Thursday, May 31, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Jessica Schoech...

I love Jessica Schoech! Jessica is 
the hardworking mastermind behind the ultra-successful annual events in Los Angeles, the bustling Vegan Street Fair Los Angeles and the more intimate Vegan Street Fair LA Nights, both of which celebrate the fabulous plant-based food available in the LA-area and beyond. In just a short time, Jessica has helped to breathe new life into the vegan festival scene, using her love for theme parks to help create a more streamlined experience for festival-goers, but all along emphasizing the joy, sense of celebration and inclusiveness that has become deeply-rooted to the Vegan Street Fair brand.

What I especially love about Jessica is when she is not neck-deep in event organizing – and, honestly, even when she is – she is one of the most consistent, engaged and passionate voices for building a more inclusive, less bigoted vegan movement. B
asically Jessica Schoech is awesome and I am honored to feature her 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 first foray into veganism was when I was a personal xrainer in NYC at the age of 24. One of the regular clients and I would chat often. He was wise and maybe 10 years my senior but we always struck up interesting conversations about spirituality, fitness, wellness, and every so often, he’d bring up veganism. It’s so odd to think about it now but back then I remember thinking, “Oh no… that’s just too far.” Everything else about him was spot on and perfect but that was “the line”. Ridiculous to think about now, right? I happened to pick up Skinny Bitch on his recommendation and as I read it cover to cover, I remember thinking, “Oh these women are vegan? That’s too extreme. I’ll go pescetarian.”

So I was pescetarian for about 3 years until I starting eating other animals again and it wasn’t until one of my best friends from high school, Christina, decided to go vegan that I was intrigued for the second time. I attempted it for a week and the second I screwed up with Jello - honestly, I didn’t know Jello was animal bones at the time! - I just said forget this and went back to eating animals.

The final straw was a second wedding anniversary trip to SeaWorld in 2011 when I swam with the dolphins. I came home, posted the photos to Facebook, and a friend who wasn’t even vegan said something along the lines of “You know those animals are enslaved in there… right?” And I couldn’t wait to prove him wrong. At the time, I was drinking the koolaid and believed SeaWorld to be doing great things. I spent hours on the computer trying to find evidence to the contrary and lo and behold, I proved him right. Once images from Taiji and the documentary “The Cove” started filling my screen, I just couldn’t contain my sadness and anger any longer. Through tears, I called my husband and said, “I never want another living being to ever have to suffer for me again.” And that was it. I have been vegan ever since.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

Honestly, I believe that change must be intrinsic. The only way for someone to have gotten through to me would have been to lead by example without being overly preachy about their vegan lifestyle. I know that isn’t everyone’s way or how they became vegan, but for me, because it was my choice and no one guilted me into it or made me feel ashamed over something I didn’t understand yet, I think its what made it click for me in the long run.

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

Evidently, spurring intrinsic change is exactly how I am best effective with my advocacy through Vegan Street Fair. I want to be that person that invites non-vegans into the conversation with an open door rather than a wall. That’s how I have built Vegan Street Fair since day 1. I always say that VSF is an invitation to non-vegans to explore veganism in a non-intimidating way. I believe that my role in veganism is to make veganism not only accessible by all classes and races but to also make it accessible by being non-judgmental and recognizable. Which is why you’ll find burgers, fries, donuts, cupcakes, music, entertainment and good vibes at my events. I want everyone to feel welcome to join the movement.

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

The biggest strength in the vegan movement is its potential for connecting all of the dots towards living in a world of consistent anti-oppression. If one has not yet faced the reality that marginalized communities are being oppressed currently and historically, then perhaps once one sees how animals are treated through a vegan lens, they can piece together how all oppression is linked and how sexism, racism, classism, ableism, fatphobia, xenophobia, etc. are also pieces of the same oppressive fabric along with animal exploitation. I can only hope that this is the direction we are all headed down.

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

Honestly? Lacking context about pro-intersectionality is what keeps us from getting the word out effectively. If we were to sit with how hurtful it is to fat shame, food shame, discriminate against, and further oppress already marginalized communities, then I think veganism would be easier for us to promote as a whole. The current problem is that most of us are not putting forth enough effort to dismantle systems of oppression within our own activism so we lose people right off the bat when we intend to reach out to them instead. For example, when we make veganism into a cure-all diet for a wide range of diseases and mental issues, we are doing the movement a disservice because that simply isn’t true for everyone. Someone once told me that any BODY can be a compassionate BODY. That has stuck with me for years. If we aim to make someone feel bad or ashamed of their body or their circumstance - be it being impotent, fat, poor, disabled, etc.- then we lose them to our cause immediately. Typically, mainstream vegan organizations use these tactics to pull people into the vegan movement but what they fail to understand is that it pushes people IN those circumstances to want to run far, far away from our cause. To me, the lack of understanding food access, systemic oppression, wealth disparity, racism, sexism, and body positivity is what we are lacking as a movement in order to get our message across more effectively. [Ed. note: I never do this, but hear, hear, Jessica!]

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

We are on this planet to live harmoniously with each other and mother Earth. Taking life, exerting power over the defenseless, and living in cognitive dissonance at all times is the opposite of harmony. The animals need us. The planet needs us. Future generations need us. If you can eat the same foods you ate without causing harm to a living being using textures and seasonings and innovative cooking techniques…what do you lose in the long run making the switch? And what do you GAIN? I venture to guess that a person would lose a huge weight off their shoulders and gain perspective about our interconnectedness with the planet and its inhabitants. Win-win.

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 great resources out there! I really love Instagram for its ability to showcase veganism in a way that is less about the graphic, violent nature of animal exploitation and more about the things that connect us all- food and lifestyle. I am partial to Power to the Veg! on Facebook because it is such a loving and open community of people who truly get to know you and encourage you every step of the way. I follow people on Instagram and Facebook like VeganFatKid, Black Vegans Rock, Aph and Syl Ko, Christopher Sebastian, Food Empowerment Project, Vegan Hip Hop Movement, VegNews, LiveKindly, Rawmanda, Rawvana, JL Fields, Marla Rose (seriously though…).

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

Lots of vegan food, friends, and time to work on my passion projects like my events. Immersing myself in the work rather than debating folks on line or arguing in person actually helps alleviate burn out and for that I am grateful.

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

Homelessness. I think its important to keep in mind that while being vegan reduces our use of resources on the planet, there is still more work top be done while people go hungry on the streets. I have made Chilis on Wheels, a vegan meal distribution for those in need, a beneficiary of funds from every single event we host for this very reason. We can care about animals and our fellow humans at the same time.

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

…a way to connect myself to the world and her inhabitants without constantly taking from it or them. Animals are here with me, not for me so really, being vegan is simply treating them as I would want to be treated.

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