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.


  1. So wonderful, thank you! All three of you inspire me, thank you!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. It's great when people can make a living while making a difference


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