Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: Vegan Year in Review


Looking back at 2015, these are the stories that stood out to us as signs of hope that while there is much progress to be made, we are beginning to see a real shifting away from the status quo of animal exploitation and consumption. Some of these stories touch on our expanding community, growing stronger and more connected, creative and confident in our voice each year; other stories illustrate how vegan interests are beginning to ripple out to create a positive effect on culture and on consumer habits; still more reveal (and chip away at) the hidden support beams that prop up the industries that exploit and inflict violence against animals.

Please note that these stories are predominantly U.S.-centric because we track that most, living in the U.S. ourselves. We are seeing these encouraging news stories the world over, though, from the expansion of vegan commerce in Germany to courageous activism on the rise in China. Last, in no way are we trying to make the claim that “we’re winning!” or some other emphatically optimistic distortion. The needless suffering of billions of animals tyrannized for human use is as real and as dire as ever. It’s clear that there is a long, difficult and uphill road ahead but there are signs of progress and indications of change and reasons for hope that we should take a moment to appreciate; here are some of the ones that made the biggest impression on us in 2015. We hope and expect that 2016 will bring even more exciting shifts that will result in meaningful change for creating a more compassionate and just world. Maybe you will be involved in an encouraging story or two in 2016? 

The Just Mayo Story

Riveting in its sordidness, the behind-closed-doors attempts to handicap plant-based egg-replacer company Hampton Creek was a story that pulled the curtain back on gross federal malfeasance and its collusion with agribusiness interests, something that was entirely believable to those who are familiar with the U.S. government’s willingness to bend to business concerns but eye-opening for those who were not. The abbreviated version: Threatened by the meteoric rise of Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo egg-less mayo, the American Egg Board, a federally-funded commodity check-off organization, plotted with high-ranking business and government officials to plan an attack against the San Francisco start-up. Not long after the American Egg Board’s former CEO encouraged agribusiness giant Unilever (maker of Hellman’s mayo) to file a lawsuit against Hampton Creek, more than 600 pages of emails proving damning collusion was exposed by the U.K.’s Guardian. It was a David vs. Goliath story the best PR firm couldn’t have whipped up and it fell right into Hampton Creek’s lap. Public sentiment supported Hampton Creek and the attempt completely backfired, leaving – no pun intended – egg on the face of our corrupt federal agency and the big business it colludes with, giving the public just a small glimpse into covert double-dealing machinations that happen behind closed doors. Joanne Ivy, the CEO of the American Egg Board, resigned from her position two months earlier than expected and Hampton Creek walked away with the triumphant edit and loads of great press without slinging any dirt at all. 

 Aquafaba Everywhere

Aqua-wha’? It may sound like a new toothpaste marketed to tweens but in reality, aquafaba is an otherworldly bean water that contains the properties to turn into freaking EGG WHITES, bringing a heretofore elusive holy grail ingredient to vegan baking and cooking. With this discovery, we now have vegan meringue, not to mention pavlova, macarons and butter. (We don't have angel food cake yet but it's just a matter of time.) Aquafaba was developed in a truly modern way, described in detail here, but essentially it comes down to a couple of innovators and an international, social media-savvy community of pastry chefs, food scientists, home cooks and animal advocates, each contributing to help quickly elevate this new discovery up to unimaginable heights in record time. It wasn’t long before it was reported on in mainstream media outlets and now, there is an ever-expanding, incredibly supportive community of people speaking of “aquafaba” without giggling. (Seriously, I was in on the ground floor and I can tell you that if you think the word aquafaba is silly, just be glad because for a time, it was referred to as “bean juice,” which made me dry heave every time I read it.) The story of how aquafaba developed and spread is as encouraging to me as the innovation itself, illustrating how an ardent and creative global community can come together to raise the profile of and diversify vegan food, further driving consumer use of chicken-derived eggs into obsolescence. Who would have thought that less than a year ago, we were pouring this liquid gold down the drain? 

