Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Thank You Letter to Donald J. Trump...


Hey, Donald –

Yeah, I get it: kind of a disrespectful way to address a prez but it seemed appropriate given everything. Frankly, you seem to be someone who likes to let people know what you think and have no qualms about cutting to the chase, so I will do the same: the purpose of this letter is to state the obvious (you’re a dick), but also let you know that I have come to be grateful for your shockingly horrid ways. Not in the hippie-yogic spreading love-and-light kind of way – that ain’t me – but that I am grateful precisely for your dirt-bagginess and I am happy to tell you why.

I’ll start by acknowledging that I am not exactly breaking new territory by pointing this out but, yeah, you’re disgusting in every conceivable way and even perhaps some inconceivable ways. Nuns don’t like you, conservatives don’t like you, and this hilarious guy really hates you. Ted Nugent, however, is a big ol’ presumably malodorous fanboy, which says something about your standing with the Duck Dynasty crowd, I guess. So I stand with those with a heart and a brain who know that you are a disaster but, still, I want to thank you for your glaringly horrible ways.

Stay with me here for a minute. To say what I want to say, I need to give you a bit of my background. I know that hearing someone else talk about something not relating directly to you must take the utmost of impulse control for you to sit through but I will try to make it quick. I’m doing this for the others who may read this letter. Maybe you can nod off for a bit or find someone to rage at on Twitter or maybe let Spicer loofah your feet in the White House steam room and I’ll just let you know when you need to pay attention again, ‘kay? ‘Kay.

A bit of a history…

I was one of those kids who never really understood meanness, which is not to say that I was ever perfect by a long shot, but I was that kid who was rescuing bugs from the bullies down the block who wanted to squish them, that kid who thought racism was, frankly, cruel and stupid, that kid who was devastated when the ERA didn’t get ratified. I wasn’t an activist until college but as someone who went through a pretty terrible stage of being picked on from grades fifth through eighth, I had a strong disdain for injustice that was built into my bedrock from a young age.

My freshman year of college, I signed up for about a dozen activist groups (including the Creative Anachronists, misreading their signup sheet as Creative Anarchists and I was very confused when I was ceremoniously bowed to and addressed as “m’lady” at my first meeting); I spent the night, or maybe just a couple of hours, at a student-built shantytown to raise awareness of the apartheid system in South Africa; I jammed onto a stuffy and cramped bus, rode from Kansas to Washington D.C. to protest U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, protested and then ate fried rice seated on the floor of a packed Chinese restaurant with my friends before we had to rush off to take the long bus ride back to Kansas; spent my weekends with my radical feminist friends where we made protest signs together, which was when I first got a real taste for activism.

After college, I remained an activist but became much less interested in politics. To be honest, my activism was never really about that anyway. Being a creative type, politics is not my jam. At all. I find it boring, tedious and spilling over with of the kind of people I don’t like to give much real estate to in my thoughts. I briefly dabbled in socialism for a year or so after college but found the cold church basement meetings, endless arguments over minutia and the aggressively drab wardrobe (yes, I was shallow) to be as or more off-putting than mainstream politics. So I drifted out.

This is not to say that I stopped being an activist. I didn’t. Look at the name of this blog, yo. But you, Donald, and your wretched Donaldness have forced me to drift back into the realm of politics again. And I think I am here to stay now not because I am suddenly interested in politics but because I don't think citizens who care have the luxury of that choice anymore. Our nation’s future is at stake if we don’t start seriously investing in fixing what is so wrong about this country.

Oh, yeah, you should probably start paying attention now.

So, Donald, these are some of the things I’ve done in the last month or two I hadn’t done in years previous:

Added my Members of Congress contacts – including all their offices – into my phone. Pointer: don’t try calling Dick Durbin’s DC office. You will never get through. You will best reach someone at a local office.

Added Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan into my phone as well. Yeah, it was revolting and I feel like I need to have a smudge ceremony for my poor phone now. I added Nancy Pelosi, too, and the Congressional switchboard. (This, by the way, is likely the only way to get through to Paul Ryan: 202-224-3121.)

I’ve called my Members of Congress so often, I am recognizing voices and at least one (Team Duckworth’s DC office!) knows me by name now, too. We exchange pleasantries every Monday when he answers.

I do actions items listed at the following every week: The 65, Wall-of-Us, 5Calls, and all the various email alerts I get on the regular.  

