Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Miriam Sorrell

Miriam Sorrell maintains a prolific and active presence online through her recipe innovation on her website, Mouthwatering Vegan Recipes. A popular website with hundreds of free recipes, MVR has a special affinity for sun-drenched Mediterranean flavors but can do it all, proving in recipe after recipe how vegan food is not a sacrifice but bursting with flavor and variety. Through her various social media platforms, Miriam shows that amazing vegan food is something anyone can create without a ton of complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients: the simplest food preparations are often the most delicious. Please check out her various social media platforms, including her brand new YouTube channel, as well as her cookbooks, to help spread the word about compassionate living through the lure of some luscious food. As a passionate vegan, Miriam aspires to save the animals, winning over one palate at a time. We are proud to feature her as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I have always enjoyed cooking from a very early age, and in particular preparing delicious food for close friends and family. As a child, I was impressed and influenced by a particular couple who were like an aunt and uncle to me, and she would prepare the most wonderful homely food which I adored – this certainly inspired me, together with the fact that my father owned a restaurant in London, which I used to help out in as a teenager.

 2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Well, of course, food was far simpler then – and because I come from a Mediterranean background, I have always loved the best of Greek and Maltese cuisine. Inevitably, meat and fish would feature fairly prominently, and kleftiko was a firm favourite, together with the simple Maltese ‘Ħobż biż-żejt’ (Maltese bread drizzled with olive oil, and smeared with beefsteak tomatoes or tomato paste, then served with olives, crushed black pepper, etc). I still love simple rustic cuisine, though due to the constantly expanding horizons of my work, I have had the privilege of exploring so many different foods and cuisines.

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

That’s a very difficult question to answer, because there have been so many! I have to add, that one of the hardest aspects of becoming vegan was when I realized just how lacking most restaurants were in creativity when it came to vegan menu options, although this has improved considerably over the years, particularly in the last year or so. This only served to spur me on further to use my own creativity and start my food blog. So, my honest answer to your question has to be that nearly all the best vegan meals I can remember having have been created in my own kitchen. Our Christmas meal is always memorable – I usually make one of the two roulades on my blog – there’s the ‘Lentil, Mushroom, Spinach & Spicy Nut Roulade’, or the ‘Double Stuffed Savoury Christmas Log’. Aside from the above, we stayed with my sister a couple of years ago, and she always goes to town in the kitchen whenever I’m over. She produced an incredible Briam (Greek Mixed Roasted Vegetables), which she served with ‘Bamies Latheres me Domata’ (okra cooked in a tomato sauce) – this so impressed me that I created my own version of Briam which went in my second book Yasou. [UK version here.]

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

I think it would have to be for my dear late mother, who passionately believed in me. And since she was Greek, I would make my vegan keftethes (meatballs) for her since I learnt how to make them from her own recipe (which is also published in my book ‘YASOU’) coupled up with a Greek salad topped with my crumbled feta cheese (also from my book ‘YASOU’) - she would have loved that!

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I don’t see there being any difference between the mistakes made in vegan cooking or any other form of cooking.  Creativity is creativity, and food made without any heart or soul will always taste as such. But an obvious shortfall can be seen in so many food outlets, where the mentality is still that a vegan dish can be a normal menu option with the meat or fish left out! Then, when the chef tries to get a bit creative, you land up with a bizarre combination of vegetables and perhaps a few beans, created in a panic behind the scenes – this is an area that they haven’t covered in culinary school. But, in truth, a talented chef should be able to come up with a good vegan platter with any of the standard ingredients in his/her kitchen.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

I am working a lot with different forms of mushroom at the moment for my
YouTube channel, and am completely blown away by just how versatile fungi are, as well as nutritional yeast - an old time favourite for vegans, I still love using it in many dishes for flavouring - there are more, and what fascinates me the most is combining unlikely ingredients in order to achieve amazing textures and tastes!

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

That’s pretty simple for me to answer – Greek (obviously), Middle Eastern, and Asian (particularly Indian and Thai), since I love exotic and spicy food, I am extremely excited by fusing different cuisines, giving them a twist as well as my own personal touch!

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

I am an ethical vegan, so as my awareness of animal suffering and torture grew, so did my passionate desire to do what I could do to help. I had been vegetarian since my 20s, and this choice had also been ethical. The film Earthlings was a major turning point for me, as was Gary Yourofsky, his University speech impacted me on many levels, and although not everybody takes to his manner - being a pragmatist I look at his astounding results in converting so many people to veganism which can only be applauded, (and subsequently has became a close friend of mine, and who has supporting my activism through my culinary endeavours).