The VeganEgg

Maybe 2015 could be characterized as the year of the rise of the vegan egg? Although this is a still-elusive product that many of us have not tried yet (it’s not in most grocery stores as I am writing this), Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg was released in late 2015 and early reports are enthusiastic: This is a product that can be used both in baking and as a scramble with an uncanny similitude in flavor, aroma, texture and appearance to eggs. Not interested in products that remind you of chicken ovum? Great: the VeganEgg is not for you. This is for the many, many people who can reduce or completely eliminate their support of the horrifically exploitative, violent and cruel egg industry because they now have an excellent replacement. Most important, this innovation is for the layer hens and chicks who will potentially not be born into a brief life of pain, suffering and subjugation.

The Save Movement and Anita Krajnc

A longtime activist who co-founded Toronto Pig Save in 2010 and inspired a movement of similar efforts in communities around the world, Anita Krajnc was charged with “criminal mischief” after a transport truck driver became angry with her and her fellow activists for giving water to thirsty and stressed pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse in June, a charge that Anita will go on trial for in August with a potential sentence of six months in jail - reduced from 10 years - and $5,000 in damages (please consider donating to help her with her legal costs). This story has generated international attention because, as Orwellian as it sounds, Anita was accused by the farmer whose pigs were being driven to slaughter of endangering the safety of the pigs. Um, what? As Anita wrote in the Toronto Star, “On a sweltering June day, I offered water to hot and thirsty pigs. Now I’m in court, facing a criminal mischief charge that carries a $5,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.” Once again, the attempt by animal agribusiness interests to silence other voices did a spectacular job of backfiring and drawing the public’s attention to practices that the industry would very much prefer no one to think about. Further, the worldwide attention on this case has put the Toronto Pig Save and other similar Save Movement efforts into the public discourse. These emissaries of compassion are bearing witness to the horrific and needless brutality of animal agribusiness day-in and day-out and are positioning vegan activism where it belongs: firmly in the historical context of social justice movements. 


Who's ready for a little palate cleanser? This will do the job. A vegan fast-casual concept that seemingly emerged fully formed from an enchanted Instagram board, By CHLOE is the brainchild of the impossibly photogenic Cupcake Wars victor Chloe Coscarelli and Samantha Wasser, her partner at eSquared Hospitality, and it has taken NYC by storm with lines out the door from the first day it opened. With a simple but enticing menu, beautifully plated meals and a gorgeous space that has people instinctively reaching for their smart phones, By CHLOE is all about blending smart branding with great food and it is poised for even more success as the team prepares to expand to two new locations in NYC in 2016. Could total global domination be next? As someone who remembers when vegetarian restaurants were dusty little shacks where an ever-present cloud of patchouli hung low and vegan restaurants weren’t on the radar at all, I find myself very encouraged by the early success of By CHLOE.

The Barnard Medical Center

Opening in Washington, D.C. in early January of 2016, the Barnard Medical Center will be a state-of-the-art non-profit health care center established by Dr. Neal Barnard of PCRM and offering everything from check-ups to treating and reversing diabetes, coronary artery disease and other chronic conditions. With board-certified physicians, RNs and RDs, the Barnard Medical Center will keep its focus on integrating nutrition and medicine and will be incorporating the unique approach of teaching patients important skills that they can practice in their daily lives, like how to cook plant-based foods and how to interpret food labels for optimal wellness. We think that the Barnard Medical Center is the wave of the future of healthcare: prevention before intervention. 

The Return of VegNews Magazine

Full disclosure: I write for VegNews on a freelance basis as a columnist and a features writer and I cannot be unbiased. I think I would be including this even if I did not, though. I am happy to say that there is a plethora of other gorgeous vegan
magazines flourishing today but 2015 was the year that our first, most illustrious glossy mainsteam publication made its return after a couple of years of internal conflict kept it off the shelves. VegNews helped to build the vegan movement up in the late 1990s when we were still a little understood niche community and it is here again today when millions are being invested in vegan companies and our movement is finally on the cultural radar. Well, VegNews played a big role in putting it there. With recipes and news, celebrity interviews and penetrating investigations, VegNews truly has something for everyone and its absence was keenly felt. I join many in being grateful that we have our beautiful magazine back and not a moment too soon.

