Wednesday, September 30, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Alisha Kettner

Alisha Kettner
is a longtime vegetarian who went vegan a few years ago when her hair stylist helped her to connect the dots between the dairy and egg industries and animal cruelty. As a fashion forward shoe-lover and an environmentally-minded consumer, Alisha, also a
certified registered nurse anesthetist, married her twin passions with her burgeoning convictions about compassionate living in her adorable, carefully curated boutique located in Oak Park, IL (one time home of Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Newhart and Kathy Griffin and a little hop over the border from Chicago on the Green line), Amour de la Terre. As a self-described “eco-nerd”, the shoes and accessories Amour de la Terre carries reflect Alisha’s commitment to the environment as well as her broader social justice convictions by sourcing from companies that use eco-friendly materials, production methods (or both), which means there is no PVC pleather at her shop, and the items she sells are produced using Fair Labor practices, meaning they are sweatshop-free, something that most shoe companies are woefully out of step with. What a great lady with a fantastic mission!

I am lucky enough to know Alisha personally and I have always been impressed by her friendly, optimistic attitude, her commitment to creating a more compassionate, healthy planet and her fabulous taste in shoes. Please check out Amour de la Terre (if you don’t live in Chicagoland, they do ship) and support this wonderful endeavor. Also, get a chance to meet Alisha in person at her booth at Chicago VeganMania on October 10 as well as check out her panel on Compassionate Style and Beauty at 4:30, along with fellow lovelies Trisha Star-Perez of Starship Salon and Ashlee Piper of TheLittle Foxes.

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’ve been an animal lover my entire life. My childhood home had a dog, cats, fish and a bird, and when I grew up I wanted to be either a marine biologist or a veterinarian. At the library I would take out books on animals to try and learn anatomy, and at the veterinary office I would grab every one of the dog and cat info pamphlets lying on the shelves.

Looking back my animal activism began early. I remember one evening after grocery shopping with my father, we were in the parking lot putting bags in the car trunk and there was a man across the lot that was kicking a dog in the back of his van. I was probably only about 10 years old, but before my dad could do anything I ran up to that van and yelled to the man to stop, and I took down his license plate number and I then called around to find out how to get the dog taken away from the owner.

My grandmother was a vegetarian, and I remember during one visit with her in Tennessee we got to talking about the “why’s” of vegetarianism, and she put on a VHS tape that showed footage of factory farming. This didn’t turn me automatically, but I’m sure it was the earliest seed that was planted. One day at lunch in high school, I remember thinking it was gross that I was eating the flesh of an animal, so I simply stopped then and there. I wasn’t the healthiest vegetarian as a teenager, and could polish off a box of mac & cheese in about five minutes flat.

Then as an adult I met the lovely Christa, who was doing my hair for my wedding. She was vegan and I was vegetarian, so we hit it off. I told her I didn’t understand how she could live without cheese and omelets! She told me a few tidbits about the dairy industry that led me to do more research on my own, and after some internet reading and watching Forks Over Knives, I became vegan and never looked back!

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?

Just like Christa was to me, it’s important to be nonjudgmental and not push too much information on a person at a time. Simply letting someone know a few facts to hopefully “plant seeds” in their head and lead them to do some more pondering and research on their own is the most effective way of encouraging veganism in my opinion. 

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 like to show people my passion for veganism, hoping it rubs off on them a tad. I like to show that veganism is not about restrictions or exclusivity; it’s about love for animals, love for your own body, and love for the environment.  I always ask how much a person is willing to let me tell them about the factory farming industry before a discussion. I feel if I become “preachy” or tell people too many graphic details before they’re ready, it will only backfire and make them more opposed to the idea of giving up animal products.

Also, I really love food (no really, my friends joke that I have a hollow leg). So I love to show that being vegan actually opens you up to more foods and spices than an omnivore is exposed to. My favorite is introducing hardcore meat and cheese lovers to vegan substitutes and seeing a positive reaction. We vegans are certainly not deprived of good food!

