Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Addy Rivera Sonda – Recognize the Power and Responsibility Your Privilege Carries.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! I’m Addy, I am an intersectional vegan activist, and a children’s book illustrator, I work with a literary agency based in NY, but I live all over the place. I spend a lot of time with my sister who lives in LA, she is a toy designer and creates amazing educational toys. I visit my cat and human family in Veracruz, Mexico as often as I can. I’m very lucky to have a job where I can work from anywhere! I only need my laptop, drawing tablet, and Wi-Fi. I have been traveling “with work” a lot this year, mainly following my heart, visiting new vegan friends I made on the internet, doing activism in new places, listening to new perspectives, and also visiting old friends who are doing amazing work to bring awareness of the socio-ecological crisis we are living in, and who inspire me more than I can express with words. I really need to cut down my flight miles (I take bus and train whenever I can) but this year I gave myself a pass because it was really necessary for my mental health to be able to talk and act alongside amazing, inspiring and caring people who are working towards protecting all life, and have taught me so much.

I love illustrating books for kids! It is a huge opportunity and responsibility, I feel very lucky and treat my “job” with so much love and respect. All the books I have been a part of have a special place in my heart, but one project I’m particularly excited about is the first book I’m working on as an author, and I’m illustrating it as well! It is scheduled to be published in Fall 2020 with Vegan Kids Press (Instagram: @vegankidspress). It has been a dream come true, working with such talented and deeply caring people like Kara Maria, who is herself the author and illustrator of an amazing vegan children’s book: Charlie to the rescue! Which I can’t recommend enough for readers of all ages.

If you are interested, I publish my personal illustration work on my IG account: @addy_rivera

What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

When I was 5 years old, we were at my grandma’s house where we were going to have a big family dinner and I saw my grandma kill a chicken, I decided I did not want any animal to die or suffer because of me, so I stopped eating all animals.

But I still had dairy and eggs in my diet, and I wish that someone had told me how I was inadvertently hurting the animals I wanted so much to protect.

Something inside me didn’t feel right and told me that I needed to research, but it was just easier not to, I loved cheese and I didn’t want to be inconvenienced with the burden of knowing how that cheese got to my plate and the trail of suffering and injustice that it leaves behind.

One year ago, inspired by vegan advocates in social media such as @vegan_nia, @genesisbutler_, and @earthlinged, I finally gathered courage and did my research: I learned how terrible and illogical the dairy and egg industries are, and the exploitation that both animals and workers live. Ever since that day, I decided I would devote as much of my time and efforts as possible to educate myself and others and to do my best to fight with kindness and knowledge against all systems of oppression.

When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?

Since I was a child, I was very aware of not wanting to hurt animals, so my clothes never included leather or anything that came from animals, as for makeup and hygiene products, I started looking for the vegan, eco-friendly and cruelty-free labels as soon as I learned about animal testing. So, my diet was the last thing to change, because I had been a vegetarian for a long time, I thought I was doing enough for the animals, and bought the lie of the happy dairy farm and the eggs would go to waste if we don’t eat them. Once I decided to go vegan in 2018, I had one last non-vegan meal, to give closure to a tradition my sister and I had during my mom’s birthday.

Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into meats?

Yes, definitely! Children’s emotional intelligence is sharper than most adults, so of course we should never underestimate their intelligence and their right to know the truth. More often than not, kids find very logical choosing empathy and not harming others, I believe humans are kind by nature, but we live in a world that normalizes violence towards those who we perceive as different from us, and also in a society with a moral basis shaped with a cultural discourse dominated by corporations, governments, and systems that value capital over life.

However, we must not forget that we have the responsibility to find the language and the tools to communicate in a way that is thoughtful, clear and truthful, and that is understandable for every child. 

What does being vegan mean to you?

To me, being vegan means recognizing the self, the agency and the value of every living creature, not objectifying or commodifying anyone’s existence, that applies to human and non-human animals, insects, rivers, trees…every living being.

Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist?

I think that more than a duty, it is a need that cannot be stopped. When you are vegan for justice and for the animals, there is no way you can have access to this knowledge and not want to share it with as many people as you can.

Everyone’s activism can look different, some attend vigils and are in the front lines of animal rescue and liberation, others activism is more subtle, and we need that diversity because not all people react to the same things, some need a hard call, while others need this information in a different form.

