I will admit, I am not much of a wine connoisseur (I’m more of a chocolate fiend, I guess), but I do know many enthusiasts and I know that wine production can be, as with many industries, full of hidden and unsavory ingredients and practices, another example of how widespread cruelty to animals is, even when it’s not obvious to the eye. Egg albumin, isinglass (AKA fish bladders), gelatin and casein are just some of the animal sourced-components of wine production that don’t need to be disclosed on labels. What is a compassionate oenophile to do?
The good news is today’s wine lover doesn’t need to choose between a lovely vintage and a kinder world, thanks to the work of Frances Gonzalez, founder of Vegan Wines and the newly-launched Vegan Wine of the Month Club, the first of its kind in the United States. A longtime vegan and animal rescuer, Frances has made it her mission to source boutique wines that are not only free of cruel ingredients in the filtration process but using grapes grown without with the use of animal blood, feathers and bones in soil cultivation. Members of the club get three bottles shipped to them every two months, family-owned and uncommon wines chosen by Frances after she has visited the wineries and confirmed their growing methods, production, and, of course, fallen in love with the final product. The wine also arrives with a story about each winemaker, creating a real vine-to-glass experience, along with original vegan recipes to complement each bottle. Members of the club also get early access – or even exclusive access - to wine and food events hosted by Vegan Wines and their partner organizations. This almost makes me want to start drinking. (In a good way!) Please follow Vegan Wines on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter and contact Frances with more questions. I am honored that vineyard trailblazer Frances Gonzalez is 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 small child going to visit my grandmother in Puerto Rico for the summers, I already had this connection that chickens were our animals and not our food. The chickens I would want to befriend were the same chickens that were placed on our plates as dinner. I remember not wanting to eat those chicken dishes. My family would say I was a “picky eater,” but deep down I now know that this was the start to my future of becoming a vegan.
Then in my twenties I dated a guy who was vegan – a Morning Star brand eater. He got me to watch this gruesome video about what happens to animals for the purpose of our so-called food chain. That was when I really saw all animals in a different way. I decided that day I was going to change my way of eating.
Whenever I contemplated not eating meat again, it wasn’t like I had this sudden clarity. There was no flash of “Oh, now I know what I’ll do!” in my brain. It was more like, “Okay Frances, how can we do this? First, let’s stop eating red meat, then we’ll work on the chicken.” (I wasn’t a fan of seafood, so no biggie there.)
But even when I had a little piece of chicken on my plate, I just couldn’t do it. I never ate meat again.
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?
Well, I would never want to change the way I was shown that gruesome video. I saw that day how animals are abused and tortured for games, amusement, and to become our food.
I feel truth is strongest influence, and passive ways would have given me excuses to delay being vegan, so I am happy about the way I was taken into light, shown the truth. I just wish it had happened sooner.
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 became a vegan for animal rights. When I moved to Puerto Rico I became an animal rescuer. To help these animals, I used so many “before and after” images of ugly street dogs blooming into beauty with love and care. I feel my love and passion for these dogs and cats helped people who love and care for me understand the way I saw all living beings, including the humans in my life. It helped them understand the reasons I became vegan, that it wasn’t just some diet.
In time my loved ones respected my decisions. That in turn made me aware that passion is the best way for me to be the voice to send a message on veganism.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Media has brought so much truth into light. It has given us the opportunity to be the voice for the voiceless.
Even people who become plant-based for health reasons is still a strength in our movement, because it's a start, and still means that they still play some part rather than nothing. There are so many reasons why people start, and our mission is to help them through their journey so we all meet as one for the voiceless at the end of the path.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Big corporate companies keep trying to hinder progress by putting out false information that we need keep consuming animals for our health, like proteins, B12, calcium. We need to remember they spend so much money to convince people about these lies!
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Please come with me to visit an animal sanctuary to meet all the wonderful and loving animals that will make you see things differently. Then let's go eat at one of the awesome vegan restaurants, and taste the art in vegan cooking. After, we will go see the movie “What the Health.” At the end I will be ready to answer all your questions yet I think you will completely understand the why and most likely agree!
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 favorite book is Where The Blind Horse Sings by Kathy Stevens. I am Buddy’s sponsor and love him so much!
“The Last Pig” is my favorite film and “What The Health” has been the most effective with new vegans I have met. My continuing evolution includes animal sanctuaries, because you keep meeting the animals who are safe because of love.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Wine, of course! Wine is my main way to unwind. I have not eaten meat in over 20 years so to be honest there is no physical burn-out for me. I love wine, but when I learned that egg whites are used in the fining or filtration process, I would have stopped drinking it. That trip went from being just a vacation in wine country to research. I wasn’t the only one who had no idea that wines weren’t naturally vegan, most people think it’s just made using grapes and nothing else.
I will also say travel, especially since I travel with a purpose. I personally visit each vineyard and speak to the winemakers to see and learn about their production, their ecosystem, their soil, their climate. To do this in a way that serves animals, and promotes veganism…I feel very lucky.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Dogs and cats! I have rescued over 50 dogs and 10 cats by myself when no one would help me. My parents live in a small town in Puerto Rico called Coamo where there was nobody to help these street animals. But now, there is one woman, Rose Robles, who came to live in Coamo after I moved back to the states. Imagine my joy when I finally met someone that loved these animals as much as I did. However, we still have dogs dying every day in this small town, because as many as she saves, there is only so much she and I can do.
These dogs are so loving and I would love to share all the hard work that Rose from Misfits Pet Orphanage does, not just to save them from death and find them homes, but to raise awareness. She is also the only one I know of who seeks adopters on the island, so if anything goes wrong and the adopter wants to give the dog back, they can bring the dog back to her.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
My way of life forever!