice is cold. Fire is hot. Air is important. So is water. We can all agree on these things. Stick to such neutral and banal universalities to find areas of shared understanding.
* Want to mess with people but not in a way that will bring about a Jerry Springer-style brawl? Here’s what you do: If someone starts spewing nonsensical garbage, like that turkeys are dumb and so eating them is like eating a vegetable (yep, I’ve heard that one) or that you can vote for a racist without actually being a racist, don’t say a word. Don’t make a face. Just look at the person in your most straight-faced way. Maintain eye contact. Don’t nod. Don’t even frown. Don’t say, “Hmm,” or tsk or anything. Just listen to them spewing BS without a reaction but also without looking away and they will get more and more uncomfortable that you are not throwing them a lifeline. Trust me on this. Watch as they desperately grasp for your validation and exoneration, your face inscrutable, offering nothing. This is great fun in an End of Days sort of way.
* In conversation, keep things pleasantly ambiguous, saying something like, “Mashed potatoes. Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes? Am I right?” regardless as to whether or not it is relevant to the conversation.
* Don’t try to text your friends for support from the dinner table. That’s rude. Go into the bathroom to do that.
* Then again, if you’re not invited back, is it such a big loss?

So, hey, I hope this is helpful. You’ll survive it. You’ll be fine. The point is just to white-knuckle it and get through to the other side with a minimum of damage.

I have faith in you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

xo -

Your Vegan Guide

PS – Maybe you can be a real ally now and leave the animals off your plate?

PPS – I've already overstayed my welcome, haven't I?