Friday, August 19, 2016

Talking Trolls with Dr. Casey Taft...



On Friday of last week, John and I were talking about this-or-that trolling comment of the day (it honestly happens so much, I don’t remember the specific incident) and John had the brilliant idea of Troll Week. From there, it all kind of came together. We’ve spent the last week mining the depths of our social media to bring a new winning (?) comment to light each day and have just generally explored the idea of online trolling. Monday morning, I thought about capping the week off with an interview with Dr. Casey Taft, Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, co-founder of Vegan Publishers and author of the widely acclaimed Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective. As an internationally recognized expert in the study of trauma, Dr. Taft understands the importance of acknowledging and ending our violence towards other animals as a way to build a more compassionate world. He will also be joining me next week as my featured Vegan Rock Star. I am so glad that he could join us this week on such short notice and share his professional and personal insights and wisdom with us.

First, how would you define a "troll"? 

A troll is someone who posts only to get a rise out of others. 

Are there any obvious markers of trolling behavior online?  

The most obvious marker is if they frequently post "BACON" in all caps. 

What if it's not all caps? Just kidding. Is there anything else that strikes you as an obvious sign someone is engaging in trolling? 

It's kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest. One needs to feel things out and determine whether or not the person is making an honest attempt to engage in discussion, or just attempting to inflame a conversation.

Conversely, what are some more subtle strategies of trolls? 

More subtly, some trolls will attempt to derail and sidetrack a discussion in an attempt to take it away from an important ethical issue. For example, rather than discuss the fundamental question of whether we have any need to be killing and consuming non-human animals (we don't), a troll would like to change the conversation to focus on plants rights or the diets of early humans. This way, the troll and their target can engage in pointless debate for hours while never discussing the important issues. 

I see vegans falling for this a lot, the moving of the goal posts. I do myself when I'm not paying attention as well. What do you recommend doing as soon as you notice this happening? Just bring the conversation back? Is there any advantage to pointing it out, like "I see what you're doing there"?

Yes, I recommend bringing it back to the core ethical issues and avoid going down that road to nowhere. 

Knowing what you know about human psychology and motivation, what strategies do you recommend for being able to shift a trolling comment into a more meaningful interaction that could result in a positive outcome, for example, a person seriously considering what you have to say? 

If we are talking about online, I think it's really important to keep in mind that our audience is larger than the individual troll we're interacting with. Often, there are many other "lurkers" who are witnessing the interaction, and our response to trolls can make a big difference in how we are perceived. It's a good rule of thumb to never give in to our inclination to jump down the troll's throat. If we can respond assertively and non-aggressively, we can show others that we are fully rational and composed when we present our vegan view. There will also be times, however, when the discussion has reached an impasse and we will just have to let the troll know that there isn't really any point in continuing an unproductive conversation. 

Great point and this leads to my next question: Many of us struggle with wanting to get the last word in even when we know that it's futile. When should you know that enough is enough and there isn't the likelihood of a transformative dialogue with someone? 

This is really the challenge for us advocates: to learn to diagnose the situation and determine our best approach and when to call it a day. When it seems that both people in the discussion have stopped listening and are just trying to argue their point of view, that's a good sign that the discussion is not productive. 

Have you had any experiences that come to mind where you wrote someone off as a troll but were pleasantly surprised? What do you attribute that turnaround to?

I really try not to do this and I work to give everyone the benefit of a doubt, but I see others make this mistake all of the time! So often I see others assume that someone is trolling, probably because they're burnt out from dealing with so many of them. They come to assume that anyone asking a somewhat naive question is just trying to piss them off. This is something that I teach my patients as a psychologist; we should try not to assume the intentions of others, and if we assume anything, we should assume the best in their intentions. 

I see this a lot too, especially on social media. People might be asking a question, not to undermine or get a rise out of anyone, but because they are genuinely curious and I've seen vegans can get very aggressive and angry with their questions. Most people don't realize how much passive-aggression and trolling vegans receive so they write us off as a bunch of really angry people. I think it's a good rule of thumb to take give people the benefit of the doubt if you don't know any better at least at first. Is there a good way to let your fellow vegans know that they should chill out? Is modeling a better example our best tool for this? 

There may be times when it is a good idea to say, "Let's hold on! I think John is sincere in wanting to know more about this. Let's give him the benefit of a doubt." Other times I will just delete the negative comments and try to engage directly with the false troll.

Let's talk about real life, in-person trolls! From family members to co-workers, many of us have to deal with people who undermine and insult us and what we stand for in life, some who are passive-aggressive and others who blatantly attack. Many of us who are activists have also had the experience of the "drive-by" troll, those who use the hit-and-run approach of saying something like "Get a life!" as they speed-walk past us at a protest. I know that this is a HUGE topic, but do you have any advice for dealing with an in-person troll? Does it differ from how you'd approach trolling from a stranger online? 