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

I abhor any form of animal suffering or exploitation. But I also cannot tolerate the polarised view of many veganism (particularly the ‘vegan police’ and self-righteous vegans as well as the many trolls that frequently come out of the woodwork). The infighting that occurs between people that are supposed to be on the same side constantly shocks me. It becomes a battle of egos, it is so very destructive to the vegan movement, and I feel that this is so wasteful and counterproductive. An example is when I choose to focus on a specific topic – in my case, this is often the skinning alive of dogs and cats in China, the Yulin festival, etc. Now, as it happens, I do feel more passionate about this cause than most others, and so I often post about this subject on Facebook, particularly at this time of year, when Yulin is about to take place (this has never been at the exclusion of all the other worldwide animal horrors that occur each and every second of the day by the thousands). But should this give people the license to accuse me of speciesism, and of not caring about other animals suffering? This really hacks me off, as it shows such narrow-mindedness. I do think that the horrific torture and ghastly way in which dogs, cats, monkeys, etc. are treated before being killed in China and Asia, should be hitting the headlines worldwide, and I wholly support the efforts of Marc Ching, who is doing so much himself at great risk, by personally rescuing dogs from China.

Because most people do place a greater value on those animals traditionally kept as household pets (cats and dogs), then inevitably they will be far more shocked and relate more to images of cats and dogs being tortured, than say cows, pigs or chickens. Then this could be a great starting point in increasing their awareness of the broader picture (I saw this happen on a video with Earthling Ed who spoke to a woman who was campaigning against the dog meat trade, he made her aware of how cows, pigs etc. where treated, and she was horrified, one could see on her face this was genuine, she was not vegan of course, and he made her aware of this and she said she would consider veganism because she couldn’t support such cruelty), and we then have the potential for them to make the connection as to why they themselves shouldn’t be consuming or using animals or dairy, and why they should become vegan.

But, thanks must also go to the initiative of PETA and other progressive activist organizations, who are running fantastic PR campaigns, with billboards in the most prominent locations. Veganism is truly gaining more mainstream status, though we still have a long, long way to go, and don’t really have the time truth be told to be at any point ‘nit picking’ about little details thus losing sight of the bigger picture. Time is king and millions of animals are screaming out for our help each and every second round the clock.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. “To me, veganism is…”

Veganism is living the truth of ‘live and let live’ and I shall never stop fighting for animal rights until I draw my last breath.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

(Almost) Eight Examples of How Today’s Vegans Are Spoiled Rotten (and Why that’s a Good Thing)

As I’ve certainly babbled on ad nauseum about on this blog, things are quite different from the perspective of being vegan today than it was in 1995 when I first went vegan. It is better in pretty much better in every way in so many categories of life. For example:

Finding vegan food…
Today’s vegans have these things called apps that practically lead them by the hand to vegan food.

Back in the day, we had to find our food the hard way: if there was even a whiff of a rumor of vegan food being somewhere, we sent out our most skilled and selfless foot soldiers to traverse many miles in search of it. Often, these odysseys were in vain and many of our soldiers did not return from these perilous treks alive. Their brave spirits live on.

Having vegan food delivered…
Today’s vegans can have food delivered to their doors. Imagine that!

Back in the day, when we wanted vegan food delivered, we’d have to order it from restaurants that were at least three states away and wait for at least two weeks for it to arrive through a complicated underground network of vegan couriers and the delivery charge would be at least $1,000.00, plus you’d have to put the whole delivery team up for the night. When the food finally arrived, it would be old and often moldy but we would scrape off the mold and be grateful for it.

Ordering at non-vegan restaurants…
Today’s vegans can go into omni restaurants and often find something to eat.

Back in the day, when we wanted food at a non-vegan restaurant, we’d be seated in the alley by the garbage cans and dumpsters – even if we were with groups, we’d be separated from them – and the surliest kitchen staff would swing at us with rock-hard French baguette loaves and take turns pelting us with rotten produce, mocking us and laughing at us. Anything we could gather from this ordeal would be our meal.

Traveling as a vegan…
Today’s vegan can practically travel the globe with not much worry about finding appropriate food.

Back in the day, if we left our home bases, we would have to be stocked with enough munitions in the form of military-style ready-to-eat meals or dense nutrition bars to get us to our destination and back without starving to death. We expected nothing. If we were lucky enough to happen upon vegan provisions on our journey, we would take note of the exact longitude and latitude coordinates and light our most powerful fireworks to express our gratitude and broadcast its existence to any surrounding vegan community.

Grocery stores…
Today’s vegan can go to any average grocery store and find a wide variety of vegan cheeses and ice creams, not to mention burgers, sausages and patties.

Back in the day, our only choices were hothouse tomatoes, onions, iceberg lettuce and withered cucumbers. Even canned peas and corn had lard in it. We were forbidden under strict community legal standards to even say the word “vegan” in order to even ask for anything else.

Vegan Culture…

Today’s vegan has a myriad of magazines, films, books, luminaries, websites and more that expand, deepen and build vegan culture.