It was a good 2015. With your help, it will be a better 2016. See you on the other side, friends!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Seventh Annual Disgruntled Alphabet for Vegans!


--> Hey, boys and girls: it’s beginning to look like the time for another Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet is upon us again. Where does the time go? I have to admit that this alphabet is getting more difficult each year. I don’t know if it’s because it’s my seventh year and I’m running out of fresh material to kvetch about or things are getting a little better. No matter, I present to you my 2015 Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet. Enjoy and be sure to read to the end to see what we can be giddily gruntled about.

A is for Ah, so you want me to believe that cows magically produce milk. Did you opt out of the sex ed unit in high school for religious reasons or was there a funding cut?

B is for Banishment from another Ted Nugent fan page just as you were starting to get all the wing-nut hunters riled up.

C is for the Chilly reception a vegan gets when she announces that she wants to be on the holiday food planning committee for her office.

D is for being Demoted to the decoration committee soon after.

E is for the Enemy of fun: I’m here! Did someone call my name?

F is for Finding out that the one person you thought was a fellow vegan at work actually was on a doctor-mandated diet for a month and is so glad that it’s finally over.

G is for Gluten-free: Let’s take a moment to clarify that a gluten-free diet is one is that free of wheat, wheat products, barley, and rye. A vegan diet is one that avoids all flesh (including sea-life), animal products and animal by-products. Note that there is nothing in the gluten-free description that mentions avoiding foods containing animal parts or products nor is there anything in the vegan description addressing avoiding items with gluten. They are not synonymous in any way. Hence, gluten-free muffins may not in fact be vegan. In fact, there is a good chance that they are not vegan. Could we stop conflating these two terms, please?

H is for Have you ever noticed that the same people who are so concerned about how vegans spend their time aren’t actually people who do anything for anyone? Because I have.

I is for the Immediate, record-scratching halt to the conversation when you walk in the room as your brother is discussing what he plans to cook on his fancy new grill-toy. I is also for If you don’t get invited to the summer BBQ, don’t be surprised.

J is for jack sh*t, an actual unit of measurement, which is how much most people who think they’ve got some cogent and original arguments in favor of animal agribusiness actually have -- they actually don't even have that amount.

K is for killing sensitive beings as we destroy our planet in the process but we’re supposed to remain silent about it or we will hurt someone’s widdew feewings? And vegans are the touchy ones? Oookay.

L is for the Latitude you gave your in-laws in choosing the restaurant for a family meal and now it's at a steakhouse where you should be "perfectly fine" with a plain baked potato.

M is for the Moth plague you’ve brought upon your home with the purchase of some bulk grains.

N is for News stories based on specious, poorly interpreted or biased research that trumpet rubbish (like lettuce is worse for the environment than bacon) and then gets re-posted by science-based social media outlets as if it's actually true and all the meat-eaters are like, "See! I'm better for the environment than those vegans!" and we are in the middle of one of these inanities with our current news cycle so I am particularly steaming about it right now. GAH!

O is for Orthorexia because now everyone is an armchair psychologist eager to link your veganism to mental illness and neurosis. Thanks, mainstream media! Isn’t there something Kardashian-related to focus on?

P is for the Panicked look on the person who just realized he ate something you made so it must be vegan and he thought it was actually good and now he suddenly doesn’t feel so well and, oh, man, does this mean he’s gay or something???

Q is for Quoting from an article published on about how veganism will destroy us is probably not going to be all that persuasive to me but you go right ahead.

is for the Roommate who probably gave you the food poisoning that ate up your weekend by using your cutting board without permission and contaminating it with meat juice. R is also for the Revenge you’ll get when you feel well enough to not be running to the bathroom every three minutes.

is for the Steamed vegetable plate at your niece’s wedding and the Snacks in your car that you keep thinking about if only people would quit toasting the bride and groom already. WE GET IT and we have low blood sugar.

is for Towering civilizations have been forged, complex languages and amazing technological advances have been developed, spellbinding works of literature, architecture and art have been created: somehow, though, veganism is just too difficult and complicated.

is for “Um, did you just call my food gross? Oh, it is on, my friend.”