I started a local chapter of Indivisible. We have met once, we meet again Saturday to write postcards to our members of Congress and have our second general meeting next week. (If you live in my area and you want in, message me!)

I have brainstormed protest sign ideas with my son and protested.

I attended the Women’s March with my family and friends and, oh, 250,000 others.

• I’ve been pestering my Representative about when his next Town Hall meeting is, which sounds about as enticing and exciting as a Socialist church basement meeting but I am actually looking forward to it. This kind of frightens me as much as anything but whatever.

I am not saying this to say that I'm special or anything. I am just one of millions who is so appalled by you and what your administration represents that I am fully over my aversion to politics and am back in the game.

I am not the only one. I have heard story after story of people who were not activists until you, Donald. In my Indivisible chapter, neophyte activists outnumber those of us who have been at protests before. People who have never been to a protest until recently are giving up their weekends, sitting on hold with their members of Congress, learning new skills, familiarizing themselves with how the system works because and they are excited to do so because that is how much your hateful ways have motivated citizens. You are a crash course on civic engagement, and not just for lefty firebrands like me, but the for grandparents, centrists, children, and so on, who are all united against you.  

You have no idea what you did just by being horrible, Donald. Go you, I guess!

You did what no one else has been able to do: you woke up the masses. It turns out you were just what we needed – vile, despicable and repugnant in every way – to see that our country and basic decency were at stake and that we really valued it. Your racist, misogynist, xenophobic, treasonous, autocratic ways were the fire we needed lit under us and now you
have awakened a sleeping giant.

So thank you, Donald. You are every bit as disgusting as we needed you to be. I'm hoping in the future, things won't need to be this dire for us to give a damn, but it is what it is.

And now we will defeat you.

Yours truly -


Thursday, February 9, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with April Lang...


April Lang
is a psychotherapist, Certified Humane Education Specialist, and longtime vegan based out of NYC. She has always been deeply connected to other animals and this informs her work with clients. As she writes on her website, “This connection has expanded my awareness, leading me to respect and embrace differences, to want to help empower the marginalized, to find ways to alleviate suffering, and to promote equality.”  In her new book, Animal Persuasion: A Guide for Ethical Vegans and Animal Advocates in Managing Life’s Emotional Challenges, April combines her understanding of vegan activism with her professional guidance skills, helping advocates develop effective strategies for protecting our psyches in this world that is often very uncaring about animals. From navigating relationships to managing your emotions when you see someone in fur to keeping it together when the people around you are eating flesh, April offers advice for co-existing while not suppressing your voice. I have not read the book yet but it sounds wonderful! I am happy to feature April Lang 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?

When I went off to college, I decided I would no longer eat animals. I transitioned to vegetarianism slowly, giving up eating a different animal every few months. Looking back, I can’t remember why I chose that approach; I can only assume it seemed “reasonable” at the time. Now when I think about it, I realize that’s the way many people decide to give up eating animals, and it’s important to support each person’s particular journey. I must admit that at that time, I knew practically nothing about animal agriculture; I just knew it felt wrong to eat animals.

One day, many years after I had given up eating meat, I stumbled upon a copy of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation lying on the street next to a garbage bin at my local grocery store. I had heard of Singer’s book, but had never read it. This was like the universe saying, “come on, it’s time to get an education!” And Singer’s book was certainly educational, with its heartbreaking descriptions of the lives and deaths of factory farmed animals. While the book was incredibly powerful and eye opening, I remained a vegetarian. Apparently something else had to happen for me to make the transition to veganism, and it did.

About fifteen years ago, I took a trip to Farm Sanctuary (the one in Watkins Glen, NY) with some friends and their dog.  Before the end of the tour, I knew I was going to take that final step towards veganism. Amidst the beautiful mountains and greenery, were a group of cows suffering with mastitis. I had never heard of mastitis, let alone witnessed it up close. I was shocked to see the condition they were in, a result of being constantly inseminated to keep producing milk for humans. If this was the cost of eating my beloved ice cream and cheese, they would never again touch my lips. Many years after this trip, I am still enjoying my “ice cream” and “cheese” – all deliciously vegan!

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

Two things come immediately to mind. First, if someone had said to me, “you say you love animals, so why do you eat them?” I actually said that to a friend of mine who spent years doing great work as an animal rescuer. She paused, looked at me incredulously, and said, “I never thought about that.” She became a vegetarian that day and more recently, a vegan. If only all transitions to veganism played out so quickly and easily!

