Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ten Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Nicole Arciello of Horseracing Wrongs

There are some in the vegan community who denigrate anything but vegan education as “single-issue campaigns” or SICs but I am not one of them. I – and Vegan Street – appreciate everyone who is trying to build a more compassionate world. I know that if I were being used and abused by these “side issue” industries, I would want people standing up for me. Nicole Arciello, Vice President of the non-profit Horseracing Wrongs, is an example of an animal advocate with an organization that exposes the largely hidden cruelties inflicted on the innocent souls brutalized by this multi-billion dollar industry, but also connects the dots to the fact that these horses – even expensive thoroughbreds – are sent to slaughter when they are no longer profitable, often to be sold as meat in overseas markets. With thousands of horses killed on and off tracks due to the exposure to injuries and punitive financial realities of horseracing, the hidden reality is these vulnerable beings live short, difficult lives until they are dispatched of and new horses are cycled in. Horseracing is not glamorous and it’s not victimless.

Enter Nicole Arciello and Horseracing Wrongs. Horseracing Wrongs, founded in 2012, pulls back the curtain on what people seem to think is a harmless industry, educates and advocates on behalf of those gentle souls exploited, abused and killed by horseracing interests.
Based in Albany, NY, Horseracing Wrongs holds a series of at least six protests at Saratoga Race Course each summer. They are currently assisting protests in six states in addition to their protests in New York state and are sponsoring a protest at the Belmont Stakes, the third leg in the Triple Crown, on June 9th and are currently planning their protest schedule at the Saratoga Race Course, the first happening on July 21stIn addition to handling the day-to-day operations of Horseracing Wrongs, Nicole is the co-founder of Albany Animal Rights (meet-up info here), is a vegan culinary instructor and studied plant-based nutrition at eCornell. She’s basically awesome! Contact her, find her personal page on Instagram, along with Horseracing Wrongs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I am honored to feature Nicole Arciello of Horseracing Wrongs 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 vegan evolution began when I started having low-blood sugar problems. After seeing doctors and having tests, I was sent to a dietician. She gave me a two-hour eating schedule, consisting of two carbohydrate and two protein servings. Needless to say, the protein servings were mostly meats and cheeses and (surprise!) I didn’t feel better. I also was never a big meat-eater. At a meal, I would take a small piece of meat on my plate and load up on the sides, pasta, potatoes, etc. I began doing my own research and found that protein with fiber will keep your blood sugar more stable. And I quickly discovered that was beans. Here is where the real magic happened - about a week in, eating beans and feeling like a normal person finally, I was telling a friend and she gave me the book Skinny Bitch. I took it home and read it immediately. What happened was amazing; the first chapter was humorous and full of swear words, then the second chapter exposed the factory-farming industry. Wow. I went vegetarian on the spot and there was no looking back. I knew I was already feeling better, and I knew I couldn’t contribute to the suffering of animals – it was easy. I went back to the dietitian thinking she would not approve of my new vegetarian lifestyle, but she disclosed that she had been a vegetarian for 11 years as she ripped up my eating plan and created a new one. Within a month, I was healthy and those blood sugar problems were gone. Because I didn’t know how to cook vegetables or really what to eat, I went to the library and checked out every vegetarian cookbook I could find. I also found vegan cookbooks and because I had an egg allergy, these were my favorite books; I learned how to bake without eggs and the funny thing about vegan cookbooks is that many make things easy because they want you to be vegan! They also talk about all of the reasons to be vegan. I couldn’t overlook my contribution to the suffering in the dairy industry and there was no longer a reason to. I had vegan days, then vegan weeks without even realizing it, so I just had to tell my friends so we could start choosing restaurants that I could easily eat at.  hat is what took the longest, dealing with my non-veg friends, but nine year ago, I called everyone (including my mom) and told them that I was now vegan and I explained what that meant and why I was doing it: for the animals.

I did have an early experience(s) that came to me as my veganism took shape. I remember while riding around town with my parents here in upstate New York, seeing dead animals on the side of the road and wondering why they were just left there. Why wasn’t it someone’s job to go around every day to pick up the squirrels and raccoons and give them a proper burial? Eight-year-old me knew that dead humans wouldn’t be abandoned on the shoulder of the road. It didn’t make sense to me. Those thoughts came back to me as I realized that all animals, human and non-human, are exactly the same.