Back in the day, if we were really skilled eavesdroppers, we may have heard the v-word in conversation or seen it in a comic strip (maybe even a syndicated one) and on the rare occasion that this happened, we would literally collapse to the ground in shock and irrepressible, erupting emotional tides. Once we could stand again, we would painstakingly dial up the few other vegans we knew on the cumbersome telephones we had, awkwardly clutch the handsets between our ears and shoulders and share the exciting news.  

Vegan community…
Today’s vegan can find diverse opportunities for community around the globe and online.

Back in the day, vegan community was that one guy who looked like the Unibomber (and may have resembled him in avocation, too), that hippie who was into crystals and reading auras who referred to herself “semi-vegan” depending on the phase of the moon and perhaps those dudes who leafleted for the Hare Krishnas. You weren’t sure if they were actually vegan but you’d have to agree to go to one of their Sunday talks at the Krishna Temple to find out and so you never did find out.

Today’s vegan can protest rodeos, circuses, canned hunts, slaughterhouses and so on and warmly welcomed by police officers who help us to exercise our right to peaceful assembly and free speech as well as passersby who are not only willing to hear the compassionate message but eager embrace it.

Hahahahahahaha! Just kidding.

Back in the day, we were mistreated by the police as well as threatened by puffed up dudes on an apparent ‘roid rage, spit on, verbally attacked, physically assaulted and we still are today.

So, yeah, other than that last one, I’d say we’re made some progress.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Of Handmaids and Milkmaids and Normalizing Dystopia...

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Like many people, I’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale series for the past couple of weeks with restless fingers that keep reaching up to cover my eyes but they're futile: I can’t look away. I read the novel in the 1980s when I was in college and while I’ve never re-read it, I remember how chillingly it read like a cautionary tale in an era when we saw the rise of the religious right, televangelism and the “return to traditional values.” In so many ways, with the November election fresh in our collective minds and the horrifying ascent of the white supremacist movement along with the revived threats to reproductive rights (among other things), we are now in the strange position of interpreting dystopian fiction as we free-fall into a new reality that feels more than a little dystopian itself. I sense that we haven’t even come close to landing yet. While watching The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017, I can’t help but think that the nightmarish future Margaret Atwood imagined has, in a matter of months, progressed from a cautionary tale to more of a not so far-fetched premonition, and that it would only take a perfect storm of environmental cataclysm and calculated opportunity for an order of patriarchal ideologues to construct a new United States with a blueprint that hews frightening close to her Republic of Gilead.

Did I mention yet that I am really an optimist? Despite this, it’s hard to not see the tyrannical writing on the wall and feel driven to take action. Call me melodramatic if you want but I’d rather be overwrought, and I don’t think I am, than in denial.

I was raised in an environment where tyrannical behavior was presented and construed as “normal,” and, as such, I am pretty tuned in to when it is happening around me. Much of the trajectory of my life has been about rejecting what is characterized as normal when it really is, in fact, oppressive or worse. As we can see from the last few months in the United States, things can skid from bad to downright scary in a very small window of time. Possibilities that would have seemed unthinkable even months before can become imminently imaginable; scenarios that would have recently seemed preposterous can begin to materialize with terrifying swiftness. For the first time in my life, I am beginning to see how something like 1930s Germany can happen and I am seeing it with a chilling clarity.

It is embedded into our species’ DNA that in order to thrive, we strive to conform to the societal norms as those who are outliers are much more vulnerable to threat or attack, both from inside and outside our Homo sapiens communities. Agreeing to comply with advancing the volition of the group is part of why our species has been so successful. This is also part of what compels us to normalize what is otherwise indefensible and part of why I think we may be wired to accept the unacceptable. A consequence of this drive to conform is groupthink, a real phenomenon that helps to explain why the human species not only repeats the same tragic mistakes throughout history but also why we are so vulnerable to tyranny, authoritarianism and despotic regimes despite the fact that we should know enough by this point to know it's in our collective best interests to avoid them. History is replete with lessons about what happens to those who make waves – they tend to be violently reviled by contemporaries and approved of with the safety of hindsight by future generations – and oppressors coolly take advantage of this instinct for self-survival with predictable adeptness again and again.

The revolt against our “new normal” is what we are seeing in the post-election United States and perhaps it is that fight that is really what stands between us and an authoritarian state. (This is not to claim that our “democracy” has ever been truly democratic, equitable and just for all citizens; I know that it has not.) Maybe our ultimate fight is internal: a deliberate cutting of those internal wires that allow us to default to accepting violence and tyranny as normal and preferable to not conforming.

There’s a vegan message here. Of course you knew that.