Equally effective would have been someone showing me an undercover video taken at a slaughterhouse, such as the one put out by Mercy for Animals', From Farm to Fridge. All I would have needed was the image and sounds of one animal being tortured and killed to have turned vegan.

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

I have found that to be effective in communicating my message, I must always take into consideration the person/people I’m speaking with. I try to get a sense of what they know about the issue and how interested they are in learning about it. And I do monitor the conversation very closely, always watching for signs I’m losing them, either to boredom or overwhelm. I also try to be mindful of other people’s energy, and will adjust my approach accordingly. At times, I have been quite forceful and passionate and that resonates with some. With others, I can tell pretty quickly after opening my mouth that a softer approach is warranted.

Images, whether photographs or videos, are super powerful. The expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is definitely true.  However, it’s important to keep an eye out for shutdown, as each person has a different tolerance level for disturbing images. I see that in action whenever I go into schools as a humane educator. Some of the students are riveted to the screen when I show an undercover video while others put their heads down as soon as the first disturbing image appears. So just being mindful of where people are is really important if you want them to be responsive to what you’re saying.

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

One of the biggest strengths of the movement is the increasing amount of young people being drawn into it. Vegan and animal rights clubs are turning up in middle schools and high schools, and students handing out vegan literature, is now a common sight on many college campuses. When I was in school, there were no animal rights clubs and nobody was handing out pro-vegan literature. In fact, I had never even heard the term vegan while growing up. It’s going to be this new generation that will move veganism to the next frontier.

All the folks who are creating amazing products, which don’t use animals and animal by-products, are a driving force in helping veganism become more “user-friendly.” In fashion, companies like Vaute Couture, Brave Gentlemen, and Olsenhaus, offer consumers stylish clothing and shoes, while vegan cheeses from companies like Miyoko’s Kitchen or Treeline, have given people (like me) a scrumptious alternative to the dry and tasteless soy cheeses of yesteryear. And let’s not forget those brilliant innovators from Memphis Meats, who are working on creating “meat” derived from the stem cells of animals (no animals harmed in the process). Not everyone is motivated by ethics to become vegan. So if we want these people to jump on the proverbial vegan bandwagon, it’s important to give them options that taste good and look good. A big reason I hear for people not going vegan is that they think they’ll feel deprived.  The current vegan movement is making sure that never happens.

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

I do believe that when we attack people, shame them, and treat them with contempt, we’ve lost the opportunity for constructive dialogue. I don’t mean to imply that our messages should never be conveyed forcibly, because there are times when that’s the only way to make a point. But just ask yourself, if someone came up to you and started screaming, calling you names, and putting you down, would you really stay around long enough to hear what they had to say? Most people wouldn’t. Once defenses are up, the mind closes down. The cold hard truth must be communicated; just be mindful of how you’re communicating it.

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

My “pitch”, if you want to call it that, is changeable. For example, there were times when I was at my local gym when someone would ask me how I stay fit. Here was the perfect opportunity to say, “it’s my vegan diet”, and then go on to explain what that is. Then there were times when I went out to eat with people at a non-vegan restaurant and they saw I chose vegan options.  That would sometimes prompt one of my fellow diners to ask me why I was vegan and/or to tell me what they thought they knew about veganism. Here was an opportunity to do a bit of educating about factory farming. Of course these situations don’t always present themselves but when they do, I jump on them. I also look for opportunities to mention I’m a vegan, such as when someone tells me about the “great” steak restaurant he went to the night before. I might say, “Oh, I’ve never gone there because I’m vegan.” Sometimes the other person wants to engage and a good conversation ensues. Other times, the person drops the ball and I let it go too. If I get even a little inkling that someone might be interested in hearing what I have to say, I’m ready to engage, but I’m not going to push the issue if their spoken or unspoken message to me is, “enough already.”

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 learned so much from the book The Sustainability Secret, by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, which I just finished reading.

I had thought fossil fuels were the main culprit in global warming. No, it’s methane, mostly from animal waste, which is the biggest problem. It’s 86 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. And methane leaves the atmosphere much more quickly than carbon dioxide – another good reason to end animal agriculture.