V is for the Velocity at which the best food disappears at the vegan potluck, which means, if you’re five minutes late, it’s tortilla chips and seven kinds of roasted red pepper hummus for you.

W is for When PETA does an embarrassing and insulting advertising campaign and somehow, you become their public face to every meat defender in your life.

X is for the Xmas gift of an annual membership to Heifer International that your passive-aggressive sister-in-law bought for you. Again.

Y is for Yippee, the new pizza place has vegan cheese but eggs and butter in the crust and why do you toy with my emotions, Universe???

Z is for Zilch-zero-nada, the amount of nutritional yeast in your carton just when you want to make some popcorn.

Okay, as promised, now that I got that out of my system, I’ve got some vegan pluses to be positively gruntled about.

A is for Activism!
B is for the Brilliant, engaged people who are ushering in a new world
C is for Cashew cheese: What did we do before you?
D is for Diversity, increasing all the time
E is for Entrepreneurs who aren't patently evil
F is for Food that doesn’t harm others
G is for Garbanzo beans, which gives us both hummus and aquafaba!
H is for!
I is for Intersectionality because people are starting to understand that we are a social justice movement and different forms of oppression are interlinked
J is for Jackfruit because, huzzah, now we have a new meat!
K is for the Kaleidoscopic array of fruits and vegetables that dazzle the senses
L is for Living in alignment

is for Message gear!
N is for Never having to feel like a hypocrite.
O is for Our self-righteousness, because at least it’s better than self-wrongteousness
P is for Poops that are the best ever!
Q is for Quality of life (see above)
R is for the Right side of history
is for the Save Movement

is for Traditions that don’t harm others
is for the Vibrant community of Vegans
W is for the Whole, wide world of ingredients we’ve discovered since “restricting” our diets
X is for the Xenophiles who are introducing international vegan recipes that expand our culinary vocabulary
Y is for the Youth who are moving veganism to new dimensions
Z is for the Zest for life you find when you live purposefully

What vegan-related thing are you disgruntled about? What are you positively gruntled about? Now is your chance to get it all out of your system or shout it happily from the rooftops. Let's hear it, friends!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Toronto Pig Save's Anita Krajnc...


Anita Krajnc
is a longtime vegan as well as a social justice educator and scholar who puts her principles into action by tirelessly drawing the public’s attention to the thousands of animals who are transported to three slaughterhouses in Toronto each day. She co-founded Toronto Pig Save in 2010 after taking a walk with her dog, Mr. Bean, and seeing pigs on a transport truck who, other than being terrified, didn’t look so different from the dog she loved. Since its inception, compassionate activists meet three times a week and give these animals, most suffering after being transported very long distances in all temperatures, water through slats in the trucks in the warm months and a few words of kindness as they bear witness before they are taken into the slaughterhouse to be killed. By bearing witness, Toronto Pig Save and the other animal vigil efforts that have sprung up across the globe in recent years aspire to create a “glass wall” that exposes the public to the suffering that so many are shielded from seeing and encourages people to take empowered actions toward living in alignment with compassionate values.

That doesn’t sound too controversial, right? Believe it or not, Anita has been in the news, including a big story in The Guardian, in recent weeks for the “crime” of giving water to pigs on a transport truck on a hot day last June as she and her fellow activists have been doing for years; this time, the driver jumped out of the truck and started yelling at her to stop. Two months later, a police officer showed up at her door and informed her that the farm owner had filed a criminal complaint against her. As Anita wrote in the Toronto Star, “On a sweltering June day, I offered water to hot and thirsty pigs. Now I’m in court, facing a criminal mischief charge that carries a $5,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.” Untold numbers of sensitive animals die in horrific oven-like conditions in these metal trucks in the summer as well as freezing temperatures as they are transported year-round to slaughterhouses – not to mention all the suffering before they are crowded into transport trucks – and what Anita did is the crime?