I will ask anyone who is watching The Handmaid’s Tale and alarmed by the similitudes to the current climate in the United States to consider what oppressions and cruelties we are complicit in normalizing every day. With cold calculation, dairy cows are forcibly impregnated on something referred to as a rape rack so we can have her calves’ milk. Almost always, her babies are taken from her as soon as they’ve had her colostrum - which is an economic decision, not an ethical one, because that is something with little market value and ensures a healthier calf-product - and after a day or two, she will never see her babies again. She is milked and milked and milked and milked and milked to create dairy, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream and so on until her production falls off, then she is re-impregnated and continues the cycle of birth, abrupt weaning and milk production until she is no longer considered financially viable, at about the age of four, when she is slaughtered to become cheap meat. She and her calves have existed entirely for human consumption. If female, her babies will live and die like their mother; if male, they are raised for veal or beef and, depending on the kind of flesh they are raised for, slaughtered at between 18 weeks to 18 months.

Is Offred of The Handmaid’s Tale, a woman who’s been turned into a docile, obedient breeding machine for the state and who has had her identity erased to the point where her name is changed to reflect her utter lack of sovereignty and agency, really that far-fetched? Of course, not every aspect of The Handmaid’s Tale can be applied to animal agribusiness but when this kind of malignant ownership is something we accept as “normal” for the lives of not only dairy cows but all the species we consume, how can we claim to not be colluding with the normalization of a brutal tyranny?

When we accept a tyranny that is normalized, we are complicit in also normalizing a barbaric hell on earth. Does The Handmaid’s Tale resonate with you? How can we be free when we still condone brutality?
I am a vegan and a feminist because I reject the normalization of dystopia. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Alex Hershaft

Dr. Alex Hershaft
was the first vegan heroes I’d met in person back in the late 1990s when I was at Vegetarian Summerfest where he was a speaker. I’d been vegan for a couple of years and had been an activist for a while so I was familiar with his work with the pioneering organization he founded, the Farm Animal Rights Movement or FARM, which evolved from its precursor, the Vegetarian Information Service, in 1981. As someone who was happy to pick up a sign and pass out some pamphlets for the animals, his work, like World Day for Farmed Animals (October 2, yo!) and the Great American Meatout (March 20!), gave people like me an outlet. (FARM also puts on the Animal Rights Conference every year, no small undertaking. I will be speaking this year. Join us! It’s always an incredible conference.) As an ardent collector of newsletters, Alex and his work through FARM gave me inspiration. I will never forget that Summerfest when he sat on a bench next to me and talked to me about a part of his life I hadn’t heard about before: his childhood, his survival of the Warsaw Ghetto, his narrow escape of the Treblinka death camp along with his mother, his father’s murder. It was mesmerizing and agonizing. I was also very touched by his approachability and patient willingness to be peppered with questions by my neophyte, awestruck self.

All these years later, Alex has made his story of survival, and how he connected the dots of the cruelties he observed and experienced as a child to his life’s work of promoting kindness for all species, available to everyone in his amazing speech, From the Warsaw Ghetto to a Life of Compassion. Alex Hershaft is a living legend and I am proud to feature him as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

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 far back as I can remember, it never made sense to me to hit a beautiful, innocent, sentient animal over the head, cut his body into small pieces, and then shove the pieces into my mouth. I suppose it was initially an aesthetic conviction - not too different from that of the ladies in Queen Victoria's England that led to the early anti-cruelty statutes.

In 1962, during my two-year stay in Israel, I stumbled across the ritual sacrifice of a baby goat to celebrate the birth of a Druze baby. The bitter irony of that act was the last straw I needed to change my diet. I remained a closet vegetarian until attending the 1975 World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, ME, when I decided to spend the rest of my life promoting a vegetarian diet.

In 1976, I founded the Vegetarian Information Service, offering veg literature to the public. In 1981, I launched the first animal rights conference, without fully getting the concept. My fellow board members who did convinced me to go vegan. In my defense, about what took so long, very few of the animal champions at the time were vegan.

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?

It would be pretty much the same argument we are presenting to young people today. Failure to embrace a vegan diet requires subsidizing and becoming complicit in the worst oppression and abuse of sentient living beings in the history of humankind. The associated health and environmental benefits are just a bonus.

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

a) videos, b) photos, c) stories about personal experiences and individual animals.

Least effective: facts and numbers about slaughter, health and environmental arguments (OK, health may work for older folks), animal "rights" arguments.

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

a) The fact that our actions are consistent with common values of respect for life, in general, and animals, in particular

b) The fact that we are working at the roots of all life-affirming and social justice movements - a vegan lives a healthy life, with minimal carbon footprint, without oppressing

b) The fact that we are the only movement working on behalf of another set of beings - not ourselves

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

We have gotten pretty good at getting the word out through videos, social media, traditional media. The problem we are running into is getting people to change their lifestyle three times a day - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No other U.S. movement has demanded a substantial lifestyle change since Lincoln's 1863 emancipation proclamation.

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

See 4 (a)

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?