Some of the biggest environmental organizations are downplaying or outright ignoring the connection between animal agriculture and global warming. Why? Got to keep the funds coming in from their supporters, a good many of them being animal-eaters who won’t want to change their ways. It’s certainly problematic if the big environmental organizations are more beholden to their donors than to the planet,

A massive eye-opener and a very disturbing one at that – most organic farms use the by-products of slaughterhouses to grow their crops. What?!!!!!! I eat all organic and thought all those farms were producing clean products. Think again. Veganic farming, which I had never heard of, is the alternative. But those kinds of farms are still few and far between.

My evolution and education continues…

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

For me, there’s nothing better than swing dancing to put a big smile on my face. I’ve always loved the music of the 1930’s – 1950’s, so being able to dance to those tunes is a magical experience. I haven’t a care in the world when I’m on the dance floor.

I just published a book, which is available on Amazon called, AnimalPersuasion: a guide for ethical vegans and animal advocates in managing life’s emotional challenges. One of the topics I discuss are the psychological effects of constantly coming face to face with institutionalized animal abuse, whether as a vegan or animal advocate, and I offer some tips on how to deal with the resultant burnout and/or trauma.

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

I can’t really pick just one issue – every form of animal abuse is what I want others to know about.  I suppose if I really had to narrow it down, I’d focus on factory farming and bear bile farming. I’d choose the former because of both the horrific and daily torture of the animals, as well as the sheer numbers affected. And I’d pick the latter because too few people know about this despicable industry. Most people aren’t aware that the bears are kept locked in filthy, tiny cages, often with catheters permanently embedded in their gallbladders so that the bile can be extracted. If they don’t first succumb to disease, these bears may live in these cages for thirty years –never being let out. Animals Asia is doing great work to help these bears.

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

Non-negotiable and forever!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Vegan Street Guide for New Vegans...

I don't have a post for you from last week because I spent my time creating this new resource, The Vegan Street Guide for New Vegans. I hope you'll find it helpful and get the word out. Also, feel free to let me know anything not included that should be. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Where we stand...

We shared this on Facebook. We are sharing this here, too. This is our statement of opposition to the new administration but, more than that, our statement of commitment to the future we believe in.

We may lose people saying this. We may not. We really don't care.

Founding Vegan Street, John and I wanted to create a hub that would help to create a more compassionate, just and sustainable world. We have been vegans since 1995 and Vegan Street is a natural extension of blending our skills and passions into our activism. We are proud of the work that we've created at while knowing that there is always work to be done and progress to be made.

The same things that drew us to veganism - our passion for justice, for creating change, for non-violence - is what compels me to write this post now. As many of you know, we are based in the United States. Chicago, to be exact. Chicago was a flashpoint of the most recent election in our country, used by the new president as a means for invoking fear, paranoia and stoking the hot embers of bigotry, as well as deepening the racial divide, among the voting public. Whether he was successful or not using this tack is debatable but from where we stand on January 30, he is in office.

We have no interest in dividing. We have no interest in further factionalizing the public. We have no interest in demonizing people.

Here is what we know:

We believe in compassion. This is why we’re vegan. This is also why we are taking a public stand against the administration of Donald J. Trump and the agenda he promotes along with that of his cabinet appointments.

We believe in justice. This is why we’re vegan. This is also why we take a stand against misogyny, racism, classism, religious persecution, homophobia and any other form of bigotry.

We believe in non-violence. This is why we’re vegan. This is also why we are in support of people who are coming here fleeing it in their home countries. My grandfather was welcomed into this country by himself at the age of 13. If he hadn’t been, he almost certainly would have been killed in a pogrom and I wouldn’t be posting this from my warm, comfortable office today. The animals people eat are the ultimate refugees without a safe asylum: how could compassionate people like vegans not extend a life preserver to vetted asylum seekers and citizens?

Our dedication to justice and compassion is one that extends to humankind as well. We hear you. We are here for you.

No matter your political persuasion, we will provide recipes, interviews, reviews, tips and more to help you shift away from eating animals and toward a more compassionate, healthful life. Make no mistake, though, we have our own political views and, more than that, convictions about how we want to live in the world.

Vegan Street exists as the tiniest of bulwarks against everything that Donald J. Trump and his administration of millionaires and billionaires represent. There can be no vegan world if we don’t reject the kind of violent, patriarchal worldview that Donald Trump and his cronies are aligned with. We believe that creating a more compassionate world – a fiercely honest, creative, courageous and respectful world – starts with us.

Vegan Street stands in opposition to Donald J. Trump.

