Wednesday, July 12, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Anna Ferguson

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With everything going on in the world, if we ever needed reasons to have hope, we do now. If you’re like me, you’ll find plenty of reason to have hope with this interview with
Anna Ferguson of the soon-to-open Heärt Montessori School in Cincinnati, OH. Founded by Montessori-trained educators, longtime vegans, yoga enthusiasts and peacemakers, Heärt states on their website that Our goal is to provide children with the skills necessary to make the world more beautiful than they found it.” Isn’t that lovely? With a commitment to providing vegan meals, a nearby animal sanctuary, and a project-based education that honors the uniqueness of the students, Heärt is starting out with pre-k through kindergarten and hopes to increase grades as the school matures. Can I go back to school? It is such an exciting thing happening right in the Heartland. Created by the people behind World Peace Yoga and the Jubilee Peace Fest, the only downside is there is not a Heärt Montessori School in every city…yet. I am honored to feature Anna Ferguson 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?

In high school I had some friends that dabbled in vegetarianism, but I did not give it much thought at the time. Eating cows, pigs, and chickens was “normal” for me growing up and I didn’t question it as a child from what I’m able to remember. In college, I was introduced both to vegetarianism and yoga practice. One of my roommates and friends in school decided to experiment with eating a vegetarian diet. I began to observe some positive changes in my roommate, as she devoted herself to a vegetarian diet, so I decided to give it a try—mainly for health and self-care. As I deepened my yoga practice I noticed certain things fall away from my lifestyle, such as eating chicken eggs and cow’s milk and cheese. At the time, I thought these products were vegetarian, though—from both a technical and ethical perspective—they were not. This change in my diet came directly from my yoga practice. I did not have any teachers who spoke of diet in relationship to yoga practice, but—due to the increased awareness within my body—I tuned into what I ate and how it affected me. So, certain foods fell away and I continued feeling vibrant.

After about a year of a steady yoga asana (posture) practice, and the adoption of a pure, vegetarian, plant-sourced diet, I attended a workshop with
Doug Swenson in which the practice of yoga was presented as a lifestyle. Doug incorporated yoga philosophy into his asana classes, which often included the teaching of ahimsa—nonviolence—and its connection to food and a yogic lifestyle. Through continued study, my yoga practice deepened and my choices became less self- and more other-centered, through the practice of ahimsa. Having these other-centered reasons as a motivation for choosing what to eat, wear, and purchase (the vegan lifestyle) became as natural to me as breathing is to life.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

My introduction to veganism was quite gentle and involved a lot of personal introspection as well as compassion and encouragement from established vegans. I don’t believe that I might have been resonated with the vegan lifestyle if someone were to tell me I was bad or wrong for eating fellow animals or publicly criticized me, while attempting to convince me to change. Having someone connect with me on a personal level and approaching the vegan lifestyle from a place of empathy and compassion is what I think resonates with me most.

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

To be the most effective in how we communicate the message of veganism, I believe we must combine a spiritual practice of some kind that is as simple as something like self-care that is rooted in empathy and compassion with education, activism, and innovation. An “empathy innovator” is an individual who uses creativity to share new methods, ideas, or products that assist modern culture in grasping the interconnectedness of all life. This, in turn, promotes the expansion of kindness to every creature on the planet. As a vegan educator or activist we wholeheartedly believe in compassionate causes. We endorse, encourage, and guide efforts to bring justice, equality, freedom, and peace to all genders, all skin colors, all people, and indeed, all beings.

More specifically, I like to communicate the vegan lifestyle by sharing delicious food or posting on social media what I eat, through the teachings of yoga, and through various products, such as the
World Peace Yoga book I have coming out this fall. Opening vegan-centric businesses I also feel is a vital part of communicating a compassionate message.  What I like about vegan restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and so on is that people come to you—on their own terms.

It is my belief that the choices made by vegans, and other compassionate people of the world, have prevented this planet from completely imploding. Increasing, improving, promoting, and assisting compassionate, “all-vegan” endeavors—including people, products, services, programs, businesses, institutions, and organizations—expands this message of peace. Change becomes a reality. When we make conscious efforts to grow vegan-centric businesses—in the fields of travel, education, real estate, music, jewelry-making, art, food, yoga, healthcare, photography, design, publishing, and so on—all of the related money, time, and energy exponentially spreads peace. This practice assists those who share our core values.

