Wednesday, July 20, 2016


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.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dear Oppressed, Hectored Meat Eaters


Dear Oppressed, Hectored Meat Eaters,

I know. It’s been very hard to be you, OHME. I’ve been hearing your complaints and I want to acknowledge them.

I understand that you feel like an oppressed minority with this new breed of uppity vegans cropping up all over the place. God, it must feel like there are more of us every day. We used to be so docile, too. We used to be quiet about being vegan. Not anymore, though. It’s like you took two minutes to heat up a steak burrito in the microwave and in that time, hostile vegans did a land grab. Now we’re in your office, in your classroom, maybe even in your own home. We may even be your boss. It used to be different and not even that long ago. It used to be that vegans knew our place and we just kind of left all you normal people alone to live your life in peace and everything was easy. Yeah, there were always random vegans running around but they were easy to identify with all the bumper stickers on their cars and the dust cloud of nutritional yeast that followed them everywhere. Today’s vegan has gotten good at surreptitiously infiltrating society without setting off too many alarms. I don’t blame you for feeling insecure, OHME. It used to seem like you knew when someone was a vegan but not anymore. This stresses you out and almost makes you want to cover up your bacon tattoos.

Nowadays, the vegans have gotten all high and mighty, too, making you remember that meat comes from animals and all that other stuff that is annoying about vegans. It’s not only that but the world is also changing; sometimes feels like vegans are on the way up and that can only mean that you are on the way down, which sucks for you, OHME. It’s like you are an oppressed class despite the fact that you are, like, 97% of the population and there is literally no one stopping you from eating what you want. Somehow the fact that your oppression is not real makes your perceived subjugation even more painful. No, that doesn’t make any sense but, whatever, I have to work with what I’ve got.

I get it, OHME: you feel you’ve been cruelly punished by those espousing a vegan lifestyle, just as men are tyrannized by women having equal rights and white people by Black Lives Matter. Who is speaking up for those in power these days, anyway? It’s almost as if only the victims of oppression get a voice and you don’t. It is understandable you’d be feeling the urge to rage against the vegan machine, OHME. If we say that, optimistically thinking, vegans are two percent of the worldwide population, this means that vegans are oppressing approximately 2,252,000,000 of you. That’s mean! Let me just give three examples that illustrate how you and those like you feel that you are uniquely persecuted by Big Vegan.

1. Vegan events = discrimination. You can’t just go to a vegan event and expect to eat meat. That’s right: you won’t even find it there. You know what you can expect to eat at a vegan festival? Vegan food. How oppressive is that?! Meanwhile, vegans can go to a normal person’s festival and, you know, eat corn or French fries or whatever. How is that even fair? It’s almost like reverse-anti-veganism or something. This means that your freedom of choice to assemble with meat is discriminated against by a radical, elite minority. Some – perhaps you? – might even call vegans terrorists, terrorizing you by temporarily standing between you and your unfettered access to meat-stuffs. Time for a citizen’s arrest?

2. Vegan friends = discrimination. You are upset that if you have a vegan friend over for dinner, you are expected to cook her vegan food but if you go to her house, she will not reciprocate by feeding you dead animals. Talk about inconsiderate. She refuses to go against her values to accommodate you and this feels unjust, unfair and one-sided even though you preparing vegan food for her involved no such compromise. It’s almost as if you had a domestic violence activist over and you would be expected to not abuse your partner because she was there but she wouldn’t extend the same courtesy to you and allow you to do what you want when you are a guest in her home. How is that equitable? How is that good etiquette? How is that courteous?

3. Vegan weddings = discrimination. Okay, not only are you unlucky enough to know a couple well enough to be invited to their vegan wedding but then you can’t even exercise your freedom of choice to eat meat at it? This is too much: you are, like, literally being held hostage to their radical vegan agenda for a single, entire meal. Yeah, it’s just one meal in a lifetime but, still, it’s like the whole wedding was ruined for you. Talk about selfish, too, making their wedding all about what’s important to them. It’s almost as if the whole wedding wasn’t planned around you at all.

OHME, I understand that you feel the need to re-assert your birthright as a flesh-eater. Maybe it’s time to take a stand against the injustices all these vegans are planning to inflict on you. People are already having parties that are not designed with you in mind. What’s next? Apartheid? An underground railroad shuttling you and your fellow persecuted OHMEs to safe meat zones? Criminalizing cheese?

Or, I don’t know, maybe you could just accept that the world is shifting and understand that maybe everything isn’t about you and that vegans don’t need your permission for creating a better world? That’s what I’m leaning toward, OHME.   