Thank you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Alex Ciccone

Long gone are the days when “vegan” was synonymous with “weakling” to the public mind. Thanks to some excellent examples who are creating new associations to veganism, such as accomplished ultra-endurance competitor Rich Roll to yogini and activist Seane Corn, famed strongman Patrik Baboumian to award-winning senior runner and coach Ellen Jaffe Jones, illusions are shattering left and right that you cannot be a vegan and a star athlete. One such individual who is helping to create new associations with veganism from the fitness realm is Alex Ciccone of Ciccone Fitness. A fitness coach and strength trainer based in Toronto, Alex is a first generation Canadian (his parents are from Italy) and will be featured in the March-April edition of Vegan Health and Fitness magazine. As a vegan activist, Alex uses his platform as a fitness expert to help bust myths about “the scrawny vegan” while educating people about the often hidden reality of animal agribusiness. You can find Alex on Instagram and Twitter and you can subscribe to Ciccone Fitness via the website to receive fitness tips, recipes, training pointers and more. I am proud to feature Alex Ciccone as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.   

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
I was born in Canada to Italian immigrants, and due to cultural “norms” I would have to say that I was definitely the furthest thing from veganism at birth. Yep, you know Italian staples like veal, fish, lamb, lasagna, pizza – the list goes on and on. Looking back I think yikesss!, but it was the reality of the situation. Vegetarianism nor veganism didn’t seriously cross my mind until I was well into my early 20s. However, I do believe it was the small, but impactful influences throughout my life that amounted and lead me to realize that going vegan was the right and absolute only choice for me.

I personally feel the very first glimpse of my future in becoming vegan started under the age of 10 with my refusal of the traditional Italian meal of rabbit. I just couldn’t wrap my head around eating a cute fluffy bunny. Every time the dish would be prepared I would tell my parents “No! A bunny is not food!”

My bond with pets has been a very strong one for as long as I can remember. Growing up we had birds, dogs, fish, even lizards. Although today I disagree with the domestication of certain species of animals, these experiences throughout my childhood were invaluable. These were loyal, intelligent, unconditional loving creatures that I cared for very much and learnt many life lessons from. This coupled with a love for Disney and other animated movies starring animals such as, 101 Dalmatians, Lion King, Rescuers, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Land Before Time – I think it’s safe to say these were significant moments and a major part of the foundation for my transition to veganism down the road.
I was also a provincial level soccer player growing up, so my love for physical activity began at a young age. Strength training ended up becoming an absolute passion of mine and led to a career as a personal training specialist. In order to meet nutritional goals to support my training, particularly protein, I did rely heavily on animal based products. Let’s just say the amount of meat and dairy I was consuming during my first few years of training was absurd and finally struck a nerve. It got me thinking a bit more about the process and where my food was actually coming from. I turned to those typical misnomers… is it healthy, organic, “humanely” raised/slaughtered? Once I started digging, there was no turning back. The disconnect was no longer and the horrors that I was seeing and hearing just did not sit right. It was a slow and steady process making the decision to go vegetarian first and then onto veganism (now going on 3+ years).
Unfortunately protein over the years has become synonymous with animal flesh or certain animal products such as dairy and eggs. Billions of animals are at the mercy of these suggestions every year and suffer a fate that no one would even wish on their worst enemy. Once getting into the fitness space as a vegan I would constantly hear the common misconception that vegans are weak and malnourished (particularly protein deficient). Wanting to break these grossly incorrect statements of not being able to get adequate protein intake or supporting training, it has long been my goal to show how a vegan diet can actually allow you to get bigger, leaner and stronger. Along the way showing that living a vegan lifestyle really comes at no sacrifice. There are plenty of products and activities that are cruelty-free – and it is through cruelty-free that you can truly transcend and enjoy life to the fullest, knowing that you celebrate life and cherish it by not contributing to the unnecessary pain and torture animal agriculture creates.

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?