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

In my opinion, the vegan movement is primarily about simply loving animals too much to eat (or wear) them. Since most people are innate animal lovers, we can use this bridge to show that veganism is not some scary unobtainable state, it’s basically putting our ethics into action, and anyone can do it!

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

I believe it’s hard to get the word out effectively because we vegans are so, so passionate about animal rights issues and we can easily come across as being preachy or self-righteous. I admit sometimes I want to just scream and shake people and tell them how they’re supporting abuse and torture with the bacon on their plate. Then I remind myself that I’d lose a lot of friends and need to move to an island by myself, ha! As hard as it is, I try to remember that I too once ate meat and didn’t think twice about it at the time. I remind myself that the vegan movement will certainly “catch more flies with honey than vinegar” as they say. [Ed. note: Agave, Alisha, agave.] As much as I’d love to, I don’t believe I have the capability to make someone do an immediate 180 on the spot. Maybe I can encourage that 180 to occur eventually, but all I can do is “plant the seeds” for people to make the decision on their own.

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

Well, it depends on how many floors we get to ride. ;) The simplest answer is I’m vegan for the animals, for health and for the environment. I explain how factory farming is incredibly cruel, how the dairy industry can even be considered more inhumane than the meat industry, how consumption of animal products and milk protein (casein) has been linked to many common diseases, how 80% of the antibiotics in this country are used for the livestock industry, and how factory farming consumes ridiculous amounts of water and land resources.

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?

Forks Over Knives was the earliest influential documentary for me, along with Earthlings, Food, Inc., Vegucated, Peaceable Kingdom, and Fowl Play. The China Study was one of the first books I read on veganism and it astounded me! The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone was also one of the first books I read and was also some of the first vegan recipes I ever used. I’m a fan of any organization that  peacefully works to save animals from unnecessary suffering, but I’m particularly a big fan of Mercy for Animals.

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

Between working in nursing full time and running the business, I don’t have a ton of free time. When I do get to unwind I enjoy going out for dinner with friends or hangin’ with my beloved rescue pup & letting her take me for a run.

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

This question interestingly made something come full circle for me just now. The three things I’m most passionate about in life are animals, the environment, and health, which are the exact three things that veganism positively affects, so I suppose that life choice is validated! :) Of all of the many animal rights issues, I’m extremely passionate about dog and cat rescues. There are so many animals in need of a good home, there’s absolutely no reason to go to a breeder. One can even find purebred rescues. It physically pains me to think of all of the sweet souls sitting behind bars in the shelters, scared and alone and possibly days away from euthanization. This is an issue I plan to get more involved in during my lifetime.

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

“…a perfect demonstration of love to all: animals, self and the earth.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

History is Not Destiny: Of Brisket, Jewish Grandmothers and Veganism


I grew up in the 1970s, born of parents who steadfastly ignored (or perhaps just remained blissfully unaware of) the burgeoning crunchy health trends of the day, meaning that we didn’t have Grape Nuts in our home but there was plenty of artificial grape-flavored carbonated beverage. Most days at lunch, my brother and I had American cheese on Wonder Bread with various deli slices or whatever was on the menu at the school lunchroom and for dinner, we ate the standard food of the day: chicken Kiev, mostaccioli with meat sauce, pepper steak. Actually, I’m pretty sure that my mom’s pepper steak had more produce in it than a typical week’s menu in our household.

I didn’t grow up with any indication that one day, I’d be someone who would construct my life’s work around rejecting meat and animal products and promoting the consumption of plant foods in their place, but, lo and behold, look what happened.