I am honored that Anita is this week’s vegan rock star and I would urge everyone to please sign one of the petitions
, share this interview, check out and share their videos and consider joining an established vigil near you or creating one in your community. Anita’s next pre-trial date is December 15; please throw some support behind this amazing woman and the witness movement she has spearheaded.
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 was quite disconnected growing up in Toronto. I loved dogs but salivated at the sight of a pig roast as a teenager. I remember my sister didn’t want to eat meat when we were growing up but I didn’t think about why not. When I went to university in the 1990s, I saw a poster advertising the screening of the UK documentary "The Animals Film" — the first graphic film of its kind, narrated by Julie Christie. There was a scene of farmers “joking” about a “rape rack” for sows. As a feminist, I found it mind-boggling and till then didn’t know about the horrific animal abuse in animal agriculture. I had nightmares for three days, went vegetarian and became an animal activist. I never heard of the word vegan and went through a long phase of “free-range” eggs. I finally went vegan in 2006 after students, who I thought were very radical, persuaded me and after I saw the film "The Witness" with Eddie Lama.

I moved back to Toronto in 2006 and lived within a kilometer of a pig slaughterhouse and thought, “Somebody should do something!” I even asked an active animal group outside of Toronto to organize a demo, but nothing came of it. Then in 2010, I reached a new level of animal activism and organizing, one that absorbed my entire life, after I bore witness daily of pigs in transport trucks en route to a slaughterhouse near my home. It all started when I adopted Mr. Bean, a dog, for my Mom. We’d take our morning walks along Lake Shore and I saw 7 or 8 transport trucks carrying sad and terrified pigs in rush hour traffic. At the time, I was reading biographies by Romain Rolland, a French Nobel Laureate and vegetarian, who wrote on exemplary people with an eye on influencing his readers to follow suit. It worked! I read his works on Tolstoy, Gandhi and Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and how they all engaged in community organizing for years when there was an injustice in their community. Tolstoy and his family, for example, set aside more than a year in 1892 when there was a famine in Russia and helped set up more than 200 soup kitchens, raised funds, and asked for donations of food from around the world, including from the Quakers in Pennsylvania. If they acted in the face of injustice in their communities, then why shouldn’t all of us do the same? Witnessing the pig victims with their sad and terrified eyes in huge transport trucks heading to a slaughterhouse in my own backyard was an issue that involved me. I was responsible. I needed to act. Everything changed for me then. Animal rights became the number one priority in my life.

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?

Our group uses a love-based approach influenced by Tolstoy and Gandhi. I veer away from Francionists. But the truth is, the local animal rights student group at Queen’s University, where I was teaching, was “abolitionist” and insisted one cannot be animal rights without going vegan now. They won me over quickly. It was so easy going vegan—I had no idea! My only regrets are that someone hadn’t spoken to me earlier and made the absolutely clear case for veganism 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.?

I believe in people being present and bearing witnessing first hand. Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy’s best friend and confidante, said it was important for everyone to “face it.” He wrote in his book on animal rights called One Life (1912):

The suffering of the animals killed for us is barely recognized and inflicts repulsion, rather than compassion. Instead of protecting suffering creatures, we protect ourselves by hiding away from this wicked bloody scene that is being performed by other people’s hands. Being more concerned with ourselves than with tortured animals, which are killed for us, we deprive them of the miracle of life, and we deprive ourselves of the highest joy of compassion towards living beings. We lose a chance to save them from futile torture and premature death.

A simple reminder around a dinner table that a meal being served consists of dead animal parts tends to kill the appetite and makes the diners indignant. Nothing more significantly reveals the disgusting and illegal nature of this action than the need to hide its true meaning from oneself.

To get a true notion of this matter one, first of all, has to face it. And the best way to literally “face” it is by visiting a slaughterhouse or a kitchen yard and first-hand witnessing the killing of livestock or poultry for our table. I have no doubt that the great majority of people who would do it several times with diligence very soon would recognize the unlawfulness of what is happening before their eyes.

