Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Uninvited Vegan Nutrition Critics: You Need to Stop.


An open letter to those vegans who offer unsolicited opinions on my vegan food choices,

Not that I asked for your opinion*, but since you offered it, we should probably just have this conversation. I’ve brought it up before but maybe you need a reminder or you didn’t see it the first time. Or maybe I need to be more direct. In that case, let me cut to the chase: I don’t care what you think of my vegan food choices.

I don’t mean to sound snippy but that’s kind of the long and short of it. I will continue to return the favor and most assuredly not care about your food – at least not enough to voice concern or condemnation – because as long as it’s vegan, I truly don’t care. And I think you should do the same thing.


I don’t care if you think I should be raw.

I don’t care if you think I should be a fruitarian.

I don’t care if you think I should be raw until a certain hour of the day.

I don’t care if you think I should re-examine my relationship to nightshades.

I never made a promise to be raw, a fruitarian, raw until a certain hour of the day or apprehensive about nightshades so you don’t need to supervise or patrol me on that. I’m good. I hereby relieve you of this role that you seem to have assigned yourself. I have no ethical attachment to those other dietary choices and I also feel no responsibility to speak up about your vegan dietary choices. I have, however, made a promise to be vegan and I do have an ethical attachment and responsibility to maintain it.

In the same vein, I don’t care if you think I eat too many or too few many carbs as evidenced by the occasional food photographs I may share. It seems that you think you can extrapolate from a single photograph that this picture represents the entirety of my diet and I don’t want to waste a lot of time wondering why you’ve reached this bizarre conclusion because even if it were accurate, which it isn’t, it is fundamentally besides the point because it’s not your business.

And, again, I really don’t care.

Eat all the mono-fruit meals you want and if that makes you feel great, I am happy for you. Truly. Non-sarcastically. Happier people create a happier world and maybe one with fewer unsolicited opinions about someone based on whether nuts are consumed or are verboten. So post your gigantic produce hauls – go ahead. Eat barrels of rice and mountains of potatoes if that is your thing. Similarly, you can scrupulously avoid soy, gluten and sugar: I promise you that it has no bearing on my life. See how easy this is? Imagine how great you're going to feel to be relieved of the burden of ensuring the optimal dietary practices of someone else.

I have to say that for a vegan to be so bothered by the presumed nutritional standards of other vegans, I cannot imagine how you get by in life, being offended enough by a picture of pasta, tofu and broccoli that you would think berating a stranger is an appropriate response. What does your nervous system do in the case of, I don’t know, Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? The trickle down, institutionalized racism that obstructs access to a fair education? The cesspools of fecal waste leaching into our groundwater as the polluters are given tax exemptions and no penalties? Carpet-bombing random Muslim communities? What do these things do to your emotional health knowing how upsetting it is to you that I may have cavalierly combined starch with protein?  

I suppose in this increasingly stressful world, it’s easier to care about things like whether someone else is eating a diet that is not high-alkaline or raw enough for your standards than those things I mentioned above. I believe that we’d live in a better world, though, if we cared more about those other issues and less about rushing to judgement about what is on another vegan’s plate.

So here is what I propose -- if you see a vegan food photo of mine that makes your fingers tingle with a desire to post a critique, I’d ask you to ask yourself one simple question: Did I ask for anyone’s opinion on the nutritional value of what I was eating? If yes, feel free to offer it. If no, don’t. It really isn’t so complicated and we’ll be on better terms if you don’t jump to conclusions and voice opinions about the kind of person I am based on the vegetable-to-starch ratio represented in a single photo. It’s not fair, it’s nosy and it’s obnoxious. If, however, you want to ensure that the viewing public feels justified in believing that vegans are a bunch of joyless scolds who micromanage one another and are pushy about whatever personal dietary preferences they have, by all means, continue. I know that this is not what veganism is about, though, and I’d be really grateful if I didn’t feel obligated to reverse the messaging you put into the public realm so that the animals could actually stand a chance of not being born into oppression.

Does that work for you? I hope so. Have some pancakes. Or don’t. I really don’t care.  

xo -


*This does not mean that I don’t care about health and that I am recommending that people eat junk food. Having been down this road before, I know that to an absolutist mindset, everything I have written here becomes, “Oh, she’s telling people to eat processed foods! She’s the one who is ruining veganism!” If that if your conclusion after reading what I’ve written, this disclaimer is for you: Read this again if you need to but I never said anything of that nature. Everyone has a different opinion about what constitutes processed or harmful foods and it is very open to individual interpretations. Some people think hummus is processed; others think walnuts are evil. The take-away is that I am vegan, I never promised to follow anyone else’s dietary advice and nor did I ask for it. I am not “asking” for help or advice so unless I am, don’t offer it. It is controlling, presumptuous and condescending. Now was that an endorsement of “junk” food?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Ruby Roth


How fabulous is Ruby Roth? I’m not sure how to quantify fabulousness but I’d say she’s pretty up there.
Ruby Roth is a talented artist and book author who burst on the scene in with her beautiful and poignant book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals in 2009 (watch the Fox News anchors freak out on the unflappable author, which paved the way for her follow-up efforts, Vegan is Love in 2012 and V is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind in 2013. All of Ruby’s books are geared to children and are lushly illustrated by the author. I am appreciative that her books speak honestly but sensitively to children, who are so often feel a strong emotional connection to other animals: she manages to be both candid and considerate of tender feelings as well as empathetic to the feelings of despair and sadness children might feel when learning about what we do to animals. Thankfully, Ruby also offer alternatives and gives her readers a chance to become empowered to take compassionate action after they have learned about what happens in so many abusive industries. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though! Her books also overflow with enthusiastic encouragement for embracing a mindful, cruelty-free life.

