Thursday, December 1, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Jackie Day

I could not even come close to describing the impressive (to say the least) accomplishments of Jackie Day of the popular blog, My Vegan Journal. After reading her bio, I wanted to simultaneously take a nap and roll up my sleeves to get to work. Jackie is a long-time vegan, an award-winning educator, a children’s health advocate, a health policy innovator, an animal activist and more. As a well-known blogger, Jackie is able to bring her joyful message of health and compassion to a wide audience, empowering people to become educated on important issues and take a stand on what matters. A true grassroots organizer, Jackie doesn’t just maintain an online presence: she is out on the streets, creating positive change in her community and around the world.

Now Jackie is out with her first beautiful book, The Vegan Way: 21-Days to a Happier, Healthier Plant-Based Lifestyle that Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet and You, published by St. Martin’s Press. A generous and engaging guide for leaning into how and why to make a vegan transition, Jackie offers an inclusive road map for anyone. From switching out dairy to finding cruelty-free cosmetics, removing toxic cleaning products to educating about animals in entertainment, each chapter offers an attainable goal and is written in a breezy, accessible but honest way, removing roadblocks and myths as she goes. (Review coming soon!) I am excited to feature Jackie today as our Vegan Rock Star and happy to help get the word out about her fabulousness.

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?

There’s actually an entire chapter in my book entitled “My Road To Vegan,” which describes my journey, but in a nutshell my path involved a unique combo of a frozen TV dinner, the act of feeding our dog scraps of “meat” under the table, and a fortuitous encounter with a stranger who needed a ride home.

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?

Fortunately, all my brain needed was the information; the simple truth. My heart was open, and my mind was a sponge. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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

It all depends on the audience. When speaking to someone one on one, I think it’s wise to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who we’re trying to inspire; look through their eyes, as best as we can, and go from there. After all, we’ve all traveled on different paths with different experiences that can taint our perception of the truth, and our willingness to embrace change.

As an author, I tend to write in an upbeat fashion, that’s positive and hopeful, but I don’t skirt the truth.  I paint a picture with words to get the point across, but never leave readers feeling helpless or hopeless. We can make a difference with every bite we eat, and every dollar we spend – and we are, in a very big way!

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

The biggest strength of the vegan movement is this: we’re inspiring others to move towards the inevitable. As I explain in great detail in The Vegan Way, history is on our side.  We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift; everyone is going vegan.  It’s simply impossible for our species to survive without transitioning to a plant-based way of living.

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

I actually think all forms of non-violent activism can be effective as long as you’re targeting your audience wisely. Everything from a little humor (the talented cartoonist, Dan Piraro comes to mind) - or a gentle nudge to try a vegan cupcake - to large protests with graphic photos, can be effective.  We’re all so very different when it comes to being inspired. What works for one person, might not work for someone else.  We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful for all advocates who are trying to make the world a better place.

As for roadblocks, the fact that so many pro Big Ag folks wind up having power in the government, coupled with politicians serving as paid advisors to Big Ag folks once they’re done in D.C. is certainly cause for concern. Those creating legislation and regulations shouldn’t be so ensnarled in the promotion of cholesterol laden, saturated fat-filled, antibiotic and hormone infested animal products. It’s a conflict of interest, and the world suffers greatly because of it.

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

Whether it’s for your health, the animals, the environment or a combo of all three, going vegan makes good sense! It’s easy, affordable, tasty and fun! And since you have to get off at this floor - and we can chat no more - check out my book, The Vegan Way: 21 Days To A Happier, Healthier, Plant-Based Lifestyle That Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet, And You! Ciao!

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?
Oh, gosh, there are so many! Diet for a New America by John Robbins was immensely helpful to me in the late 80’s, and if we flash forward to today, I’m currently enjoying learning new plant-based nutrition facts from Dr. Michael Greger’s New York Times Best Seller, How Not To Die. The first animal rights pamphlets I recall reading in the early 80’s were from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals which provided ample food for thought and inspiration. And I’m delighted to see a surge in animal friendly books for kids, such as Ruby Roth’s Vegan is Love, and Santa’s First Vegan Christmas by Robin Raven and Kara-Maria Schunk, both of which nurture compassion.

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

Every few months or so, I enjoy a social media cleanse and detach from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. for a few days, or even a few weeks. It’s not easy; sometimes I even have my husband change my password on my accounts because I’m so drawn to social media these days, but the break is well worth it. I also find that spending time outdoors gardening, bike riding, or hiking relieves stress, or in the winter months, knitting, baking, writing, and cuddling with our kitties, helps too. I also like to unwind by surrounding myself with things that smell good: lavender oil, herbal teas, and candles that smell like sweet treats.

Helping others also provides fuel for inspiration. I launched my book at Barnes and Noble last night and was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of folks who want to know how they can make the world a better place right now; it’s so energizing to plant seeds of compassion, and watch them grow.

