Thursday, December 6, 2018

Come visit me on Medium...


My husband pointed out to me that maybe I should leave a little note here that I am continuing to write every week but am now only updating at You will still find my archives here but our technology doesn't seem compatible with Blogspot and it was creating some janky, garbled posts. It is just a much cleaner and more modern look over at Medium. So please come check out my posts on Medium when you get the chance as I am updating there at least once a week.

Thank you!


Friday, September 21, 2018

See No Evil: Sharing Content in the Age of Sensory Overload

There is a certain kind of social media share I'm thinking about. It’s often a blurry picture of people in hair nets and blood splattered clothing. Or maybe it’s an image of an animal hanging from a pole, tree, or kill line, people standing around him menacingly or indifferently. Animals in wire cages, panting and desperately pacing, or lethargic. Buckets of blood; steam rising from a grisly kill floor. If it’s a video, it will be traumatizing. If it’s an article, it’ll be demoralizing. Sometimes, it’ll just be an image, not shared with much - or any - text or context. And of these particular kinds of social media shares, the overarching takeaway is that humanity is the absolute worst.
We’re living in stressful and difficult times, to put it mildly. With so much happening in the world, from the dizzying and cruel chaos of the Trump administration to the steady drip of anxiety about the future of the planet, every day we’re exposed to fresh trauma, be it a threat to us or those we care about, or sympathetic traumas, the kind we experience because we’re sensitive beings. All of this chips away at our resilience and works to erode our spirit. This content is not isolated to violence against other animals: every day on social media, we are exposed to starving or scared children; bloody, broken limbs crushed under rubble; devastated, tear-streaked faces facing unfathomable loss. It’s not that there’s more suffering in the world now; it’s that our exposure to it is ramped way up now.

This leads to a conundrum I’ve tried to grapple with since I first became an activist, way before social media. How does one pull back the curtains on cruelties hidden from public view without activating someone else’s coping mechanism of numbing out, anger at the messenger, or, even worse, feelings of hopelessness and despair. How do we walk that fine line of opening eyes without closing hearts? I don’t know if there are definitive answers on this but I will say that we face this with Vegan Street, where part of our mission is to shine a light on what happens behind closed doors. We also spend a lot of time focusing on really positive and inspiring stories, but there is no doubt that there is a lot of fodder for disheartenment, too. So what do we do?

I believe that it’s a shirking of responsibility to not share with the public the suffering and cruelty that are so often obscured from view but, as social change agents, I think we have an equal responsibility to not add to the collective despair in a careless or reckless way. Many people who will see the content you share are already hanging on to their sense of hope and willingness to engage by the skin of their teeth. Should our point be that humanity sucks? Or should our point be to try to get people to care enough to do something about reducing suffering and increasing compassion in the world? I think it’s the latter. Towards this end, I have three ideas.

• If you are going to share graphic photos and videos, do so with text and context. Even a sentence or two can mean the difference for someone who might otherwise scroll past.

• If you can, choose photos that are not so grisly that people look away or resent the messenger. This doesn’t mean Vegan Street shies away from exposing the violence other animals live with but that we can find images that still communicate the cruelty but are maybe not so graphic as to make people shut down.

• If at all possible, include helpful action items with your disturbing content. As pointless as they often are, even a petition gives people a sense that they are “doing something,” but better are links that are actually helpful, like links to fundraising pages, people to call or email or vegan starter kits or anything else relevant to your post that could be considered an action item. These days, whenever I post upsetting content with regard to animal agribusiness, I also include a link to our free Guide for New Vegans.

I’d recommend that before you share disturbing content, you ask yourself what your goal is. Is it to shame or to educate, to indict or to illuminate? Do you want to add to the collective despair or do you want to empower to take compassionate action? Of course, you are not responsible for how someone reacts to the content you share - I have certainly had people interpret things in a different way than I intended - but if you share your posts with the overarching goal of wanting to build a more kind and just world, my guess is they will be better received and create the most positive influence for the animals.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Save the Duck! You are saving me from winter!

