These two. These
two. For serious. They are the best.
Sherry Milford o’Piebird
and Yan Piebird
entered my life a couple of years ago when Sherry posted what must be the most
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 world’s 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 I’m 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, I’d 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
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?
been veg for 28 years and can’t 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 don’t
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
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
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. It’s like choosing to breathe. The choice
to live Vegan is done with ease.
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 can’t 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.
I fly the flag with immense confidence. Also, I’d like to second what Sherry was
saying, the language of an “Ethical Vegan” is the most awesome word combination in the history of
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?
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.
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 shouldn’t be done to anybody. So why not try the form of
non-violence known as Veganism?”
I belligerently hope I would have accepted the invitation then and
jump-started my journey of ethical understanding.
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 that’s like, you’re 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, it’s 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 Street’s “Vegan for Everything”
being my favourite) and try to foster questions and conversations. It’s 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. Who’s going to argue with Jollygood that he
isn’t charming and absolutely deserving of a
full and free life? (Jolly’s 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 doesn’t deserve to live as a free and respected
individual. (Daffy is a chicken-friend from local egg farm “retirement.”) It’s 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
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
Rose-a-Doodle opts for the power of snuggles: I am turkey, hear me
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.
We’re 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.
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 it’s 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
Ego and anger. The combo is deadly for the movement, for the people receiving
it and the person spewing it. As aware people, it’s 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.
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. We’d 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
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 I’ve 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 Street’s 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.
I spend quiet time with the residents in sanctuary, sometimes I’ll 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.
helps also to have something beautiful in every direction I look. We’re 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? Don’t we all know so many kind people who still
support it’s vileness? Making sure people know that
the goat dairy (or sheep) industry is just as evil as cow dairy is a mission
YAN: Animal personhood. Animals are persons too.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan
YAN: To me, being vegan is a not just a
diet that is sans-animal, it’s a
life that celebrates other lives — a life of love.
Caring about something outside myself and trying to make up for the ugly in the
world by building and doing beautiful things.