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

All issues that concern needless suffering are important.  I encourage folks to learn more about an issue that’s dear to their heart, and then gradually increase their circle of compassion to include everyone else.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
living a lifestyle where your brain follows your heart; it’s easy, tasty and lots of fun, too!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Election Advice on Surviving this Year’s Thanksgiving from a Vegan

Hi, there!

How are you? Really. How are you?

I can see that you’re struggling. I know that this year has been a little rough with the election and everything so we’re all a little banged up and now we’ve got Thanksgiving to deal with as if the last couple of months hadn’t been enough of a kick in the pants. Now you’ll be sitting next to the same cousin who posted angry, embarrassing screeds on your Facebook page, the same brother who felt emboldened to forward you absolutely nutter messages from the NRA, the same aunt who goes out her way to tell you, apropos of nothing, that she is praying for you. On November 24, you and all of them will be smooshed together in the same claustrophobic room.  

On the bright side, if there’s anyone who is adept or at least experienced at powering through a hostile, unpleasant environment at Thanksgiving, it’s a vegan. See, we’re good for something other than making you feel guilty and/or resentful all the time. We’ve got real life skills. Here I am, your cheerful ambassador to an inhospitable holiday meal with the family, and, not to be all full of myself, but I have a metric ton of experience in this. Let me be your friendly guide. After all those years of being freaked out and more than a little despondent to sitting at a table where people are eating corpses, this year’s post-election Thanksgiving will be, if not a breeze, than at least nothing new. Please enjoy the following tips and pointers I’ve accrued from my many years of steeping in the family milieu at Thanksgiving.

And let us be thankful for the little things.

* Bring an ally if you can. Agree that you can lightly jab at each other under the table in lieu of banging your heard into a wall.
* Go in a bedroom and punch a pillow if you need to. Don’t explain your absence. Just do it.
* Carbo-load for mood elevation but have an exit strategy for the inevitable blood sugar crash. You should actually have the exit strategy even without low blood sugar.  
* On the exit strategy: The thing about strategies is they have to be strategic, in that they are already planned, you don’t just awkwardly try to wing them like some guy at his first improv class. People can see the flop sweat bead up on your forehead. Do you want that? Lay the groundwork for your early departure with an elegant, airtight alibi: Does your elderly cat need fluids? Have you been feeling a little under the weather? Do you have to get up super early tomorrow? Did you maybe leave your oven on, garage door open, back door unlocked? Whatever, man. I am not here to think for you. Just come up with a semi-plausible foot-out-the-door strategy, don’t try to be too creative or complicated, and commit to it, okay?
* Question: Is recreational cannabis legalized and accessible where you live? If so, you can draw your own conclusions.
* Repeat a mantra like “In with love, out with anger.” Coordinate with your breaths. (Do I need to say that the mantra should be silent?)
* Try this visualization technique when you get stressed: Imagine that you are on a beach or a peaceful meadow, whatever is more pleasing to you. Picture a perfect blue sky or the dappled sun on your blanket. Feel the warm sand or the soft grass beneath you. Sink into it. Hear the seagulls and waves, hear the songbirds and wind blowing through the leaves. Inhale the sea salt, the intoxicating wildflowers. Imagine it with as much detail as you are able and your uncle pontificating about “the Mexicans” will recede far away into the background.
* Less ambitiously, you could try to recollect every cute kitten video you have stored in your memory bank.
* Make a note of all the funny shit you’re going to post on Facebook when this shit show is over and make it a mental challenge to remember every last, shitty detail. Remember that comedy is tragedy + time.
* It could always be worse, right? This could be a Thanksgiving meal with the Duck Dynasty family or Ted Nugent or some other next level wing-nut crackpottery. Cultivate gratitude for the little things, like not having anyone actively try to murder you and dance in your still-warm blood at the Thanksgiving table. Keeping things in perspective is key to a positive attitude.
* Remember motivational and inspiring quotes like, “When you are going through hell, keep going,” “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” and, “It’s just a couple hours…It’s just a couple hours … It’s just a couple hours …”
* The Thanksgiving table is not the place to do your activism. At dinner, nobody wants to hear things like “You voted in a racist, misogynist, xenophobic regime with the most despicable, backwards platforms imaginable and a tantrum-inclined despot with Narcissistic Personality Disorder at the helm and so you might have an answer as to why the neo-Nazis are celebrating the results of the election.” Um, you know, for example.
* Find conversational common ground everyone can agree on, like that it is better to be healthy than sick. Ice is cold. Fire is hot. Air is important. So is water. We can all agree on these things. Stick to such neutral and banal universalities to find areas of shared understanding.
* Want to mess with people but not in a way that will bring about a Jerry Springer-style brawl? Here’s what you do: If someone starts spewing nonsensical garbage, like that turkeys are dumb and so eating them is like eating a vegetable (yep, I’ve heard that one) or that you can vote for a racist without actually being a racist, don’t say a word. Don’t make a face. Just look at the person in your most straight-faced way. Maintain eye contact. Don’t nod. Don’t even frown. Don’t say, “Hmm,” or tsk or anything. Just listen to them spewing BS without a reaction but also without looking away and they will get more and more uncomfortable that you are not throwing them a lifeline. Trust me on this. Watch as they desperately grasp for your validation and exoneration, your face inscrutable, offering nothing. This is great fun in an End of Days sort of way.
* In conversation, keep things pleasantly ambiguous, saying something like, “Mashed potatoes. Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes? Am I right?” regardless as to whether or not it is relevant to the conversation.
* Don’t try to text your friends for support from the dinner table. That’s rude. Go into the bathroom to do that.
* Then again, if you’re not invited back, is it such a big loss?