In A Calendar of Wisdom, Tolstoy defined “bearing witness” as a duty: “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him [or her] who suffers, and try to help him[or her].”

Toronto Pig Save and The Save Movement uses photos and video in social media to help people vicariously see and experience the animal suffering, to show how each and every of the 60 billion farmed animals killed each year matters, and to break the disconnect by showing that each farmed animal is an individual just like a dog or cat.

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

I strongly believe in participatory actions and the need to build a mass-based, grassroots movement for animal justice. Holding regular and frequent events on the streets is good for reaching new people but is also important in creating new animal activists, advocates and organizers. Gandhi said to Rev. Doke, his first biographer, change is a measure of the effort we put forth: Right prevailing over injustice will arrive not in some "dim and distant future" but "within a measurable time, the measure being the effort we put forth. Can you not make them see that real success lies in the effort itself, which in our case is passive resistance” or satyagraha. By bearing witness at slaughterhouses or doing regular DxE actions, it empowers people. People not only participate in the actions themselves, but then go home and are more vocal and organize events in their communities, at school and at work. Free vegan food giveaways are also powerful and necessary forms of activism.

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

All of us, vegan or not, need to see it as our duty to not turn away from animal suffering and environmental and social injustice, but to be present. For animals, it means speaking out at factory farms, slaughterhouses and “meat, dairy and egg” counters at supermarkets, restaurants and dinner tables in our communities—bearing witness from beginning to end. It’s really important to do more than talk, but to walk the talk. Tolstoy said, “Do not believe in words, yours or others; believe in the deeds”(A Calendar of Wisdom). It’s important to do more than sit behind a computer, but to be present at sites of injustice and organize as a community.

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

We all love animals. Farmed animals suffer in the greatest numbers and we each can play a huge role to end this suffering! There are 60 billion farmed animals killed each year around the world. An average person, who loves animals, doesn’t realize they are killing about 100 animals a year for “meat”, eggs and dairy. Why love one but eat the other? Pigs are no different than dogs. There is also a global warming catastrophe occurring and there is no way we can stop it without a radical, planet-wide dietary shift towards a plant-based diet. Going vegan is not enough. In a community organizing approach every one is a leader. Each of us need to be an animal rights, environmental and social justice activist, advocate and organizer. If you care about animals and your children and grandchildren’s future, going vegan now and making animal justice organizing a priority in your life are the best things you can do. Ministering to the suffering and living a life of service is the true meaning in life.

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 read Tolstoy most days both his later fiction and all of his nonfiction. He was prolific and wrote about 600 books and articles and has a 90-volume archive, so there is no shortage of reading material! He had a spiritual awakening in the late 1870s and wrote a stream of books which explore the true meaning of life and offer ideas on steps to take: My Confession My Religion, What I Believe On Life, and What is Art? and “The First Step”—the latter essay recounts his heartbreaking visit to a slaughterhouse in Tula and suggests the first step in living the good life is to go vegetarian. His book on love and nonviolence, “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”  profoundly influenced Gandhi’s decision to choose nonviolent passive resistance in South Africa in the 1890s. His ideas of love, kindness, forgiveness, non-judgment, sharing, and nonviolent anarchism appear in fictional form in his short stories, for example, in the collection, Walk in the Light and 23 Tales. He, along with Gandhi, King, Saul Alinsky, Cesar Chavez, Lois Gibbs and other community organizers, shape Toronto Pig Save and The Save Movement’s love-based, nonviolent, grassroots, community-organizing approach.