I think this depends on who the person is and how important it is to us if we want a continued relationship with them. Sometimes we need to decide that it's not healthy for us to continue to interact with someone who we feel is attempting to bully or upset us, and we need to set boundaries and limits. Other times, if it's someone who we want a continued relationship with, we need to find ways to express to them how their behavior makes us feel, and hope that they will listen to and validate us. In all cases, though, we have to make sure that we're really taking care of ourselves and are not allowing others to abuse us. That's obviously not good for us or for the animals who we advocate for. 

Self-care is so important for sustainability. So another question for you: what is an example of vegans trolling? When, if ever, is it justified? 

I will tell you a secret. I actually troll non-vegans on occasion. The way that I do this is to post provocative things on social media. They are always truthful, mind you, but I know that it will shake up some folks. For example, if we post something to the effect that one cannot claim to be an animal lover while eating animals, we get a big backlash on our page from dog and cat lovers. The reason we do this is because some people really do need a bit of a jolt of reality for them to question whether their behavior matches their beliefs. Secondly, when we do this, our posts go a lot more viral because of all of the angry comments and shares, which then causes our posts to show up on the newsfeeds of their friends. I know for a fact that we've helped many people go vegan as a result of our troll posts because we get many messages from those asking for help in their transition after such posts. 

I guess I don't call that trolling but being provocative. Potato, potahtoe and all that. Okay, last question. Burnout is such a real danger to vegans: do you have any general mental health tips for those of us who engage with the public as animal advocates? Sometimes it can feel so soul-crushing. 

Yes, try not to let yourself go to that dark place where you feel like everyone sucks. I think most advocates know this place I'm referring to. When we don't set boundaries and limits, when we don't take good care of ourselves, and when we don't know when to take a break from the trolls and the conflict, that's when we go to that dark place. Self-care in animal advocacy may sound cliché but it's really important if we are going to be effective advocates. It can be hard to give others the benefit of a doubt when we're in that dark place, and it's also hard to join with others in helping them change if we think that everyone is terrible. 

Thank you, Casey! I so appreciate your time and all you do! Thanks for participating in Troll Week. :)


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Open Letter to Tyson Ho, Offended Pitmaster…

 

Dear Mr. Ho,

I promise I will be mature. I promise I will not refer to you as an (arm)pitmaster as I did on my Facebook post as I have cooled off a bit and as I have nothing really against armpits per se as they serve an important and useful function in the world. Some consider the axilla an area on the body worthy of fetishizing. This is neither here nor there. I just didn’t want to jumble armpits up with the likes of you, Mr. Ho, as it is unfair to one of our most hardworking sweat gland locations.

Now I should add the obligatory trigger warning to anyone else reading this letter as depictions of gratuitous violence featuring you and the animals you slice up are forthcoming. I should also add that the inevitable vegans who will grasp at their faux-pearls at my lack-of-helping-the-cause with this open letter can, I don’t know, concentrate on their own efforts.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk, Mr. Ho.

You were brought to my attention yesterday, when I innocently clicked on a link in my aggregated vegan Google alerts. The link was to an article about the success of a Brooklyn-based seitan company called Monk’s Vegan Smokehouse and because it was in the mainstream outlet Gothamist, in order for everything to be fair and balanced and potentially clickbait-y, of course conventional flesh-slingers had to be quoted as well. For the most part, your brethren were gracious and showed courtesy. Not you, Mr. Ho. When asked about the concept of vegan BBQ, you took off your pitmaster gloves (I imagine you wear gloves and I imagine you took them off with what you consider panache) and issued forth this stunning quote: “Vegan BBQ is as nonsensical of a term as pork-chop sushi or composing a garden salad out of candy bars. BBQ centers around the philosophy of contextual communal feasting. Smoked seitan is violently antithetical to that. Rather than call to mind the excessive feasting of laborers at the end of the fall harvest, it's an anemic dietary constraint. Rather than
a celebration of abundance, it's a solution to a problem no one wanted solved.”

Wow.

Wow.

I meant it when I said that your quote was stunning. I was, quite literally, stunned, and as someone who tracks the public response to veganism as part of my job, that is saying something. Let’s dissect this cumbersome quote line by line like one of “your” hogs, Mr. Ho, but with a lot less gristle and viscera and no unnecessary violence. Rolling up my sleeves as I have no pitmaster gloves…

Vegan BBQ is as nonsensical of a term as pork-chop sushi or composing a garden salad out of candy bars.”

Why? Because you say so? Because you lack vision and you are a traditionalist who does not allow for adaptation and re-interpretation in your worldview? Is that why vegan barbecue is, as you say, nonsensical? If vegan barbecue is indeed nonsensical, is it in the first meaning of nonsensical, “
conceived or made without regard for reason or reality” or the second, “showing or marked by a lack of good sense or judgment,” because both sound like opinion to me, not something grounded in anything resembling fact. Who knew meat-carvers could be so emotional? 