So, hey, I hope this is helpful. You’ll survive it. You’ll be fine. The point is just to white-knuckle it and get through to the other side with a minimum of damage.

I have faith in you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

xo -

Your Vegan Guide

PS – Maybe you can be a real ally now and leave the animals off your plate?

PPS – I've already overstayed my welcome, haven't I? 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Robin Raven

You know what holiday movie I can’t stand? “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” God. it's so bad! Already dusty and creaky in my childhood back in the Paleozoic era, even as a child, I was appalled by the accepting attitude in the Rankin/Bassproduction toward bullying culture and the pressure to conform. Speaking of, how about the grown ups? Donner, Rudolph’s father is a bellowing cretin and Santa Claus is The. Absolute. Worst. Insensitive, tyrannical, humorless, distant and manipulative, Santa Claus only comes around to appreciating Rudolph’s worth when he figures out a way to take advantage of the difference that once disgusted and repelled him. Plus there’s the acceptance of the status quo of exploitation and ownership of other animals that underpins the whole terrible story. Do I have to spell out any more why this is problematic?

Robin Raven to the rescue! With her new children’s book, Santa’s First Vegan Christmas by Vegan Publishers, Robin begins her tale from that familiar place of accepted exploitation and oppression and turns the old story on its head. With Dana, the confident and assertive reindeer who refuses to be used or allow other reindeer to be exploited for Santa’s annual Christmas Eve ride, the animals have a wise and thoughtful voice. I won’t tell too much about this story because I don’t want to give too much away, but Dana helps Santa Claus understand what is wrong with oppressing others and helps him to connect the dots to compassionate, vegan living while still managing to enjoy the Christmas spirit. With lively, colorful illustrations by Kara Maria Shunk and engaging storytelling set to rhyme by the author, Santa’s First Vegan Christmas is a beautiful and inspiring story that encourages young people to consider others from the perspective of equality and respect. Shot through with holiday magic, Santa’s First Vegan Christmas is also a story about how we don’t have to compromise our values in our desire to celebrate favorite traditions. It’s a lovely, heartwarming read with a gentle but honest message of compassion. It would be a great gift for anyone, young or old, this holiday season.

I am honored to be able to feature the author, Robin Raven, as this week’s Vegan Rock Star. I love Robin’s kind and honest voice; the vegan movement and the animals are lucky to have her.

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?

Yes, I have always felt a strong connection to animals. To make a long story short, I went vegetarian as a kid because I couldn’t bear the thought of animals being harmed and killed. It was always about protecting animals for me. I didn’t want to eat animals and was a vegetarian for most of my life before more recently becoming a vegan. Of course, now I wish I had gone vegan many years ago! I didn’t realize the harm that I was causing before going vegan. I will be vegan for the rest of my life now.

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?

You know, it was easy for me to go vegetarian, but transitioning to veganism was more challenging. I think that simply having open, honest, polite, and kind discussions is the best way to go. If someone had told me exactly what was happening in the dairy industry, I would have gone vegan immediately.

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

When having personal discussions, I just speak from the heart, and I try not to state or repeat something without fact-checking it. Also, I don’t come from a place of judgment, but I am also not going to agree to a lie even when the truth is uncomfortable.

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

I think that kindness, compassion, and strength of character are strong among so many people I meet who are a part of the vegan movement. There are so many kind-hearted people striving to make a difference and build a more compassionate world. Every individual in the vegan movement can be its strength. We can all do something important.

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

I think that people get a lot of validation for practices and traditions that hurt animals. It’s socially acceptable to do all kinds of horrible things to animals. Since most people eat meat and other animal products, I think many people don’t feel compelled to examine their choices and don’t want to hear something that will challenge the way that they are living. I think the prevalence of pseudoscience and so many unfortunate vegan stereotypes are hindrances, too.

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

Great question, and I wish I could say that I had one. I’m totally going to work on that now. I handle each interaction differently.  

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?