As a child, what I ate took on a deeper emotional resonance whenever it was provided by my grandmother, a great cook and an even better amateur therapist, a woman who seemed to intuit the complex and mysterious ways in which food feeds our spirits well beyond the surface value. I adored my Grandma Dora, an uncommonly dynamic lady who made all the classic Jewish dishes from scratch: brisket, chicken soup with matzo balls, corned beef. The only thing she made that gave me pause was her chopped liver; even this, though, I would eat without reservation because it seemed to have my grandmother’s wonderful essence in it. Or maybe I was projecting? I can still access the taste memories I associate with my grandmother in an instant, and with these memories, I can bring back her soft, flour-dusted arms, her smile and the musical laugh that had the power to make everything in my otherwise chaotic world all right. She would cook and tell me stories, filling me in on the latest gossip about the feuding neighbors in her apartment building as clouds of steam rose over her soup pot. Sitting at the little table off her kitchen, basking in her joie de vivre and the comforting aromas of her cooking, there was no happier or safer place in the world for me.

When I was 15, though, a fission came between us. When I was 15, I went vegetarian.

When it was clear that my vegetarianism was sticking, my grandmother reminded me - in an offhand way but with a palpable sadness in her voice - that I’d loved her brisket more than any of her other grandchildren. In a way, this was her saying that I loved her more than any of her other grandchildren. It was clear that to her, it wasn’t about the brisket: rejecting meat was rejecting her. Food was an undeniable part of our connection and a deep-seated part of our attachment. Giving up meat meant that I couldn’t avoid severing at least part of the unique connection that had linked me with my grandmother, my most treasured bond.

When my grandmother made her seemingly casual observation, there was so much to say but I didn’t know how to say it; I was young and still figuring it out myself. The thing was that I did love the taste of meat until a dissection unit in high school convinced me that I didn’t want to eat it anymore. As time went on, this avoidance evolved from an aesthetic disgust born of suddenly identifying what “meat” was to a conviction rooted in ethics, a foundation I’ve never swerved from since. At 15, I sensed that eating animals didn’t reflect the kind of person I wanted to be as I tested the waters of my emerging independence. I didn’t say this, though, as I didn’t consciously know it. I told my grandmother that it was probably just a phase and I think this gave her hope, but, growing up with this determined woman as my most influential relative, I had more than a little tenacity instilled in me, too. I think she knew that I didn’t have phases: I had revisions. Twelve years into my vegetarian “phase,” I went vegan. Now, twenty years since I decided to leave behind dairy and eggs, I have dedicated my life to promoting veganism.

When people meet me and learn that I am vegan, many times they remark that they were raised eating meat at every meal. So was I, I tell them. “But I like how it tastes,” many say. So did I, I tell them. But their families have customs and traditions around certain holidays and food is a big part of that, they say. My family was no different, I tell them. Their heritage includes meat, they say. So does mine, I say. I’m not trying to be rude or dismissive; it’s just true. Despite people wanting to think that there was something unique in how I was raised that somehow laid the groundwork for my eventual vegan evolution, there really was not. My family consumed lots of meat and animal products, as did I, and the diet I was raised on was deeply tied to traditions, habits, familiarity and taste attachments, just as it is for everyone else. My path away from eating animals did not have a basis in not liking what I ate growing up, though without a doubt, these things hold no temptation for me today. There was something deeper that called to me, though, and if it was deep enough to risk severing part of the connection I had to my grandmother, it was indeed made of powerful stuff.

More than ever, we are seeing how the choices we make today will have real consequences for future generations. More pressingly, we are beginning to see the fallout from our reliance on animal agriculture in the actual here and now. From the increasing reality of antibiotic resistance that may very well reverse so many life-saving advances to the fact that climate change - something that the greenhouse gas-intensive animal agribusiness is a leading contributor to - is emerging as a major factor in civil unrest and destabilization around the globe, we are just at the early stages of beginning to see that what we eat has a significant ripple effect on all of us but especially those who are most vulnerable: the aged, the very young, those with compromised immune systems and the world’s poor. This is going to increase exponentially as the repercussions accelerate into a critical mass of the worst kind.