Animal Liberation Victoria and Patty Mark endlessly inspire with their innovative open rescues and Slaughterhouse Shutdown this week in which activists went into a pig slaughterhouse at night and sat inside the carbon dioxide gas chamber elevator, locked down, and shut the kill floor for hours. This direct action by Animal Liberation Victoria and Animal Liberation NSW is so profound—a stronger form of solidarity and bearing witness involving activists going as close as they can and trying to help—that I am still absorbing it. I think of Ramakrishna, a 19th century Indian prophet, who said upon witnessing a famine, that he would not move but sit there and share their fate until there was justice: “Ramakrishna thereupon sat down among the poor creatures and wept, declaring that he would not move from thence, but would share their fate. Croesus was obliged to submit and do the will of h/is poor priest.” (cited in Romain Rolland, The Life of Ramakrishna). I admire Chinese animal rights activists, as documented by Humane Society International, for more fully bearing witness, by stopping slaughterhouse trucks carrying dogs and cats and rescuing all the animals.

I see a place for all kinds of vegan activism, especially kind and love-based activism in different fields and areas. From my point of view, activism should take place wherever you are—wherever you live, work and play. Here are just some amazing groups and individuals who we’ve worked closely with. Gary TV’s Best Video You Will Ever See has incredible social media reach via videos; they have helped us get out raw footage told in a thoughtful and heartfelt way. Jo-Anne McArthur’s photography and writing for We Animals has changed the face of animal rights worldwide, inspiring awareness and change with her indelible images of suffering and rescued animals and the work of animal activists. PETA, the world’s largest animal rights group, has so many campaigns in so many countries, yet is so generous and giving to grassroots groups such as ours. I think Mercy for Animals’ factory farm and slaughterhouse investigations have done wonders in reaching the mainstream media. The worldwide grassroots activism of Direct Action Everywhere has made speaking out, interventions and disruptions not just a noble endeavor, but a positive requirement to stop animal abuse, slavery, torture and murder wherever it occurs before us. Like Spartacus and the slave revolts, they are not taking abuse lying down, but speaking out and acting in the strongest and clearest ways possible. For our new Climate Vegan campaign we’ve worked with Anna Pippus at Animal Justice and A Well-Fed World, an incredible intersectional group promoting vegan programs worldwide.

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

Each morning I think of 10 good things to do that day. Some involve immediate self-care, some are kind acts I hope to do, and others are animal rights activist tasks I need to complete. I find spending time with my animals, juicing, reading Tolstoy, and exercising on the self-care side of the list. The other acts of kindness towards others and living a life of service by completing animal activist tasks is, to me, the true meaning of life, as Tolstoy defines it, so I see these as also being part of my Self-care—the capital “s” in Self denotes the Unity of Life and that we are all one. Tolstoy wrote, in his short story, “Esarhaddon, King of Assyria”: “The life of a moment, and the life of a thousand years: your life and the life of all the visible and invisible beings in the world, are equal…Afterwards he went about as a wanderer through the towns and villages, preaching to the people that all life is one, and that when men wish to harm others, they really do evil to themselves.”

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

I want nonviolent, vegan world, one that values and acts on love and truth, the way Tolstoy proposes. I think the true meaning in life is simply living a life of service, being kind, and building community through love-based, community organizing.

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

Love, nonviolence, climate action… and one of two paths we humans can take on this planet: one involves selfish exploitation of animals, including people, and the Earth; the other is saving the planet, animals and ourselves by creating a nonviolent, vegan world, engaging in massive reforestation to absorb carbon out of the atmosphere and bring the carbon content down to safer levels (350 part per million, hence the name of the group, setting up a vast network of animal sanctuaries, and creating a socially just and simply a paradise on Earth!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to Win the Lottery (Hint: It has Nothing to Do with You)


I don’t really believe in sermons and Thoughtful Lessons make me think of Jack Handey in the worst kind of way but I do believe in acknowledging occasions and here we are near the end of another year and, given that, I am here and you are here and we here are so we should probably make the most of this time together.

This time of year makes most of us more introspective and I am no exception to that. I’ve always been a mix of equal parts enthusiasm for this fascinating world and crushing disappointment at how incapable we seem to be at learning from our collective mistakes; I am neither really an optimist nor a pessimist, though I’ve logged considerable time in either camp, and anyone who knows me well could most certainly vouch that “pragmatic” is one of the last adjectives that they’d use to describe me.