Oh, there are so many. I love Vegan Street and all the incredible work you have done here! I am always reading and try to support vegan authors by getting their books whenever I can. I just read a fantastic book called The Vegan Way by Jackie Day.

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

I take self-care very seriously, and I try not to take myself seriously at all. Both these things can be easier said than done sometimes, though. I like to walk while listening to my favorite music. I love being around animals and talking to friends. I adore going to the theater to watch a movie. That’s one of my favorite ways to escape reality for a bit. I recently discovered a passion for photography. Savoring the simple joys in each day is important, and I keep a gratitude journal.

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

I could not pick a single issue, but many are close to my heart. I think an intersectional approach to activism is important. Prejudice, bigotry, and cruelty in all its forms is wrong, and we all need to make our voices heard loud and clear about that.

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

To me, being vegan is living with compassion and respect for all sentient beings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Living with Trauma in an Age of Trump...

Staring at this blank page, I keep trying to collect my thoughts, summon up hope and develop a game plan for dealing with the fallout of Tuesday’s historic election because that is usually how I approach setbacks once I have some distance but this time is different. I find my brain is of no help to me right now. In fact, it is actively working against me. It is on strike, huddled under a pile of blankets, glassy-eyed and mumbling to itself.

Sitting here, my mind of little use to me, I am reminded of a quote from Joan Didion’s famous essay from the New York Times, “Why I Write.” “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Now, I like to think that I have some access to my own mind (and I’m guessing that Ms. Didion was being self-deprecating herself) but much of why I write is also fueled by curiosity: What do I think about this? What do I feel about it? Why do I think that? Why does it make me feel this way? What is the story that I am hooked on and is it objectively true? Is it fair? Much of my writing, whether it is satire, advocacy, journalism or personal narrative, originates in this humble and often frightening place: What are my thoughts?

What are my thoughts?

What are my thoughts?

This simple little sentence, barely more than a fragment, basically sums up what the cloud over my head, maybe inside it, has been showering down ad nauseum since Tuesday night. What are my thoughts? I don’t know. But I can let you know about little glimpses of self-awareness that I’ve found while poking through the dusty internal rubble.

First, I can tell you that I feel like I’m breathless. I feel like I had been holding my breath until after the election. I had been eager for many things but from a selfish standpoint, I was looking forward to the human trigger of many visceral memories I have of tyrannical patriarchs and abusers to soon vanish from my worldview once again. On Wednesday morning, that horrible, nightmarish day, I learned that not only was he not disappearing, he was here to stay. Coming up for air because I had to, it wasn't the breath that I was expecting. The giant, gratifying inhalation and exhalation I’d been so looking forward to has been replaced by a shocking further compression of my lungs. One gets used to those shallow breaths, though, when they are all we have.

Second, I’ve been walking around feeling nauseated with a lurching, disassociated feeling of dread and vague disgust in my gut, just hanging there like smoke that won’t dissipate. Now I, like millions of other women, can expect to see someone who is the human representation of every male who has grabbed her without consent, who has insulted her, who has sexually abused her, who has threatened her, who has disrespected her and who has just carried on with his life. We can expect to see and hear him in our daily life so we are constantly bracing ourselves for the next mental assault. Now this smug, overgrown schoolyard bully, this entitled, racist creep, this tantrum-prone and vengeful child of privilege who is so utterly despicable that the white supremacist movement is rejoicing over is President of the United States

This predator. This bully. This creep. This smug, sneering abuser who, if U.S. history is any guide, gets away with it again and again.

Holy fuck. You may have noticed that I don’t really swear here. I am not opposed to it; I just don’t do it much. Sometimes, though, we are at that stage. I don’t can’t think of a more fitting holy fuck time in recent memory.

You know what makes it even worse? People on all sides of the political spectrum trivializing and smirking at those of us who are having a really hard time with the prospect of a President Trump, now no longer a prospect but a reality, and dismissing us as emotional, irrational sore losers. There is a world of us right now with old wounds that have been ripped and are bleeding anew. We are triggered. We are in shock. We are re-traumatized. We are trying to figure out if the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms will mitigate or worsen with time and more exposure. It’s up in the air. I would ask for people to please understand that trauma manifests in ways that are not always easy to understand but maybe you can try to stop trying to score tactical arguing points long enough to be a decent ally.

This is just the personal, too. This is not even getting into what the regressive, backwards administration is going to look like for marginalized people, immigrants, people with fewer advantages, people with brown skin, females, the environment, the animals, the world.

So, yeah, we are hurt and we are scared. We are traumatized again and we are anticipating at least four years of it. We have already survived at least one trauma, though, and we will do it again. Maybe we’ll even turn it into something positive. But don’t you dare tell me and the other people who are disgusted, heartsick and lurching with the prospect of living with a daily reminder of trauma that we are being melodramatic and emotional.
We are experiencing trauma and we are trying our hardest to get through this. Please accept that you might not know what that feels like. We may be battle-scarred but the thing about a scar is it is a sign of healing and recovery, of survival. We’ll get through it. We may be wobbly, hurt and reeling right now but you know the thing about people who have some scars?