I don’t particularly enjoy sounding like the Enemy of Fun (which seems to be the vegan’s role in our culture) but as someone who has helped to conceptualize and research hundreds of memes about the vast number of destructive by-products of animal agribusiness, I can tell you that things are more perilous than I ever realized before. From droughts to species extinction, world hunger to ocean depletion, what we now know is that if our planet has a chance at survival - not to mention thriving - we will need to do a serious reevaluation of our habits and begin to leave animals and their secretions off our plates.

Is the answer small farms, organic farms, or “happy” meat? Putting aside the fact that I am a vegan for reasons of compassion and justice, in other words, because I feel it is immoral to inflict harm when we can avoid it, no, not if you’ve put serious thought to it. It’s a mathematical impossibility to produce all the flesh and animal products people consume unless it’s on a massive-scale production model, which is why factory farms exist. There are idyllic-seeming small farms - though commodification and violence are still essential to even the most bucolic settings, despite our apparent willingness to believe in fairy tales - but they couldn’t come close to fulfilling demand, especially not with a world population expected to surpass nine billion by 2050.

Something vegans often hear, with more than a bit of defensiveness, is what about the violence of plant foods? For example, it harms and kills small animals like rabbits and mice when their homes are plowed over for grains. First of all, vegans are not claiming to be perfect, just trying to avoid contributing to harm. Second, is this person genuinely concerned about the small animals killed in the harvesting of grains? Then he or she will want to go vegan for that reason alone as a huge percentage of soy and grain is fed to the animals people eat. The last ditch effort to justify eating animals is to try to smear vegans as participants in the cruelty department because, well, plants feel pain, too. Really? Despite having no central nervous system, no ability to avoid capture and no evolutionary logic for the supposed pain or suffering? (Those who are about to post this video: you do realize that there is a difference between responding to stimuli and possessing sentience, right?) We know that other animals have sentience as we have proof of it; some speculate that plants do as well and we are supposed to accept this without proof. Trying to clumsily lump them together as equivalents shows how willing we are to suspend logic and also how willing we are to turn the genuine suffering - the screams, the cries, the blood, the pain - of sentient animals into mere abstractions in order to justify maintaining our habits.

The consequences of eating animals are real, they are enormous and they are happening all around us. Is this the time to be playing hypothetical chess games simply because the reality challenges our comfort zone and our privileges?

My grandmother and I eventually got over this divide. I think once the initial ruffling settled down, she saw that our true relationship to one another remained steadfast: I wasn’t rejecting her. I was simply no longer eating meat. My love for her wasn’t about the brisket. It was about the affection, the happiness together, the closeness, the understanding, the connection. We lost one component of our history together; it would be a lie to say that it wasn’t a little painful to say goodbye to this aspect of my life with my grandmother. I needed to do it, though, for my self-respect and because my grandmother raised me to be someone who stood up for what I believed in. My veganism is a source of pride, not regret.
Food is emotional. I get that as well as anyone. Connection is deeper than food, though, and doing what we know is right is far more gratifying than eating brisket, even the brisket of your favorite person in the world.

Our love is of much deeper substance than that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie Edition with Chef Skye-Michael Conroy


I’m so excited to be spotlighting Chef Skye-Michael Conroy, a.k.a., The Gentle Chef, as our featured Vegan Foodie today. I first became aware of Skye a couple of years ago when I noticed all these people raving
about how his fantastic dairy-free cheese recipes had brought something that they’d once enjoyed back into their lives without any compromising of their ethics or their taste buds. Last year, I finally bought his Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook and made the French Brie and Chévre cheeses for an event and watched in amazement (and amusement) as one of my friends slowly but surely claimed the cheeses for her own by forming a protective bubble around them with her arms as she sat at the dining room table. (She did eventually – and grudgingly – allow others to also partake.) Another time, I made the brie for a friend who was a new vegan at the time, raised by parents from Italy. She’d been lamenting to me about the lack of quality vegan cheeses: when I brought her the brie, her brain pretty much exploded over how good it was and declared that cheese to be the best brie she’d ever had, dairy or non-dairy. She ordered the cookbook immediately and I knew that this woman, whose heart was in the right place but was at a place where she desperately missed cheese, was not at risk of returning to dairy. Today she is whipping up Non-Dairy Evolutionary recipes like a fiend and has no interest in returning to animal products.