Ruby’s newest effort, to be released April 5 but taking pre-orders, is a really exciting addition to her collection: The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids: 60 Easy Plant-Based Recipes Kids Can Make to Stay Healthy and Save the Earth I was lucky enough to receive an early copy and it is a fantastic new resource for vegans, vegan kids and people who are transitioning, full of fun, health-focused recipes, whimsical illustrations and great bits of information, all aimed to get kids in the kitchen and cooking tasty vegan food. (Full review to be published on Friday!) Ruby Roth is a very positive and creative world-changer and I am so glad to be able to share her thoughts today 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?

I think I was always vegan at heart, I just didn’t know it. My mom had been vegetarian my entire life, I always loved animals, I was raised part-time on an organic tree farm on Kauai, my grandparents were holocaust survivors which instilled many sensitivities in me, I’ve always been anti-authoritarian and punk rock at heart, I had a very progressive, liberal education in high school and college, and participated in a lot of activism for various social justice causes. But I ate meat and had never questioned it. Then, when I was 20, a new friend pointed out to me that my eating habits didn’t match my morals and values. And when I looked into the reasons why, I was absolutely shocked at what I was participating in. It changed my view on justice, health, environmentalism, and all the activist work I had done before without putting my money where my mouth was! I stopped eating animal products cold turkey as a “heath experiment” and never went back. It’s been about 11 years.

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?

What worked for me is someone picking up on my particular values and passions before they took aim. My friend knew I was concerned with social justice and with health, too. His approach was, “Hey, you’re into activism, you’re into health, check THIS out.” And I think that’s a great approach for all activists. You have to become a good listener—not for an opening to give your favorite spiel that you’ve practiced a million times, but for an opening to find out what a particular person is into, what they’re about, and present an angle from there. Also, having people around me who were positive, energetic, shining examples of health, and full of the knowledge to point me on my way—which at first was simply incorporating kale into my diet for the first time—was major.

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

One-on-one, I get the most traction out of simply being helpful—and it’s funny, because this ties in directly to my new book, The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids! Humans are self-oriented. If you can find a way to offer someone help or resources or anything that serves their needs or interests, they’re usually into it! If someone wants to lose weight, you have (vegan) answers. If someone needs new lipstick, you have (vegan) suggestions. I’m serving kids with fun in the kitchen, and their parents by getting their kids to eat more fruits and veggies, and then I don’t need to say hardly anything at all about veganism—I’m helping them help themselves—and all other living beings, too.

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

First, we have truth on our side—no one can argue with undercover footage of animal abuse. And more and more, statistics and numbers about the effects of animal agriculture on global food distribution and world hunger, the environment, and our health are hitting the mainstream. Two, vegans are great sharers. Going vegan is so transformative, you want to share all the benefits you experience and learn about with everyone you know. And as “annoying” as people say we are with our sharing, there’s a reason you can get quinoa at Applebee's now. Vegan activism works.

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

In-fighting and negativity within the movement. I post a lot of news and I see many people waste a lot of time saying “nothing is ever enough” or leaving vitriolic, hateful commentary about who can claim “vegan” or not. A positive post about a new or helpful resource will get fewer shares and likes than one about a celebrity or an exposé. We need to support the world we want to see, not just promote the superficial or negative. I understand the anger and the sadness, but I think every single person working for the cause has to learn to process it instead of unleash it. It almost never does good, no matter how justifiable the emotions are.

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

Given the specific looming problems of our era—from mental and physical health to water, energy, the environment, politics, agriculture, biotech, and the economy —I think veganism is the right direction to go in this day and age. People making vegan choices seem to me to be the only figures in the public realm addressing all major issues at their roots instead of trying to band-aid a million problematic tributaries. 

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

Earthlings, The Food Revolution by John Robbins, all books by David Wolfe, the annual Longevity Now Conference, all books by Dr. Gabriel Cousens, the documentaries Blackfish, Cowspiracy, Food Matters, and the consistent study of all kinds of books about the underbelly of our culture—from food to medicine, government, economy, health, labor, history—it all adds to my vegan arsenal of knowledge.

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

Yes, you have to find ways to let out all the sadness and anger about the world so that it doesn’t affect your personal or public progress. Music is very cathartic for me—blasting it in the car or listening with earphones. Sometimes, though, I have to just lay on the floor, be quiet, breath or cry or just watch my thoughts, and stay there until the feelings dissipate.

