Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Gone faux-fishing!




Hi, all -

This is just the barest of updates to say that we will be out of town starting today and through next week and due to all the work to prepare for the trip as well as assignments due other places, I have not had a chance to write anything here. Yes, I feel guilty but short of simply posting incoherent ramblings written at 3:00 AM just to have something to publish, it was not physically or psychically possible to have an essay this week. (Though it could be funny.) Anyway, we will be slinging vegan message gear at the Animal Rights Conference and if you are in town, we’d love to see you at the Vegan Street booth. I will also be on a panel Friday at noon.

Otherwise, same time, same place next week.

xo -

Marla

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Ashley Leslie...

    


Ashley Leslie, a.k.a., The Vegan Peach, is a straight-talking, down-to-earth and unapologetic vegan activist who also happens to love herself some cruelty-free products, with an emphasis on body care products. As one of the most up-to-date people out there on the subject of cosmetics testing, an industry that always seems to be frustratingly hard to pin down, she always seems to have the most reliable information because in the cosmetics industry, a company that is safe for vegan consumers one week, can get bought out by an animal-testing conglomerate like the L'Oréal Group the next week. Before I turn anywhere, I check out Vegan Peach and her videos to get a run-down on the companies I can trust with my money as well as other cruelty-free products. I appreciate Ashley’s passion, wealth of knowledge, commitment to details and her hold-no-prisoners honesty when it comes to cruelty to animals, as well as, frankly, her frankness about some of the cruddier aspects of the larger vegan community. I am grateful for Ashley’s candor and her commitment to building a more compassionate world. For this reason and more, Ashley Leslie is a Vegan Rockstar you should know.

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?


From a very early age, I felt strong connections with everything around me, being told I was highly “emotional” or “sensitive” making me feel like there was something deeply wrong with me. Now I realize it was a gift, one that has given me my ability for compassion. In the summer of 2002, my family rented the movie K-Pax. In the movie, Kevin Spacey believes he is from a distant planet. In one particular scene, he mentions how cows are killed and processed and at that moment I had a huge awakening. I gave up beef and pork at that time. In 2005, I met my now-husband who happened to be a vegetarian. He introduced me to the world of veggie meat alternatives. When I realized I could still enjoy the taste of “chicken” without harming any, I became vegetarian overnight. Flash forward six years, I got up one morning with no rhyme, no reason and simply said, “That’s it, I’m going vegan.” I had been feeling guilt for quite some time after learning the truths behind dairy and egg industries and finally made the leap. I’ve never looked back. I’ve now been vegan for four years and a few months and it’s honestly the best decision I ever made. I found purpose that day.


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 am all about honesty and education. Everyone is different, some people are very receptive with very little effort and others turn away with just the word vegan being mentioned. For me, it was a very small moment that pushed me on my journey. Personally I am highly connected to other animals so I truly believe showing people the truths behind their food, clothing, cosmetics, entertainment, etc. is very important. I also am big on showing the amazing vegan food options available to people. You don’t need to kill something to have a delicious meal. In fact, I love food more now than I ever did before and my diet is much more varied then my pre-vegan days.

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


Honestly, I think a little bit of everything is great. I am a very passionate person, you can see this come through a lot on my YouTube channel. At the same time I also like to be approachable, down to earth and humorous. Images also have their place and I do use those from time to time. I try to be available to every type of personality. I don’t want to scare people off, I am just me.

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


I believe we are strong, passionate and relentless. Every day I see the strides veganism has made through products on the shelves and sheer numbers of vegans across the globe.


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

Honestly, each other. It saddens me to see how much “in fighting” and attacking of one another happens. I think our passion can do wonders but at the same time, it hinders us. We won’t always agree on everything but it’s important to stick together as a cause, even if we don’t personally like each other.

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


I don’t think “Thou shalt not kill” should be limited to humans.

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 am inspired by many vegans, one actually being Marla and Vegan Street. I really enjoy the films Speciesism, Ghosts in our Machine, Vegucated, Got the Facts on Milk, Cowspiracy and Bold Native. HappyCow.net is one of my favourite websites where you can find local vegan-friendly restaurants.

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


I think sometimes unplugging from social media is important. If you find yourself getting extremely upset and depressed by the endless amounts of cruelty, take a day or two off. I like to spend time in nature, walking by the ocean, in the public parks, exploring and taking photos. Also, of course spending time with my cats always makes me feel better. If I were closer to one, I’d definitely recommend visiting animal sanctuaries where animals are treated like they should be.

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


It’s really hard to pick one. I am passionate about all aspects of animal rights. I do feel very strongly against animal testing, though, if I have to pick one, as I feel it’s something that gets overlooked, so often. I actually created my website in the beginning to have my own cruelty-free list, it evolved from there. Beauty definitely doesn’t have to come at the expense of other beings. I also feel very few people realize what exactly goes on in labs. The very animals you share your homes with are those being abused so people can have longer eyelashes and plumper lips.

