Wednesday, April 19, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Maya Gottfried



It’s proof that the compassionate world is growing when there are whole guides published that are dedicated to dating as a vegan, right? With
Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal, with Fashion, Makeup & Wedding Tips by author Maya Gottfried, we have a fun, lively and informative guide for vegan ladies lookin’ for love and connection. Written with an engaging voice and welcoming tone, Vegan Love is quite the thorough and captivating how-to guide for the growing vegan niche: part coach, part cool big sister, part primer for the modern dating scene and part vegan education handbook, Maya’s book manages to be all of the above without compromising any of the parts. With profiles of prominent vegans like Jasmin Singer, Jane Velez-Mitchell and Marisa Miller Wolfson and coming from hetero and LBGTQ perspectives, Vegan Love keeps you engaged with different views on dating and gracefully weaves in educational sections on a wide range of subjects, such as the cruelty of the fashion industry, while never straying too far from the theme of love. Should you just date other vegans or should you consider dating non-vegans? As you might imagine, there is a wide range of viewpoints expressed in the book from the various interview subjects and the author. I appreciate that in addition to while acknowledging the differences in perspectives and experiences, the author has a confident vegan stance. This is a great guide with the perfect balance of tougher stuff and delightful fluff to keep readers informed and engaged. I highly recommend Vegan Love and am grateful to be able to feature Maya Gottfried 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?

Like many other vegans, I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, it just took me some time to make the connection that the animals I ate were no different than the ones who curled up in my lap at home. As a child I adored watching wildlife, like ducks in the water, and loved our family dog, Ollie, but simply didn’t stop to think that the animals I was eating were sentient beings who valued their lives, too.

When I was little, I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up, out of my love for animals. I also wrote to the ASPCA and explained that I wanted to help animals, asking what I could do. They mailed me a big package of pamphlets. I put one outside of every apartment door in our building. I didn’t become a veterinarian, but the desire to help stayed with me, eventually leading me to go vegan.

When I was 35 I finally came to veganism. I loved animals and wanted to help them but more and more I was learning about the cruelty they suffered to be food. Clearly no animal wants to die. I had begun following the work of Farm Sanctuary and became vegetarian when I was 34. I continued to learn more, mostly through Farm Sanctuary and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s “Food for Thought” podcast. Finally, sitting at my desk one night, it hit me. I simply could not justify consuming any animal products anymore. There was no getting around the suffering. And so I went vegan.

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?

What really helped me in my own journey was reading and hearing about the individual animals who live at Farm Sanctuary, the suffering they endured, and the details of their personalities. Once I knew the truth of their lives, and how I was hurting them with what I was eating and wearing, I just could not contribute to their pain anymore. But for me it was a gentle path, I didn’t need to see graphic videos, though I sometimes watch them. Because I only needed to know the truth to make the change, it was the gentle delivery of the simple facts to me that was most effective.

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

I think sharing my own story is most effective with people who I have just met, for example at a party. I don’t tell people what I think they should do, but share my enthusiasm and the happiness I experience being vegan. Sometimes people ask me questions about veganism, and in those situations I gently deliver the truth, just as it was delivered to me. In fact, my partner, Dietrich, had been vegetarian for about 30 years when we met, and asked me why I was vegan on one of our first dates. I simply explained the realities of dairy to him, and he went vegan, just like that. His experience was like mine, once he knew the truth it was an easy decision to go vegan. Sometimes, though, the graphic videos and memes can help people make the connection. A friend of mine saw a video I shared on Facebook about a chicken who was saved from a factory farm and immediately stopped eating eggs. The delivery of the information was different, but the thought process was the same—she said she stopped because before seeing it she simply did not know what happened to the male chicks born into the egg industry. Now that she knew the truth, she couldn’t contribute to the suffering anymore

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

The vegan movement is built on love. Sometimes we get frustrated or angry that the cruelty still exists, but at the heart of it all, us ethical vegans have made this commitment because of our love for the animals. That is a lot of love. Think of all that we can do to make the world a better place with so much positivity.