I see Chef Skye as filling a vital role in the vegan world by providing recipes that satisfy the longing for familiar comfort foods as well as teaching impressive but accessible techniques for home cooks and experienced foodies interested in bumping up their cooking chops a few notches with his excellent recipes. Skye knows that food is emotional for us and many of us have deep connections to the foods we were raised on, even if we have evolved past them as consumers. Food shouldn’t be a compromise, though, and what he and his recipes show us again and again is that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: cruelty-free food that is 100% delicious without any concessions. The thing is, too, that he really is a wizard, not only in the non-dairy realm but also in the vegan meats realm. Now Chef Skye has a new cookbook, Seitan and Beyond, that is taking his painstakingly accurate but still accessible approach to plant-based cheeses and applying them to animal-free proteins with uncanny results. (By the way, you can take many of his recipes for a test drive before you invest in a cookbook here.) Is this food for everyone? No. If replicating meats or dairy makes you feel squeamish, it’s not for you. But for those who like being able to enjoy old favorites again without the cruelty, Chef Skye’s recipes might be right up your alley. (By the way, do check out his popular Facebook page where you can see how his devotees are taking his recipes to new heights.) For his kind heart, his creativity, his perfectionist commitment to details and his dedication to elevating the craft of vegan cuisine to a whole new level, Chef Skye-Michael Conroy is a Vegan Foodie to know. (By the way, I apologize for the weird spacing in this -- it appears to be a Blogspot issue and not something I can control.)

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

Cooking has been a part of my life since late childhood. I love good food and I love the art of preparing good food. Although I’ve had many years of experience with traditional cooking and some vegetarian cuisine, transitioning to a strict plant-based diet made me feel like a complete novice. I literally had no idea how to plan and prepare a nutritionally complete and well-balanced diet without at least including some dairy and eggs. I was completely unfamiliar with many of the “exotic” plant-based ingredients and foods. So like everyone else, I had to start from the basics and re-teach myself to cook. To round out my training I also enrolled in a cooking school offering a professional, plant-based culinary certification program led by world-renowned plant-based chef educator Chad Sarno.

Chef Chad Sarno, my culinary instructor at Rouxbe; celebrity Chef Tal Ronnen; and Chef Tanya Petrovna founder of Native Foods were my primary role models when I first began exploring vegan cuisine. Since I’ve only been cooking strictly plant-based for five years, I still consider myself a new vegan chef. I also consider myself a student as well as a teacher, and my peers and my readers continue to teach me many new things.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Like most people of my generation (I grew up in the '60s/'70s), meat and other animal foods were the focal points of pretty much every meal. We ate little in the way of fresh vegetables, except for the nightly iceberg lettuce dinner salad with slivered carrot and a few sliced radishes. I had a difficult time eating meat when I was young - it was basically forced on me, and meat became an acquired taste as I got older. Holiday meals were important in our family but my diet today and family food traditions bear very little resemblance to my diet and family food traditions while growing up.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

On a trip to New York City a few years ago, I had the privilege to dine at Candle 79. While I don’t recall the specifics of the meal itself, the ambiance, service and quality of the cuisine was certainly worthy of 4 stars. I would have to say that was my best vegan meal ever - especially since I didn’t have to cook! If I ever open a restaurant, I would like it to follow that same level of culinary excellence and professionalism. For casual dining, I’ve never been disappointed by the Native Foods restaurant chain.