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

If I could upload or transfer an idea into other people’s heads, it would be, above all, about the transformative power of veganism—on one’s self, on animals, the environment, and on the public realm at large. 

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

…one of the best ways to learn how to love deeply, think critically, and act responsibly (my motto!).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Ellen Kanner

I have never met Ellen Kanner in person, but I have this feeling that if/when we do, we will talk for hours and hours. She feels like a kindred spirit. In addition to writing the popular Meatless Monday column on Huffington Post (recently featuring yours truly) and fabulous Edgy Veggie column in the Miami Herald, Ellen is the acclaimed author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner - A Satisfying Diet for Unsatisfying Times, prolific recipe developer, coach and consultant and all-around cheerleader for everything vegan, green, healthy and compassionate in the world. Please check out Ellen’s website, sign up for her newsletter and try out her recipe for below, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I am so happy that I can count someone as talented, active and positive as Ellen as one of my vegan sisters and to be able to feature her this week as our Vegan Rock Star. Go, Ellen, Go!

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 went vegetarian at 13 because I love cows and wanted to piss off my parents a little. That bit was easy — I never missed meat, never regretted my decision for one hot minute.  Suddenly, though, I had to think about what I ate.  This was in the dark days before internet, so like you, I had to figure things out for myself. 

There was no way I was going to live on the tired lettuce that lived (and died) in our refrigerator.  Having to think about food brought me into the kitchen and out into the garden. It also brought me uncomfortably close to the realities of our food system.  Becoming vegetarian and ultimately vegan gave me both my passion and my profession — it’s what made me a food writer, chef and vegan advocate.

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 got the standard pushback — humans are designed to eat meat, don’t you miss bacon, you won’t get enough protein, etc. I was a kid. I didn’t doubt myself but I didn’t know how to frame arguments. I was a pariah, or often felt like one. I wish I’d had a compassionate mentor who could give me the language, the information I needed. I wish someone had told me, Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe. 

By the way, I still get the protein question. Really, people?

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 cook and write to seduce.  I also like using humor. Whether it’s sharing a recipe for a show-stopping, lightening up a complex issue with some sly wit, or teaching a hands-on cooking class, I use all the tools in my vegan wheelhouse to invite everyone in.

Many of my readers and followers aren’t vegan. Jacques Pepin and Norman Van Aken, brilliant and dedicated chefs aren’t vegan, but they wrote generous blurbs for my book Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.

The mainstream is — hallelujah — increasingly interested in vegan.  I really want to connect with them. Preaching to the chorus is great for morale, but to know we’re extending the vegan message to a broader audience — that’s exciting. I’m the vegan inviting everyone to the table. Change starts with connection, with dialogue, and nothing facilitates that more than a great meal. 

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

That there’s so many ways to play. Marla, you and I have talked about how vegans come in every flavor. Some of us are organizers extraordinaire, some are social media gurus, some are passionate outspoken animal advocates. Some of us open restaurants that showcase a cuisine that’s powerfully delicious and happens to do a kindness to animals, too. Some of us harness the power of narrative or create recipes or teach. Every way is good, and it takes all of us.  Whatever your talent and your passion, hold on to it. That’s what keeps the vegan power stoked.

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

           It’s tempting to blame the beef and dairy industries. You wanna talk effective, they’ve done a good job of trying to drown out our messaging.  But that’s changing. We’ve got truth and compassion on our side. Those are a couple of handy superpowers.

Perhaps the bigger barrier is human nature.  I’m only half-joking here.  A passionate new vegan wailed to me, “But given all the cruelty, vegan is a rational choice.” Alas, we’re not always ruled by reason. Human design flaw.  

Sometimes I feel like we’re delivering the same message over and over again, and I want to say, people don’t you get it? But the shining truth hits people in different ways at different times, and we have to be ready to receive it. I try to remember it’s always going to be somebody’s ah-hah moment, someone’s first time, and like sex, you want the first time to be fabulous.

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

It’s the single greatest multitasking tool we have. Going vegan means a more sustainable planet, more nourishment for you, more color on your plate, more flavor in your mouth, more money in your wallet, more friends (two-legged and four-legged) to connect with. What’s not to love? Come to veganism because you love the rocking vegan cupcakes, stick round because you can save the world.

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?

One of my earliest influences was E. B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web. It’s wonderful to read at any age and has everything to do with compassion and our precious bond with animals. I also love the movie Babe for that reason. Hmmm, I seem to have a thing for pigs. We all should.

But what really inspires me is our big-hearted vegan community.  There isn’t even enough room for me to list everyone. You and John have been our guiding lights. Chefs and authors like Jill Nussinow, Fran Costigan have encouraged me. Growing Miami’s vegan community is exciting. And I am so, so grateful to the countless vegan, animal rights and environmental advocates and foot soldiers who never get their due. Like my friend Jessica, who tirelessly tables and volunteers at every health fair, every animal rights rally. I mean it’s like she’s cloned. Or my friend Pears, who organized the first-ever Dublin Vegfest last year and who, even before we met, organized a talk I did in Dublin. They’re just two of the many people who make things happen. You all keep me motivated and positive.

