Friday, March 31, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Richie Kul...

Richie Kul is a former investment banking analyst and financial whiz who, when he found himself longing for the kind of fulfillment that staring at spreadsheets just couldn’t meet, swapped his career out for a new one: being a powerful voice for compassionate living through his work as an actor and model. Using his platforms on social media and with associations with groups like Compassion Over Killing and Animals Asia, Richie is helping to spread the message of veganism in thoughtful and compelling ways, helping to nudge society toward a new world order, where men can see that there is nothing to be ashamed of with having a big, kind heart. With his international portfolio boasting big campaigns and fashion editorials for Swatch, VAUTE, and Men’s Health to name a few, Richie manages his successful career without violating his vegan ethic. With the his beloved rescue pup Lily, a.k.a., Lily Miss Sunshine, a social media superstar in her own right, by his side, Richie and his sweet girl are getting the word out far and wide. We are honored and happy to feature Richie Kul 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?

As a young child, I vividly recall watching movies like Babe and Charlotte’s Web and rooting for the protagonists to escape harm’s way. And promptly after the closing credits, I would summarily resume habits that were in direct contradiction to the empathy and concern I demonstrated mere minutes prior. Eventually, the more I watched and reflected on this glaring disconnect, the more I began associating the food on my plate with the innocent and intelligent animals that unwillingly lost their lives for said meal.  

Not long after, I went vegetarian in my early teens, where I took extended refuge in the comforting illusion that animals used in the dairy, egg and wool industries were somehow compassionately cared for and free to live out a peaceful coexistence. In retrospect, I shake my head at this self-serving fantasyland I inhabited. Just as a car slated to be junked in six months wouldn’t warrant any meaningful care or attention, it makes no sense for commodities, living or otherwise, and with a predetermined shelf life, to be treated with any genuine compassion or respect. In many ways, their drawn-out suffering and the callous breaking of the sacred mother-child bond make the dairy industry even more pernicious than the meat and veal industries it fuels.  

Sometimes it takes a sharp and decisive reality check to shake people out of such deeply ingrained complacency, and when I was subsequently asked to endorse vegan initiatives such as US Veg Week and MeatOut, I began to investigate why so many vegetarians were going vegan and eventually determined that exploitation of any shade or color didn’t sit well with me. Knowledge is power, and when we know better, we surely ought to do better.  

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’ve come to understand that the messenger can often be as salient as the message, and when someone I love, admire or respect takes the time to share something important to them, I tend to listen intently. Step one is to allow our lives to be a testament to our values such that trust and credibility are present when we speak. The pre-vegan Richie does wish he hadn’t been coddled for so long, and while the brutal truth of the animal agriculture industry can be hard to take, I would have liked for the cruelty and violence inherent in these practices to have been revealed to me in a firm but empathetic way.  

I completely get that for some, change takes time, but the animals we routinely dismiss as food or fur sadly don’t have the luxury of waiting patiently as we come around to a logical and compassionate conclusion. That urgency does inform my own delivery, and when I encounter kind-hearted people who would never think to harm innocent and defenseless beings in their own daily actions, I feel it’s important to plant and nurture that seed of compassion and be there to offer advice and support as others embark on their own cruelty-free journeys.  

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

People want to make sure that the altruistic choices they make are also beneficial to their personal well-being and that of their loved ones, and that’s a perfectly fair consideration. As an actor and model, I’m expected to stay in peak physical condition for work, and I find that demonstrating that you can be strong, masculine and healthy while also being compassionate and thoughtful is an important message to impart to those who are considering vegan living. Show not tell, as they say.  

At a very early age, many of us are indoctrinated with this widespread narrative of manhood being synonymous with aggression and control, but history and common sense have demonstrated that this primitive way of thinking often leads down a very dark and destructive path. In truth, being a real man entails making thoughtful, informed choices and putting the needs of others before our own selfish wants. Those that are truly strong are assured enough in their place in the world that they don’t need to bully or exploit others to solidify their standing. Instead, they commit themselves and their energy to caring for and protecting the most innocent and defenceless among us. That is the true measure of a man and that’s the message I try to impart when extolling the many virtues of veganism. 

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

You can never go wrong when you operate from a place of sincere compassion and empathy, and therein lies the greatest strength of the vegan movement. The most effective ambassadors for the vegan cause are generally rooted in a place of deep concern for others, and are very supportive and nurturing while also steadfast in their convictions. A vegan lifestyle is empirically and scientifically proven to to be beneficial to our health, the planet and our animal friends, and ultimately it’s very hard to argue against living kindly and thoughtfully.  