Personally, I am very grateful for people who do not accept the status quo of traditions as they were handed down and have had the confidence and the imagination to leave behind the customs that are predicated on violence and harm. Further,
are the dead animals you barbecue covered with maguey leaves before they are set aflame in a hole in the ground, Mr. Ho, as in keeping with the original tradition? My good sir, please don’t tell me you are selling something that does not adhere to that exact preparation protocol and still referring to the flesh as “barbecue”. It is an abomination! It’s an act of aggression! It is just this side of veganish! Further, I hope you don’t think that all barbecue is the same when there are regional BBQ preparations that vary throughout the southern U.S, as well as Kansas City, Texas, Maryland and Chicago-style BBQs to name a few. If there can be all these different BBQ traditions just in the U.S., why can there not be a vegan one or even several vegan ones? It sounds to me like you don’t respect the art of the BBQ at all, Mr. Ho, and are sorely lacking in creativity. You have angered the BBQ gods!

BBQ centers around the philosophy of contextual communal feasting.”

So many fancy words, two of which are completely superfluous, to convey that BBQ is about sharing a meal together. Again, can vegans not feast together? Must roasted animal flesh be present for it to be an official Ho-approved bacchanal? The BBQ gods are angered again.

I have attended and hosted many community meals wherein no animals were sacrificed, a.k.a., vegan potlucks. To me, they felt like community gatherings and feasts. Alas, no smoldering corpses were present. I suppose they are now null-and-void in your view. Please validate my existence, Mr. Ho! Though I honestly don’t know how anyone could still have an appetite with this happening near them.

 
“Smoked seitan is violently antithetical to that.”

Again, why is smoked seitan antithetical to a community feast? Because you say so? You seem to be fond of making blanket pronouncements and having them stand in the place of fact. Seitan, also known as wheat gluten, has its origins in the Buddhist practice of nonviolence and was first referenced in the Qimin Yaoshu, a Chinese agricultural text written in the sixth century. Surely you are not implying that Buddhists who have shared communal meals for centuries with seitan and without dead animals feasted together in a way that was and is illegitimate. That would be, at the least, culturally insensitive and at the worst, highly arrogant. Seeing as the name of your business has the word “arrogant” in it, though attached to the sensitive animals who are slaughtered for your living, I will assume it is the latter. Also, should you be the one using the word “violently” as though it’s a pejorative after having posed for the above photo?

“Rather than call to mind the excessive feasting of laborers at the end of the fall harvest, it's an anemic dietary constraint.”

Okay, I could harp again on your opinions stated as fact, but I’m getting bored with that. I hope you are, too, and will adopt a different rhetorical style. Instead, I will ask you to please consider exhibit A, B, and C before you wax rhapsodic about the experience of laborers again. Or are you only interested in the golden-hued vision you have of our glorious past? Could you be laboring under a romanticized pastoralism? I hope you will click on those links to get a better sense of the lives of modern agricultural workers. But, but, but, you and your fellow flesh fetishists might sputter, I only buy free-range, organic, coddled, massaged noble beasts who have but one bad day…To that I have to ask, Who is the sentimentalist now? And, yeah, I’m calling bullshit on that. Are the laborers treated better? Most likely, considering that working in industrial agriculture is as dangerous, low-paid, exploitative and degrading a job as they come, they are treated better. Is this the bar, really as low as they come, one that you want to really boast about vaunting over, though? 




As per the “anemic dietary-constraint,” you get points for your purple prose but I must deduct more points for your lack of vision and awareness of the abundance and variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes and herbs available to us. How sad for an alleged culinary artist to be so limited in inspiration and sensuality. The BBQ gods, they are pissed.

I’m running out of steam, but this last pithy remark, oh, it’s a doozy.

“Rather than
a celebration of abundance, it's a solution to a problem no one wanted solved.”

For real, Mr. Ho, are you punking us? Yes, no one wants the “problem” of needless violence and suffering solved. No one at all. No one wants the “problem” of workplace exploitation solved. No one at all. No one wants the “problems” of water pollution, water scarcity, air pollution and climate change that are inextricably tied to animal agriculture solved at all, certainly not the future generations who will inherit this mess. Why would we want any of these problems solved when we could be sitting around a smoking pig's corpse in Brooklyn and picking our teeth with small-batch dental floss, ranting about seitan and patting ourselves on the back for being awesome, if completely narcissistic and oblivious, BBQ pitmasters?

Mr. Ho, you are the living manifestation of everyone’s dinner party-meets-Portlandia nightmare that unsuspecting, unlucky-as-hell people get seated next to and are forced to hear blather on and on about your sentimental version of BBQ culture of yore and history and sociology and philosophy and veganism and whatever random thing you pull out of your hipster ass and, speaking of your hipster ass, I am betting $100 in craft beer that you have at least two or three deeply regrettable tattoos.