We also live as shining examples of the benefits of living an ethical lifestyle. Those of us who eat a healthy plant-based diet stand as evidence that living cruelty-free gives us glowing skin and healthy hair. We are generally happier knowing we are creating positive change in the world, and are living proof that we don’t need to eat animal products to have great energy and strength.

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

When we are aggressive in how we deliver information, we inevitably push people away. We are all ambassadors of this movement and every time we interact with someone about veganism it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that veganism is built on kindness and love. If we approach people with aggression and fear tactics we can expect the same in return.

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

I had stage 3 cancer when I went vegan. While going through chemo I learned that animal proteins do nothing less than facilitate the lethal disease’s spread. I went vegan out of a love for animals but once I learned about the health benefits I also became vegan for myself. I have now been cancer free for eight years.

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?

Farm Sanctuary has been my “home base” since I went vegetarian, and was the organization that inspired me to go vegan one year later. I even wrote a children’s book about their sanctuaries’ animal residents, Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary (Knopf). I also am a fan of Mercy for Animals. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was my biggest influence outside of Farm Sanctuary, in my growth from vegetarian to vegan, and I am a fan of her “Food for Thought” podcast. I love the writing of Victoria Moran, Jonathan Balcombe, and Gene Baur. I also was greatly inspired by John Robbins’ The Food Revolution. The film Earthlings was the most powerful one on the issues that I’ve seen, and inspired my niece, Annelise to go vegan, too. I also love the films Vegucated and Forks Over Knives. The websites that play the biggest role in my continuing growth are VegNews and Our Hen House (and I’m happy to have written for both).

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

For me, veganism comes out of love, so if I’m feeling depleted it signals to me that I need to generate more positive feelings. I do this by meditating, going for walks, and finding time to watch a goofy movie or two. If I have the opportunity, I also recharge by spending time with the cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and turkeys who live at farm animal sanctuaries. They inspire me the most to keep going. Seeing or speaking with my friends also does a lot to warm my heart and help me put more positivity into the world. It especially helps me to be part of a community of vegans, and have friends who are also involved in helping animals. If I’m working all of the time I simply run out of the energy to do any more.

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

When I think about all of the farm animals who have lost their lives to be food, I see billions of them, filling great fields, quietly pleading with us to stop. This is at the heart of my work.

There is another cause that is important to me. I volunteer each week at a no-kill volunteer-run cat and dog shelter called ARF (in Beacon, NY). Some people in the vegan community feel that it is cruel for animals to be kept in no-kill shelters, but spending time in one on a weekly basis, I strongly disagree. Given some time in the shelter, many cats and dogs who might be euthanized in a kill shelter find loving homes. Those who don’t have a good life with great veterinary care and lots of love from volunteers at the shelter. It breaks my heart when I read that some organizations advocate for these animals to be euthanized rather than given a chance at a shelter. I hope that readers will consider volunteering at a local shelter. By just donating a few hours a week you can make a huge difference for the animals. These shelters can be successful, but many need volunteers in order to continue. This is a very simple way for people to make a huge positive impact for animals who might otherwise be euthanized at a kill shelter. And I always walk out of ARF feeling so much better than when I arrived.

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

Pure love.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Jo-Anne McArthur...

 

Award-winning photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur has traveled the globe for the past 15 years, documenting the often unimaginably sad lives of animals usually relegated to the background or hidden entirely from view: desperate raccoon dogs on a fur farm; the cold isolation of beluga whales in small tanks at aquarium parks; a lonely performing elephant chained outside a circus; pigs destined to become meat. As a photographer whose work has helped to draw back the curtains on the often concealed industries or the very out in the open ways that living beings are turned into consumable products, Jo-Anne’s purview is specific but also immense. With haunting, extraordinary images that pull viewers in, Jo-Anne has found enough of an audience for her work to have had the unforgettable We Animals collection of her photos published and even was the subject of the 2013 documentary, The Ghosts in Our Machine.  As co-founder of The Unbound Project, Jo-Anne works to shine a spotlight on women around the globe who are leading the efforts to build a more just and kind world, and she is also planning to have her next collection, Captive, published this summer. In the midst of all this, Jo-Anne has recently made her voluminous archive of photographs available for free to the public via her searchable database, the We Animals Archives. Individuals, organizations, and media outlets are encouraged to use her credited photos, which is an incredible resource for opening eyes and hearts to informed, compassionate living. (Please consider donating to help this important effort continue.) I am honored to feature Jo-Anne McArthur 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?