I never thought I’d say the following five words, but I am saying them now: I can’t wait until winter. 

That’s right. Gross, cold, dreary, depressing win
ter, which I can’t wait to face winter with my new Save the Duck coat and show it who’s boss in style! Soft, lightweight but made with high-definition nylon and the most luxe, dreamy collar that lifts up against Chicago’s strongest winds, I feel truly prepared this winter. 

Best of all, Italy-based Save the Duck doesn’t use cruelly-obtained
down feathers or any other animal parts in their coat lines: all is entirely, proudly vegan and also committed to sustainability! Oh, I am so excited. This coat is the Iris from their new collection. You must check out these gorgeous coats - these are not your mother’s puffy coats - and this conscientious company!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Diane Randall...

I am so excited to be featuring the radiant and exuberant
Diane Randall as this week’s Vegan Rock Star. Diane has a great podcast, Balanced Living for Busy Professionals (subscribe and find the archives here), and stays active as a consultant and speaker who helps clients with everything from healthy living and achieving goals to finding balance in a busy life. We are lucky to have someone as passionate and welcoming as Diane working to build a kinder, healthier world. 

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 grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where my experience with animals was visiting the local zoo and an occasional farm visit. I rarely interacted with animals outside of dogs, cats, fish and other domesticated animals as a young child. I remember an experience as a 9-year-old child visiting my great-grandparents at their farm in Mississippi. I was running around the yard playing with the chickens and a horse. I remember my great-grandfather walking over to the yard where I was playing with the chickens, picked one up by the legs and walked over to a chopping block, laid the chicken’s head on it and cut it head off.  I watched in terror as this chicken ran headless around the yard before it finally fell down. The chicken was served for dinner. I remember crying uncontrollably and I was not being able to eat for a couple of days because I was traumatized by the experience. This was the first time that I correlated animal consumption and food. This experience influenced my questioning of eating animals for many years to come, but was always over-shadowed by societal conditioning and messaging of animals being a part of the food chain.

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?

As I think about my pre-vegan days, if I had more of a one-on-one connection with farm animals when I was young, maybe visit sanctuaries where I could experience feeding, petting and nurturing them and reading books, this experience could have expanded my mindset as it relates to non-domesticated animals and would have given me another perspective and consciousness aside from “seeing’ them as a food source. These are all the things I model for my grandson, Miles. 

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

As a whole living consultant, my most effective way is through compassion, humor, education and modeling the behavior that I want to see in others as a vegan. I created my own podcast show called
Balanced Living for Busy Professionals where I have interviewed leading experts around the world and I’ve done solo episodes to effectively share information on vegan and plant-based topics, providing value tips for listeners on how to get started eating plant-based foods and bring more balance to the lives of busy people for the past three years. I also teach healthy eating workshops at a local college in the western suburbs where I educate participants on eating more plant-based foods for optimal health and balance, for the animals and for the planet. I want people to know that my vegan journey continues to unfold every day. I continue to grow and learn without putting pressure on myself or others to be one way or another. I am following my heart, advocating and being of service to others who are interested in learning more and improving their lives.

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

It’s an “all hands on deck” moment in society for all. Too many people are dying and living with treatable diseases and conditions from eating unhealthy foods. The strength of the movement is raising consciousness, telling hard truths, opening hearts and improving the health for many people. The movement is literally saving peoples’ lives by educating and sharing information that supports them in making better choices and living healthier lives.

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

I feel and witness so much judgement and mean-spirited people in the vegan community, along with “in your face” right fighters who are so passionate about being vegan and uncompassionate about everyone else who is not. In my opinion this behavior hinders or gets in the way of the messages conveyed and effectively received. I feel that more patience, compassion and empathy is needed as we advocate, and communicate our message more effectively where people 
hear us and receive the message in a positive way.

