better know a vegan

Summer 2014 053

As a vegan I am often faced with the same questions about protein, health, calcium, etc. with regularity.  I have also heard many comments made that all vegans are tree hugging hippies, or militant and only have one interest.  In reality as human beings we are actually very diverse.  I hope to dispel some of the many stereotypes out there with this section I like to call better know a vegan.  In case you are wondering this idea was inspired by the Colbert Report segment called better know a district.

To start off I decided to interview one of the first vegans I ever met, Jennifer Greene.  Jennifer is a compassionate and highly driven individual.  She was an inspiration to me early in my vegan transition and continues to be today.

1. I know you have been vegan for a long time, how has your experience changed over time?

Vegan living has gotten easier and easier. In terms of food, for instance, I remember the puzzled reaction I’d get when I would ask my local grocery store to consider stocking soy milk. People had never heard of it. (This was over fifteen years ago.) Today, they carry soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, too—so much has changed, in such a short time. Vegan pioneers are doing vegan outreach that’s effective, making vegan cheese that wins people over, producing vegan cooking shows for the Cooking Channel.

1. Have you experienced any challenges in becoming and staying vegan?  If so what were they?

No, nothing major. For years, however, I thought it wasn’t possible to make a rich, dense brownie without eggs! Fortunately, I was wrong:vegan brownie recipe!

3. I know that you are working on a program to help people understand ethical eating.  What can you tell us about DOVE?

Demonstrating Our Values through Eating (DOVE) is a new food education curriculum for Unitarian Universalist congregations, available online for free at http://dovecurriculum.blogspot.com/. I’m sure non-UUs would enjoy using it, too.
DOVE tackles food-related issues that affect us all, such as: why do some foods seem almost addictive? How can we fight global warming with our fork? What really happens to the workers and animals, and what can we do to help?

5.  Do you have any other interesting projects in the works?

I’m glad to be serving as the Director of Task Forces for CAAN (Carnism Awareness & Action Network). Carnism is the belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals. In our society, the consumption of flesh, milk and eggs is often just a given, rather than recognized as unnecessary and in conflict with our core values. There is an ideology driving this, and we call this ideology carnism. Carnism leads humane people to support the violence inherent in animal agriculture, by blocking our awareness of what really happens to the animals whose parts and products are used for food.
Carnism Awareness Task Forces (CATFs) are groups of professionals who are organizing to raise carnism awareness within their respective fields. There are currently over twenty different CATFs (mental health professionals, legal professionals, social scientists, yoga practitioners, and so on). More information about the CATFs is available here: http://www.carnism.org/taskforces/about-task-forces

6.  I remember when you started the Long Island vegan meetup group (is that the right name?). How is that going?

Vegan Long Island’s membership is over 1,000 and growing!  We have created a spin-off group, too—Long Island Vegan Family Network (inspired by the Chicago Vegan Family Network).

7. Do you have any pointers for people who want to start their own social group

If I can do it, anyone can. Others are welcome to steal ideas, content, inspiration from my meetup site, which is here: http://www.meetup.com/Vegan-Long-Island/

