Being Vegan, Vegan Being – Maria Maisto – I Wish I Would’ve Made the Connection Sooner!

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 25 years, which has become a wonderful city to be vegan in. I have two rescue cats: Mina, a Bengal, and Max, a mischievous Tabby. My background is in Kinesiology, but a few years ago I started Cultivate, an online vegan general store that gives 10% of sales to animal shelters/causes.

What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

I became a vegetarian at 14 after watching a documentary. I’m not even sure what the name of it was (there weren’t many back then), but it talked a lot about the health benefits of not eating meat and I was very into healthy living and exercise. As I entered my 20’s, I would eat vegan at home, but vegetarian when out with friends, and it became more about the environmental factor. Then in my early 30’s, after getting Mina, it became more about the animals and the injustices they face at human hands, and I went vegan full-time. It’s true what they say about Veganism: Your biggest regret will be not going vegan sooner!

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

As soon as I went full-time vegan, I was so put-off by any leather, silk, wool, etc. and purged my closet as quickly as possible. I had major guilt around my hypocrisy of not eating meat, yet buying leather. I wish I would’ve made the connection a lot sooner.

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

I believe we, as a whole, have such a disconnect from our food. Marketing has done a great job creating words to make us forget (or in some cases, have no idea) what we’re eating. I’m pretty sure if you asked a child if they wanted a pig’s belly, instead of bacon, they’d have some pause. Or a dead cow, versus hamburger. Children are so empathetic, I think we do them a major disservice by “tricking” them. I’m not sure what the proper age is (I don’t have kids, but 14 was the magic number for me) to let kids watch documentaries about the subject, but I wish schools would talk about it, if not in terms of a diet, of a way to protect the earth for their future. A bit of a non-sequitur, there’s a documentary about fast fashion, The True Cost, I wish every pre-teen and teenager would watch.

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

No, not necessarily in the classic sense. I think just by becoming a vegan your friends, family and co-workers will usually ask you questions, instantly creating more awareness. Even going to a non-vegan restaurant and ordering the vegan meal or asking for vegan options is a way of bringing awareness without being an “activist”. Although, I do caution new vegans that it’s a slippery slope. You may not consider yourself the activist type, but once you’re down the rabbit hole, it becomes almost inevitable, whether subtle or not.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?

Oddly, I feel like I get a lot of pushback, or teasing, for being vegan vs the other way around; which I completely don’t understand — teasing someone for not wanting to harm anything seems like a bigger commentary on the teaser, than the vegan. I try to have a sense of humor about things, but admittedly, it can get hard after a while. That’s why having a vegan community is important. Also, before we were vegans, we were non-vegans, which is a good reminder in terms of compassion. I think there are older generations that are just so set in their ways and, putting myself in their shoes, I can see them not wanting what they’ve always done be questioned, and told it’s wrong. Change can be very hard, and shame is an awful feeling to experience.

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

So hard to pick, but my top go-to’s are Crossroads, Little Pine, Bulan (I went here recently with a non-vegan friend who said, “How is their Orange Chicken better than actual chicken?!”), and for soft-serve ice cream, I’m obsessed with Magpies. Also, if you’re a fan of diners, The Vegan Hooligans take over a diner in Eagle Rock each weekend and you can get the most delicious Chili Cheese Fries!

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

Two or so years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to meet more Vegans and Vegetarians. I started volunteering at Kindred Spirits Care Farm and it helped immensely. To be surrounded not only by animals each week, but humans that are as passionate as I am about them is really good for the soul. Although, if anyone has suggestions on where the single, vegan men are, I’m open to suggestions.

If your in Los Angeles come out and joins us for a dinner on the farm at Kindred Spirits Care Farm.

When was the last time you experienced real magic? How about profound peace? These things can be found at twilight on the farm. Come and experience the joy of having an alpaca graze your palm with his velvety lips as he eats a grape from your hand. Sit with a pig and tell her about your day while you rub her tummy. And after the animals and the trees have worked their magic on your spirit, thrill your senses with a 4-course gourmet vegan meal with candles everywhere and live music to make your ears happy. Much of the produce for the meal will be coming from our own permaculture-inspired, better-than-organic gardens at the farm. This event will sell out. It always does. So get your tickets now.

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