All the best,


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Jonathan Balcombe

Jonathan Balcombe
is a science-minded doctor with a big heart for other animals. As an accomplished author of four books that explore different aspects of animal behavior, sentience and the ethical implications of what it means to use those with rich interior lives for our purposes, Jonathan’s research causes us to stop and think about these beings we so often bulldoze over without a second thought. With his latest book, What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins, Jonathan turns his attention to those most misunderstood and disregarded beings, the more than 30,000 species of fishes who swim in our rivers and lakes, ponds and oceans. Do they think? Do they feel? How do we know? From courtship to community, cooperation to punishment, fishes live lives that are rich in experiences that we usually only attribute to humans and other primates. What A Fish Knows explores the latest research in we understand about the diversity of experience and emotion, awareness and intelligence of these oft-ignored, little understood beings.

Jonathan Balcombe is currently Director of Animal Sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy and has a PhD in ethology from the University of Tennessee. He’s also a longtime vegan and an all-around pretty fabulous guy. I am honored to feature Jonathan today as this week’s Vegan Rock Star!

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I am not aware of any epiphany that led me down the path towards veganism. I can only say that from my earliest memory I had a deep compassion for all living creatures, and I would get upset when other children deliberately stomped on insects to crush them.

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?

Had I had an adult vegan role model—someone knowledgeable about animals and as kind to them as I was—then I probably would have become vegan a lot sooner. As it was, my parents were always caring about animals, and we evolved towards lifestyle reforms at about the same time: in the mid-1980s.

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

First: living my example. Second: my passion for animals. I also strive for normalcy; I want to know that vegans are regular people.

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

Health and vitality. Who doesn’t want to live longer and healthier?!

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

Inertia. Specifically, the retarding effects of customs that people cling to. When it comes to food, we are like cats: we loathe change. I believe the perceived sacrifice in taste is the #1 barrier to a transition to plant-based eating. From a purely gustatory standpoint, we are already at a point where animal flesh can be replaced by equally delicious vegan food. Folks just don’t know it yet! And if people adopted it in larger numbers, the economy of scale would soon bring prices down well below current meat prices.

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

I became vegan because I do not and will not fund the abuses that routinely take place in the production of meat and dairy products. It is my way of thumbing my nose at corporations that hurt my friends the animals. My choices also benefit my personal health and longevity, and planetary health (because eating low on the food chain prevents climate change). I love living the most-good-least-harm lifestyle.

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?

I have been most inspired by the writings of philosophers Tom Regan and Peter Singer, and those of Jane Goodall.

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

I bike in the fresh air, I hike in nature, I play Bach on my piano, and I eat great food.

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

Human overpopulation! OMG, how asleep are humans that we are not taking decisive action now to curb our growth. How stupid are we that the paradigm of “growth is good” remains unchallenged. How long do we have to sit in traffic gridlock, witness wars over resources, and read about biodiversity loss before we come to our senses and start electing policymakers who want to take action on this issue?

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

The greatest affirmation of life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

An Open Letter to My Son At Age 14


Dear Justice,

It was in 2002 whens I wrote a letter to you as a sleep-deprived, scared, often overwhelmed but still head-over-heels-in-love-with-her-baby new mother. I wrote the original letter a few months after a pretty frightening birthing experience that left me feeling battle-scarred and adrift for weeks; I was finally beginning to get my courage back when I wrote that first letter to you.

You’re 14 now. We survived this long and I never did forget you in your car seat, roll over you in my sleep, drop you while you were slippery from the bath or the millions of other things I was afraid of doing. All the clichés are true: it feels like it was yesterday and it feels like a lifetime ago when we were walking through the grocery store and that tiny moment between the newborn you and your father struck me and it sank in that I was truly a mother. Since then, there have been many more nights without sleep, binkies adored and finally – finally – discarded, the rolling-sitting-standing-walking-running progression, potty failures and triumphs, subjects that have transfixed you [volcanoes, Pompeii, deep sea animals, dinosaurs, pre-dinosaurs, increasingly obscure pre-dinosaurs, Legos, Star Wars, architecture…] and a natural talent for drawing and writing that has left me speechless. Along the way, you have lost all your baby teeth and grandparents, one who died when you a baby and one who lived with us, gained some close friends and lost some, too. Fourteen years after your birth, when you arrived naked at your first protest as a red-faced, fist-clenched objector to the Birthing Industrial Complex, I have not gotten out of the habit of looking in on you as you sleep at night. Sometimes you still remind me of that toddler who slept beside me, with the same dark, thick eyelashes, the same soft cheeks, the same sighs in your sleep. You are clearly not a little boy anymore, though. You have an unmistakable boy B.O. on occasion now, dark fuzz on your upper-lip region, and a little hint, now and then, of the teenaged you that is emerging, including an impressive eye roll and a should-have-seen-this-coming aptitude for snark that proves that the acorn did not fall far from his mother tree.