All animals deserve to be free. All animal cruelty breaks my heart into pieces.

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


A reason to exist.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How to Succeed in Offending Other Vegans Without Even Trying…

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You wouldn’t know it from the title of this blog but I am a born pleaser. When the people around me are pleased, I feel that I am safe. It is as simple as that. Growing up, I believed that if I could just control certain particulars better, I could effectively banish conflict from our home. Of course this wasn’t true: drinkers are going to drink and ragers are going to rage despite our most concerted efforts to control the choices that other people make. Even though my default setting was to try to make the people around me happy, I experienced enough at a young age to know that despite trying my hardest to please, to be funny and to defuse tension, it was just not always possible. In many ways, living part of my life in the public sphere of the online world is the perfect experiential laboratory to see how I am doing with letting go of the deeply ingrained habit that tells me if I just please enough, everything will be okay. Today, having a front row seat to observing the superfluity of ways that people can get offended and pissed off about the most trivial of matters, I can see that I am doing pretty well with letting go of my need to please and I’m doing better all the time.

Take the vegan community, for example. I’m not claiming that there was harmony in the vegan movement before the online world smashed into our lives like a flaming meteor of clashing opinions and highly chagrined conflict direct from the planet Vega, but I don’t think anyone could have quite grasped the vast profusion of ways in which we can and do offend one another until more recent years. Of course, this is not limited to vegans: every day, I am learning that even the most benign, lighthearted content is rife with potential for offending as many sets of eyes that come across it from a multitude of vantage points. On Facebook, I try to balance my “we are careening into cataclysmic, planetary ruin” posts with a few good dollops of frothy frivolity but, as I learned from posting this video
only to hear someone take a righteous stand against the unconscionable practice of growing ornamental gourds, putting anything out into a sphere where humans can interact, ideally without personal consequences, there will be no shortage of opportunities for finding and voicing umbrage. Facebook in particular is like pulling into a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet for those who are hungry for fodder that aggrieves, offends and outrages them and for pleasers like me, it’s an excellent practicum for letting go of our need to be liked.

From my fellow vegans, for example, I have learned that the various ways I can offend include but are not limited to the following and I have also decided that it no longer matters to me:

1. If I am perceived as a welfarist vegan.
2. If I am perceived as an abolitionist vegan.
3. If I am perceived as a pacifist.
4. If I am perceived as violent.
5. If I am perceived as not defining myself as being in one camp or the other enough.  
6. If I am perceived as being too lighthearted.
7. If I am perceived as being too stern.
8. If I am perceived as either of these too much or too little.
9. If I am perceived as being vegan for reasons other than deemed acceptable.
10. If I am perceived as being too accommodating with my advocacy.
11. If I am perceived as being too uncompromising with my advocacy.
12. If I am perceived as being a consumerist vegan.
13. If I am perceived as being an anarchist vegan.
14. If I am perceived as being too liberal.
15. If I am perceived as being too conservative.
16. If I am perceived as being politically hard to define.
17. If I eat what is considered junk food.
18. If I eat what is considered too healthy.
19. If I am perceived as a good role model.
20. If I am perceived as a bad role model.
21. If I am perceived as being too mainstream in appearance.
22. If I am perceived as being not mainstream enough in appearance.
23. If I am perceived as being too much of a feminist.
24. If I am perceived as not being quite feminist enough.
25. If I am perceived as posting too much “fluff” on social media.
26. If I am perceived as posting too much upsetting material on social media.
27. If I am not enough of a high-carb vegan.
28. If I am not enough of a low-carb vegan.
29. If I am kind of like “???” about why the previous two points matter all that much.
30. If I think Gary Yourofsky and/or Gary Francione are heroes.
31. If I think Gary Yourofsky and/or Gary Francione are assholes.
32. If I am uncertain about the above.
33. If I think one is an asshole and the other is a hero.
34. If I genuinely do not care.

I have decided that I don’t give a fig anymore. People looking for material to be offended about will find ample examples of what they are looking for, that much I know.

I have to wonder, with so many opportunities for finding offense with each other, do we even have time anymore for changing the world? Maybe it’s easier just to nitpick one another about whether coconut oil is health-promoting or the decision to date non-vegans than to tackle more significant subjects; I’ve even seen a comment thread numbering in the hundreds of responses (which you know is going to be train-wreck territory) about the absolutely indisputably correct way to bag groceries. Apparently schooling each other how to bag groceries or the correct ratio of carbs to protein and fat (“You eat fat?!” huffs an offended vegan) is worth spending our time on when more than 50 billion land animals are suffering and slaughtered each year worldwide and our planet is on a collision course with irreversible ecological ruin because of it.