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

People always ask me why I became a vegan and how do I maintain the meat-free, plant-based lifestyle. I tell people, I don’t eat food that have a face, a mother and is not grown in the ground. I share my vegan evolution of more than 12 years ago starting for health reasons to stave off chronic health conditions. Along the way I became more conscious, my heart opened up and I “saw” and connected with the animals. Because of this I experience I feel a deep soul connectedness and love, It’s the same love, compassion and empathy I experience with humans; I see them; they love, they grieve, they play, they hurt just like me. I cannot imagine eating another animal and continue to evolve my vegan footprint. 

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? 

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, PlantPure Nation, The China Study, Free from Harm, Dr. Will Tuttle, The World Peace Diet, Mercy for Animals, Peta, Dr. Joel Kahn, Amy-Lee Goodman, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, many more.

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

I am inspired and passionate about sharing and helping people for the highest good. My approach is always from a place of modeling and educating what it means to be vegan; I work on reflecting in myself what I want to see in others as they navigate their own vegan journey. Lots of patience, compassion and empathy is needed when educating people that are willing and open to changing their minds hearts to a healthy new way of eating and being on the planet.

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

So many sick people in the world who are not aware that they can heal themselves. My intention is to raise their awareness when it comes to the food chain.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Nicole Sopko

You know that whole vegan ladyboss phenomenon covered recently in Forbes? I think if there were ever a patron saint for vegan ladybosses, it would be Nicole Sopko, also known as Gopi Om.

Nicole and her partner Dan Staackman run Upton’s Naturals, the seitan, jackfruit and vegan prepared meals company recently profiled in Crain’s Chicago Business, a business that seems to be on fire with success and growth right now. When she’s not doing her Upton’s work as Vice President, and helping to run the Plant Based Foods Association (of which she is a founding member and Secretary of 
the board), Nicole also runs not one, but two yoga studios and, again, not one, but two restaurants. I just got tired from typing all that out. Nicole is a staunch believer in the many benefits of yoga and runs Nature Yoga studios, one in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, and more recently, one in Oak Park. She also helps to fill bellies with tasty vegan food at Upton’s Breakroom in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and the lovely Nature Yoga Sanctuary & Café, attached to her Oak Park yoga studio. Okay, that’s a lot! To me, Nicole is the living embodiment of balance: a smart, conscientious entrepreneur who also happens to want to share the yogic principles of mindfulness and compassion with the world. She is kind, generous and a deeply committed vegan who happens to love hugging a cow or two or three or more. I am grateful to know her and honored to share feature Nicole Sopko 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?

So, I first learned about veganism through the hardcore punk music scene. To be honest, I didn’t even really know that much about it in terms of the specifics of either the ethical arguments or the day-to-day lifestyle stuff, but the idea instantly appealed to me as a concept, because I mean…why DO we use animals if we don’t need to? As soon as I heard that, I was in 100%. This was in 1996. Prior to that, I’d always loved animals and spent as much time with them as possible. I spent a lot of time living with my grandparents as a child and they had a large property with a lot of barn cats and I would spend hours and hours out in the barn just hanging out with cats. They also had a chicken that had fallen off at transport truck and just showed up at dinner one night with the barn cats, so she was my first “farm” friend. I would come into the kitchen and my grandma would be cooking chicken and would joke that it was her and I would run outside to make sure she was alright. So, that didn’t hurt in terms of making me a vegan.

When I was 8, I wrote a poem at school for Thanksgiving:
There once was a turkey named Fred,
He never wanted to get out of bed.
He had a brother named Matt,
Who was very, very fat.
On Thanksgiving they sang a low gobble song,
Cause they knew they wouldn’t live very long.
And they didn’t.

So, I mean, I look at that now and just, OF COURSE, I’m vegan. It was there all along.