Short version, sorry! Longer version can be found in several interviews including this comprehensive one by Farm Sanctuary, and in the introduction to the We Animals book. Please have a look!

There were some defining moments for sure. I realized that I saw animals differently than others did. The macaque chained to a window in Ecuador disturbed me, while others took tourist photos of the poor animal. At one point my mother had 10 chickens living at her home in the country. I became friends with them; they were just like the dogs and cat. They wanted to socialize, be in the house, get attention, do things. It was then that I realized that there was no distinction between the chickens I ate, and the dogs I called family. They were all the same. I stopped eating meat, and then I became vegan on my first day as a Farm Sanctuary intern on April 1st 2003.

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?

At the time I felt that veganism would be a huge deprivation and exertion of will power. I didn’t know any vegans, really (just one tall skinny dude from my tree planting days; he’d eschew the massive buffet after work and eat an entire watermelon). I’d have been reassured to know that I would not feel deprived, that I would still fit in to society, that dinner parties wouldn’t be a place of worry about food and food topics, that I could (and did) just chill about all that. On the one hand, becoming vegan is life changing for sure, but it doesn’t mean you have to rearrange every single aspect of your life. I’d have benefitted from being told that it’s not “deprivation” eating, it’s just “different” eating.

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

I have a “let them start the conversation” approach. Spend a few minutes with me and you’ll see what’s on my plate, you’ll have found out that I’m an animal rights photojournalist…and these are interesting things! I’m friendly and happy, which allows people to feel comfortable asking me questions about what I do, what I eat, and why. The conversations happen inevitably, and they can see that my choices are a joy, not a deprivation.

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

Its growing diversity. We are no longer all doing the same types of work or outreach. We are doctors, lawyers, neuroscientists, ethologists, writers, chefs, educators, comedians, influencers, high tech company upstarts and all the rest. We’re shattering stereotypes and we are making the message mainstream.

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

We’re all very opinionated about this, aren’t we? :) My short answer is that people like to think they are coming to a decision on their own. They feel more empowered. Do your best to let them. More showing, less shoving.

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

Why vegan? Because it’s a joy. For my body, my spirituality and my intellect, it makes sense. And because it’s a great choice for so many reasons: the animals, the planet, and our bodies.

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?

When I started looking for veg-related materials, I wasn’t on the internet much! That was pre-2000. So I thought of the group most people did at the time. PETA! I got PETA pamphlets. From there I saw Peaceable Kingdom, The Witness, and then A Sea of Slaughter, written and narrated by Farley Mowat. That was a 45-minute documentary and I stopped eating fish after that. It was that simple. Influential authors had, at the time, been Erik Marcus and Peter Singer, as well as cookbooks by Jo Stepaniak and Robin Robertson. I read fewer strictly AR books these days, and more about ethology by scientists and philosophers like Carl Safina, Jonathan Balcombe and Lori Gruen.

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

I’m not exactly a shining example of self care. I’m just extremely driven and energetic when it comes to working long hours. The rewards are the change I see due to the work I do. What does recharge me though is being in nature, and running, and long stretches of reading in a stuffed, oversized chair or couch. And daydreaming. I need time to daydream because that’s when the ideas and plans work themselves out. It’s nice to do that on a big comfy couch as well, while drinking tea and staring at the wall, or on a plane.

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

We tend to give up meat eating in the order from largest to smallest animals. However, if we want to reduce animal suffering, we should start with the fish and the chickens and the egg-laying hens because they suffer in vastly greater numbers. Want to make a dent in animal suffering? Start with those animals! If we all ate less and less chicken, we’d be sparing billions upon billions of lives from misery.