These things have helped me to learn that pleasing everyone a) is not possible and b) is not in my or the animals’ best interests. So I am done. If nothing else, having strangers offer their unsolicited opinions about me has done for me what growing up in a dysfunctional home could not: break my need to please. So thank you. I no longer need to please anyone because I am in it for the animals. If this offends anyone, well, sorry. (No, I’m not.)



 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie Edition with Somer McCowan

 

It’s been a while since I featured a Vegan Foodie as part of my 10 Questions series and I am excited to have Somer McCowan as the one to break that long dry spell. Somer is a prolific food blogger at her popular website, Vedged Out, a talented recipe creator and an overall cheerleader for a healthy, happy vegan life of abundance. In fact, Somer’s new book, the excellent The Abundance Diet, takes her philosophy of attaining optimal health through the power of plant foods and extends it to a fantastic 28-day plan anyone can use, complete with shopping lists, a helpful glossary of ingredients, advice on cutting costs and, of course, her wonderful recipes. (See our review.)

Somer got introduced to vegan living through her brother in 2012 when he encouraged her to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives; through dietary and lifestyle changes, she was able to treat her ulcerative colitis, a painful and debilitating chronic condition, the steroid treatment of it which caused a 75-pound weight gain in nine months. She has since come through to the other side with her disease in full remission and off the drugs that caused her weight to keep ballooning. As someone who faced a serious health crisis, Somer is empathetic and sensitive to those who have similar challenges while shining through as a living example that despite the trails we face, we can create the changes we want to see in our lives. Somer is a great role model for cultivating a delicious, healthful life of abundance without compromise. For this reason and more, Somer McCowan is a Vegan Foodie to know.  


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?


Food has always been an important part of my life! I grew up in a large family where food and celebrations were a big deal. I learned to cook at a very young age and enjoyed creating all kinds of delicious cuisines. However, it wasn’t until I became vegan that I feel like I truly blossomed in my kitchen. I eat more deliciously and a greater variety of foods than I ever had before switching my diet.


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?

My family had a pretty standard American diet when I was young. When I was a teenager I flirted with vegetarianism for a few years, but without the insight into animal compassion, it was just sort of a fad that I followed. Thankfully I’ve found that now with veganism.

My favorite food of all time is probably mashed potatoes, which seems a little ridiculous since I can cook so many delicious things, but my dad made the best mashed potatoes when I was growing up. Now he makes them vegan when I’m around.

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

That’s a really tough one! I eat so many delicious meals! The most recent pleasurable food experience I’ve had is a homemade pizza. I made these buffalo cauliflower pizzas, with buffalo sauce, roasted bits of cauliflower, sliced red onions and a sprinkling of cilantro on an artisan pizza base with some fresh vegan mozzarella I learned about from watching a video of Jay Astafa on YouTube. My husband, who is not vegan, said it was the very best pizza he had ever eaten. Pretty much it was.


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

Oh gosh, well, if this is a magical fantasy scenario, I would probably prepare the above pizza for my brother Clint and have him actually be able to eat it. He’s allergic to nearly 50 foods and it’s pretty difficult for him to find satisfying meals at the moment.

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

Well, I think that people often think of vegan food being flavorless, bland or tasting like cardboard (the words from a man at one of my recent cooking classes describing what he previously thought of vegan food before tasting mine). His mistake and experience with vegan cooking is that he thought it was supposed to be “fun-free cooking” that seems to be so popular right now amongst certain health groups. IE, the elimination of many, many foods that happen to be vegan, but aren’t supremely healthful according to the more extreme plant-based tribe.

Vegan food is simply food that is free of any animal products. It should burst with flavor and be delicious. It’s okay to avoid certain things for periods of time if you need to shed excess weight or for health reasons but using all the vegan foods and all the seasonings is what makes life delicious, use everything with moderation!


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

I’m really in love with roasted red peppers, even the jarred variety, I’ve been adding them to pasta sauces, salsas and even a guilt-free delicious nacho cheese sauce that’s on my blog.

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

Indian
Thai
Ethiopian

(currently)

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

My brother Abe encouraged me to watch Forks Over Knives. That was my absolute turning point. I removed all animal products from my home overnight. He’s been involved with a vegan lifestyle for nearly 20 years now. I previously thought of a vegan diet as something that was just for yuppies or hippies (Abe). But didn’t realize the profound impact that removing animal products would have on my health, the planet, the animals and so much more. I feel like I’m truly a better person since becoming vegan.

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

I think people don’t realize how profound the decisions they are making with something as seemingly small as what they put on their plate.

Simply changing that single aspect of life and switching to a vegan diet can have such a huge influence. Water conservation, heart disease, pollution, greenhouse gasses, compassion, cancer, conserved energy, fuel, world hunger, deforestation, cancer, reduced waste, diabetes. Those and so many more issues are tied up in a single choice.