B.O. and hereditary tendencies towards snark aside, though, you are still my sweet boy.

At the time that I write this, you haven’t gone through The Change yet: no giant growth spurts, no croaking voice, no discernible Adam’s apple. In some ways, I look forward to seeing how this will manifest on you but in many ways, I do not. I am treasuring this gift of your extended “boyness” and not just because I want to relish this part of your youth as long as I can. I’m selfish but I’m not that selfish. I mainly dread the flood of hormones because I fear the other side of puberty. I’m scared for you, venturing more out into a world that I can shield you from less and less. Most of all, though, I am deeply aware of the responsibility for having brought another male into the world. I am not man-bashing. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that I am. I just cannot pretend not to see the damage that so many boys and men have unleashed upon the world. This is where having a feminist mother doesn’t have many perks, I’m afraid.

When you were born, in that instant of hearing the clichéd but heart-stopping, “It’s a boy!” I immediately embraced the idea of being the parent to a son.  You were perfect and you were exactly what I wanted and it was perfect that you were a boy. I had a son. A son. My son. Now, though, with your teen years and beyond moving so swiftly upon you, encroaching upon us, I admit that the inescapability of your maleness weighs on me more than ever. As I write this, you are still a kid who carefully moves worms off sidewalks, cries when he sees other people crying (another inherited trait), runs to get help when there’s a stray dog and is not too proud to listen to the sisters of your friends as they gush about My Little Pony. You’ve even watched an episode or two so you could know what they were talking about even though you’re really not into My Little Pony. That is how essentially good and sweet you are, Justice. How long can it last, though?

I’ll admit that the last couple of weeks have been particularly jarring ones with regard to my already negative feelings about the bloodstained fingerprints some males have left on the world, of the rippling grief and trauma they have caused. At the risk of making you feel ashamed, which is never my intention, I will say that males are the cause of most of the violent crime today: rapes, batteries, murders. This is not your fault. I am not blaming you for anything you didn’t do, nor am I blaming anyone else for anything they didn’t do. I am not going to ignore the elephant in the room, though. Our world has a problem with males. Some call this “toxic masculinity” and I have no issues with this term as long as we acknowledge that it is pervasive and widespread. Our world has had a male problem around the globe for pretty much as long as we’ve been able to record it and before that as well. How can we ignore that this is true?

At this point, some people reading this will get angry or defensive. They will say “not all men” or “women are violent, too” or something along those lines. To this I say, yeah, I get it, but that does not detract from the fact that violent crime is, by and large, committed by males. The systems that dominate, oppress and violate others are, by and large, male constructs as they have been the ones in power, creating the systems, and they replicate patriarchal ideologies and behaviors. My simple point is not that males are all and exclusively responsible for violence against others – of course not – but simply that it is pervasive and nearly always perpetrated by males. Is this such a controversial thing to acknowledge?

I grew up in a home that was very unlike the home I am raising you in. In my childhood home, we were not allowed to say what was perfectly honest and obvious if it upset the powers that be. I was raised to be silent about the elephant in the room, to suppress my voice until I felt like I could drown in a flurry of the unspoken words that I’d crammed down my throat to keep the peace. Ever since leaving that home, much of my life has been dedicated to naming things. I believe that before we can change things, we first need to name them. Before we can name them, we have to see them, admit to them, without defensiveness, lashing out, feeling shame that wasn't intended and without gas-lighting: we need to see these injustices with honesty and without caring more about our egos than the greater good. That is what I am doing in the hopes that you will be mindful about avoiding a legacy that you can absolutely choose to not inherit, Justice; with your teen years upon you, it is more and more necessary for you to be mindful of the kind of male – the kind of human being, really – you want to be and the kind of new legacy you want to create with how you live your life.

God, what a depressing letter this is. I’m so sorry. As when I wrote the first letter to you, I kind of want to apologize for the world but I don’t even know where to start.

The fact is, though, that you are still that perfect baby I met 14 years ago. I mean, flawed but still perfect. You are weird and artistic and sensitive and smart and strong and full of kindness. You are still that boy who is full of potential, for ill or for good. My hope for you is that when the teen hormones hit, you will still love to make people smile, still rescue the worms drying out on the sidewalk and the dogs running loose in the street, you will still see every being as your equal: equal in their capacity for feeling, and wanting to avoid, pain and equal in their capacity for feeling, and wanting to pursue, joy. If you understand that we are equals in this way, then you will want the best for everyone. You will create a new legacy, the one that I hoped for you when you were a blank-slate baby and the one that have every reason to I hope for you today.