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 guess I just feel like I didn’t need a lot of convincing, personally, but I think that anything heavy handed or accusatory probably would have turned me off and caused me to retreat even if I agreed with the message. Part of my becoming vegan was a rebellion against societal norms. I had become straight edge (abstaining from drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicants) the year before because I didn’t think it was ethical to participate in industries that profit off of the destruction of people’s lives, families, communities, social skills, etc. and I felt really similarly about veganism. What you do and what you consume is like a vote every time for the kind of world you want. I can’t control much, but I can control what I allow for in my own sphere. I was 16 when I put the pieces together and I was lucky that I had a job and was making a little money to buy my own food so that I didn’t put my family out. I think having somebody leading by example would have been helpful for me, but luckily I was stubborn enough to figure out the basics on my own and stick with it until I had a community to show me what else was out there.

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

Personally, I’m just honest with people. Not like over the top, jarring “honesty” where I feel like I need to tell you the real truth about where your “food” comes from in graphic detail without consent (though, I will do that if you ask), but just that the reasoning is simple. I have this great shirt from The Herbivore Clothing Company that says, “I love animals too much to eat them.” I do. It’s that easy. Don’t you?

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

I think the vegan movement is so diverse and we shouldn’t miss that. My partner and I have two vegan restaurants in the Chicago area, Upton’s Breakroom and Nature Yoga Sanctuary & Cafe, and I see all kinds of people coming and going from those locations day after day and that is one of my favorite things. Vegans don’t look one way, they don’t act one way, they’re not all in it for the same reasons, and that’s part of what makes it so amazing. Because if you want to be vegan, I bet that there’s someone out there that you can really relate to who can help. It’s not one size fits all, but there is a right place for every body here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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

Oh boy, I think sometimes we are our own worst enemy. I see a lot of confronting and seemingly ineffective tactics from other vegans sometimes. In fact, I think that generally speaking, if your way of interacting with other people is a “tactic” and you have an endgame with your interaction, they know and are going to be suspicious of you from the start. No one wants to be approached by someone with an agenda to get what they want. Let’s not be tactical. Let’s just connect. Lead by example.

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

Personally, I’m vegan because animals deserve to be comfortable. When I look at the animals I live with (I currently live with a dog, 13 fish, and 3 snails), it’s clear that they have wants and needs (I know, because I’m tasked with providing for many of them). It’s important to do your best to minimize harm to other beings.

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 the message of the Dhammapada, which I first read after becoming vegan which says, “All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” I think that about sums it up for me. I also love and try to follow the work being done by organizations like Farm Sanctuary, We Animals, and all of the dedicated smaller animal sanctuaries around the world that are giving animals the comfortable lives they deserve.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Okay, so outside of the work of “being a vegan,” I work a LOT. I run a global vegan food company, Upton’s Naturals, alongside my partner Dan. On top of that, I also own two yoga centers by the name of Nature Yoga Sanctuary. We also have the two restaurants that I mentioned before. I teach yoga multiple times per week and on weekends am often teaching additional trainings or workshops for yoga teachers and students. This year alone I’ve traveled so extensively for business that I’ve spent more than a week in the air. I love all of what I do, but it is a lot. I consider my work to be my form of activism. We are making vegan foods available in a number of countries worldwide and sharing the reasons for veganism at home and abroad. My studies on yoga and yogic techniques with my Guruji, Sri Dharma Mittra, are what make all of this possible. Letting go of attachment to the results of effort is part of a daily practice and yoga also offers a variety of relaxation techniques that can be helpful when life is hectic. Studying the truths of karma can give some comfort when confronted with the cruelties of the world. I don’t always have time to dedicate too much of a physical yoga practice at this point in my life, but the other practices and knowledge are always present.

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

Oh boy! I don’t even know how to pick just one. I feel like issues are constantly capturing my heart, but the plight of dairy cows is one that just really touches me. When I have the opportunity, I seek out the company of cows. I love their presence. I have spent time with cows in the US, India, and other countries and one thing remains the same – they are loving beings with definite personalities and strong ties to their loved ones. I think many people see cows as “milk machines,” rather than as individuals with desires, needs, personalities, friends, and family and that breaks my heart. The dairy industry, no matter how big or small the farm, is harmful to them. Milk is for babies. 100%. No exceptions.

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

To me, being vegan is living in a way that is consistent with my values.

Om Shanti!