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

I connect with what gives me joy.  I rub a dog’s belly or harvest an heirloom tomato from my tiny vegetable garden. In the garden or in the kitchen, surrounded by fresh, local produce, fragrant green herbs and healing spices, I feel pleasure but also a sense of reverence and gratitude for the food the nourishes me and the planet that provides it. I can’t wait to prepare a meal and share it with people I love. 

I like to take a hike in the Everglades or a walk on the beach with my husband. We went this morning — the ocean was a perfect aquamarine and for the crowning glory, we saw 50 pelicans flying in formation. That image stayed with me all day and had me grinning like an idiot. 

All these things remind me how precious our planet is, how lucky we are to live here. It’s a nice place, Planet Earth. Thank God, we haven’t screwed it all up yet. It’s our honor and responsibility to protect and preserve it.

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

At a time when we’ve become such a divisive global community, one of the things I love best about food is that it’s a connector. However different or divided we are, we all need to eat.

So I’d ask everyone to DIY their dinner a little more often. Stop relying on processed food and get in the kitchen. Cooking is a basic life skill. It also has benefits far beyond the next meal. As I mention in Psychology Today  — it’s good for you. We forget the value of being really hands on, of filling your kitchen with fresh fruit and vegetables and the people you love, so you can cook and share it together. We all deserve food that’s made with compassion, that’s safe, affordable and accessible to everyone. We are better together than apart, and food is the best way of bringing us together.  

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”  a win-win-win. It’s a luscious, joyful thing you do for yourself that also benefits the planet and every living thing on it. 

Vegan Irish Soda Bread (From
1-1/4 cups spelt flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup wheat germ
4 tablespoons vegan margarine like Earth Balance, softened
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
6 dried figs, chopped (or 1/2 cup raisins)
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/4 cup almond milk

Preheat oven to 425.

In a large bowl, combine spelt flour, oatmeal, wheat germ and baking soda. Work in vegan margarine until mixture forms crumbs. Mix in cinnamon and sugar and almond milk. When you have a nice, thick batter, stir in chopped figs or raisins.

Pour into a lightly oiled pie or loaf pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing, or bread may be crumbly. Even crumbly, it’s good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What I Learned About the Free Speech Narrative at Donald Trump’s Rally in Chicago

Just over a week ago, I was frittering away some of my precious remaining life moments on Facebook when I happened upon one of those rare links that grabbed my attention and this time it wasn’t for another cashew cheese recipe (these look good!) or leading me down a twisty rabbit hole of Gertrude Stein recordings but something that actually changed my plans for the week ahead: I learned that Donald Trump was going to be speaking in Chicago and that I could request tickets. I clicked on the link, assuming that when I truthfully answered no and no to whether I was a Republican and if I would be interested in working on Mr. Trump's campaign that I would likely go deleted into that good night, so I was a little surprised a moment or two later when I got a confirmation text and message that I had two virtual tickets waiting for me online. It was strange that it was so easy; while it made me feel a little skin-crawl-y out to have a message from the Donald Trump campaign sitting in my very own email box, my mission was accomplished. (I will look into performing laptop exorcisms later.) I notified one of my wackier friends and in short order, she had tickets as well. We were off to the presidential races.

A lot of people asked why I would want to go to what is essentially a monster truck rally for misplaced white rage and racial anxiety. I wanted to go because I wanted to see it – particularly the whole strange spectacle around Donald Trump – with my own eyes in person. It seemed like such an obvious answer: how could I not want to see it? (Sometimes I forget that not everyone has my level of morbid curiosity and they are saner for it.) It just felt like something I just needed to bear witness to and observe. I think – or maybe just hope in a wishful thinking sort of way – that it was an historic night and the beginning of the end of his campaign’s ascendancy.

The thing that stuck out to me in the media and public comment sh*t storm that followed Chicago’s unforgettable “UM, NO” response to the Trump spectacle was a variation of a trope that as vegans, we hear all the time: You guys are suppressing someone else’s right to free speech. I’ll get to the vegan parallel in a bit.

As someone who was at the Trump rally, I can promise you that while there were moments of protesters being collared and escorted out to a thunderous chorus of chants from his supporters (“Kick him out! Kick him out!”), for the most part, it was a very boring and low-key event until the final 30 minutes or so. The police officers, security guards and assorted campaign workers were on it as soon as anything possibly rambunctious emerged, clued in first by the masses with their smartphones at the ready who responded to any little flare up hungrily. A riot was not happening. A riot of dudes in red “Make America Great” baseball caps, perhaps, or maybe a riot caused by a crowd driven to madness by the constant replaying of “Tiny Dancer” and “Mother’s Little Helper” from the sound guy. Other than that, for the first 2/3 of the night, things were uneventful to the point of tedium. In fact, by 6:15, I was nagging my friend that I wanted to go and thankfully she talked me out of it because if I had gotten my way, I would have missed everything that made this night newsworthy. (Trump was scheduled to speak at 6:00.)

