Wednesday, June 1, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Brenda Sanders


I am honored to be featuring Brenda Sanders today because if anyone exemplifies a vegan rock star to me, that person is Brenda. As a committed social justice activist based in Baltimore City, Brenda is a longtime vegan and uses her time to tirelessly chip away at disconnection by thoughtfully linking her outreach and advocacy efforts to other social justice causes, such as anti-racist and feminist movements. A highly active and engaged individual, Brenda inspires the vegan movement to be more inclusive and intersectional in our efforts and she is not afraid to call out racism, classism and sexism within the vegan activist sphere when she sees it. As an engaged community member, Brenda recognized the need for affordable vegan options available to all. As such, she has helped to create PEP Foods, a collective of businesses that has developed a line of delicious vegan products that anyone can afford and that are available throughout Baltimore, particularly in low-income communities. As co-creator of the annual VeganSoulFest, she is exposing the public to vegan speakers, chefs, businesses and organizations (check out their Facebook page here). Oh, Brenda also teaches cooking classes, a six-week vegan education class, runs the Penn-North Community Gardens to give the people of that community better access to nutritious food, works to combat environmental racism, speaks on intersectionality in the vegan movement and kind of just generally makes the world a better place. I feel like the world's biggest slacker now but I am still honored and excited to have the amazing Brenda Sanders as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

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 evolution took a strange trajectory. I actually went from growing up having almost no contact with animals and not giving any thought whatsoever to their lives to spending the majority of my time fighting for them. I started eating a vegan diet for the health benefits about 20 years ago but even then I wasn't making the connection between animal products and actual animals. It wasn't until a series of incidents involving captive animals - a gorilla in a zoo and then a dolphin at the aquarium - that I began to see animals as individuals whose lives had value. Now I spend my life trying to help other people see what I see.

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 know this is a controversial topic, but I think pre-vegan Brenda would have been extremely moved by the undercover videos exposing animal abuse. Had I been shown those videos, I believe I would have started fighting for animals 20 years ago.

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

When I speak to people about veganism, I speak from the heart. I believe that speaking honestly about where I've been and what road has brought me to the place where I am now lets people know that I'm not coming from a judgmental place, but from a sincere belief that the human race has the potential to do right by each other, the planet and the other animals with whom we share the planet.

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

I think our biggest strength is that we really want to live our lives in such a way that lines up with our ethics. We recognize how wrong it is to victimize and exploit the vulnerable and we've committed to living our lives in a way that doesn't contribute to all that needless suffering.

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

I think the biggest hindrance to getting the word out is that we have such small numbers and we're attempting to reach such massive numbers of people who are participating in animal exploitation. I think as the numbers of vegan activists increase we'll be far more effective at getting the word out.

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

What other lifestyle enables people to make such a huge personal impact on the planet and the animals we share it with as well as our own personal well-being?

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?

As a black vegan, I've felt extremely under-represented in the animal rights movement, which is why I'm always really excited when I see people like Aph Ko, Breeze Harper, Seba Johnson, Christopher Sebastian, David Carter and other black activists having a platform to speak about animal rights.

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

My schedule is pretty much packed with back-to-back programs and events, so I don't get many opportunities to unwind. About 4 times a year, though, I make time to make it to the woods and go camping. There's something about being surrounded by the forest that gives me the recharge I need to keep doing this work.

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

I would like for people - especially activists - to not give up hope on humanity. I know it's hard when we're constantly bombarded with the worst humans have to offer, but every time I stand in front of a group of people and speak straight from my heart, I can see the moment when that connection is made and people's hearts open up. I see it every day and it gives me hope that we really can change for the better. If I can go from never giving animals a second thought to spending every waking moment advocating for them than anybody can change!

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

To me, being vegan is the one thing I can personally do to have a positive impact on this planet and all those who inhabit it.


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