)

You had to be this cold-hearted and psychopathic looking and be photographed doing whatever sick thing it is you’re doing to this tortured body with a FREAKING CIGAR in your mouth? Because it wasn’t mean-spirited and obnoxious looking enough without the cigar. Smoked seitan did not cause this problem. Human arrogance did.

Get help. And buh bye.

Sincerely,

Marla Rose

PS – Seriously, I mean it, get help. I am an optimist so I still believe it’s possible that you can be reformed. That may just be an anemia-fueled fanciful notion of mine, though.

PPS
You should be paying for the exorcism of my laptop I'll need to have now that I saved your demonic photos to my desktop even briefly.
PPPS – The BBQ gods really hate you.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstars with Lacie and Robin

 

Okay, so somehow this video came across my eyes and I watched the video and even though I was prepared to get all rage-y, I fell in love! (Even if I had to forgive them for their very wrong position on tempeh, though I may also have to face that only about four of us on the planet are actually fans of the stuff.) Lacie and Robin are a couple who have been together for 20 years and have gone vegan together in more recent years. They are both from comedy backgrounds and this is evident in the wonderful rapport they have together and use to tackle all kinds of subjects on their YouTube channel, from what does LGBTQIA mean exactly to simple steps you can take to help create better gun control. Oh, plus vegan videos, too! (And they’ve made a film together!) Their affectionate, warm chemistry, candor, maturity and refreshing lack of clickbait-y behavior made me so happy, especially given the often-toxic vegan representation on YouTube. We need to replace all the screechy, look-at-me vegans with more Lacie and Robins. Get off my lawn!!! Oh, and please subscribe to their YouTube channel and follow them on Facebook.

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?
It’s amazing as we’re thinking about it, but neither of us have early memories of being attracted to vegetarianism or veganism. We were both major animal lovers but it never occurred to us that that had anything to do with what we were eating. As adults, we dabbled in vegetarianism on and off but it wasn't until we met our friend, Barry, a vegan, who we love and admire for his all-around badassery, that we became open to it. He's always unassuming, and he never talked about being vegan when we met him. He just WAS that and we sort of watched and asked questions out of curiosity every now and again. Then, one night, we were surfing Netflix and we happened upon “Vegucated”, which we had always avoided like the plague, because we knew if we really faced the reality of what we were participating in, we wouldn't be able to eat meat anymore. But, that night, because of Barry, we were open to watching.
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?
Robin: I don't think there's any way I would have been convinced to change, except for seeing what happens to the animals. 
Lacie: Yeah, “Vegucated” was great because it lures the viewer into going along for the ride of whether people can go vegan for six weeks, and then, with a very light touch, actually, slips in two minutes of graphic imagery from a factory farm. That was that for us. We immediately looked at each other and said, “It’s over.”
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
Robin: We come from a stand-up comedy background so we always like to use humor to get the point across. We’ve done a couple of comedy videos on being vegan on our YouTube channel, “Lacie and Robin”, and we’re gonna be doing them more regularly because, hey we’re vegan. That’s what we do: we talk about it non-stop. But, we aim to be “safe” vegans, who aren’t going to try to convert you and make you feel guilty. One of the missions of our channel is to build bridges for people who wanna know more about veganism without feeling judged. We see ourselves as a place for people who maybe don’t necessarily want to become vegan but are just curious about it. We wanna be clear that people don’t have to become fully vegan to make small changes in their lifestyles that help the cause.
Lacie: We believe that making people feel guilty or wrong for eating animals is counterproductive. 



4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Lacie: The food is beginning to taste a whole lot better. There's a company named Beyond Meat now, that makes chicken that's so delicious and convincing, I actually it eat it out of the pan while I'm cooking it. That's amazing to me. This is what will begin to bring more people over. Lots of people aren't happy about the notion of hurting animals but they're not willing to give up delicious foods and they're not health nuts. Vegan "mayo" and "butter" are every bit as good as the dairy versions. Restaurants are popping up in L.A. that serve great vegan food. While we've become healthier eaters in the four years since we've become vegan, we still eat plenty of fake meats and cheeses. And, since it's all about the animals for us, we probably always will. So, these things matter to us a lot.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
We sometimes give ourselves a bad reputation by proselytizing. Nobody wants to be told what to do. That creates resistance and fear. The first vegan video we put up was called "Why Are Vegans So Annoying?" And, one of the jokes in it is that we vegans can never seem to get through a party without bringing it up. It's practically impossible because we genuinely care about the cause. But, no one wants to hear about death, taxes or veganism. We're better off being great examples.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
The sacrifice is nothing compared to the reward. Living a do-no-harm lifestyle has a hundred magical consequences you can never know unless you try it. 
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? 
Bill Clinton's being vegan didn't hurt. And, it's totally encouraging that Scott Jurek, who won the ultra-marathon multiple times is vegan. In terms of films, we've talked a lot about "Vegucated" - a fun movie with a very light touch on the horrors of factory farming. "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" was a great watch and a real eye-opener with regard to the health benefits of being vegan. It was really about the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables but the outcomes for the participants, all of whom started with pretty serious health conditions, were plain undeniable.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
If we ever feel the slightest temptation, we think about the animals. We also like to drink beer and watch "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee."
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Lacie: I think sometimes people think that killing a cow, pig, etc. is not such a big deal if the animal has been free-range and allowed to live a reasonably natural life. But, factory farming means that animals never have anything like the sweetness of a natural life. These are fantasies created by marketing that have no relationship to reality. This includes dairy animals who, arguably, have even worse circumstances than meat animals.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...” 
Robin: . . . all about the animals.
Lacie: . . . the thing I'll be most proud of when I die. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Seventeen Examples of How Vegans are Poised to Rule the World...