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I would love to cook for Auguste Escoffier, the legendary figure among omni chefs and gourmets and one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine. I think he would be impressed with the meat, egg and dairy analogues I create.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

The two primary mistakes in any form of cooking are: 1) Not reading the cookbook and the recipes all the way through before cooking. How to avoid this? Read the cookbook! There’s a wealth of information in most cookbooks regarding ingredients and techniques that is not contained within the recipes themselves. 2) Poor “mise en place”. Mise en Place (pronounced meez-ahn-plahs) is a French cooking term literally translated as “put in place”. Mise en place refers to gathering all ingredients and tools and then measuring all ingredients before cooking begins. It’s an important culinary technique and one of the most often neglected. Many home cooks scramble for supplies and tools and measure ingredients while cooking. This is a bad habit that often leads to mistakes and failures.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

I continue to be excited by the meat analogues I can create with vital wheat gluten and by combining vital wheat gluten with tofu. I’m also excited about glucomannan, also known as konjac root powder, and its use in preparing seafood analogues. Vegan lactic acid is another favorite ingredient for duplicating a tangy lactic dairy flavor in non-dairy foods.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Indian, Mexican and Thai cuisines are my three favorites due to their generous use of exotic herbs and spices to create layers of interesting and unique flavors.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

Earthlings” was undoubtedly the most influential documentary. The film was powerful and moving (although heartbreaking to watch) and I knew after viewing it, that if there was to be any change at all in how animals are treated, I was going to have to be part of that change. The members of my cooking group on Facebook, and my personal vegan friends, inspire me and keep me motivated on my path.

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

Ending the suffering of factory farmed animals will always be the issue nearest and dearest to my heart. That’s what my work is all about. Cooking is my activism and targets the individual by teaching how to change lifelong dietary habits through the replacement of animal products with those derived from plants. My goal is to make this dietary transition easier, enjoyable and sustainable for anyone willing to make the change.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

…doing the best I can to cause the least amount of harm to any living being - whether sentient or not. It’s not about being “pure”. It’s about intent. This philosophy is an intrinsic part of my spiritual beliefs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015




Because you found a kitten who knocks everything little thing off your desk and steps on a button that shrinks all the screens on your computer.

Because you’ve never seen that before.

Because you have to ask your husband to fix it and he touches one button and it’s all back to normal.

Because you have to move into the dining room to work because the kitten you found is still in isolation in your office and so now you have to work out in the open and you feel so exposed.

Because you feel like a Very Bad Feminist for not knowing how to fix the computer yourself.

Because this reminds you that you don’t really know how to deal with an overflowing toilet other than to tell someone who does know how to deal with it.

Because you actually do have a toilet that’s not working now as well as a refrigerator that has, for like the fourth time this year, stopped keeping things cold, which is the most basic job of a refrigerator.

Because you shouldn’t be so haughty about things because you can’t write, which is the most basic job of a writer.

Because you and the fridge have something in common.

Because you are a fraud, too. Oh, and also…

Because you are both defective.

Because the fridge guy just came and it’s not covered by the guarantee from his visit a few weeks ago because it’s a whole different malfunctioning part now.

Because this is getting expensive.

Because you bought a cheap-ass refrigerator because you are an “artist” or something along those lines and you should have been smarter about planning your future.

Because you are irresponsible.

Because you are so foolish.  

Because anyone who has ever had anything negative to say about you was absolutely right, from the girl in Pre-K who said that your socks don’t match your top to the woman who is still waiting for a press release from you.

Because the woman who is still waiting didn’t say anything negative but you know that she is thinking it.

Because you have ruined her life with this waiting.

Because you are selfish.

Because you can’t function like a normal adult.

Because you’ve been waking up with a palpable sense of dread plopped across your chest like an oil slick and you take walks and you exercise and you meditate but it’s still there, pressing the breath out of you.

Because you get no answers when you ask of that black splotch of dread that is plopped across your chest, “What are you about, black splotch of dread? Why are you here?”

Because whenever that black splotch really presses up against you to the point where you can’t keep it to yourself, you say to your husband, “Everything’s going to be okay,” and sometimes he looks at you like, “What is the matter with you?” or like you’re five-years-old but he still says, “Yes. There is nothing to worry about.”