Without meaning to sound arrogant, can't think of any.

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

To unwind - folk dancing every Friday evening and occasional classical music concert

To distract - crossword puzzles and news reports and commentaries

To recharge and inspire - occasional trips to a slaughterhouse, but haven't really needed that, as activism has become part of my life's fabric

What has most immunized me against burnout, however, has been my low need for praise and recognition and my being in control of my activities

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

It's the main conclusions of my Holocaust speech:

* that oppression is initially subtle, almost imperceptible and, like some forms of cancer, becomes evident only when it's to late to stop

* that all are capable of oppression, including some of our favorite friends and relatives who subsidize the greatest oppression of sentient living beings in the history of humankind every time they shop for food

* that oppression is not about the victims, but about the oppressive mindset, or the capacity to oppress

* that making oppression about the victims and the resulting cult of victimhood divide and frustrate our efforts to mount a united front against all oppression

* that oppression of animals is the "gateway drug" to all oppression, administered to a four-year old when they are told that the dog on the couch is to be cherished, fed, and cared for, but the pig on their plate is to be abused, killed, dismembered, and consumed as food

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

See 4(a)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ten Life Lessons from Longtime Vegans


A couple of weeks ago, I posted a question to my Facebook friends and got far more responses than I expected. Usually when a thread has more than 250 comments, it means that people are fussin’ and feudin’ with each other (why did I suddenly turn into Yosemite Sam? I have no idea…) but it wasn’t like that this time. People just had a lot of thoughts to share. Here was the (slightly edited) question I posed:

“I'm curious: for those who have been vegan for more than five years, what factors do you attribute to your longevity as a vegan? There are many things that tempt people away from veganism, from a desire to fit in better to simply missing some things you used to eat, and we know that the rate of defection from veganism is quite high. What have you done or what have you plugged into to make veganism work for you? In other words, what do you attribute to your success as a long-term vegan? Thank you!”

Even though this is far from a scientifically rigorous survey and a fairly small sample, I think the resulting responses offered a fascinating lens into what makes a successful long-term vegan. I am used to being pretty blown away by the depth and insight of my Facebook friends but this time, I was almost overwhelmed by both the deluge of responses as well of the generosity of spirit reflected in them. From this simple question, I got a rich supply of answers about the qualities that are both common and unique to long-term vegans. Curious about what may be part of the successful long-term vegans composite? I have collated my most frequent responses in order of how common the answer was below.

Fascinating stuff. Here’s how it broke down…

1. Compassion for Animals

Far and away, this was the most commonly cited reason for staying vegan: once one’s eyes were open to animal suffering, it was impossible to go back to not knowing and when one wavered, remembering the core ethical basis was key for sticking with it. As
Kathleen F. said, I've been vegan for seven years. I just think of the animals and all the pain and suffering they endure. My pleasure is not worth their suffering.”

Lisa H. said something I heard in different iterations throughout the thread: “I could never be vegan for my health. For the environment I couldn't be 100% vegan. Maybe 75-90% at the most. For the animals (farmed and wild), I'm as 100% vegan as it's possible to be.” The ethical foundation was what made it a more accessible, solid commitment when the other motivations were too abstract or not deeply felt enough.

Pam W. said, “I've been vegan for 12 years and I fully attribute it to my core value that it is wrong to cause or participate in the infliction of suffering and exploitation. Animal-derived foods are the product of exploitation in which animals necessarily suffer (mamas having their babies taken away, hens bred to lay eggs at an unnaturally accelerated rate leading to osteoporosis and other physical ailments, the stress of slaughter transport, and the terror of the slaughterhouse). I have no desire for food that is made of violence and terror. I don't see it as a sacrifice because the food in question is revolting to me.”

I would say that 95% of the responses were a variation on this theme, though many also included some of the other motivations and reasons.

Vegan Community

Whether introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, the human species hungers for understanding and connection. So many of us do not have vegan partners or extended families but even if we do, a larger supportive community provides a vital sense of belonging and a safe place to land as we navigate this world that is often diametrically opposed to vegan values. A supportive community was mentioned second most often as an essential component of integrating a successful, long-term vegan practice. “
I would recommend finding a community in person or online (but choose wisely because some can be very draining and counterproductive)…” said Molly D. Wise words: While seeking community, remember that not all are created alike and they will not all meet your needs or suit you.

“Definitely connecting with people who understand and accept veganism. Vida Vegan Con started within my first few years of being vegan, which made ALL the difference. I made SO many amazing connections and friendships that still persist today. Knowing I'm not alone in caring so deeply about the animals and the environment,” said Katie L.

Also remember that community can be in person and online; it can be three people or 1,000 people. Community is what gives you a sense of shared values, acceptance and being among those who understand you. A community that is healthy for you should make you feel inspired, accepted and stronger. If a community drains you, look elsewhere. Remember, too, that while in-person communities are ideal, virtual communities can also contribute a lot to your thriving as a vegan.