1. We are obsessed with avocados and bananas and in a state of emergency, we have all the ripe ones while you are stuck with the sad, unripe ones, waiting in vain for them to ripen while the world burns outside your door.


2. Vegans can make people feel guilty without a word or even a glance. Let me repeat that: we can make omnivores feel guilty simply by existing. Who else besides your mother could make the same claim? I’m not sure exactly how this gift will be used to affirm our eventual ruling status, but, hey, it’s something for our toolbox just in case.

3. Put us in the least accommodating restaurant and the best of us can hack the hell out of the menu vegan MacGyver-style. I’m pretty sure this means that we’re resourceful and visionary, which are favorable traits for taking over the world.

4. Speaking of, we are like ruthless ninjas with flinging one-star reviews like we’re throwing shuriken stars at establishments that provoke our displeasure, which probably is evidence of our sharp reflexes and non-violent ruthlessness.

5. Not to brag or anything but we know approximately 700 things to do with cashews, which could be of value.  

6. With an hour’s notice, we can create an entire Instagram-worthy Thanksgiving meal out of pantry staples, parsley and a couple of onions. Can you?

7. We have been hit with every ludicrous excuse and justification for eating animals imaginable from people who want us to believe that the dietary needs of a carnivorous lion should dictate our moral decisions and those who make the should-have-been-disregarded-in-sixth-grade claim that plants feel pain. This is the landscape we dwell in, meaning that our lives are like absurdist comedies so we are ready for whatever life throws our way. Also: we’re basically Teflon.

8. Once you’ve been tagged in a bunch of photos wearing a tofu costume all over social media, you’re basically embarrassment-proof. I’m sure there’s some practical leadership advantage to that but I don’t know what it is right now.

9. If you’ve ever witnessed the conniptions that ensue when people find out that the wedding they’ve been invited to is going to be vegan and how irate they become at having their dietary preferences not catered to for one entire, single meal, you’ll realize that it doesn’t take much for some omnivores to collapse in a heap of self-pity and hollow righteous fury. Vegans, however, are accustomed to adapting to all situations thus we are completely poised for global domination.

10. Vegans who live in small towns and rural areas are practically survivalists but do it without killing animals, which is so much more awesome and less gross.

11. We invented and are perfecting an egg white replacement that is made from bean water. I’ll just leave that here.

12. We survived 1944 – 2000-something without decent vegan cheese. Some people say they can’t live without cheese, maybe the same people who will die if they have to endure an entire wedding without meat and animal products. Are these the people who we trust to take over the world? Unable to imagine life without string cheese and gruy
ère? Until recently, vegans have put nutritional yeast and almonds in the food processor, pulsed it together a few times, called it cheese, and carried on with our lives without colossal freak-outs. In short, we’re not babies.  

13. Have you ever wondered why we say or type the word “vegan” about 50 times a day? You can pronounce it correctly now, right? This will make power transfer much smoother. Thank you for your compliance.

14. You know how vegans are in and out of the bathroom quickly because of all that fiber? We’re using that spare time to foment the vegan revolution. What do you do with your time in the bathroom? Just sit there twiddling your thumbs? Whatever floats your boat.

15. We can scan an ingredients label in 10 – 20 seconds. We can scan labels in our sleep. We can scan labels while simultaneously making sure a toddler doesn’t upend a display of canned beans, figuring out dinner and planning our Fur Free Friday march. We’re like supercomputers when it comes to label scanning. Again, I’m not sure what we’ll be using this talent for in the new world order but it’s something.

16. The word “bacon” does not make us slobber uncontrollably. The new world order will reflect that Homer Simpson is a cautionary tale, not someone to emulate.

17. Who is better prepared for the revolution, the people who have meltdowns when there isn’t sufficient cheese, who care more about bacon than basic rights, and who feel completely violated when their every dietary preference isn’t met or the vegans? I think you already know the answer to that.
 