When it was announced at around 6:30 that Trump would not be speaking, of course, the crowd went wild and this was what was shown in the news clips. The sleeping giant was awakened and suddenly, we could see that the arena was thick with anti-Trump protesters: they took to the stadium floor and rejoiced: jumping, whooping, shouting, arms raised, high-fiving and unabashedly savoring the moment of unexpected victory together. The tumult was deafening and a clash was imminent: one side was blatantly savoring the triumph (“We stumped Trump!”) and the other brandishing their Trump signs and chanting, “U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A!,” looking like soccer fans whose favorite team just lost the most important game of the season. I couldn’t resist heading to the floor myself and seeing it up close.

I saw a lot of heated exchanges; I saw a lot of skirmishes that stopped just short of actual violence (it was more like a mosh pit); I saw a lot of enraged and frustrated Trump supporters, many of whom no doubt travelled long distances and spent many hours waiting, and a lot of thrilled protesters taking obvious delight in their victory dance but you know what I didn’t see that whole afternoon? I didn’t see any activists blocking anyone’s right to free speech. This was Trump’s rally to cancel and that’s just what he did. Like I said, things were pretty boring until the announcement of his cancellation, the announcer claiming that after consulting with the Chicago Police Department (later refuted by the CPD), Trump didn’t deem it safe to speak (suddenly he cares about safety?) and that was when the scenes people saw on CNN of inside the pavilion broke out in earnest.

After the event, I’ve seen this spin in conservative media and commentary again and again: Those violent, rude activists -- they only value their own free speech. Whether you like Donald Trump or not, he has a right to free speech. Um, okay. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, was in any way standing between that man and his microphone. As an aspiring President of the United States, if dissent is such a big threat to you that you cancel speaking at an event that your supporters spent hours and hours to be able to attend, you, sir, are not cut out for the job. But that’s not even what I want to talk about.

What I want to dispute is this notion that merely by having a presence at the Trump rally, even one that was occasionally loud, activists somehow silenced the windbag that is Donald Trump. This individual whom we have heard bloviate on and on about “Mexican rapists,” “terrorists,” “walls,” “wiping out Isis,” “deportation,” “pigs,” “dogs,” and “losers” ad nauseum was somehow silenced?

Democracy is messy. Sometimes democracy is loud. Sometimes democracy is intimidating. Sometimes in a democracy we hear things we don’t want to hear and we hear it in a way that don’t like but that is not in the same ballpark as silencing. No one violated Mr. Trump’s freedom of speech, which he enjoys amplification of due to his celebrity, while exercising their freedom of speech. If the only way Mr. Trump and his supporters feel that his freedom of speech is protected is if his opponents are silenced, he’s got bigger leadership and self-aggrandizement issues than I thought.

Because this is a blog that focuses on veganism, I can’t help but circle back and point out a parallel of what I heard about the protesters (“They’re trying to take away his free speech!”) and what I often hear about vegans (“They’re trying to take away my freedom of choice!”).

Often times, when vegans speak up for the animals and against our use of them, we are accused of being tyrants. Let’s put that in perspective: vegans are, at best, two-to-three percent of the population of the U.S., which means that 97-to-98 percent of the population is not vegan. There are between 55 to 70 billion land animals killed each year for consumption worldwide. This is just land animals, not sea-life, which is guessed to be even higher. Millions more animals suffer in laboratories, on fur farms, zoos, canned hunts, circuses and so on. Again, we are supposed to believe that the two-to-three percent of vegans are somehow suppressing the “rights” of people to continue to use animals as they wish when the law completely supports their consumption habits? Please tell me how one’s “freedom of choice” is violated by an activist saying things that person doesn’t want to hear. It isn’t. It is the presence of activists or simply vegans that make those who still consume animals feel oppressed, much as in the case of Donald Trump. In this power structure, let’s remember who really is dominant.

The next time you want to say that activists don’t believe in freedom of speech or freedom of choice, I would ask you to really examine how much you value your freedoms: Is it enough to accept dissenting views? Enough to not be so threatened by these views that you accuse others of oppressing you when they say things you don’t want to hear? Enough that you understand that speaking up against oppression and violence is not taking away anyone’s rights?  

The Trump campaign refers to their supporters as “the silent majority.” Whether they are silent – or a majority – is up for debate. Were they silenced, though, by protesters? Are people who eat animals losing their “freedom of choice” when activists speak up against violence to other animals? No and no.

To borrow a phrase, this is what democracy looks like.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

In Search of Lost Loopholes...


I want to say that I fully understand the dazzling allure of a great loophole. Oh, loopholes, so comfortable and safe like a nice, comfortable easy chair you can sink into like it was built for you. In a way that makes sense because it was built for and by you. Loopholes are handy moral clauses that allow you an exit strategy from something that you know you should do but would prefer not to do or a justification for behavior that, in your heart of hearts, you know is immoral. I know all about loopholes as I have been an expert at scoping them out since my earliest recollections. I learned from observing my grandmother, for example, that if you keep cutting slivers off a piece of cheesecake – just a tich, as she liked to say – it doesn’t feel the same as eating a whole slice even if the eventuality is the same amount or even more cheesecake. A loophole is often a way for the mind to deceive itself while knowing full well, or mostly well, that it is being sneaky.

