Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Gillian Walters – Actively Pursue Liberation Working Collectively Towards Social Justice

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Gillian Meghan Walters. I was born in Vancouver and grew up in a small town on Vancouver Island. I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor, artist, author, and speaker. I am also a homeschooling single parent to an amazing young person!

After graduating with a Master of Arts degree in counseling psychology I pursued a decade of post-graduate studies in expressive arts therapy. My early work focused on women and children affected by trauma and addiction.

My most recent work is researching and writing about the specific trauma experienced by the animal liberation activist. There is a lack of research on this population in the therapeutic community. I hope this work will educate and increase the available mental health resources available for activists.

Website: http://www.gillianmeghanwalters.com/

I wrote and illustrated my second book, in response to what I noticed at the time was a lack of animal liberation books for children and furthermore a lack of characters who my son could identify with; that of a leading character with brown skin and curly brown hair. 

“King Zoom the Vegan Kid: Animals Used for Food” (2018) normalizes the words vegan and activist. It uses real-life animal rescue stories to illustrate the truth behind animal agriculture. It teaches self-care strategies and discusses peaceful communication.

Book: “King Zoom the Vegan Kid: Animals Used for Food” (2018)

I created the MummyMOO Project as a way to dismantle the dairy narrative. I used the imagery and experiences I gathered after photographing mothers and babies on BC dairy farms. The MummyMOO Project has evolved into a website and presentation, which I have been sharing at universities and conférences across North America.

“Dismantling the Dairy Narrative: A Feminist Inquiry into the Oppression of Two Species”.

Website: MummyMOO Project

Instagram: @gillianmeghanmindfulspace

In 2019 I cofounded BC Vegan Magazine where I write about psychology and animal liberation issues.

I am excited to be included as a contributor for the soon to be released book, “Voices for Animal Liberation: Inspirational Accounts by Animal Rights Activists,” Brittany Michelson (2020)

What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

About thirty years ago I made the connection between the animals that I love and the food that I was being fed. As a young animal lover, I knew that a deer was a deer and a rabbit was a rabbit because they frolicked in our back yard. I would never eat these animals because I loved and respected them. I also understood that a hotdog was a hotdog and bacon was bacon. I had no deeper connection to these ‘food items’.

As a teenager, I heard terrifying screams coming from across the road. I ran to see what it was and found out that the neighbor’s pigs were being sent to slaughter. I was shocked and confused and I remember my mother calmly remarking, “where do you think your hotdogs come from?”.

This awakening led me on a quest to discover the truth about all the information I had been unconsciously consuming. I questioned the school system, the government, the media, and my family. I discovered that the safe world that I believed existed hid an awful horrifying truth. Punk rock gave me space to rebel against the system but made me a target for increased bullying and abuse. At 16 I quit school, left home and my life spiraled out of control. By age 22 I was homeless, addicted to heroin and alcohol and near death.

A spiritual awakening and a 16-week feminist based treatment program saved my life. I started to repair the trauma that I experienced, learn to love my unique self and reclaim my voice.

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

I immediately stopped eating animals when I made the connection.

I learned most of my information from PETA in the early years and joined Earthsave, a local vegan advocacy group. Once I learned something new, I immediately took action. Certain animal exploitation was easy to spot. For example, animals used in entertainment, sport and for clothing. Others were more hidden; learning that gummy bears and marshmallows contained gelatin (cow bones and skin). I became an expert on reading labels.

Do you make any exceptions for yourself or if you are married with kids — your family, when it comes to veganism?

Before I became pregnant, I was silent for many years. I would proudly announce that I was vegan to friends and family but that is as far as it went. I didn’t have the self-esteem, the community support or the emotional energy to fight any harder than my food choices. I boycotted zoos and aquariums and signed the odd petition but it wasn’t until I became a mother that a spark inside me ignited. I was now seeing and experiencing the world through his eyes and I needed to advocate for him. I couldn’t do this by remaining silent.

My son is now 15 and was born and raised vegan. I started homeschooling him when he was in grade four, partly due to the lack of assistance he was receiving in the school system. He was born with Cerebral Palsy and has challenges with developmental tasks, Tourette Syndrome and experiencing anxiety. I wanted to create a learning experience for him where he was free to question everything without judgment, where social justice, peace, and nonviolence would be the core of his curriculum. Where he could learn historical accuracies about race that were not whitewashed by a colonial system.

We both took the Liberation pledge two years ago. I shared with family that I would no longer sit at a table where they were eating dead animals and I would no longer pick up a carton of milk at the store for them. The Liberation Pledge has been the single most important individual act I have taken. It was very difficult at first, many tears were shed and difficult conversations had. The stronger I held my ground the easier it became. We have just had our third vegan holiday family dinner and my niece was excited to give me a cruelty-free gift.

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

I think it depends on if you were raised vegan or not.

The propaganda has been so deeply ingrained into our consciousness that it often takes the horrific imagery of the truth behind our food choices to be able to make the connection.

I believe we need to teach children from birth that all animals are sentient and experience joy and love and pain and fear -as we humans do. That animals have families just like humans do. I believe that we need to unlearn the speciesist language. When my son was younger, I was pulling his shirt over his head and I caught myself singing, “skin the rabbit”. I shocked myself! It came out of my mouth so naturally as it was a childhood rhyme my parents used to say in these same moments. So, check these moments and looking for an anti-speciesist language to replace it. “Bring home the bacon”, “Bring home the bagels”

I was able to teach the truth from a young age, using age-appropriate language and imagery. Together we would point out the absurdity of language and imagery promoted by the media to sell animal bodies. Very soon he was recognizing many of these on his own.