Although I understand the intention of this question, it is through the many exact experiences I went through that has allowed me to embrace the vegan lifestyle the way that I have today and I wouldn’t change a thing. In saying that I literally experienced it all throughout my transition…whether it was extremely aggressive radical veganism or more unassuming, positive and non-judgmental support. At the end of the day it all boiled down to my own self-awareness and knowing who I was – that’s what mattered most. Whether the message was distributed to me in a more negative tone or more positive tone, I knew I personally wanted to change and I just simply gravitated towards the message distribution I felt gave the most value at the time. So in saying that, for those of you who have yet to make the switch and may be contemplating veganism, I encourage you to practice self-awareness, find those values and messages that matter most uniquely to you and allow them to help facilitate the change.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

I am a big believer in authenticity. We are all intelligent creatures that can really read through the bulls***. So when I speak about the vegan movement and veganism, I only speak from the heart because I believe that is the only true way to connect with others. Nothing replaces being genuine. Naturally, I am a very positive, supportive and loving person – so that tends to be how my message comes across. It tends to take many forms, whether it be a powerful image, a few key words or the odd meme – all depends on the creative I lean towards in that moment. At the end of the day all I want is to give back to the community that helped support me in my transition, in any way that I can and ultimately end animal cruelty, getting to a plant-based tomorrow, sooner rather than later.

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

There are many but I would like to choose one and that is passion. Vegans are PASSIONATE. My caps button didn’t stick there, it was certainly intended. I always hear the joke… “How do you know someone is vegan… Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.” Although I do find this absolutely hilarious, the punchline is…it’s because vegans are passionate. Some may consider this incessant need to talk about veganism as a bad thing, but being the optimist I am, I think it’s the best thing for the movement. Passionate, caring and dare I say obsessive individuals. This obsession to spread the word about veganism GETS. WORK. DONE. Change will not happen unless we all put in the work to get the word out and vegans are the best in the biz! Animal agri --- we’re coming for you!

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

Censorship. Government and certain media outlets intentionally go out of their way to keep information on the down low to protect industry. Absolute bulls***. Silver lining? Social media. Each and every one of your posts, photos, videos, shares, likes, comments, follows – they all matter and count. Let’s all leverage that advantage of existing in this tech age and keep spreading the word as much as we can.

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

Win-win-win. In no particular order.

-       Ethical Treatment of Animals
-       Environmental Health
-       Personal Health

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?

In all honesty, everyone – vegan or non-vegan. Each and every single person I have ever had a conversation with around veganism helps me in continuing my evolution and spreading the word. In saying that, those entrenched in the vegan community, organization or individual, who take time and energy out of their day to post, share, like, comment and follow – it all matters and counts in spreading the word and allowing everyone to level up. Together we are truly plant strong – as nerdy and cliché as that sounds.

If I can get a bit romantic with nostalgia, I do recall the exact resources that helped me when I was knee deep in my transition - Animal rights organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), documentaries like Food Inc. and plant-based supporting literature like The China Study and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness.

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

Going back to the quality of vegans being passionate. Because of that I tend to believe I have a really high threshold for burnout. I can and do pull 18-hour days eating and breathing the vegan movement. But if I had to choose a few things that allow me to unwind, recharge in order to inspire again it would be the following…

-       Spending quality time with friends and family – all the furry ones included 
-       Getting a quality workout in
-       Watching tv/movies or playing video games

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

Ethical treatment of animals. The disconnect between our plates, retail stores from the animal itself is way too large. I know many individuals who are still omnivorous or purchase animal products but when asked if they love animals the answer is still undoubtedly yes. Call it naïve – I call it being optimistic…I truly believe this affinity for love of animals is the care and key to a more cruelty free and plant-based lifestyle for the entire planet.

I encourage those who are not vegan to explore social media/media and expose yourself to the "behind the scenes" of where these animal-based products come from. In getting closer to the truth and reducing the disconnect is where this affinity of love for animals can truly shine and awaken a sleeping giant within.

If you begin to feel the pressure of "there’s no way I can be vegan", don’t stress... you don’t have to be vegan overnight. It took me many years to make the full transition and there is no shame in that. The final destination is what counts. Trust in the process and do what you uniquely can do to reduce your animal based product consumption. Vote with your dollars and the system and the societal "norm" will certainly change. You as an individual do truly have the power. The good thing is, you already have a vegan community army behind you ready to fight side by side.

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


The deep pain I feel for the sufferings and misfortunes of each and every animal involved in animal agriculture is what drives me day in day out.

I feel very fortunate to be part of such a passionate community doing such fantastic work. Together we are plant strong and I cannot wait to be a part of that change alongside each and every one of you!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Raffaella Ciavatta

I first saw
Raffaella Ciavatta’s work when the animal rights organization she helped to found, Collectively Free, burst on the scene in 2014 with daring videos and actions that have garnered wide media attention. I was initially impressed by Collectively Free’s activism but I have been even more impressed as the grassroots organization has grown to become even more intersectional and encompassing as their work has matured. I am always looking forward to what I will see next from them.