One such moral loophole presented itself during my brief flirtation with kleptomania during the summer of my 14th year, when I justified stealing eye shadow from the local drugstore by telling myself that they’d gotten plenty of my comic book and Bubble Yum dollars over the years and I deserved a little freebie. Oh, also, if I liked the way it looked, I would buy it again from Alpine Pharmacy and my single swiped product might serve to generate many more legitimate sales for them. I was actually helping them if I thought about it and as I pocketed eye shadows, lipsticks and the odd mascara that summer, I did think about it. That loophole quickly dissolved – as did my nascent career as a petty thief – when the owner-pharmacist of Alpine silently sidled up next to me while I was in the cosmetics aisle, put his hand on my shoulder and intimated that he knew what I was up to and he knew my parents as well. Done: I was effectively dissuaded from shoplifting for a lifetime.  

That wasn’t my first or last loophole, though. When I first started down the path of veganism, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a really nice loophole when it came to not wanting to give up my favorite raspberry Danishes at Alliance bakery: Well, I don’t know that they aren’t vegan. Just because it didn’t expressly say anywhere in the case that they were vegan – and nor did I ask – it didn’t mean that they weren’t made with soymilk and silken tofu. Never mind that it was 1995 and people weren’t generally baking like that; I had a tidy little loophole that allowed me to keep eating animal products for another year or so until watching a film successfully cut that loop wide open just as the pharmacist at Alpine had done years before. No more raspberry Danishes for me. No more loopholes out of veganism. This time, the personal consequence that I was facing if I’d continued wasn’t that I would be a juvenile delinquent but that I was a hypocrite. I couldn’t live with either of those outcomes.

I understand the seductive enticement of the loophole right away because, like I said, I enjoy an easy out as much as the next person. Our loopholes around veganism arise when people would rather avoid implementing changes than fully face their discomfort about what we do to other animals and what it says about our collusion when we support the industries that kill them. Loopholes materialize like mirages to those overtaken with unease when they would prefer to embrace complicated and crafty excuses than to confront the simple truth that all beings would prefer to live on their own terms and that harming them for personal benefit is unethical. In the process of trying to make peace with something that feels uncomfortable and untenable, we cling to these loopholes like they are life preservers: the loopholes may say, But my family is Italian, or, But what about lions?, or, But I can’t eat soy, or, But what I eat is free-range. When feeling unease about being complicit in an exploitative, cruel and unnecessary system that goes against their values, many would sooner construct a complicated mental gymnastics routine where they collect loopholes rather than lean into the discomfort and ask some penetrating questions of themselves. We are a self-deluding species. I understand that I am just as much as anyone else.

In our search for an out, for a loophole, we reveal that we are not fully comfortable with our decisions. We are saying we’d like to do something but do it without feeling guilty. I remember the pharmacist at Alpine, his hand on my shoulder, his insinuating tone: I resented him, I was intimidated by him, but I also knew that he was right. When we are in that role, when we tell the world that their moral clauses are rubbish and that their loopholes are really just a desperate exit strategy out of facing a deeper truth about living with consistency, we are probably not going to be embraced with open arms by most who feel that they have a handy justification. This is why having options like recipes, living tips and so on will be better received. At the same time, we need to call out the dishonesty of loopholes when we see them and remind people that if they are comfortable with their decisions, no excuses are necessary.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Sherry Milford o'Piebird and Yan Piebird

These two. These two. For serious. They are the best.

Sherry Milford oPiebird and Yan Piebird entered my life a couple of years ago when Sherry posted what must be the most perfect video ever made on the Vegan Street Facebook page; it is the most perfect video because it contains rescued goats, vegan pie and fun, happy people who just happen to run what may be the worlds most freaking adorable refuge, Piebird Farmstay and Sanctuary, 3 ½ hours north of Toronto in Nipissing, Ontario. Really flipping happy, adorable perfection. Once I saw their video (um, about twenty times in a row) and was completely mesmerized, Sherry and I struck up a friendship and a pen-pal correspondence that I am completely negligent about on my end but I still am overjoyed when one of her colorful letters arrives. I think of Sherry and Yan as the country mice counterparts to John and me, except Im not nearly as kind and cheerful as my inspiring sister at Piebird. (I think the missing element is the lack of goats in my everyday life: if I were surrounded by goats, Id probably be a lot more joyful, too, because they are basically The Best.) (Oh, there are also the chickens, turkeys, cats, ducks, organic farm, vintage farmhouse, freaking yurts and organic heirloom seeds with the best packet designs evah that could all add up as to why their outlook is as sunny as it is.)