We are the strongest people.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

One Child, Two Dates: September 11, 2001 and November 8, 2016

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was alone in our apartment in Chicago, having just read a headline on Salon that an airplane flew into the World Trade Center. It was hazy and random; I didn’t think much of it other than, “Oh, those poor people.” I didn’t suspect terrorism at first. I didn’t think it was intentional. As the news progressed on that sickening, staggering day that I watched like it was a newsreel from Hades, I remember feeling pity for anyone bringing a child into the world, for how they must have felt with the news. I did not know yet that I was newly pregnant; I wouldn’t know for another month or so. Maybe, I thought, it was better off not having children.

When I learned that I was pregnant, strangely, my anxieties immediately dissolved. I was filled with hope and excitement. This was the hope I needed. This future baby was my motivation for becoming more active with creating change and helping to build a better world. As my pregnancy progressed, my husband and I would watch in wide-eyed disbelief as this strange form in my middle danced and rejoiced when I drank a shake in the morning. We gave my mother, widowed and depressed, something to look forward; we imagined this future child, what he or she might look like. Oh, and what kind of name?

When my son was born – raging and radiant with a sputtering, feisty spirit after a long labor with unforeseen challenges – we had a name picked out but we had decided that if he didn’t fit the name, we would just put it off until we got to know him better. Thankfully, it did fit the baby who hung on for 52-hours and came out of my last minute c-section kicking ass and taking down names: Justice. His name was Justice and it perfectly suited him with his tiny fists of rage and assertive, confident voice. At least his name was one thing we didn’t need to think about as he and I faced the weeks ahead of a slow healing and bonding.

In all the years that have followed my son’s birth, fourteen now, I have never questioned if it was a smart decision to bring a child into this deeply flawed and needlessly violent world despite my initial misgivings. I had this child, with his dreamy, liquid eyes full of curiosity and his luscious, satiny skin; I had this child who was full of kindness, with a rich inner-world and the dogged individuality that has impressed me from the first day we met. Justice was more of what the world needed. I observed the world with fresh eyes with my son: in my arms, at my breast, in the carrier, in a stroller, toddling beside me, running through the grass, learning how to swing at the playground, skipping down the sidewalk to school. Yes, as someone who thinks and feels things deeply, life has not always been without turbulence for Justice but on the balance he is happy and content. In our life together, I have never again questioned bringing him into the world, I have always just accepted his life as an invaluable gift.

Or I didn’t question it until November 9 at midnight, our 2016 election. Or was it before dawn? That feeling of the room closing in on me, of watching a newsreel from Hades between my fingers again, numb hands, my chest pounding in my throat. I watched as our beautiful map filled in with large swaths of red, a few splashes of blue for our optical and spiritual relief, but hot, fiery red everywhere else. I finally had my moment of doubt, of reckoning. For the first time in my son’s life, I asked myself if having him was a selfish, cruel mistake.

On November 8 as the map filled out in heartbreaking red, my son lived up to his name and channeled the fierce spirit we met back in 2002. He stormed through the house, gutturally howling like a wounded, betrayed beast, tears streaming without inhibition. He punched a pillow in his tae kwon do gear. He sought affirmation that it wasn’t going to happen but as more states turned red before our eyes, we couldn’t give him what he so desperately sought. There weren’t any surprise electoral votes we could uncover; the math was pretty simple, after all, and it was all adding up to the unspeakable. “It’s not over,” my husband said. I could tell from the grave look on his face, though, that it was. This is a face that my husband only reserves for Really Serious Matters and because he knows how high-strung I am, I’ve only seen it a few times. It has always been warranted. I saw that face and I tried to hide my fear. My son could see through it.

His thick eyelashes heavy with tears, his face mottled with the emotions that poured out of him just like on the day he was born, Justice looked back and forth between us, the people he has entrusted to keep him safe, to keep the world okay. How could this be? How could we do this? How? Just how? He demanded answers and we just shook our heads sadly. I’m not worried about me but what about other people? Again, we had no answers except that we will do our best to protect everyone. How empty this felt to say.

My son finally left the room, sat at my desk and wrote the angriest screed I’ve ever heard from him. In fourteen years, I never once heard Justice use the word “hate” once, not even as a toddler; he is not a perfect being but “hate” is just not part of his vocabulary. We never forbade him from saying it: he just never did. Until November 8. I winced reading what he wrote, knowing that there has been an innocence lost, but I also understood that the acorn does not fall far from the tree: in order to heal, he knew instinctively that he needed to feel. And feel it he did. He was processing it. He was burning through it. This is exactly what I do.