As co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella brings her design
skills and her unabashed passion for integrated social justice to their activism, from creating striking and memorable actions to keeping the organizations core values transparent and considerate of everyone. We need more vegan organizations to place the high value on intersectional activism as much as Collectively Free does. You can find them – and should follow them – on these social media platforms. I am honored to feature Collectively Free’s Raffaella Ciavatta as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.

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

I was actually raised a vegetarian and was diagnosed with anemia when I was a kid by a doctor who told my mom the only way to cure it was for me to eat flesh. So, I started eating flesh (never solved my anemia, FYI) and let myself be carried by social pressure. Being born and raised in Brazil made it extra easy for me to continue to eat animals as there were as many steakhouses there as there are Starbucks here.

It wasn't until I moved to NY and got involved with rescuing dogs and cats that the dissonance really hit me. During the meetings of the rescue I was part of, which was ran by a vegetarian, there were always animals' bodies being served and one day something just clicked. I went home and watched as many undercover videos that I could possibly cram in 24 hours, then I read tons of articles in the next 24 hours and became a vegan. 

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

I really, really wish I had met a pro-intersectional vegan who had shown me how my struggles as a queer, immigrant and woman are intrinsically related to the struggle of nonhumans. Also, how to unpack my own isms to not only be a better activist but a better person. Finding out I had been lied to about nonhumans was already mind-blowing, but putting that into the context that's connected with so many other forms of oppression is even more mind blowing.

That way, I wouldn't have wasted nearly a year of my veganism being so "animals first," saying really racist, binary and awful things, thinking you can "vote with your dollar" and that veganism was going to solve the world's problems.

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

Passion and framing anti-speciesism as a social justice issue have worked really well for me. On the other hand, street theater and satire have worked really well, with our campaign Swapspeciesism. Examples
here and here.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
We have all sorts of very solid facts on our side.

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

The thing with facts is that it's not enough to convince the vast majority of people because, well, we are creatures who love to cling to the ways we are used to thinking and we have a lot of biases.

I think the biggest obstacle is ourselves - we want changes for tomorrow and a lot of us are going to do whatever it takes, even if that includes making very superficial analogies that come off as very disrespectful, using triggering words or selling veganism as this cure-all-solution.

We have to resist the urge of taking shortcuts when advocating and we have to broaden our horizons and put veganism and animal liberation in a position that it is not isolated from everything else, but one more piece of anti-oppressive work that we need to tackle to make the world a better place.

That also includes meeting people where they are and linking anti-
speciesism to something particular that they already practice. For example, as an immigrant, for me the link between wildlife displacement and my own displacement are undeniable. Going deeper, stealing land from nonhumans of any kind is an atrocious act that we can link directly to colonialism and white supremacy. If I'm speaking to an activist who does that type of work, this is where I'm framing the conversation.

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

I usually shy away from the word vegan, I prefer animal liberationist or animal rights activist but to the answer, because anyone, regardless of their gender, species, class, sexual orientation, ability and so on, deserve the right to live free from harm. Also because the way we treat animals directly influence the way we justify violence against one another - we dehumanize minorities and reduce them to "animals" in order to keep them underprivileged.
Aph Ko writes brilliantly about this. I always say that nonhumans are our allies, not our enemies.

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?


Dr. Amy Breeze Harper,
Sistah Vegan

Carol J. Adams,
The Sexual Politics of Meat
Angela Davis,
Freedom is a Constant Struggle
Timothy Pachirat,
Every 12 Seconds
Greg Jobin-Leeds,
When We Fight, We Win
And many others!


Usually documentaries that will make me very upset and angry lol so I can go figure out what to do next about it.

The most recent one I watched that was phenomenal was the
13th, which addresses the fact in the United States prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. I recommend this to any vegans who want to start grasping the idea of racism in this country.

And many others!

And many others!

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

I hit the gym pretty hard, with weights. I have been neglecting it but now I'm back to it! Also design and poetry.

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

The liberation of all, humans and nonhumans is one of the dearests causes to me. I wasn't born knowing all I know. It took so much work to get to where I am. It took daily unpacking of my own privileges. It took tears and sweat and above everything else, it took so much humility to admit I hadn't it all figured out like I thought I had. If I could ask something, that would be - remain open.

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