8. With the holiday season upon us, can you offer any advice for vegans and their families having meals together?

Although the holiday season is now over*, I’m happy to share the following advice, which I think vegans may find helpful any time of year…
 *And my apologies to you, Stephanie, and to your readers, for taking longer than I expected to do this interview!
1) I recommend this talk, by psychologist Melanie Joy, on effective vegan advocacy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnQSP6f9iAY  She understands how frustrating it can be, having friends or family who aren’t vegan, and she gives wise advice.
2) Here’s a short column I love to share with others who seek guidance on being more effective (it incorporates the “common ground” advice from Dr. Joy’s advocacy talk): http://ccc.farmsanctuary.org/compassionate-selling-feel-felt-found/
3) Check out this column (especially the bell curve graph) from Ruby Roth. It reminds me that as time goes on, more and more people will become more comfortable adopting these changes. The majority of people you know may not be vegan today, but ten years from now, it’s going to be a whole different ballgame. http://www.wedonteatanimals.com/blog/why-being-lone-vegan-makes-you-power-player
4) Something else that’s comforting: scientists from the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute conducted a study in 2011 to determine the threshold where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. When they ran their computational models, the threshold was 10 percent of the population. In other words, once the percentage holding the idea exceeded 10%, the idea spread quickly. So the tipping point for social change may be much closer than you thought.
5) LiveVegan.org provides some nice tips and pep talk for handling social situations: http://www.livevegan.org/index.php/social-situations2
6) I discovered a constructive way to deal with the frustration of social situations: I leaflet!  In the past, I used to spend a lot of time & emotional energy fretting that family members still haven’t joined me in going vegan. Now, instead of fretting, I make a commitment to leaflet a certain number of days each semester at nearby college campuses. I take heart from the knowledge that I am reaching hundreds of other potential vegans this way.
7) Another form of activism is “bake-tivism.” Don’t underestimate the power of delicious vegan food to win people over! (See “ultimate vegan brownies,” above.)

9.  What is one of your favourite go to weekly meals?

Thai-inspired wraps.
Then I assemble the wraps:
1. whole wheat tortillas
2. hummus—spread over 1/3 of tortilla, with a dab to seal once rolled
3. grated carrot—sprinkle a layer over hummus
4. drizzle peanut sauce over the carrot bed
5. next: either Gardein chick’n scallopini, sautéed & cut into strips, or Beyond Meat lightly seasoned flavor chicken-free strips
6. next: lay down red bell pepper stripspurple cabbage shreds, & fresh spinach leaves
7. more peanut sauce over the vegetables
8. roll the wrap, cut in half with a diagonal slice to reveal the lovely cross-section.

10.  Many people believe vegans only have one interest, can you share some of your other interests not related to veganism?

Sure! I’m passionate about lots of things, not just vegan advocacy. I’ve led United for a Fair Economy’s popular education workshops for economic justice, campaigned to protect old growth forest in the Pacific NW, and advocated for voting methods reform.  When I’m working in the kitchen or out for a walk, I enjoy listening to episodes of Wait Wait, Don’t Tell MeSnap Judgment and The Moth. I love group party games, the musical satire of Roy Zimmerman, and making modular origami like this:
oragami copy

11.  Is there anything you would like to add that may help break the stereotypes related to veganism?

The other day, a Facebook friend posted this about his elderly mother. She loves sharing vegan food with her friends. And when they ask her what vegan food is, this is what she tells them:
“It’s regular food, just not from animals.”—Mrs. Loewenthal, age 78.
Exactly! I think that’s the best explanation, ever. 🙂
I think some people have the impression that vegan living is about deprivation. Quite the contrary, actually—it’s about abundance, and pleasure, and joy.
It’s not about getting on a high horse; it’s about staying humble & kind toward others, and recognizing that we’re all caught up in this current system. We need to show compassion to one another; after all, it’s not our fault if we’ve been conditioned to participate in these forms of exploitation. Carnism is a system that works VERY hard to block our awareness, and keep us from drawing these connections between our values and our choices. The message of veganism, however, is empowering: as carnism loses its grip on us, we gain freedom of choice, the freedom to live our own values more authentically.
So to me, vegan living is more than just my individual consumer choices—it’s participation in a movement to build a better world.
I’ll finish by sharing this quote from Victoria Moran, who reminds us in her 2012 book Main Street Vegan that being vegan is about conviction, not perfection: “Jay Dinshah, founder of the American Vegan Society, told me way back in my early 20s: ‘There is no perfect vegan.’ That’s because we live in a world that has depended on animal exploitation for so long that remnants of it are everywhere, no matter how careful you try to be. It’s about making the kindest choices you can, one day at a time, and not sweating the small stuff so much that we turn off potential vegans.”