3. An Indifference to Fitting in (or Stubbornness)

I have an untested theory that one of the most common denominators among those who are successful long-term vegans is that we tend to be people who care less about fitting in and don’t easily succumb to social pressure or feel the need to conform to the status quo. Not surprising to me, this emerged as one of the top three recommendations for successful long-term vegan integration. By the same token, a common refrain I hear from those who have quit is being vegan was hard for them to adapt to socially. Maybe their family made them feel guilty about not participating in certain traditions; perhaps their friends made them feel excluded; maybe they felt self-conscious making dietary requests when ordering meals. To those who are able to successfully navigate the terrain, these pressures are far less important than remaining true to their values.

As Linda R. said, “
I have always been the odd person out, and that has often left me struggling to find a way in until I became vegan. Now I don't want a way in because a conventional life of using animals and turning my back on their suffering isn't something I can abide.” As another friend commented, “Stubbornness: I'll be damned if I let someone say ‘I told you so’ (this is the smallest part, but it did help me in the beginning).” Said Ashley D., “Dealing with people (and struggling to fit in) is probably the biggest challenge of going vegan. Luckily, I'm immune to social pressure. Being diplomatic toward those who are participating in harming animals has been the hardest part. I'm very logical, and ethics come first.”

4. The Expanding Variety and Increased Access to Quality Vegan Food

As the world around us has begun to meet the expanding demands for plant-based food and improved offerings are available to consumers, it’s made it easier to be vegan in the world. This was the fourth most common factor attributed to one’s success as a long-term vegan. As one friend wrote, “
The surge in awareness has been so much more tangible in the last 10 years alone, and the varieties of cheeses, drinks, egg-type foods, protein foods creativity just make it - I'd say - impossible to go back to not being a vegan....” There are fewer valid excuses for falling off the path when those flavor profiles and textures are not only accessible to us but getting more delicious all the time.

5. Learning How to Cook

For many people, learning how to cook – perhaps for the first time in their lives, perhaps just a few meals – is a necessary component of integrating veganism successfully. When you learn the basics of cooking for yourself, not only will you save money, you can develop the skills for recreating the meals you once enjoyed. “
Viewing Earthlings was the game-changer, but learning how to cook for myself made it stick. Ten years ago I was a broke grad student and the few veg-friendly restaurants in town made eating out impractical,” said one friend. For another, “A lot of cooking, especially baking. Knowing now where to buy ready made items makes it easier too,” was what made all the difference.

6. Health Benefits

People who come into veganism through the door of health may have a stronger foundation when they learn the compelling ethical reasons but the health benefits can be motivating by themselves. Plant-based diets are not a magic bullet but there can be real health boons and it is a foot-in-the-door for those seeking their physical advantages. As Tina L. said, “ health has improved dramatically for one thing. Going back to eating animals or their byproduct in the form of dairy would also bring back my chronic sinus infections, headaches, nasal mucus overload, indigestion, and high cholesterol. On a more serious level, I'd probably have full blown Type 2 diabetes like my father by now.”

Another friend wrote, “I will be 36 next week and I already know five or six high school classmates who dropped dead due to heart issues. I have one high school classmate who nearly died of a heart attack a couple years ago and another one who was literally told by his doctor to go vegan because he is a ticking time bomb based on his cholesterol numbers. Maybe my motivation is pretty self-centered but it does the trick.”

7. Connecting their Veganism to a Bigger Picture

Another frequently cited reason for sticking with veganism among the people I asked is that their vegan practice is connected to a larger worldview that is meaningful to them. Said one, “
I mean yes, of course having the ability to empathize with animals is a huge contributing factor, but I also think that keeping oneself informed about what goes on in animal use industries and how that also connects to impacts on humanity is a big reason in my staying vegan.”

As Audrey M. succinctly put it, “It's easy when you make it about something bigger than yourself. Trust me, I have no willpower for anything.” Yet another friend took a broader view: “My commitment to veganism has deepened as my awareness of intersectionality (originally developed by Kimberle Crenshaw) has grown. At first, I was vegan for the animals, then the environment. Then my compassion grew to include the people who suffer under our industrialized, power-over food system. I learn a lot from vegans of color about this, and I'm seeing how anti-racist work and animal rights work are often enmeshed.”

8. A Radical Shift in Perception: Animals Are Not Seen as Food, Clothing, Etc. Anymore

I heard this one a lot and it’s not surprising. There is a shift in perception that occurs when you go vegan and if you’ve been vegan long enough, it seems to change one’s perspective unalterably. I remember talking to another friend about raising our vegan-from-birth children. She remarked that her son never had a tantrum when he wasn’t allowed non-vegan samples at the grocery store. It was the same with my son. We speculated that perhaps even as toddlers, when it was explained that these samples had animals or animal products in them, they were no longer perceived as “food.” They would as soon eat the rocks.