Okay, so basically Sherry and Yan rule and I kind of want to take over their lives but then I
d probably find a way to make it all angsty and stressful and less magical. So I will let Sherry and Yan continue to be the joyous faces behind Piebird and I will admire/envy them from my (sadly) goat- and yurt-deficient urban existence. They are basically everything that hipster goat-milk soap-makers wish they were BUT they are still 100,000,000 units (give or take a few) more awesome. Sherry and Yan are artistic, creative, fun, unpretentious, silly, dedicated, love-centered and fabulous. I am so grateful that they are in the world, they are in my world, and they are showing everyone a model of what love, commitment and a healthy measure of to-thine-own-self-be-true looks like. I love these guys. You will love them, too. Please like Piebird on Facebook and consider visiting their delicious slice of vegan paradise in Ontario. (Piebird: A delicious slice of vegan paradise…” Why am I seeing this in t-shirt form, Yan and Sherry?)

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?

SHERRY: Ive been veg for 28 years and cant really recall a specific incident that prompted the switch. I may have caught vegetarianism on the breeze at a nuclear disarmament Peace Walk since I dont recall ever meeting or talking to a vegetarian let alone a vegan back then (but surely they were around!). Also, I had never really met a "farm" animal until we started adopting them into our family 10 years ago. When Yan and I started Piebird and the sanctuary started growing (before we knew what a sanctuary was!), living with "farm" animals allowed for my resolve to cement in a way that not only has made me a committed vegan animal advocate, but also a full-on Vegan killjoy here to ruin non-vegans days in the most cheerful way I can muster!

The term Ethical Vegan resonated with me and allowed me to feel at home in my dedication, almost giving me permission to be who I am and feel what I feel.  Identifying as an Ethical Vegan gives me confidence to represent the animals and the movement in a way that no one seems to be able to argue with.

YAN: I was that kind of vegetarian who long adopted the vegan lifestyle before realizing that I had and before I even thought to utilize the word Vegan. Having an undramatic and underwhelming Vegan-transformation I think really speaks to how completely natural becoming Vegan is. Its like choosing to breathe. The choice to live Vegan is done with ease.

The more theatrical transformation came once we started living with animal-friends here. Once animals became my family, I needed to live my every day doing more for their peers. I was radicalized by feathered and furry friends. A confident chicken-friend named Melony helped me realize that I cant just be quietly kind, I have to live love loudly. Then a matriarchal goat-friend named Ginger set my pants on fire in a pretty influential way, teaching: be more than principled, be roaring.

Now I fly the flag with immense confidence. Also, Id like to second what Sherry was saying, the language of an Ethical Vegan is the most awesome word combination in the history of vocabulary.

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?

YAN: This is a great exercise, imagining someone speaking to our younger selves is a reminder to look within the confused crowds and see actual individuals, to see other renditions of our selves. When our movement is essentially advocating that animal-crowds be seen as feeling individuals, we must be communicating to the human-crowds as feeling individuals as well.

So, for a younger me I do wish a big rock had fallen from the sky with the words Go Vegan written on it, to begin the transformation. This metaphorical rock would have been a truth-living person who would have simply invited me to Veganism. We all appreciate being invited, being part of something, something positive. I imagine a straightforward invitation, perhaps it would have gone like this:

So you understand the need to be disobedient to the status quo? And you enjoy peace? Well, the things that are done to animals simply shouldnt be done to anybody. So why not try the form of non-violence known as Veganism?

Bingo. I belligerently hope I would have accepted the invitation then and jump-started my journey of ethical understanding.

SHERRY: Just knowing there was someone else in the world that was like me would have helped I think -- it was the mid-eighties, pre-internet days and I was a 12 year old in a small town (you remember what thats like, youre the biggest freak in the world!) [Ed: Who me???]. If someone would have embraced me when I was a wee vegetarian and said, being vegan is better, it is normal, its the others that are crazy, that certainly would have allowed for a grander evolution.

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

SHERRY: Teaching by example and always answering questions truthfully without sugar-coating the answers. I do wear a lot of vegan-themed shirts (Vegan Streets Vegan for Everything being my favourite) and try to foster questions and conversations. Its about normalizing veganism and making it accessible.

When we give tours of the sanctuary, we let the residents tell their stories and I think meeting animals is the most concrete way to get the message across. Whos going to argue with Jollygood that he isnt charming and absolutely deserving of a full and free life? (Jollys a goat-friend saved from being eaten after starring on a TV show). Upon meeting Daffodil, no one is going to tell her that she doesnt deserve to live as a free and respected individual. (Daffy is a chicken-friend from local egg farm retirement.”) Its just about connecting and seeing the person within the species.

Even though I do not like the pressure of being the always healthy vegan, I have found that being healthy, fit, energetic and smiley has helped to spread the message that vegan is the way to be! Yan and I have extremely physical jobs day-to-day and that helps communicate that as vegans we can be strong in body and mind!

YAN: We are very fortunate that much of our vegan outreach happens at the sanctuary, where the animal-friends here use a full spectrum of styles to speak-up for their peers. Here are some of my observations about their more successful methods, which may be helpful for effective human-to-human messaging:

Sunshine advocates by not adhering to any conventional boundaries of personal space and really gets deep in there and emits love and smiles. The fact that he is a gigantic goat-friend really accentuates his intimate approach.

