Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Renée Zmuda – Stay Strong and Stick to your Convictions

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, but have been calling Portland, OR home since 2006. I’ve been working as a graphic designer & technical illustrator since the summer of 2000, right after earning my BFA in Studio Arts with a major focus in Graphic Design. My technical work (mostly map illustration for a local transportation engineering firm) comprises most of my work week and allows me to make my freelance work — which is mostly creative design projects — more rewarding and less challenging. Since I create my own schedule, I recently decided to dedicate my Fridays to these creative projects, like logo design, label design, infographics, flyers, etc.: AKA “freelance Fridays.” While I don’t limit my client base, I love being able to support small businesses, other solo business owners, and non-profits, so I offer these companies and organizations a substantial discount and flexible payment plans if requested. When I’m not working on design projects, I love spending time with my partner and our 2 rescue cats, trying out new vegan recipes, having on-foot adventures (either in the wild or around town), and taking lots of photos/catching a few Pokémon along the way.



What lead you to veganism? How long ago? 

As a self-proclaimed animal-lover, who’d rescued and cared for cats, I began to feel a bit hypocritical saving one animal while eating another. I also had dealt with some digestive issues throughout my life and knew that cutting out dairy could help alleviate these issues. I took my first stab at veganism before even going vegetarian about 15 years ago. There weren’t nearly as many tasty substitutes as we have today, and I lived in Pittsburgh (where most meals revolved around meat and cheese at the time) so I ended up caving and indulging in eggs & dairy pretty regularly. After 8.5 years of being mostly vegan vegetarians, my partner and I were finally ready to ditch animal products for good. Living in Portland in 2015 made it even easier. We’ll both be hitting our 5-year vegan anniversaries in February and feel great (physically and mentally)!

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

I had already gotten rid of any leather or wool clothing items when I went vegetarian, so it really just came down to omitting the occasional cheese pizza or brunch omelet. As motivation to stick to with my vegan ethics I put a photo of Hershey (a rescue calf my partner and I sponsored through Green Acres Farm Sanctuary) on our refrigerator, to remind us that consuming dairy isn’t worth it. Conveniently at this point one of our favorite local pizza shops (Sizzle Pie) offered plenty of great vegan pizzas with Follow Your Heart vegan cheese and house-made tofu ricotta, so that helped me get my pizza fix! Cutting out eggs just motivated me to perfect my tofu scramble recipe. 😉

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

My partner and I are both vegan and our friends, families, and coworkers understand that we’re dedicated to our lifestyle, so we always choose meals/restaurants that have options for everyone. Every once in awhile, we have to settle for a salad or French fries as a meal, but that really only happens when traveling and in a very small town with no other vegan options.

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

That’s a hard question for me to answer since I don’t have kids. I want to say yes, but I’m not sure at what age it would be appropriate.

What does being vegan mean to you? 

I think this is something we all need to decide for ourselves. I guess I land somewhere in the middle… I don’t kill bugs or bees, but I do shop at grocery stores and eat at restaurants that sell meat or have parent companies whose ethical choices don’t align with my own. I try to support all vegan businesses, and companies with values I support, as often as I can, though.

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

Being vegan itself is activism, so anything beyond that is optional, in my opinion. I have much admiration and respect for vegan folks who are more involved in the animal rights movement, but it’s not for everyone. As a shy, somewhat introverted person, I tend to gravitate more towards “laptop activism” (signing/sharing petitions, information, and vegan recipes/food reviews). I’ve only attended one animal rights march but hope to get a little more involved in public events in the future, as I’ve been trying to push myself a little further out of my comfort zone as far as activism and social activities go.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans? 

Very. I’m a firm believer that everything counts, and even minimizing consumption of animal products has an impact on the industry, the animals, the environment, and one’s health. If it wasn’t for inclusive and accepting folks like myself, I probably never would’ve gone vegan. Some members of the vegan community can be very militant or all-or-nothing, which makes a lot of people think “I’ll never be perfect, so why bother?”

Any recommended Vegan books? 

Eating Animals Book by Jonathan Safran Foer, Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking by Annie & Dan Shannon

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages? 

So many! Sweet Potato Soul, Vegan Richa, Vegan Black Metal Chef, Veganizer, the Happy Pear, the Viet Vegan, and What’s Good, Berto?

Donate to your favorite Sanctuary by using this app. Click Image to download the new Vegan Everything App and Join the Revolution!

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

 The Secret Reason We Eat Meat by Dr. Melanie Joy & The Game Changers

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant? 

As a Portlander, it’s really hard to pick just one! Black Water, Sudra, Dinger’s Deli, and Bye & Bye are all amazing vegan spots. Some vegan-friendly restaurants I love are Los Gorditos, Rudy’s, Sizzle Pie, Shandong, Dar Salam, and Black Seed Burger Cult.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe. 

The Viet Vegan’s eggless salad. I add a little extra black salt because I love the eggy flavor it adds. This is such a great comfort food and very easy recipe for easy lunch sandwiches during the week. I make a double batch at least once every couple of months. 

Some encouraging words for new Vegans? 

Stay strong and stick to your convictions. Once you get past the first few months it’ll be much easier. Also, don’t beat yourself up or give up if you slip up. Just get back on track.

What is the vegan scene like in your city? 

I’m spoiled. Portland is a vegan heaven.

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

Find local vegan groups on social media and attend a few meet-ups. You’d be surprised how many are out there. I created PDX Vegan Womxn’s Book Club and we love having new members join us!

What does living cruelty-free mean to you? Does it extend to the way you as a vegan treats other humans too? 

Yes! Never forget that humans are animals, too. Compassion goes a long way and supporting each other makes everything else in life a lot easier (including being vegan).

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

Herbivore clothing & Scapegoat Tattoo, both part of the vegan mini-mall in SE Portland, which includes Food Fight! Grocery.

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

I suppose the word “need” is a little strong, but I’d love to be able to pick up a package of vegan croissants at the grocery store to make vegan breakfast sandwiches with tofu scramble, Follow Your Heart cheddar, and East Village’s Mistaken for Bacon.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism? 

Shopping for snacks on a road trip is often a struggle. Why in the world would barbecue potato chips need milk powder?! The dairy lobby is my first guess… but the more plant-based shopping choices we make, the better, for the animals, the planet, and our health.

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