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Break...




Hi, all -

It’s come to my attention that I really need some time to reflect, recharge and get focused with some new goals. It’s not been an easy time, to be honest. I’ve become painfully aware that when you speak up about the things that matter to you, you may experience a lot of push-back in the form of verbal attacks and character assassination. This is not from outside the vegan movement, it is from within. I’ve dedicated my life to helping to build a more compassionate, just and sustainable world. I am unwavering in that. What is sad to me, though, that we can’t disagree, even vehemently, without stooping to such personal meanness. It makes me wonder what hope we have in ushering in a new consciousness when our default norm for engaging in critical disagreement is no better than what we see acted out on the political stage. I would hope that vegans would be modeling a different approach to dissension but I see that for many, vituperation and demonization is the status quo. We need to do better than this, even when our egos have been rattled.

Anyway, I am taking the time for a little self-care and reassessment, inspired by a generous and helpful friend, and I hope I return a little more rested and a lot more recharged. In the meantime, if you are in the Chicago area, please check out Veggie Fest this weekend! I will be doing a cooking demo on July 24 at 3:00. Details on the link.

See you soon!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Best Vegans Aren't Vegan and Other Absurdities...



From within the vegan movement, I have always observed a tendency toward painting one another as either hard-line ideologues or compromising doormats and the tinderbox that is online communication has only made things more fractious. This is also nothing new. What is new, though, is the attitude that I’ve seen pushed with more and more frequency and more and more certainty by mainstream vegan “thought leaders” that by making concessions on our vegan practices to accommodate those who are inconvenienced, confused or threatened by them, we are making strategic advances for the animals. In recent months, I’ve even seen some make the wholly Orwellian claim that by eating animal products on occasion, we are actually helping the animals overall by appearing to be less extreme, more approachable, just generally nicer. It seems that by eating animal products on advantageous occasions, we can help to assure their eventual liberation, or at least the liberation of their future generations. This line of reasoning only works, though, if you have bought into the false dichotomy that it is more beneficial to be helpful and pragmatic than to be judgmental and dogmatic.

In the world I live in, though, there are many ways to live as a vegan within the brackets of these polarities that do not rely on an obvious straw man caricature as the boogeyman. According to this convenient duality I’ve seen pushed with an increasing confidence, vegans can only choose between being supportive, smart pragmatists or angry, irrational ideologues. While I will wholeheartedly agree that all of us need to communicate better, I also believe that it is entirely possible to not behave like shrieking militants while still maintaining our commitment to veganism. If we bend over backwards to accommodate what we think people are threatened by, if suddenly eating something with “a little egg” or “a little butter” is the difference between someone thinking we’re reasonable and that same person thinking we’re puritanical, where do we draw the line? What if someone who I really want to appeal to thinks it’s dogmatic that I won’t eat bacon? What then? Do I eat the bacon? Why end there? A little beef? I am to understand from our new pragmatic leaders that we should eat cows over chickens. Why not just make it a regular part of my life to consume some beef and dairy to be more accommodating and model for the world that eating cows is preferable to eating chickens? Why not? Maybe I will become the ultimate vegan by not being vegan anymore. This may sound absurd and rightfully so but it is the obvious outcome of the Orwellian claptrap I’ve seen championed by thought leaders in the vegan movement for the past year or so: The best vegans are the ones who are not even vegan at all.

I came home tonight pretty upset and heartbroken after hearing yet another vegan speaker promoting this view of the helpful pragmatist and the out-of-touch idealist, an out-of-touch idealist who is so very extreme that he or she won’t even intentionally consume animal products. As my husband said when I came home and told him about it, here we are, closer than ever to gaining legitimacy and beginning to make real inroads for creating change and the real challenge to our progress is coming not from well-funded industries or powerful special interests but from within the vegan movement. By making the term “vegan” so nebulous and shape-shifting it for what we see as strategic gains, we are cutting the ethical basis out of our social justice movement. Those are our own hands doing the cutting. It’s not industry. It’s not special interests. We are on the precipice of powerfully positive change and here we are voluntarily holding the scissors. Snip, snip, snip. Cut that pesky meaning from the word. Let’s make everything all nice and neat and non-threatening.

All of this is to say that I will not knowingly consume animal products because if someone’s convictions about living with compassion and justice are so tenuous and flimsy that I need to eat yogurt-covered pretzels in order to convince them that I am a reasonable person, this is not someone I am going to focus on influencing. I will move on. I will continue to show that it is entirely possible to be a vegan who maintains her standards while remaining friendly, welcoming, engaging, accessible and helpful. Just as I wouldn’t expect domestic violence activists to engage in “a little battery” to convince the public that, hey, they’re not so high and mighty with their whole anti-violence thing, we should not be expected to compromise our values to be effective. We can be effective without it.