Rose-a-Doodle opts for the power of snuggles: I am turkey, hear me purr!

Kenneth hypnotizes humans by dancing while flaunting the extensive array of out-of-this-world extravagance that turkeys are blessed with. Hypnotization is an under-used form of advocacy.

Mighty-Pepe likes to smash omnivores in the shins and then flash them a winning smile that curls way up up into his eyebrows. Curiously, this rather abrupt oscillation is very effective on humans. He insists that a goat-smash is a radical form of non-violence.

As pacifists, we can emulate his style with a pinch-n-grin: deliver a quick hard-hitting fact then a big dose of reassuring love. Pepe says repeat as often as necessary.

Were playful people, and some of the animal-friends here are playful people too, with a wonderful sense of humour. The issues attached to Veganism are very serious (obviously!), but I feel effective when putting the smile into serious.

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

YAN: Oh, the biggest strength of this love-based vegan movement is for sure the phenomena of ethical inspiration. Every individual living true to peaceful values is an inspiration for others around them to do the same. The great thing about moral courage is that its contagious. As the movement grows, this inspiration becomes exponential!

SHERRY: The movement is full of individuals generous with support and love. There are many who are communicating the message free of ego.

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

SHERRY: Ego and anger. The combo is deadly for the movement, for the people receiving it and the person spewing it. As aware people, its hard not to be angry at the world because after all, everywhere we look we see suffering of innocent beings. But to work, it needs to be channeled effectively through love, education or humour.

YAN: I think many who feel the immediacy, unintentionally churn that into anger. Humans are very promiscuous with their anger, ya know? Authentic anger can be useful I guess, but we as a community can communicate the immediacy of our message without becoming little emotional alchemists, turning every horror into anger. We have better things to broadcast than the wallowing fury we all feel. Better things like love. The collective power of our love can overcome this ramped oppression. We can do this with an outrageous passion, but we must do this without a temper tantrum. We must be fierce peace.

6. All of us need a why vegan elevator pitch. Wed love to hear yours.

YAN: Animal agriculture is a form of hatred. Living Vegan is a form of love. Each of us is free to choose.

SHERRY: Every day we have a choice to act with love or proliferate hate. By choosing vegan I am acting with Love by not contributing to the slavery, abuse, or murder of sentient beings. Imagine being an individual trapped in the system having your body used any way the profiteers choose. No matter the species we all crave freedom and the opportunity to be individuals within our herd or flock families.

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?

SHERRY: The individuals in sanctuary that I share my days with the goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks and cats that are the reason, literally, why I get out of bed some days. They remind me everyday of the ones who are still enslaved, who we must keep working for. They show me love and understanding when I think the world has none left. They tell me that it is okay when I am physically and mentally exhausted, because they are worth it all.

YAN: Like Sherry, I feel Ive made the most profound gains in understanding the profane exploitation of animals by living-with and learning-from animal-friends. Much of the obstacle-course we as a movement have to dismantle is this entrenched human-centric worldview, so it only makes sense to learn from places beyond our humanity.

Our family is animals, they taught me about love: How to love, why to love, where love will take you, and how to talk about love in such a way that other people will want to try it too. Every new member of our sanctuary-family is another influence in my elaborate awareness that is Veganism.

Also: I, Yan, take Vegan Street to be my lawfully wedded influence. Vegan Streets witty, potent and proficient ways inspire me to be a Vegan Feminist Agitator! [Ed: Awwww! I hereby decree thee one of us, Yan!]

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

YAN: We all understand that it feels good to do nice things for a friend. I regroup myself by doing or building beautiful things for the animal-friends here in sanctuary things that will make them smile. Everybody benefits from the good stuff in a smile. Making them happy makes me happy. A mutual exchange of happiness is a great remedy for burn-out.

SHERRY: I spend quiet time with the residents in sanctuary, sometimes Ill just go sit or lay down out there and see who comes over to snuggle. Also, kitchen dance parties with Yan once everyone is tucked away safely for the night! We're lucky to have a couple of really good human friends who care as much about the individuals here as we do. Sharing the stories of what each of the residents did that day, and sharing the joys or sadness of running a sanctuary make it easier.

It helps also to have something beautiful in every direction I look. Were slowly filling the walls with portraits painted of the sanctuary residents here (there is an amazing animal rights artist named Karrel Christopher who I adore). It makes me feel good to see these constant reminders that each individual is like a living piece of art, a gorgeous example of true beauty, and absolutely deserving of goodness.

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

SHERRY: Oh *groan*, the dairy industry... the baby-stealing, mama-hating dairy industry. How can something so evil be so prevalent? Dont we all know so many kind people who still support its vileness? Making sure people know that the goat dairy (or sheep) industry is just as evil as cow dairy is a mission for myself.

YAN: Animal personhood. Animals are persons too.

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

YAN: To me, being vegan is a not just a diet that is sans-animal, its a life that celebrates other lives a life of love.

SHERRY: Caring about something outside myself and trying to make up for the ugly in the world by building and doing beautiful things.