Truth be told, I am just trying to stay afloat in this life, as is everyone else, knowing how fortunate I am but also how much needless suffering there is while trying to keep my head above the waves of sadness that arise from living in the tension of knowing this. Sometimes I go under water from it all. You know how after you’re hit by a big wave and you’re surrounded by what feels like a wall of water, for a moment or two, you don’t know where you are in all of it, you don’t know if you’re sinking or rising or being pulled into deeper waters? All you can do is aim toward the light and hope that are heading in the right direction and that you will surface really soon. You break through, sputtering out water and gasping for air, but your heart is racing and you’re disoriented. You see the sky and maybe some seagulls and you’re scared but grateful. You’ll surface or you’ll drown. This would describe how I experience not sinking in a world with so much suffering.

Not too long ago, I did this little online exercise to see what could have happened to me if I were a Syrian refugee and had to choose between two increasingly demanding, frightening decisions until I reached my fate. If you haven’t done this yourself, I encourage you to try it. Through no fault of my own, the choices I made the first time based on the limited options available found me sold to militia after militia as a female. I tried again. The next time, I ended up in a Turkish refugee camp, separated from my family. My heart sank. I tried again. I was put in a refugee camp again, this time, thankfully, with my family. I had to try again and I drowned in the Mediterranean. On my sixth or seventh try, I finally made it to Manchester, UK, where I, presumably with my family, was penniless but had found asylum. This was just an exercise and the point was to show the unforeseeable but grave consequences of the limited choices desperate refugees are forced to make every day through no fault of their own. Perhaps your choices could lead you to sanctuary but more likely, they would lead to as bad or worse circumstances. The arbitrary and unpredictable nature of the fallout from your desperate choices is jarring: this is not about cunning, resilience or survival of the fittest. Let’s be clear here, there was no way to game the system. This is about stumbling on the invisible route that would thread the needle to lead you to safety with a million possible landmines ready to detonate along the way.

I could not stop trying until I made it to Manchester and even then, while relieved, what I mostly felt was anguish. Maybe I should not have done this a week after the horrific bloodbath in Paris but I couldn’t stop until I found safety. Then I shut my laptop and had a panic attack.

I could have been born in Syria. I could have been lucky enough to have been living in Paris but unlucky enough to have gone to a performance at Le Bataclan on a beautiful Friday night. I could have been born a black male who came across the wrong cop, or self-styled vigilante, at the wrong time. I could have had the stupendously bad fortune of being a turkey or a cow or a chicken or a piglet born into subjugation. Instead, through no achievement of my own, I wasn’t. Who knows what the future will bring but I can safely say that for now, I won a lottery of odds, all things given. I don’t live in Hawai’i or within access to the Redwoods but I have a warm house, relative safety, wonderful friends, a healthy family, a son and husband I adore, and, at this moment specifically, the world’s cutest kitten giving herself a bath on my desk within reach. I have opportunities and I have a future. My mother died after ten years of developing Alzheimer’s at a young age, I live the freelance writer’s life of job-to-job scrambling, the plumbing in our 120-year-old house behaves roughly like how you’d expect it to behave in a 120-year-old house but I still won the lottery. I’m not going to beat myself up over it – again, it wasn’t a choice – but I am going to recognize it for what it is: dumb luck. Threading the damn needle.

There was an expression coined many years ago and applied by Ann Richards to George H. W. Bush: “He was born on third base and he thought he hit a triple.” This is what sums up the attitude that is so offensive and appalling to me -- the profound arrogance of the relative few who don’t recognize the role that simple luck has played in the opportunities and status they enjoy. We need to see our advantages for what they are.

Instead of the immobilizing survivor’s guilt that flooded me when I finally “made it” to Manchester, my goal is to focus on making the most of the advantages I was being born to as an able-bodied, heterosexual human of white skin in the United States by raising awareness about those who are not so advantaged. I am thankful for what I’ve been born to but I am not delusional about it. Make no mistake, I’m mostly just lucky. If you’re reading this, you’re probably lucky, too.

Let’s make the most of it.