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

Breaking free of deeply entrenched habits and the many myths and excuses we’ve erected to legitimize them can be challenging, especially when people are instinctively defensive and understandably loathe to recognising their complicity in animal use and abuse. Yes, it’s jarring and yes it’s uncomfortable, but that uneasiness doesn’t change the horrific reality for 50+ billion animals every year that are systematically bred and slaughtered because we directly fuel a demand for their flesh. I think people naturally balk at the idea of seeing themselves as anything other than good and kind.  In so doing, they overlook the simple truth that one ought to regularly do good and kind things in order to deserve that designation. Some might say that life is about picking your areas of personal concern and I understand that for some, education, poverty alleviation, women’s rights or wildlife conservation are what drive and motivate them. And that’s very noble and admirable. But I also believe that it’s hard to speak credibly of peace, love and empathy if three+ times a day we engage in a practice that is inherently non-peaceful, non-loving and most profoundly lacking in empathy.   

With that said, I think the key to getting the message out most effectively is being selective and focusing our attention and concern on the people who are receptive to the message and not the rabble rousers looking to provoke and antagonize. Don't let your peace be stolen so easily by overgrown bullies that are eager to pick their next pointless fight. Save your energy and effort for those that will appreciate your thoughtful advice and support.  

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

If we could choose to live with kindness, love and compassion for all living beings while also improving and restoring our own health and vitality, why wouldn’t we? Many of us profess to abhor violence and love animals, but just as it would be preposterous for a dog lover to confess to eating dog meat, it makes no sense to declare a love for animals while also eating them and regularly contributing to their harm. Hope as we may, no animal be them organic, free range or pasture raised, is gently cuddled into nuggets, filets or leather trim, and if we truly love animals and value peace and compassion, we ought to walk the talk and align our actions with our values.

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?

My beloved 7 year old Lily always inspires me to be a better man and speak out for the innocent and defenseless. She is vegan as well, and seeing her thrive on a cruelty free diet reminds me that misinformation persists even within the animal welfare community about what is truly healthful and beneficial for our furry companions. Well-meaning folks will invariably invoke wolves and rail against an “unnatural” plant-based diet, all while ignoring the fact that wolves in the wild often only live 6 or 7 years, or that a life of leashes, monthly grooming session, doggy beds and food bowls are hardly natural. We all have room to grow and improve, and Lily reminds me to be present while working to minimize my own negative impact on the world and the beings I share it with.  

I find the insightful observations of psychologist Melanie Joy really effective and compelling, and the heartfelt honesty of former pig farmer turned vegan activist Bob Comis always serves as a powerful reminder to me of man’s infinite capacity for change.  

The work of my friend Lola Webber at Change for Animals Foundation also highlights for me the tremendous impact that good people can make when they passionately stand up for what they believe in.  

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

When I’m feeling discouraged, looking at pictures and videos of rescued farm animals at sanctuaries like Edgar’s Mission, Where Pigs Fly and Rancho Relaxo always helps restore my spirit and faith. We can choose to wallow in the depths of despair if we constantly expose ourselves to negativity and darkness, but I try whenever possible to focus on the light, and the positive and hopeful side of things.  

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

As a model, the rise of vegan brands is something that I am particularly excited about, and the growing public awareness of the brutality inherent in the leather, wool and down industries is something that gives me hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.  Italy has long been at the cutting edge of the fashion industry, so seeing the emergence of successful cruelty-free brands like Miomojo that donate a portion of every sale to animal causes is particularly gratifying and fulfilling.  The more vegan options we have for folks to choose from, the more lives will be spared, and as a conscious consumer, I will always support brands that align with my values.  

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

“… a daily opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to justice, compassion and healthy, mindful living.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thirty Things that Every Vegan Who Refers to Intersectional Activists as SJWs Should Know


If you don’t know what a “SJW” is, please be aware that it is not Single Jewish Woman, which was what I thought for the longest time and it confused me greatly. (Nor does it stand for Socialist Jewish Workers, which my husband thought for a long, confused time, too.) Basically, SJW is used as a pejorative to describe someone who is concerned about or active on issues that the insult-slinger deems phony or a misuse of one’s time.