This perspective shift was reflected in quite a few comments. “
I don't think of animals as food anymore and that keeps me from going back to eating them,” said Grace K. Another friend said, “When I see meat or other animal products, I don't see food. I see the carcass or secretions of a tortured animal. The same goes for entertainment, clothing, etc. I don't see just clothes, or just cute animals behind bars. I see miserable animals who never should have been exploited or killed. As the one saying goes, it's easy to be vegan when you focus on the victims instead of yourself.” As Megan D. said, “Vegan 11 years. I see animal products as non-food. The same way I'd look at like, a desk. It's not food. It's not clothing.”

9. Connecting with Rescued Animals at Sanctuaries

Some people responded that interacting with animals who live at sanctuaries has helped people to feel a sense of hope and also connect more deeply with their convictions about compassionate living. Said Stephanie H., “
I also wanted to add that meeting the animals, especially happy ones at sanctuaries, getting to know them and their personalities - and then contrasting that with seeing the scared, miserable ones in the agriculture industry - that really leaves an impression. Non-vegans should be encouraged to go to sanctuaries and connect with the animals so they can see how amazing they are when they are happy and in a safe place.”

10. Find Podcasts, Bloggers and Mentors as Well as Movies that Inspire You

Quite a few respondents said that finding vegan podcasts, bloggers and mentors kept them going during the often awkward and challenging transitional time and an equal amount also have found films to be galvanizing. Said one, “I also had more conviction - I listened to Vegetarian Food for Thought a lot right as I transitioned so that was helpful since I have a lot of respect for Colleen.” Said Scott N., “I originally went vegan for health reasons, and ended up staying vegan for ethical reasons after watching all of the videos, such as Earthlings, Vegucated, and Cowspiracy.”

As reflected in the thread, films can be a double-edged sword: some find that films worked to deepen their conviction and others find films, especially the more graphic ones, to be sapping of their strength. “I always felt like I had to force myself to be a witness to these things out of respect for the animals. I wound up bringing my resulting feelings to a therapist. There are some images and moments permanently stuck in my head now that in retrospect I didn't need to see in order to live this life with conviction. It has absolutely weakened me. Still grappling with it,” said one friend. The bottom line here is that films can be very visceral and potent, especially the ones that are graphic: choose wisely and respect your limits with it.

What do you think contributes to one's longevity as a vegan?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Maya Gottfried

It’s proof that the compassionate world is growing when there are whole guides published that are dedicated to dating as a vegan, right? With
Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal, with Fashion, Makeup & Wedding Tips by author Maya Gottfried, we have a fun, lively and informative guide for vegan ladies lookin’ for love and connection. Written with an engaging voice and welcoming tone, Vegan Love is quite the thorough and captivating how-to guide for the growing vegan niche: part coach, part cool big sister, part primer for the modern dating scene and part vegan education handbook, Maya’s book manages to be all of the above without compromising any of the parts. With profiles of prominent vegans like Jasmin Singer, Jane Velez-Mitchell and Marisa Miller Wolfson and coming from hetero and LBGTQ perspectives, Vegan Love keeps you engaged with different views on dating and gracefully weaves in educational sections on a wide range of subjects, such as the cruelty of the fashion industry, while never straying too far from the theme of love. Should you just date other vegans or should you consider dating non-vegans? As you might imagine, there is a wide range of viewpoints expressed in the book from the various interview subjects and the author. I appreciate that in addition to while acknowledging the differences in perspectives and experiences, the author has a confident vegan stance. This is a great guide with the perfect balance of tougher stuff and delightful fluff to keep readers informed and engaged. I highly recommend Vegan Love and am grateful to be able to feature Maya Gottfried as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

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?

Like many other vegans, I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, it just took me some time to make the connection that the animals I ate were no different than the ones who curled up in my lap at home. As a child I adored watching wildlife, like ducks in the water, and loved our family dog, Ollie, but simply didn’t stop to think that the animals I was eating were sentient beings who valued their lives, too.

When I was little, I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up, out of my love for animals. I also wrote to the ASPCA and explained that I wanted to help animals, asking what I could do. They mailed me a big package of pamphlets. I put one outside of every apartment door in our building. I didn’t become a veterinarian, but the desire to help stayed with me, eventually leading me to go vegan.

When I was 35 I finally came to veganism. I loved animals and wanted to help them but more and more I was learning about the cruelty they suffered to be food. Clearly no animal wants to die. I had begun following the work of Farm Sanctuary and became vegetarian when I was 34. I continued to learn more, mostly through Farm Sanctuary and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s “Food for Thought” podcast. Finally, sitting at my desk one night, it hit me. I simply could not justify consuming any animal products anymore. There was no getting around the suffering. And so I went vegan.