When I passed his room in the middle of that night, a night that was eerily silent like a vacuum, he was sleeping on his messy bed, finally collapsed, a heap of spent emotions. In the moonlight, he can still look like a baby when he sleeps. I stood in the doorway, apologizing silently, for us, for them, for this sad, sorry world. For his sweet, trusting soul, for raising him as someone who believes in his heart that kindness and reason will eventually prevail.

“The world is falling apart,” I said to my husband, crawling back into bed, my voice hushed. “It’s over. It’s over.” It was midnight or 3:00 in the morning or maybe even between feverish dreams. “What did we do? What did we just do?”

It is the next day now when I write this and I am bone-tired and bleary-eyed and I have no answers but I will tell you this: on November 9, my son woke up with fire in his belly. He was vibrant. His eyes were sparkling. He was buzzing with creative, transformative energy and I’ll tell you why. All week, we have been planning to be a part of an activist group that was going to point at Trump Tower in Chicago at 5:00 the day after the election and laugh. This was when we all expected that he would be shut out. A week before, my son planned his sign. He was going to wear a demon’s mask and hold a sign that says, “Stop Demonizing Trump. It’s Insulting to Demons.” He planned that out himself. While watching the returns Tuesday night, my husband did the lettering on the board. Even as it was becoming clear that he was going to win, John kept writing out the sign. This morning, I woke up to the news that while we wouldn’t be pointing and laughing Trump Tower, people would be gathered to protest at the same location. I asked my son if he still wanted to go.

He ran upstairs to brush his teeth before school and work on his rhetoric.

Of course.  


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

52 Words for Tofu

There is a ongoing controversy surrounding a quote attributed to the novelist Margaret Atwood: “
The Eskimos had 52 names for snow because it was important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” The quote is controversial for a couple of reasons, both leading back to the cultural and linguistic nuances of the polar-dwelling, indigenous people commonly referred to in the U.S. as Eskimos. The concept of the “52 words” has its origins in the work of linguist and anthropologist Franz Boas, who wrote about the expansive and expressive language characteristics he observed and learned while living with the Inuit of Baffin Island in Canada in his 1911 book, Handbook of American Indian Languages.

The controversy swirls because first, there is no singular Eskimo language; those referred to as “Eskimos” are actually mainly Inuit and Yupik populations found in the Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberia that are not united by a singular language or culture. Second, it is not so much that the languages and dialects have so many delightfully evocative words for snow: it is that the languages are polysynthetic, meaning that they employ root or base words that scores of suffixes can be attached to so one “word” can actually be turned into a complex and descriptive sentence, which could be described as a sentence-word. Atwood’s observation remains the same, though: snow was important to these populations – the ratios of water to powder, how packable it is, how dry – and so the more vivid and descriptive the language was for capturing its nuances and characteristics, the better. (This was even more true for describing ice as their safety depended on understanding the different qualities of it.) According to my research, the idea of “Eskimos” having many more words for snow than we do is thought to be an exaggeration by some linguists and thought to be correct by others given the unique attributes of polysynthetic languages.

All that said, I think we need as many words for tofu as it is as important in the life of many vegans as snow and ice to polar inhabitants. I have identified these words for tofu. What would you add to the list?
What would you call it?

1. Crispy-edged tofu: Crunchfu
2. Mushy tofu: Mufu
3. The pieces of tofu that stick to the pan: Stuckfu
4. Tofu that is expired: Wastefu
5. Tofu that you are happy to find in the back of your fridge: Gratitufu
6. Paneer mistaken as tofu at the Indian buffet: Fauxfu
7. Frozen tofu: Frofu
8. The tofu you eat in privacy: Bashfu
9. The pointlessness of tofu cooked with meat at a restaurant: Dumbfu
10. The tofu you are using to replace meat in a recipe: Subfu
11. Disappointing tofu: Flopfu
12. The right tofu for the right situation: Apropofu
13. Tofu that is good for a hangover: Curefu
14. Little bits of tofu that have broken off in a stew or soup: Bitfu
15. Whole blocks of tofu: Wholefu
16. Mashed tofu: Mashfu
17. The tofu that tofu-resistant people find themselves liking: Populofu
18. Tofu that is cold to your hands: Chillfu
19. Tofu that shakes on a plate that has just been placed in front of you: Quiverfu
20. Gummy tofu: Squishfu
21. Tofu in an open package that has been improperly stored and has thus gone bad: Regretfu
22. The tofu you eat to avoid thinking about the election: Escapefu
23. Tofu that flips out of the pan: Flyfu
24. Tofu triangles: Triangufu
25. Tofu squares: Cubefu
26. Tofu rectangles: Rectangulofu
27. Tofu slabs: Slabfu
28. Tofu that has a perfect texture: Firmfu
29. The tofu you eat while bird-watching: Crowfu
30. The tofu you eat at a break up dinner: Singlefu
31. Tofu that falls off your cutting board: Lowfu
32. Tofu that sticks to your knife after you slice it: Stickyfu
33. The tofu that frat boys will eat when no one is watching: Brofu
34. Tofu that sizzles when it hits a perfectly hot, perfectly seasoned pan: Sputterfu
35. Fancy tofu: Froufu
36. The tofu you eat while reading your favorite horror story: Poefu
37. The tofu that falls off the shish kebab stick into your grill: Dratfu
38. Visiting a town that has no tofu: Lackfu
39. Tofu that is easy to pick up with chopsticks: Triumphfu
40. Tofu that is nearly impossible to pick up with chopsticks: Foilfu
41. Tofu that squeaks ever so slightly between your teeth: Peepfu
42. Tofu that you thought you had but you don’t: Nofu
43. Tofu that you’re not sure about because of its disconcerting beige color: Doubtfu
44. The tofu you crave on a quiet, wintry night: Snowfu
45. The tofu you eat when you are feeling angry at someone: Mofu
46. The off-brand tofu you shouldn’t have bought: Brokefu
47. The tofu you cooked in a chaotic kitchen: Snafu
48. Tofu that is taking too long to cook: Slowmofu
50. Tofu you paid too much for: Doughfu
51. The tofu you have at your wedding: Matrimofu
52. Tofu you eat when depressed: Woefu