Utilizing a web designer who practices a compassionate lifestyle, for example, builds a sustainable and compassionate economy. When we trade money for services, based on our shared values, the funds ultimately contribute to more of the same caring actions. This also allows vegan businesses to flourish, paving the way for their growth.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
When people in the movement are coming from a practical and spiritual place focusing on empathy and compassion for one’s self, all beings, and the planet resulting in an authentic, powerful, and truly collaborative effort.  

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

I feel one of the biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively is a lack of empathy and compassion for each other, particularly fellow vegans as well as pre-vegans resulting in reluctance to collaborate.

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

This is probably a bit longer than what I might say in an elevator, but here it goes (what is in bold sums it up)…Through war after war after war, we are discovering the necessary steps for creating a peaceful world, both inside and out. No more marching, fasting, legislating, or fighting for peace. Now, there is a relatively simple—practical—process in which anyone may participate. It is a one-two-three, step-by-step, connect-the-dots, color-by-number way to realize world peace: adopt a vegan lifestyle.
In other words, understand the consequences of your choices. Be kind and gentle to yourself, be kind and gentle to all beings, and be kind and gentle to the earth. Realize, too, that this process takes time. It requires each of us to connect with our intuitive, empathetic, and compassionate nature, while performing kind and peaceful acts (over and over), and working together toward a common goal. As simple as this process seems, it is also complex and exponential—both individual and cooperative.
While there is confusion and delusion in the world as to how to interact with one another and many have forgotten their intuitive power, are numb to empathy, and have no desire to take compassionate action, change is happening. There are humans are waking up to their “moral hypocrisy.” This moral hypocrisy is deeply rooted, and it is the reason our society accepts poverty, starvation, homelessness, war, various forms of discrimination, and animal genocide as the norm. Adopting an authentic vegan lifestyle, which includes kindness, gentleness, empathy and compassion for all is the key and we all have this innate power within us.

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 business partner Mark Stroud and I have had a long-time collaboration with Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet.  For five years Mark and I hosted the Jubilee Peace Fest—three days of vegan food, yoga, music, and inspiring speakers.  Each year Will Tuttle offered his World Peace Diet Facilitator Training. In 2011 Kip Andersen participated in that training and left inspired to then create what we know to be the documentary Cowspiracy. Now, Kip is inspiring me through his films, including his latest, What The Health. This is an example of a synergistic collaborative relationship where we are inspiring and uplifting each other.

Some vegan yogis I deeply appreciate include Doug Swenson, Kali Ray, Julie Kirkpatrick, David Life, Sharon Gannon, and Julia Butterfly Hill. Stic of Dead Prez and the album Information Age is totally amazing and his wife Afya Ibomu is a vegan chef and such a sweet soul.  I love the work of James LaVeck and Jenny Stein, in particular their film Peaceable Kingdom.  Ralph Smart and his inspiring YouTube videos are a joy.  I also deeply appreciate the work of Breeze Harper in relationship to both veganism and diversity. DJ Cavem and the work he does through his music and educating the youth is fabulous. 

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

Things I do to prevent burn-out include a consistent yoga/meditation practice, get outside and enjoy nature, swim, play with my son, drink green juice, fuel up on healthy eats, share food with fellow vegans, and the list goes on.  I have found that activists who do not have some kind of spiritual practice that focuses on self-care often experience burnout and frustration. They may take out their anger on others, which perpetuates the very issues they seek to resolve.  Some yoga practitioners and spiritual seekers, on the other hand, immerse themselves in practices, such as meditation, for their own personal growth and healing, while disconnecting from worldly matters. Spiritual practices that remove us from global issues of justice, equality, liberation, and radical inclusion are not authentic in their quest to realize the interconnectedness of life. When a deep spiritual practice fuses with a call to action, it awakens a great force and instigates powerful change.

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

Education for today’s youth is near and dear to my heart at this time as I have a 3-year-old that will be starting school soon. As more people are becoming sensitive and aware of their own health and well-being, as well as the health of each other and the planet we are seeing a growing number of vegan restaurants, products, and services. What remains is a huge gap in our education system. Vegan-centric practices of empathy and compassion are not being taught as part of core academics. After I had my son Noah, I started working with a team of fellow vegans to fill that gap and open Heärt Montessori. This is a model school where kids grow up learning self-reliance, sustainability, permaculture, meditation, mindfulness, conflict-resolution, and compassion for all beings and the earth as a part of core academics. We plan to open in January of 2018. Learn more, get involved, and lend a hand by clicking here.

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

To me being a vegan is living a lifestyle connected to empathy and extending compassion to myself, all beings, and the planet.

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