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?

What really helped me in my own journey was reading and hearing about the individual animals who live at Farm Sanctuary, the suffering they endured, and the details of their personalities. Once I knew the truth of their lives, and how I was hurting them with what I was eating and wearing, I just could not contribute to their pain anymore. But for me it was a gentle path, I didn’t need to see graphic videos, though I sometimes watch them. Because I only needed to know the truth to make the change, it was the gentle delivery of the simple facts to me that was most effective.

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 think sharing my own story is most effective with people who I have just met, for example at a party. I don’t tell people what I think they should do, but share my enthusiasm and the happiness I experience being vegan. Sometimes people ask me questions about veganism, and in those situations I gently deliver the truth, just as it was delivered to me. In fact, my partner, Dietrich, had been vegetarian for about 30 years when we met, and asked me why I was vegan on one of our first dates. I simply explained the realities of dairy to him, and he went vegan, just like that. His experience was like mine, once he knew the truth it was an easy decision to go vegan. Sometimes, though, the graphic videos and memes can help people make the connection. A friend of mine saw a video I shared on Facebook about a chicken who was saved from a factory farm and immediately stopped eating eggs. The delivery of the information was different, but the thought process was the same—she said she stopped because before seeing it she simply did not know what happened to the male chicks born into the egg industry. Now that she knew the truth, she couldn’t contribute to the suffering anymore

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

The vegan movement is built on love. Sometimes we get frustrated or angry that the cruelty still exists, but at the heart of it all, us ethical vegans have made this commitment because of our love for the animals. That is a lot of love. Think of all that we can do to make the world a better place with so much positivity.

We also live as shining examples of the benefits of living an ethical lifestyle. Those of us who eat a healthy plant-based diet stand as evidence that living cruelty-free gives us glowing skin and healthy hair. We are generally happier knowing we are creating positive change in the world, and are living proof that we don’t need to eat animal products to have great energy and strength.

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

When we are aggressive in how we deliver information, we inevitably push people away. We are all ambassadors of this movement and every time we interact with someone about veganism it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that veganism is built on kindness and love. If we approach people with aggression and fear tactics we can expect the same in return.

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

I had stage 3 cancer when I went vegan. While going through chemo I learned that animal proteins do nothing less than facilitate the lethal disease’s spread. I went vegan out of a love for animals but once I learned about the health benefits I also became vegan for myself. I have now been cancer free for eight years.

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?

Farm Sanctuary has been my “home base” since I went vegetarian, and was the organization that inspired me to go vegan one year later. I even wrote a children’s book about their sanctuaries’ animal residents, Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary (Knopf). I also am a fan of Mercy for Animals. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was my biggest influence outside of Farm Sanctuary, in my growth from vegetarian to vegan, and I am a fan of her “Food for Thought” podcast. I love the writing of Victoria Moran, Jonathan Balcombe, and Gene Baur. I also was greatly inspired by John Robbins’ The Food Revolution. The film Earthlings was the most powerful one on the issues that I’ve seen, and inspired my niece, Annelise to go vegan, too. I also love the films Vegucated and Forks Over Knives. The websites that play the biggest role in my continuing growth are VegNews and Our Hen House (and I’m happy to have written for both).

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

For me, veganism comes out of love, so if I’m feeling depleted it signals to me that I need to generate more positive feelings. I do this by meditating, going for walks, and finding time to watch a goofy movie or two. If I have the opportunity, I also recharge by spending time with the cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and turkeys who live at farm animal sanctuaries. They inspire me the most to keep going. Seeing or speaking with my friends also does a lot to warm my heart and help me put more positivity into the world. It especially helps me to be part of a community of vegans, and have friends who are also involved in helping animals. If I’m working all of the time I simply run out of the energy to do any more.

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

When I think about all of the farm animals who have lost their lives to be food, I see billions of them, filling great fields, quietly pleading with us to stop. This is at the heart of my work.

There is another cause that is important to me. I volunteer each week at a no-kill volunteer-run cat and dog shelter called ARF (in Beacon, NY). Some people in the vegan community feel that it is cruel for animals to be kept in no-kill shelters, but spending time in one on a weekly basis, I strongly disagree. Given some time in the shelter, many cats and dogs who might be euthanized in a kill shelter find loving homes. Those who don’t have a good life with great veterinary care and lots of love from volunteers at the shelter. It breaks my heart when I read that some organizations advocate for these animals to be euthanized rather than given a chance at a shelter. I hope that readers will consider volunteering at a local shelter. By just donating a few hours a week you can make a huge difference for the animals. These shelters can be successful, but many need volunteers in order to continue. This is a very simple way for people to make a huge positive impact for animals who might otherwise be euthanized at a kill shelter. And I always walk out of ARF feeling so much better than when I arrived.

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

Pure love.