I have gotten dozens and dozens of messages from people over the years who have learned about veganism through positive but honest advocacy and they are deeply grateful for being able to access and unlock this incredibly rich, rewarding and empowering reservoir they never knew was inside of them. Their intelligence, strength and basic goodness was respected. These are people who had never envisioned themselves as vegan but saw the possibilities because their capacity to grow was trusted. Intentionally eating some animals to score perceived tactical points with “normal people” violates the very foundational premise of veganism, which is that we don’t knowingly use other animals for our purposes. This isn’t about purity; it isn’t about judgment. It’s simply about consistency and believing in the foundational principles of veganism. As my husband said when we talked about it, we have worked really hard for this word vegan to mean something and to bring awareness to not only what it means but also why we do it. People who largely eat a vegan diet but advocate eating some animals on some occasions under the pretext of effectiveness need to call themselves something else. This isn’t splitting hairs. They are simply promoting something other than veganism.

Oh, and, hey, look at what just showed up in my Google alerts this very morning. Sample quote: "I think 'seagan' fits a huge need for vegans who want variety and, for health reasons, they now realize they can eat this."

Yup. When animals are eaten by vegans, we are truly in an Orwellian reality of our own doing. My sincere apologies to the animals. The “vegans” have sold you down the river.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Jocelyn Graef of Fast Easy Vegan




One of the great things about being a vegan today is that there are so many delicious, animal-free replacements for the foods w
e once ate and loved. With vegan cheeses and eggs, ice creams and candy bars, creamy salad dressings and even bacon-flavored potato chips, it is easy today to be vegan without saying goodbye to any of our old favorites and maintain our commitment to an animal product-free diet. As someone who has been vegan for more than 20 years, I can tell you that opportunities to indulge just like our omnivorous counterparts are at a level I never could have predicted when I began on this path. It is a boon for the animals when people discover that they don’t have to eat or harm them to enjoy corn dogs and cheesecake but, yeah, not so great for our waistlines. Highly seasoned, rich, crunchy and creamy foods are not off limits to vegans anymore and it means that “slim” and “vegan” are no longer synonymous.

Enter Jocelyn Graef.

Jocelyn is the down-to-earth powerhouse behind the highly accessible Fast Easy Vegan meal plan and service. For just $1.99 a week, FEV sends subscribers different weekly dinner recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and emphasize the most nutrient-dense ingredients without sacrificing taste, convenience or enjoyment. Best, subscribers will learn lifelong skills and techniques for preparing healthy vegan foods with ease and an eye toward thriftiness. The recipes you will get as a FEV subscriber (find some sample recipes here) or in Jocelyn’s helpful cookbook, The LowFat Herbivore, are simple and uncomplicated, relying on the flavors of whole, nutritious ingredients to help transform your taste buds to crave more delicious plant-centered foods. With a re-booted website (Jocelyn is a Vegan Street Media client) and a passion for creating a kinder, healthier world, Fast Easy Vegan is poised to create positive change in countless lives. Please like her on Facebook and help to spread the word about Fast Easy Vegan. Healthy living doesn’t need to compromise flavor, convenience or our values. We are honored and excited to showcase Jocelyn Graef of Fast Easy Vegan 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?

As a child, my Mom encouraged exploration and learning of all kinds and cooking was definitely a part of that. I was encouraged to be independent and self-reliant in all ways. My father was German and his mother lived with us in my younger years, so I was also exposed to different foods than my friends. I was raised with lots of wonderful dense, whole grain breads and vegetables and salad were a part of every dinner. They still are.


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?


I was raised by a Mom who was nutritionally conscious. In all the wrong ways, as it turns out, as she was a victim of the trends of the day – lots and lots of protein. Lots. As a result, my brother and I were often sick. I didn’t put the food pieces together until I was a teenager and everything changed for me when I took control of my diet and became a vegan, then explored vegetarianism and cleansing diets and raw food and, and, and. The health connection was always the key for me. I didn’t grow up with junk food or processed foods (thanks, Mom) so I never developed a taste for them, and everything we made in the kitchen was made from scratch. Dropping the meat and dairy was an easy transition for me. Same real food, sans animal products.

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


That is such a difficult question to answer! There are several, and all for different reasons. One was a meal at Dirt Candy in NYC. It was the first high-end vegan meal I’d had in a restaurant. The owner/chef was filling water glasses as well as cooking and serving in this tiny, tiny place down some stairs in a room with just a few tables and two people working. She had created a theme for the night around beans. Every course had a bean dish. Black beans, green beans, kidney beans. It was fun, interesting and inventive. Not all the dishes worked, which I also appreciated because it showed that she wasn’t afraid to get out there with her ideas. It was a memorable meal. Many years later, I’m still thinking about it.