You are going to change the world. The hormones haven’t hit yet but I know that you are more than them.

I love you,


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Lisa Rimmert

Lisa Rimmert is like seriously the best! I met Lisa online a few years ago when she asked to interview me for her fabulous blog and I walked away wishing that all questions would be like Lisa Rimmert questions. Since then, Lisa and I have crossed paths in person and she is as fun, down-to-earth and hilarious as I’d expected she’d be and she is now Director of Development at Vegan Outreach. I am so glad that Lisa and her wonderful voice have found a home working for the animals full-time as Director of Development at Vegan Outreach and I’m pretty stoked to be able to share her thoughts today. More Lisa Rimmert’s, fewer cranky vegans! I can get behind that movement. I am happy to feature Lisa today as our Vegan Rock Star.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I have “loved animals” since I can remember–dogs, cats, animals I was familiar with. I never thought about food animals until my friend became vegetarian in college. I made fun of him like a defensive jerk instead of looking inward at my own cognitive dissonance. A few years later, influenced by a vegan friend’s blog, I realized the hypocrisy of claiming to love animals while paying people to hurt and kill them because I liked burgers. I became vegan three years later after attending an animal welfare conference and being exposed to many vegans–none of whom had red paint, or hemp skirts and white-people dreads like I would have expected. Having it normalized like that made a big difference for me.

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

I think I would have become vegan much sooner if I had known other vegans. I encourage vegans to go out into the world, connect with non-vegans, and lead by example. Show them how easy, accessible, and normal it is. If you have to eat Taco Bell and vegan milkshakes and buffalo seitan wraps all the time, so be it. It’s a hard job but someone has to do it. ;)

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 mix of humor and vulnerability. I like to tell people how I thought before I went vegan, and why that changed. I wasn’t always vegan, but people are often surprised to hear or realize that I was once in their shoes.

Regarding humor, it’s a very natural way for me to express myself. By nature I find the humor in most things, so I enjoy using that in my advocacy. I run a snarky/funny blog called Weird! Why Aren’t You Vegan?, and I bring up veganism and animal rights in my comedy. It disarms people and opens them up to new thinking.

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

We are so motivated! Our compassion drives us. Even though we’re still small in numbers we’re loud and powerful and influential. Go us!

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

Letting anger and righteousness drive our tactics. Yes, we’re angry, and yes, we’re right. But we should find appropriate outlets for those feelings (punch a pillow, perhaps?), and then go out into the world and be nice.

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

None of us like seeing or knowing that animals suffer, and yet a lot of us fund that very suffering. We don’t have to kill animals in order to live healthy, fulfilled, satisfying lives, so why would we? We can vote with our wallets for a kinder world.

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?

When I first became vegan, I was really disheartened by the reactions I received: people trivializing my feelings, being preemptively argumentative or defensive, and trying to poke holes in what I believe. The book Living Among Meat Eaters by Carol Adams helped so much. Now that I’ve been vegan for a while, I consider intersectional justice advocates my teachers and role models. They teach me that being vegan is not the be-all, end-all of compassion. There is more to do, and it’s important to keep learning and growing.

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

I’m lucky in that my job is a constant source of inspiration. As Director of Development for Vegan Outreach, I get to work every day with amazing people–from Outreach Coordinators who lug boxes of leaflets around and hand them out by the thousands each day, to donors who give their hard-earned money to make that work possible. When I get really ragey, I take my dog to the park and enjoy watching her have the time of her life.

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

There are so many, but as I type this I’m particularly fired up about captivity and sexism. Mostly unrelated but I’m sure there are connections (forced breeding, hi!). I recently went whale watching in the Puget Sound. In Blackfish, that’s where over 90 Orcas were shown being herded into a net in 1970, to be sold to marine parks like SeaWorld. I had seen Blackfish previously but that trip inspired me to watch it again and learn more. Based on the makeup of their brains, scientists hypothesize that whales are incredibly sensitive, highly emotional, have speech and even dialects, and have amazing memories. Messing with their family systems, separating them, and confining them are crueler than we can even imagine. Let’s quit that. Read more here–it’s super interesting (and infuriating, so good luck).

Regarding sexism, I’ll just say that it pervades every part of our society, it’s often unconscious and invisible, and we need to knock it off. J

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

Realizing that there is no neutral, that everything we do has an impact–and striving to make it a positive one.