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Michelle Taylor Cehn

One of the things I love most about this feature is getting to know the people I admire a little bit better. Michelle Taylor Cehn is one of those people I have admired from afar for years and today, I feel so grateful to be able to shine a little spotlight on. Michelle is a prolific and gifted video journalist, photographer, web presence, social media maven (making videos for organizations like Vegan Outreach, Farm Sanctuary and Mercy for Animals, to name a few), and author. (Review of The Friendly Vegan Cookbook will be coming to Vegan Street soon.) With a friendly, welcoming voice that speaks truthfully about animal cruelty, Michelle strikes an admirable balance of being understanding while never wavering from her commitment to promoting veganism. With her new The Dairy Detox program, co-founded with Allison Rivers Samson, I thought there was no better time than the present to draw some attention to this amazing mover-and-shaker. I am so honored to feature Michelle 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’ve been a huge animal lover forever. I went vegetarian when I was just 8 years old, when I first made the connection between the meat on my plate and my animal friends that I loved. The moment I made that connection, I pushed away my plate, turned to my mom, and said I didn’t want to eat animals anymore. She said, “Okay honey—that’s called a vegetarian.” I didn’t know anyone else who didn’t eat meat at the time, let alone that there was a word for it. I’m sure my parents thought it would be a short phase, but from that point on I got used to making my own food (lots of cereal and pasta—haha), and I never looked back. Over time I learned about factory farming and how terribly animals were treated in the meat industry, and I became an eager activist. I started animal rights groups at my high school and college where I gave speeches to my student body, hosted animal rights documentary screenings, held bake sale fundraisers, leafleted, hung animal rights posters all around campus, and more.

I was half-way through college when I picked up a copy of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer at a used book store. That book opened my eyes to the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, and I felt I had no choice but to go vegan. It was a challenge at first, and I assumed it would be a lifelong sacrifice I would make for the animals. I had no idea that becoming vegan would ultimately be the best thing for my health, that it would actually expand my palate and food options, and that it would become easy, delicious, and fun! That’s why I am now so passionate about being a resource for others who are transitioning to 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 just needed the information. I wish someone had said to me, “Michelle, did you know that calves are torn from their mothers at birth so that we can drink the mother’s milk instead?” And so forth, with all the other facts I pieced together over time.

Documentaries and video clips always had a huge impact on me as well, so if someone had shared an undercover investigation video with me sooner, it would have moved me to act in an instant.

Finally, it would have been amazing to have role models in my life who could have led the way, so I didn’t have to navigate the path on my own.

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’ve done many different forms of activism in my day, but what I’ve found to be the most effective is leading by upbeat, positive example, and showing that being vegan is delicious, accessible, happy, and enjoyable.

I used to post graphic videos and dramatic posts on Facebook all the time, and saw very little actual change in my network of friends. But in more recent years I’ve kept my posts really positive. I focus on the benefits rather than the unhappy realities, and I have been amazed—like, really floored by all the messages I’ve received from people who I haven’t talked to in many years, who want to try vegan for one reason or another and turn to me for help. They know I’m a no-judgement zone, and a resource who will encourage them every step of the way. Friends of mine who have gone vegan since meeting me continually tell me how my non-pushy, positive and supportive attitude is what helped them give vegan a shot.

Something as simple as changing my language from: “Did you know that you kill X animals a year when you eat meat?” to “Did you know that you can save X animals a year when you choose vegan?” has helped me reach people in a more welcoming and effective way.