Because this helps for a minute but then you are back to being ridiculous and ruining everyone’s life.

Because you were working on something else to post but it really is a dud.

Because, wow, you really suck.

Because your husband is working on the living room couch and he is on the phone for work and there is no door to separate you now that a being whose weight is still measured in the ounces has taken over your office and you can’t concentrate.

Because he is such a good person anyway and you are an ingrate.

Because this whole post is an exercise in pure self-absorption.

Because how is this helping the animals???

Because when did you become such a whiner?

Because do you really want to do this in public?

Because do you want all three people who read your blog to know that you are so pathetic?

Because didn’t Marilyn Monroe say, “…If you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best,” or something like that?

Because, no, she did not.

Because Sagacious Marilyn is a fraud as well. Join me and the fridge, Sagacious Marilyn.

Because you just sort of smiled despite yourself.

Because the fraudulent fridge still has a working freezer and there is food in there.

Because the toilet is still broken but the one upstairs works and you have indoor plumbing and a house and you don’t have to sleep outside in the rain like your kitten did before you found her.

Because she is so sweet and so cute that it makes your heart ache in a good way.

Because the black splotch of dread is still there but you just had five minutes or so without it reminding you of its presence.

Because you can work with this.

Because everyone has days or weeks like this.

Because anyone who doesn’t isn’t someone you want to know.

Because your husband’s right: everything is going to be okay.

Because even if he didn't say that, you know it's true.

Everything is going to be okay.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with John Beske

So this is kind of weird. I had someone else lined up to be my featured profile today and he didn’t follow through at the last second so, bootstrappers that we are, we resolved the matter in-house, which means you all get to enjoy the musings of my husband, the wonderful (and perhaps long-suffering) John Beske.

John is just awesome. What can I say? He’s a great husband and father, he does the dishes like a champ, he thinks everything I cook is amazing and he can meme the hell out of animal ag like nobody’s business. A longtime vegan – I called him on Feb. 1, 1995, said that I thought we should go vegan, and he was like, “’Kay” because that’s the kind of guy he is – and a talented designer, John, a.k.a., Johnny, a.k.a., Johnnycakes, a.k.a., Cakey, comes from an advertising background, having worked his way up to a senior art director position at the big agency Leo Burnett, but the writing was on the wall when his values began to deeply conflict with his ability to work on accounts like McDonald’s. He left that career in 1993 to begin applying his advertising know-how to creating a difference with advocacy-based materials. First at Sustain, a pioneering environmental communications agency, and now my partner at Vegan and
Chicago VeganMania as well as taking clients at John Beske Communications, John uses his design savvy and his skills at communicating complicated issues to the public in comprehensible, moving ways to move people in the direction of more compassionate choices. He’s talented and hard-working and kind; in short, he is the perfect Lefty to my Pancho, the Watson to my Holmes, the Ethel to my Lucy. John quietly works in the background while I get more of the attention but, truth be told, he deserves much more of the spotlight. In my humble opinion, he is a behind-the-scenes hero and one of the most powerful allies we have in spreading the vegan message effectively and memorably. For this reason and more, John Beske is a Vegan Rock Star to know.

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 a small town surrounded by farms, so I was pretty acquainted with some of the animals who would become food, but I never really connected the pieces. I even once toured the factory chicken farm of a classmate, and that disturbed me and kind of killed my taste for chicken, though a still would eat it occasionally.

And then, one night in late 1984, I was really sick with bronchitis, and lying in bed watching public TV when a documentary called The Animals Film came on. I was horrified, though too ill to move enough to change the channel, so I had to watch the whole thing. By the end of it I had determined to be a vegetarian. It would be several years before I was even aware of the concept of veganism, though I was slowly moving in that direction. I made the decision to become vegan in early 1995, partly because my then-girlfriend (and now wife and Vegan Street partner), was doing it [Ed.: smart man!], but further driven by the introduction of rBGH growth hormone in dairy cattle. The only way I could avoid that was to quit dairy altogether

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?