To vegans who refer to intersectional activists as SJWs, here are 30 things to know…

1. I feel sad for you.
2. I feel sadder for this movement.
3. I feel saddest for the animals because you are pushing away many of the very people who could be fantastic advocates on their behalf.
4. You are alienating the people who could also actually help you become to be a more effective, far-reaching activist if that matters to you.
5. If it doesn’t matter to you, what the hell are you doing?
6. Also, I’m not sure if you’re a right-winger, but if you use SJW as an insult, you sure sound like one.
7. As such, I read your comments in Rush Limbaugh’s or Ann Coulter’s voice. You sound gross.
8. If being inclusive feels overly restrictive to you, maybe you should examine the kind of person you are. No, not maybe: you should really examine this.
9. If people tell you that you’re behaving like a bigot, is there even the teeny-tiniest possibility that they may be correct? That it's not just some kind of weird coincidence or attempt to tyrannize you?
10. I know that if even one person tells me that I am saying or doing something oppressive, I want to examine that but, hey, I’m a SJW.
11. You understand that veganism is a social justice cause, right?
12. Fighting bigotry, unfairness and injustice, yeah, who’d want to do such a silly, worthless thing?
13. It’s almost as if you think intersectional activists should get a life. Hmm…ever heard that one before?
14. I honestly cannot believe that I have to type this out, it should be that obvious.
15. If you refuse to entertain the idea that human oppression exists or believe that it only exists when you deem it as such, that is your limitation and it restricts your ability to be an effective advocate. Oh, also: a decent human being.
16. Speaking of, you do not get to be the arbiter of what is and what is not racism, sexism, etc. especially if you are not in a group harmed by racism, sexism, etc. (In case you are, I’ve got you covered: fast forward to #24, please.) Nor does having a friend, partner, whatever who is okay with oppressive attitudes negate the voices of those who find the attitudes to be problematic.
17. If you think that human suffering is not only acceptable but enjoyable because you despise humanity and believe that we should be punished, honestly, you are the worst and you are confirming what many already think of vegans. How does this help the animals?
18. Believe it or not, the above is an actual attitude I’ve encountered in vegan circles and it is wholly despicable.
19. A massive number of animals live and die in a nightmarish hell-scape that is completely unnecessary and unfathomably brutal. Dismissing the oppression of humans will not fix that.
20. Having the mentality of bigotry that underpins oppression recognized and rooted out can only help the animals.
21. Because shouldn’t we, you know, be working toward an overarching ethic of compassion and justice if we truly want to create a new reality for the animals?
22. You must be a pretty shielded person to decide that other forms of bigotry and oppression don’t matter.
23. If you are 1/32 Cherokee, you are not allowed to use that as an excuse for your bigoted views and remarks.
24. Actually, even if you are a disabled, transgender person of color, you are also not allowed to use your inclusion in marginalized groups as an excuse for your bigoted positions.
25. There is no valid justification for oppression. There are excuses but they are just that: excuses.
26. Seriously, I know I said this earlier, but why do I need to point this shit out? Isn’t this just basic common decency?
27. Without so-called SJWs, we wouldn’t have a vegan movement. You get that, right?
28. We also wouldn’t have the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, the right to vote for women and black people, the eradication of child labor in the U.S., the anti-sweatshop movement and on and on, but, yeah, what good were those whiny crybabies for, anyway?
29. Please stop talking on behalf of the animals. If you can’t treat people with basic compassion and understanding, you are doing far more harm than good.
30. For reals.


A Proud SJW

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Remember when...?


Remember when…

You thought the worst thing possible was Mitt Romney being elected president? You were so sweet and innocent back then.

Remember when…

The death of one’s political career was being captured on tape yelling “yeehaw” in an awkward way? Not bragging about grabbing women without consent by their genitals, mind you. Yelling yeehaw.

Remember when…

We thought the EPA was a sad, corrupt joke but now we’re holding onto it for dear life as the only thing that stands between us and the smoldering, noxious hellscape looming in our near future?

Remember when…

We had the naïve expectation that someone leading a Federal agency would have a background in subjects pertaining to that agency and not be a person who doesn't respect it, has sued it and wanted to scrap it?

Remember when…

Speaking of scrapping things that matter to you, remember when you first learned about the history of women's rights and were like, "Wow, some brave women have fought really hard for reproductive choice. Aren't we lucky to not have to worry about back alley abortions anymore?" but then November 8, 2016 happened and this man became the second-in-command? And remember how on November 9, you woke up bleary-eyed and drowning in the cognitive dissonance that comes from feeling déjà vu for an era you didn't even experience and the magnitude of this new reality threatens to crush you daily? Yeah, me, too.

Remember when…

You were in college and thought, “I am sure that the girls born [twenty years in the future from then] will have secure reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work”? 