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

Every single vegan, vegetarian, and veg-curious person is a strength of the vegan movement. We are collectively what we each individually bring to the table, and it’s really exciting that as veganism is rising in popularity, so are our cumulative talents and strengths.

We each hold an incredible capacity to change the world, but many of us haven’t tapped into that potential yet. That’s why I’m so passionate about promoting advocacy and sharing everyday activism resources. I am a huge supporter of leafleting with Vegan Outreach, sharing online memes like those you create at Vegan Street and videos like those I create at World of Vegan, and I love new initiatives like the Vegan Chalk Challenge started by James DeAlto. These are simple actions that anyone, anywhere can do in an hour to amplify their impact on the world.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
At this point, with the internet and social media at our fingertips, anyone, anywhere, can be a voice for animals. We all have a loudspeaker in front of us. The only hindrance is our own hesitation to use it.

Make a video about why you’re vegan. Organize a vegan potluck. Plan a leafleting outing with friends. Volunteer with your favorite nonprofit. Intern at an animal sanctuary. Invite your family over for a home-cooked vegan meal. Bring vegan cupcakes to work. Wear a compassionate message on your t-shirt. There are endless opportunities to save lives—now it’s up to you—yes, you, who is reading this right now—to go do it! Take your talents and the tools available to you and put them to work for the animals who otherwise have no hope. 

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Oh man, I’m glad you asked this question, because I really need to work on this! It’s been on my to-do list for a decade! Truthfully, I handle every conversation and interaction differently. It all depends on the vibe I’m getting from the person I’m talking to, and I always respond genuinely with whatever comes to mind.

That said, I encourage anyone looking to refine their communication about vegan and animal rights issues to check out Bruce Friedrich and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau—they both have excellent elevator pitches and responses for every situation imaginable. In fact, I started a “VegAnswers” expert video series on World of Vegan for this very reason! I never felt like I was expressing myself as effectively as I wanted, so I began filming videos with experts who give concise, articulate answers to the most commonly asked vegan questions. You can check out Colleen’s answers to the most common vegan questions here, and the full VegAnswers series here. Many more VegAnswers videos are coming soon, so I hope you’ll subscribe!

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?

Philosopher, author, speaker, and educator Peter Singer has had a tremendous impact on my life and my advocacy. I discovered his work in college, when I picked up his book Animal Liberation, the same book that inspired me to go vegan. Through that book I learned all about the utilitarian philosophy, which became a guiding force in my life, and has made me a much more effective animal advocate.

This is my favorite article of his that I like to re-read every so often. If everyone read this article, I imagine our world would be a much kinder place.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I’ve recently made a big shift that has helped me tremendously with preventing burnout. I used to feel the need to do it all. To show up at every protest, be there for every vegan event, and volunteer whenever I was asked (and even when I wasn’t). As a very extreme introvert, this was incredibly draining for me.

I started to realize that while I personally felt guilty any time I missed a demo, or didn’t show up at an event, for animals—in most cases—it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference. I realized that I could have a much bigger impact on animals by doing the forms of activism that utilize my individual strengths and that also fuel and nourish me. For me, this consists of producing vegan videos, crafting creative online resources, and working on innovative projects to inspire positive change.

It was hard to pull back from the “social activism” scene that I was once such a huge part of, and it took a lot of practice to learn how to say “no.” But here’s the thing. When you say “no” to one thing, you are saying “yes” to another! Here are just a few of the exciting projects I’ve been able to release because of this shift:

The Dairy Detox—a 12-day online video course that I created with my partner Allison Rivers Samson that teaches people how to thrive dairy-free. 
The Friendly Vegan Cookbook—a vegan recipe e-book that I crated with my friend Toni Okamoto.

Draw My Life: A Cow in Today’s Dairy Industry
—a video illustrated by vegan artist Sooyeon Jang that shows the life of a cow in today’s dairy industry without the use of graphic images that make so many turn away.

And of course, when you start to feel overwhelmed, depleted, or burned out, a visit to an animal sanctuary is one of the most nourishing things you can do for your soul. I visit farmed animal sanctuaries often, and can say that for me, there’s nothing quite as healing as rubbing noses with a cow.

If you’re struggling with burnout, I hope you’ll also check out this phenomenal article by Mark Hawthorne with tips for avoiding activist burnout.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
The dairy industry causes me the most heartbreak, not only because it’s one of the most cruel to the animals, but also because I know that there is absolutely no need for dairy—and that most people would want no part in it if they only knew everything that was involved.

I spent the past year working on a program designed to help people who think they could “never give up cheese” or “never live without milk” find dairy-freedom and love it. It’s also a great resource for vegetarians who are ready to take the next step. It’s called The 12-Day Dairy Detox, and I hope you’ll check it out and share it with friends and family who need a little support making the transition!

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

that I don’t value my life above anyone else’s.