Another memorable dining experience was at a place called Aska in Brooklyn. At the time it was a pop-up and my son (a true foodie and erstwhile chef) and his wife (also a foodie) and I had to check it out. Not a vegan place, they rose to the challenge of spontaneously making a vegan version of every course just for me. Talk about cooking chops! I was absolutely blown away at the level of taste they achieved from a spontaneous effort without having a knowledge of vegan cooking. Their effort and creativity was marvelous.

Finally we come to Millennium. Close to home here in the Bay Area of California where my husband and I live, we go to Millennium in Oakland for the most special occasions. A topflight true vegan restaurant, I have never had anything less than a stellar meal there. There are too many too recount. In fact, we are looking forward to dining there in a few days where a guest chef is presenting a 5 course Latin American meal. Now how could we miss that?! Sometimes the food itself is the very special occasion.


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 the one person I would like to cook a meal for would be my grandfather. Raised on a farm, he became a “people’s” artist who loved sketching and painting people as they went about their daily lives. He frequently contributed to a political German magazine – and was executed for it by the Nazi’s. I never had the pleasure of knowing him. I would like to honor him for elevating the value of working people everywhere through his art, as well as to share with him the bounty and the beauty of “peasant food”: The foods that are the most abundant, the cheapest and the healthiest. It would be a simple, hearty meal, reflecting the favorite tastes of Germany: A mushroom mixture of wild mushrooms, thickly sliced and sautéed, simmered in a brown gravy and spooned over a dish of spaetzle. Accompanying this would be a robust portion of bright green asparagus with a citrusy piccata sauce drizzled over. An accompanying salad would be served on the side, filled with fresh vegetables and a variety of baby lettuces and dressed in a light vinaigrette. A crisp and light white wine, German of course, would accompany the meal. The blissful ending would have to be some sort of torte; the flavors of raspberry and chocolate with a thin layer of marzipan, and a sweet dessert port to finish. Add some good conversation and it would be a night to remember! I only hope he’d want seconds.

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


This is an easy one: fake meats!! I have never understood why people who stop eating animals spend so much time trying to replicate the taste and texture of flesh. It isn’t pretty, dead animals aren’t cute and plants don’t taste like animals. Stop with the trying! It will never happen and that’s a good thing. Cheese is a close second, being, in the hilarious words of Dr. Neal Barnard, “70% grease, which is one step away from Vaseline.” He was actually talking about dairy cheese, but vegan cheese qualifies, too. Eat whole foods. If you’re trying to win over the carnivores, don’t try to compete. It doesn’t work. Prove to them how delicious the differences are instead.

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

Right now, in July, I am a fiend for fresh fruit. I don’t do anything but wash it, peel it and cut it up into fruit salad. There is nothing better. A few different ripe melons, chunks of nectarine and ripe peach with a sprinkling of blueberries. And a fork. Sometimes, unadulterated Nature cannot be improved upon.

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

Mexican, Middle Eastern and Italian. In that order.

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


Since I connected with food as medicine as a teenager, I have always believed intuitively and logically that veganism is the best diet for humans. That said, I never made a long-term commitment to it until the end of 2003. Shortly thereafter, The China Study came out and the science proved it all. Between that book and Dr. John McDougall’s website I have found all the answers, and more, to all my questions. I have researched everybody else in the vegan world, to the point of overwhelm, but I keep coming back to Dr. McDougall and The China Study as my foundation. The McDougall website is the deepest and most information-generous on the web. He and his wife, Mary, run many group events and live-in trainings as well as offering free webinars for those who can’t afford to attend in person.

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


Food is medicine. I am at the age where I hear all my friends talk about their health woes. Many of them are felled by heart attacks or strokes, beset by diabetes or cancers of all flavors. Some of them have embraced a plant exclusive diet and recovered, thrillingly. I started the Fast Easy Vegan menu planning service to make it easy for people to get healthy and eat plant exclusive, without the problems caused by processed foods and oil. I get that it’s overwhelming at first. Make it easy on yourself and find a program where you can simply follow the plans. If you don’t like mine, find another one. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it and see how simple it really is. I want everyone to be healthy!

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


To me, veganism is a circle of harmony. Everybody/everything benefits and nobody/nothing gets hurt. The perfect system! The beauty of a plant exclusive diet is not only health-giving, but utterly delicious. Vegetables and grains in and of themselves have a variety of taste and texture that is nearly endless, as well as being beautiful to behold. When I stopped eating animals and their products I was amazed to experience a layer of grief lift off of me that I hadn’t known was there. As I thought about it, it made perfect sense that I would experience that as I was no longer ingesting the terror and pain of sentient beings. I was also doing my heart and overall health a huge favor. Too, the environmental damage caused by a brutal and widespread animal industry was something I was no longer participating in. Everybody wins! To me, that is the proof that people are intended to eat plants as their native diet. It is a joyful experience, nobody is hurt in the process and our health improves as an end result. There are many doors to veganism: environmental, health, love of animals. Enter one and you will also connect to the others. It all works.