Remember when…

You promised your son that there was no way he could get elected and then it happened and you saw your son’s innocence dissolve in front of your eyes?

Remember when…

His budget proposal called for the elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a program that so many less advantaged students and their families depend on for their learning and even for their safety, while taxpayers are expected to continue shelling out $183 million each year so his son can remain at his private school in New York and his wife can remain at the residence they’d prefer? Remember when, in effect, we were told we were expected to spend millions to keep two people from experiencing something disruptive, inconvenient or undesirable to them but meanwhile, on the chopping block is a program that supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools?

Remember when…

You began checking his Twitter account first thing in the morning to see if he’d declared war on another country in the middle of the night?

Remember when…

You no longer thought, “Well, that could never happen”?

Remember when…

It would seem to be a huge conflict of interest to have a passel of one’s family members installed as White House advisors?

Remember when…

It would seem unfathomable for a president to have an advisor who is a white supremacist?

Remember when…

You thought, “Well, if he doesn’t release his tax records, then he won’t be able to run for President?”

Remember when…

He still continued running despite not releasing his taxes and you thought, “Well, surely people won’t vote for him if he doesn’t release them,” but they still did?

Remember when…

He used the occasion of a national tragedy to
lash out passive-aggressively at his critics and he still got elected President?

Remember when…

We had Presidents who didn’t refer to people as losers, “dogs” and “pigs”?

Remember when…

The idea of Sarah Palin in the White House was terrifying? Bad example: it’s still terrifying but no more than what we’ve got.

Remember when none of this was normal? We cannot normalize it. We absolutely must hold on to that.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Daily and Weekly Resources for Activists...

Hello, friends!

With the recent actions in the highest office of the United States, many people want to add their voices and engagement to help create change locally, nationally and internationally. This is a scary time to be sure but also a really exciting time, full of potential for getting real work done. I feel we are at a crossroads and what we decide right now - whether to be engaged citizens or passive spectators - will have broad implications in many lives and for generations to come. A lot of people want uncomplicated access to helping create change and there has never been an easier time for this than now. I have created this document to be an ongoing, updated list of resources for progressive activists with an emphasis on resources that offer weekly action items. If you have more to add, please comment below and I will also add to the document body. Thanks, everyone!

Wall-of-Us: Effective weekly action items, I start out every Monday checking through the four acts one can take each week and it starts my week feeling empowered.

The Sixty-Five: Formally the “We’re His Problem Now” call sheet, The 65 designates weekly calls to Congress with helpful scripts and easy to navigate prompts.

Weekly Action Checklists for Democrats, Independents and Republicans of Conscience: Sign up here for a weekly email with well-researched action items. These are all actions you can take from home along with suggested supplemental reading. Weekly actions? Pah! Try daily actions you can do from your phone. I just signed up for this. Looks amazing.

ACLU Action: Because freedom can’t protect itself. Check this out daily for new calls to action.

5 Calls: “Turn your passive participation into active resistance. Facebook likes and Twitter re-tweets can’t create the change you want to see. Calling your Government on the phone can. Spend 5 minutes, make 5 calls.” This is a fantastic resource that I am loving.

Fax Zero: You get up to five free faxes you can send every day to your Senators and Representatives through this handy resource that takes you directly to their numbers. Write your message to them on the cover letter and hit send!

Indivisible Guide: You can create or find a local Indivisible chapter here as well as read their very helpful guide and you can also sign up for their weekly email alerts. Highly recommended!

Resistance Calendar: Looking to join or add an event that resists the Trump administration? Check out this amazing resource.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Raw Foodist Name Generator...

The other say, I casually remarked on Facebook that it has been a generally been a good tactic of mine to not accept Facebook friend requests from people with overtly raw foodist names. As someone who once dated a guy named Cinnamon and drove in a VW to the Rainbow Gathering with a librarian named Owl, I am not that much of a stick-in-the-mud and can indulge the occasional hippie-inspired name modifications but in my experience, when you go from regular person to Online Personality and alter your name to a kind of food, you've crossed a line into someone who is now officially annoying. You've transitioned from raw foods enthusiast to aspiring Internet sensation when you adopt a fruit or vegetable as your brand signature. In my experience, those who go the whole nine yards into name changes are the folks who will harangue random strangers about the acidity of their food, devour entire orchards for breakfast and freak out as much about nightshades as they would a Big Mac. Don't anyone dare lecture me in the comments about the benefits of raw foods because I love me a salad and a juice as much as the next person and I know how nutritious they are. That's not what this is about. This is about having a little fun. Now, what is your raw foodist name?