In a world where injustices seem so out of our control, it feels like a superpower being able to have direct access to one of the key parts of the system that exploits both human and non-human animals: the consumers. Change is actually in our hands, I understand that just consuming vegan is not going to end animal oppression and exploitation, but it opens the door to empathy and to a worldview of caring about others, and that is a gigantic step towards building systems that work better for everyone.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?

I must admit that I sometimes have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of people who have access to information, understand the ethical and ecological implications of eating animals, yet choose to keep participating in that system. However, I do my best to free my mind from the social construct that there are two sides, or that this is somehow a war that vegans must win, everyone is my ally and my teacher, so I try to receive everyone’s opinion with wonder and respect.

Any recommended Vegan books?

Animal Liberation – by Peter Singer

Charlie to the Rescue! – by Kara Maria

Eating Animals – by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Sexual Politics of Meat – by Carol Adams

Braiding Sweetgrass – by Robin Wall

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?

So many! Here are some: The Vegan Vanguard Podcast, A privileged Vegan YouTube channel, Mexie YouTube channel, Food Empowerment Project, Food not bombs, Equal Exchange, Farm Sanctuary, Vegan Mexican Food.

These amazing activists on Instagram: Mariana Matija (@marianamatija) Jessica Gonzalez (@jesspi_vegana), Meneka Repka (@noochdesignco), Kae Marie (@seitanosaurus), Aurore @lespapierssontpolitiques,  Angel Lau 劉穎文 (@angellauwm), @missuspookieookie, @radicalempat, Rehana Sara Jomeen (@rehanajomeen)

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

I have so many, but recently Los Loosers (@losloosers) in Mexico City just blows my mind, it is an experience every time I have the chance to eat there, it is a Mexican-Japanese fusion place and the chef’s personality shines through every dish.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe.

My favorite vegan recipe is my grandma’s lentils. A shout out to my “Mami” who is one of the most amazing people I know, she was the first to “veganize” her dishes for me, she is the kind of person who finds solutions, and I am so deeply thankful for her love.

Some encouraging words for new Vegans?

Daily life choices are political acts, if you are privileged enough to have access to enough food to cover your nutritional needs, you have the responsibility of questioning how your food choices impact other people, animals, and the environment. Recognize the power and responsibility of questioning how supporting a variety of industries, habits and social norms in our daily life contributes to perpetuating an unfair, and unsustainable future.

If we can get past our indifference, we can start imagining a future where we recognize that every life is important (plants, water, human and non-human-animals). We can start working towards a reality of kindness, sustainability, compassion and justice, where we all have a place in our communities, food security and shelter, because our planet has enough resources for everyone to live a life worth living.

The idea that not all lives are intrinsically valuable is at the core of all systems of oppression. This worldview allows all forms of discrimination to exist homophobia, sexism, racism, xenophobia, speciesism, ableism. Discrimination is only possible when we objectify others who we consider different from us. These social constructs rob us of our natural inclination to feel empathy and our ability to have compassion for others. So, I encourage you to recognize your power in your daily life choices.

What is the vegan scene like in your city?

I am from a small town in the south of Veracruz, Mexico, where we are very lucky to have such fertile soil that we can easily grow fruits and vegetables, so many of the traditional dishes from my area are originally vegan, however, today’s food scene has been influenced by the normalization and encouragement to include animal flesh, dairy and eggs in our diet. So even though we have lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available at a low price, I think it is fair to say the vegan scene is non-existent, but I am working towards that, I am planning on opening a small non-profit food truck to offer vegan tacos using local ingredients. I hope people will remember our roots, and also become more familiar with how easy and delicious it is to eat plant-based, and slowly introduce the vegan message.

What personal recommendations can you make for people to meet other vegans?

Get involved in activism, you meet the coolest people there. Also, if you are at a vegan restaurant or gathering talk to strangers, chances are, you will have a lot in common.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

I struggle not exactly with my veganism but being vegan in a world where animal cruelty is legal and normalized, sometimes the world hurts a lot when I see animals being eaten in front of me, parts of their bodies at the supermarket, or used as entertainment. I think this can’t be all, the purpose of our existence as a species can’t be to kill animals, kill our ecosystem, compete with each other. I think there has to be another way to exist on our planet with our other fellow living beings, there has to be more joy in caring for each other.

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