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

…a joy. It’s an easy thing that I can do to make the world a better, kinder place. It’s a way for me to live in line with my values and have a fulfilling life. As they say at Edgar’s Mission in Australia: If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?


Thursday, April 6, 2017

But He Does So Much Good: The Culture of Abuse Excusing Among Vegans



Given certain circumstances of my upbringing, I am pretty tuned in to a particular narrative of rationalization that emerges often when we talk about abusers or their abusive behavior. “He doesn’t mean what he says.” “You’re selfish for making it all about you.” It doesn’t take much insight to see that this repackaging of mistreatment is deeply dismissive to those who speak up and centers those whose words or actions are abusive as being of more importance than those who are harmed by them. This is a common theme in society at large. Disappointingly, this same framework of abuse excusing is woven through many corners of the vegan community.

You can see the stitch marks whenever a high-profile vegan individual’s bigoted remarks or an organizations exploitative campaigns are brought up and the narrative predictably goes something like this: He does so much good for the animals. Nobody’s perfect. (Echoes of: “Be quiet: He puts food on the table.”) Or sometimes the narrative takes a more combative tone, saying something like, Well, when you’ve done as much good as [insert name or organization], maybe then you’ll have room to criticize or, similarly, I’m not in a place to say anything because he/she/they have done far more than I ever could hope to for the animals. (Echoes of: “He’s a better man than most; you think you’re so perfect?”) The silencing effect is pretty potent because it seems that more often than not, it ends important conversations before they’ve even begun. Maybe that’s the point. Shut up. There’s nothing to see here. Stop being a whiner. Everything’s fine.

I saw the narrative happening predictably enough again last week when one prominent animal rights “hero” announced his retirement in a 2,300+ word public goodbye letter on Facebook, seemingly placing much of the blame for his departure at the feet of intersectional activists within the vegan movement. [Please read more by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the woman who conceived the term intersectional and developed much of the theory, to understand what it means.]

The fact is that we all have to be responsible for our choices – we learned this in kindergarten, right? – and mature enough to handle it when people respond to our choices in ways that are not always admiring of us. Should abused people just shut the hell up about an abuser who does “mostly good” in the world? Similarly, should someone who is deified within a certain segment of the vegan movement but has made deeply problematic statements or created oppressive campaigns be above reproach when their words or actions have left no actual bruises but still contribute to an overall environment of violence and/or discrimination? Are we not allowed to speak up for ourselves or others until some vague day in the future when it’s suddenly the right time? Shouldn’t we be working to do our best as activists, while acknowledging that we’re not perfect but we can all do better? Shouldn’t the voices of those most harmed by bigotry be heard about how words do, in fact, matter, as these words have a great potential to alienate from or draw people to a vegan ethic? And shouldn’t vegans be doing our level best to reject a rhetoric of violence and not reinforce hierarchical power structures regardless?

We are here because we reject the self-serving hierarchy that prioritizes humans over other animals, right? We are here because we reject the status quo of violence and oppression, right? Why would we choose to reinforce those things when we learn that our words and/or actions contribute to suffering?

Sometimes accepting responsibility will come in the form of an apology and an honest effort to do better. Too often, though, the more “famous” a person or organization, the more they will aggressively and angrily resist even the simplest attempt to make things right and commit themselves deeper and deeper to the mentality that is abusive.

When vegans publicly announce their rape, battery and murder ideation against non-vegans, promote regressive and oppressive attitudes about women, people of color and other groups, they deserve to not only be called out but openly rejected by the larger vegan community. They are not tough. They are not hard-hitting. They are certainly not a great voice for the animals. They are ensuring that the vegan “movement,” stays small, white and insular because they care more about their right to express their violent wish fulfillment fantasies and oppressive campaigns than do something that might shift us to an ethic of true justice and a new framework of respectful coexistence.

Want to help the animals? Learn how to be less oppressive to potential allies and learn how to say that you’re sorry. Mean it. Learn from it. Do better. A little humility goes a long way.