One may not have been able to sway me by simply talking about the violence toward animals. I spent time on the farms of my buddies and saw animals which seemed to be living the sort of seemingly idyllic life that we’re taught they live (these were very small farms in the 1960s and early ‘70s – factory farming hadn’t really caught on yet). But I had a pretty strong sense of morality, so it might have been easier to play to that by saying something like, “If I am able to let animals suffer and die simply for a few moment’s of someone’s gustatory pleasure, am I able to also turn my back on tyranny, war and other abuses of innocent people?”  It also would have helped to know that there was an alternative. As far as I knew, everyone ate animals, and it was natural, normal and necessary.

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’ve spent years trying to figure that out. I think different things reach different people. I try to focus on finding words and images that concisely and compellingly point out the absurdity of eating animals (as well as the cruelty, immorality, wastefulness and self-destructiveness of it). When we can point out how eating animals is causing so much pain to the animals, the planet, our own lives, and also the utter ridiculousness of every single argument in favor of it, we’re halfway there.

The other half is to constantly foment, nurture and promote the vegan community and lifestyle. People crave comfort and convenience and the belief that they are good people trying to do the right thing. Guide them and give them a supportive place to go.

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

I’m always amazed at the intelligence, passion, creativity and drive of vegan activists. There are many thousands of people trying many thousands of ways to share their messages, and we’re all continually teaching and learning from each other. Thanks to them, the movement is growing exponentially. It’s a wonderfully fertile time, and I’m always excited to see what’s going to happen next.

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

Our biggest obstacle is the dark side of one of our greatest strengths: our passion. We often turn this passion into obstinance, self-righteousness and occasional bouts of just plain meanness. A lot of vegans are too quick to attack those we are trying to persuade. Many of us even attack each other for not being pure enough or focusing our energies in an imagined wrong direction. Unfortunately, the stereotypical “angry annoying vegan” does exist in real life, and is probably the single biggest hurdle our movement needs to overcome.

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

When you and others like you move away from eating animals, fewer animals will suffer, our water and air will become cleaner, global warming will slow, our oceans and rainforests will deteriorate at a slower rate, fewer animals and plants will go extinct, the world will waste far less food, water, fuel and money, more hungry people will be fed, and you’ll be able to extend your own life by lessening your chances of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. You’ll also feel better in your heart because your life will reflect your values. And you’ll be a part of a community of wonderful dynamic people who are making the world a better place for all of us.

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?

Of course, I was influenced by the aforementioned documentary, The Animals Film. And over the years, I’ve been inspired by far too many incredible activists to list them all here. When I was just getting into it, however, I got the most inspiration from Howard Lyman, Rae Sikora, Gene Baur, Satya magazine, and the activists of Animal Rights Mobilization in 1990s Chicago. In particular, my primary inspiration is and has always been my beautiful wife, Marla Rose. [Ed.: Aw, Cakey!]

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

I think we’re at our best when we can conjoin two passions and use each to inspire the other. My other passion has always been art and design. Being around artistic works (also including great music, books, films, etc.), gets me recharged, inspired and fired up to jump back into the ring. I also need to spend time in nature, just walking or cycling or just hanging out. This reminds me how connected we all are and shows me what I’m fighting to protect. Visiting sanctuaries is really good for this as well.

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

The issue I finding myself writing about the most is the sheer destructiveness of animal agriculture on the planet. Our oceans and rainforests are dying, water is in deep danger of becoming privatized, and the effects of global warming are exacerbating famines, wars and the flow of refugees around the world. Most vegans understand the vast harm we have inflicted on a few species of animals that we have turned into commodities that end up on our plates. But it’s hard to grasp the tenuousness of our own species’ grip on survival, and how severely animal agriculture weakens that grip.

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

… the greatest gift we can give ourselves, our planet and everyone and everything else.