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 didn’t know any other vegans until I was vegan for about six months. I knew a couple vegetarians, and I was always asking what they ate, but I wish they told me why they made the choice they did. Even the person who loaned me Skinny Bitch was neither vegetarian nor vegan. Of course, I wish someone had told me sooner.

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

Cooking classes! And protesting single-issue causes! I tell everyone I encounter that I am vegan; I work this into every conversation, everywhere. I stared teaching vegan cooking classes at libraries in my area and after the first one had 87 people register, I realized that people are interested to see what this vegan stuff is all about! After a few library classes, which are mostly demos (with lots of samples), I sent a proposal for a four-part Introduction to Vegan Cooking to a local school district’s continuing education program.  They accepted my proposal the following day! My classes are a mix of demo, hands-on and lecture, and I give my students a free tour of Whole Foods as a bonus. I use humor to make the classes entertaining, and I use kindness to answer every one of their questions. 

Then, of course our work at Horseracing Wrongs and our protests here at Saratoga Race Course. Our protests are peaceful and we welcome anyone to join us. We have over 75 advocates at our protests each summer, and last summer we had over 100 at our final protest for the season. While most of the advocates are vegan (we have a large vegan community here in NY’s Capital Region), many are not – when they start out, that is. We have found that the non-vegans who join us start asking questions about veganism immediately. They soon realize that most of us are vegan and that they are protesting the use and abuse of one species and that there is a connection there. Our group leads with kindness in every way, and we help people transition without judgment. As a result, our vegan family keeps growing. 

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

I think the single biggest strength of the vegan movement is that the word vegan isn’t foreign anymore. There are vegan products virtually everywhere and all sorts of information readily accessible on the internet. In short, it’s easier than ever to go vegan!

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

Judging and shaming. I think we need to remember what our evolution looked like and ask ourselves if we would be vegan now if a vegan shamed us or yelled at us for eating animals. While I believe there is no time to waste in relieving animal suffering, it’s counter-productive to be an angry vegan. This also applies to vegan-on-vegan treatment, too. It can cause vegans to stop actively trying to further the cause if they are being judged or shamed as well. People need to help people help animals. It’s the only way.

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

 I’m vegan for the animals. If you love animals, then I urge you to look deeper. If you could save one being from suffering would you? You can save thousands if you start today. 

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?

“Earthlings.”  It was what put me over the tipping point.  I prepared myself (with a deep breath) and sat down and watched it.  I use that as a tool for people who are there, but need a little more.  I had one woman cry just telling her the title.  She got it - “Earthings,” that we are all the same.

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

I’m so happy this question is here because self-care is so important and so hard for each of us to grasp and embrace. Being immersed in a selfless cause, there is a tendency to feel guilty when we take time for ourselves. But it is essential to the cause! I take regular social media breaks. Some are a 24-hour period, or I just limit to “business,” meaning I just check the HW accounts and not newsfeeds or any other notifications that do not need immediate attention. I get together with vegan friends a lot and we eat good food and try to talk about other things happening in our lives. And lastly, exercise. A run, for me, clears my mind and reduces stress. I change my routine up and I also get together with friends to walk and talk. It’s those intimate one-hour walks and talks that are the best medicine!

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

Horseracing. Growing up near one of the country’s most elite racetracks, it was the summer thing to do. Go to the races. When I went vegan I knew that I shouldn’t attend anymore, and I didn’t, but I really didn’t know much else. When I met up with Patrick
Battuello, founder and President of Horseracing Wrongs, he was busy uncovering the cruelty behind what is called the “Sport of Kings.” I had to be a part of educating people about the thousands of horses killed each year for gambling.  I mean, greyhound racing is almost dead, but why is it that horseracing is so widely accepted? It’s a big misconception to the general population that racehorses are worth millions of dollars. They are not. They are traded and bought and sold, whipped to perform and regularly dying – 2,000 each year – for $2 bets. Even worse, over 15,000 recently “retired” thoroughbreds are brutally and violently slaughtered every year. We have to stop this. It became my mission to take my protesting experience and apply it to Saratoga and to turn Patrick’s blog into a non-profit so we could empower and assist advocates all over the country.

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

To me, being vegan is love. I believe we need to love animals, ourselves and others.  Kindness breeds kindness, and I believe we are all in this together, humans and non-humans alike; we need to spread that love to everyone. All beings.

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