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

LOVE.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Difference Between Niceness and Kindness (and Why Being Nice Still Matters)...

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A few years ago, I heard someone differentiate between being kind and being nice in a way that changed how I thought about those words. I realized that I’d been using the words interchangeably but they actually have a pretty different meaning in the real world. The way I heard it explained is that one’s kindness is driven by an internal compass and it is rooted in compassion without much concern about either admiration or condemnation. In other words, one’s kindness is inwardly rooted. Niceness, in stark contrast, is externally driven and approval seeking; a prevailing idea is that a “nice” person is more concerned with conforming to accepted social norms than coming from a place of genuine kindness. There is a lot of baggage with the word and associations with it can range from an implication that a “nice” person is someone who is shallow and dull but it also can take on darker undertones, like that “nice” people are phonies, pleasant to your face and back-stabbing when you’re not in earshot. Kind people can also be nice people - though not necessarily - and nice people are often not truly kind.

I’m about to say something controversial, though, and it’s a reversal of what I thought I was going to be writing about. In giving the subject some thought, I now believe that being nice - sweet, inoffensive and possibly fake nice - still matters.

I started writing this with the idea that I would be exploring the differences between kindness and niceness, build a decent argument against being nice, and call it a day. The more that I thought about it, though, the more I realized that when I left behind the cultural baggage of niceness, it is still a value of mine and it is very important to our movement if we are at all concerned with people being receptive to hearing and maybe even internalizing our message. In writing this and then thinking of some recent interactions with two longtime vegans who are kind in the sense that they have engineered their lives so as to minimize cruelties inflicted on other animals, I’ve learned that it is quite possible to be kind without being a nice person at all. In fact, I would go so far as to think of them as overtly mean people despite their practice of not using other animals. The way they treated me and how I thought about them as a result of this treatment has led me to conclude that being nice matters more than we realize. Being nice matters not just for personal reasons - who wants to be around people who are mean? - but also for building a dynamic and robust social justice movement that has a chance of rippling out to help the animals.

Because I can already hear the Fiery Voices of Righteous, Fist-Pumping Vegan Fury misinterpreting what I’ve written (I managed to piss off a whole passel o’ them on Facebook at least once before), this is a good point for me to say that by nice*, I don’t mean telling people what they want to hear. I don’t mean suppressing or altering your message to make others more comfortable. I don’t mean that we become so eager to please that we never ruffle feathers. I’m not saying any of that. Again, there is a lot of baggage around the concept of “niceness,” deservedly so, and I think especially for females and those of us working for social change, it is a word that is especially fraught with ugly implications of a power imbalance, of us knowing to stay in our place, of groveling for whatever crumbs of charity that might get tossed our way. Should we throw the concept of being nice out with the personal and cultural bathwater, though, just because we have negative associations with it? What if being nice is one of the most easily accessed ways of successfully communicating to others so they might actually consider creating change?  

Here is my thinking: the opposite of a kind person is a cruel person and the opposite of a nice person is a mean person. How many people are inspired by a mean person? We can get in our little social media-created bubbles of thinking that we’re effective when we get a lot of “likes” from our fellow vegans for our vilifying messages but outside of that bubble, how do these words inspire those who we really need to reach, those who are currently consuming animals? Mean people may have a lucid, smart and important message to communicate but how many people are able to hear it if it is wrapped in an insulting, hostile delivery? Do you know many people who want to talk to, learn more from, and basically be in the presence of meanness? I don’t. Imagine it yourself: if you had to choose between two people who both had something they wanted you to hear about but one screams in your face like a drill sergeant or pompously speaks down to you while the other employs basic practices of niceness (like listening, being considerate, being friendly, etc.), who would you be more inclined to want to spend your time with and listen to? Preferring to be around those who are nice to us is simply part of our animal nature. We seek it out like a cat seeks a sunny spot on the rug.

If we are genuine about wanting to create change for the animals, we have got to practice some of the basic strategies that have a reasonable chance of drawing people to us and our message. One strategy - among many - is to be a nice person. When what we have to say is already so tempting for people to disregard out of hand, shouldn’t we be trying our damnedest to get our foot in the door? Is it more important to score points or is it more important to plant the seeds for change? One may be more fulfilling in the moment but I hardly think that matters to the animals who will continue to be used as objects when we opt to sacrifice effectiveness for the instant gratification of meanness.

So that’s it. Kindness is still more important but being nice matters. And you can go to hell if you disagree. (Kidding!)

* By nice, I mean someone who is considerate. Someone who cares about tact but not at the expense of honesty. Someone who is able to listen and hear. Notice that I didn’t say they roll over? Notice that I didn’t say they tell others what they want to hear? Notice that I didn’t say that people should turn into manically grinning woodland creatures who spring out of bed every day, fueled by an unbridled passion for humanity? That is not nice to me, that is phony, and there is a difference.