Once you know, you know. I don’t believe in retraumatizing oneself by watching endless images of animals being tortured, dismembered and eaten. As ethical vegans we are surrounded by dead bodies everywhere we turn and the burden of knowing is enough.

Because of the activism we do, we have both experienced bearing witness and observed the slaughter of animals. We check in with our feelings and emotions each time we are about to be in a space where we may witness cruelty to animals.

What does being vegan mean to you?

The meaning of the word vegan has evolved for me over the years. I fully embraced the word when I first heard it. To me, it meant taking an ethical stance against animal exploitation in all forms including not hurting bugs and bees.

In the last decade with the rise of the plant-based movement, it seems that everyone is declaring themselves vegan without embodying action. The word vegan is being branded and diluted.

My personal philosophy of being vegan extends beyond my food choices. It means to actively pursue liberation for all by working collectively with other social justice movements.

We do our best to live the most sustainable, zero-waste life we can. I prefer to patronize 100 vegan companies.

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

Absolutely! There is this saying that “The only thing a person regrets after going vegan is not doing it sooner”. I would like to add, “The only thing I regret as an activist is not getting active sooner”. Becoming an activist does not mean you need to be on the street holding a sign and chanting. Being an activist means finding a way that you can personally participate in ending oppression. Using a talent or gift that you have and applying it to the movement.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?

I have gone through many stages with this one. Today I am much more empathic, not only for non-vegans but for humans working in industries that harm animals. Understanding the psychology of human behavior and the impact of colonization is extremely important for being able to empathize. Understanding the role that white supremacy has played in our history and our individual experiences are key to dismantling all forms of oppression. Doing the personal work, it takes to understand where privilege exists in our society is difficult but incredibly important in understanding oppression.

Any recommended Vegan books?

On the top of my list right now is,  “Racism as a Zoological Witchcraft: A guide to getting out” Aph Ko (2019). I met Aph Ko after a talk she gave a few years ago and I was eagerly waiting for her second book.  It did not disappoint, I wish everyone could read this book!

“Vystopia: The Anguish of being Veegan in a Non-Vegan World” by Clare Mann (2018) I refer to this often.

Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation, Sunaura Taylor (2017)

The Sexual Politics of Meat Carol J Adams (1990). For the first time I was able to articulate the connections between the of oppression of animals and women.

Voices for Animal Liberation: Inspirational Accounts by Animal Rights Activists, Brittany Michelson (2020)

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?

I look forward to 3 minutes Thursdays with the Cranky Vegan on YouTube.

I follow www.antispeciesistaction.com, the work of Christopher Sebastion and Dr. Breeze Harper.

Do you have a favorite movie or videos or your own media that you want to share?

The mini-doc I made for the MummyMOO project can be found on my website www.mummymoo.ca and on YouTube @gillianwalters

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

I don’t have a favorite restaurant but I love smoothies, burritos, and Pho

Please share your favorite vegan recipe.

I like to make up a large kale salad at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge. During the week I don’t have to worry about cleaning and chopping veggies. I can grab a handful and add it to anything I am making, from a smoothie to burritos to bowls. I don’t stress over measuring.

Kale Salad:

Black kale (stem removed and sliced thin)

Curly kale (stem removed and sliced thin)

Grated carrots

Grated beets (keep separately)

Assorted peppers sliced thin

Shredded purple cabbage

Dressing:

1/4 cup Nutritional yeast

I Tbsp. Braggs

1 Tbsp.Miso

1/4 cup Tahini

1 Tbsp.Grated ginger

1 cup of water

Add freshly sliced Avocado and sprinkle with hemp seeds.

Some encouraging words for new Vegans?

There is so much support available now to people for every aspect of going vegan. When I see what is online it is overwhelming, from support groups to individuals in the community welcoming new vegans. Being vegan, living with peace and love in our hearts for others is how we were born into this world. It is the indoctrination of violence by our society that changed us.

Most importantly don’t be hard on yourself!

What is the vegan scene like in your city?

Vancouver is very plant-based friendly, with new restaurants opening all the time. Our activist scene is growing and with the rise of Extinction Rebellion, I believe that 2020 will be the most historic year yet for animal liberation.

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

Attend an animal libération conférence and volunteer at a local sanctuary. Seek out a group that is working with a cause that you are passionate about and get involved in.

What does living cruelty-free mean to you?

Yes, definitely. I believe in embodying peace and love -nothing is solved through violence.

What are your favorite Vegan non-food products or companies?

I’ve been living low consumerism and try to be as zero waste as possible so I am a little out of touch with the latest vegan companies.

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What is the toughest Vegan item to find that you need?

Back in the day, it was vegan cheese and I remember the rubbery veganrella I used to try and melt! Vegan food has come a long way and there isn’t anything I can’t find.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

I’ve never struggled with my choice to be vegan. Once I knew the truth that was all I needed.

For me, the struggles have been internal and with family. It is difficult to know that family members continue to eat animals despite all of the information I have passed their way.

The burden of knowing that a small percentage of us are fighting for change while the vast majority of society is complacent in the exploitation of animals is hard to bear. Moments like shopping at a grocery store will remind me of the extreme disconnect. I set my almond milk, tofu and kale on the till and notice ahead of the wooden separator lies the body of a dismembered cow with the blood swirling beneath the tightly wrapped plastic and the casual conversation taking place between customer and cashier. In these triggering moments, I am reminded to practice self-care.

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