Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Conzuela Sanford – Cruelty-Free Means Being Empathetic Towards all God’s Creatures

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Conzuela Sanford. On Instagram: @swaytheveganista. More times than none people call me Sway. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I am called to be an actor, but in the meantime, I work as an office assistant with the Atlanta Police Department.

What lead you to veganism?

I would say I switched to the vegan lifestyle about two years ago in 2017. I don’t use the word transition because I literally decided with a friend, we would go vegan and we did just that and never turned back.

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

It was hard because we were still in college at an HBCU in southwest Georgia. I remember one evening we were extremely hungry after theatre rehearsal and we went to the café for some food. We asked if they had any vegan options that night. The cook replied yes and came out later with two turkey burgers. Yes, that was their definition of vegan. I almost ate it, but my friend slapped it out of my hand. After that, we decided to fight to get a refund for our dining fees and start cooking in our dorm rooms. We didn’t have kitchens in our dorm rooms, so I took a microwave, and snuck in a hot plate, and a lot of creativity.

Do you make any exceptions for yourself or if you are married with kids – your family, when it comes to veganism? For example, how strict are you with your children’s veganism at school or at family gatherings?

When I first began my vegan journey, I was strict. Absolutely no animal products, meat, products that test on animals or anything. As I develop more and more in my faith and walk with Jesus, I realized we live in a fallen sinful world. Part of that fallen world is the cycle of consuming animals. Trying to be the perfect superhero is draining. People’s salvation is more important to me than what we eat. When I do start my family of my own and walk fully in my purposed career my family and I will commit to the vegan lifestyle. I will continue to use natural products. However, if my child is not under my watch and is given a snack that may contain milk or eggs, I will be more lenient and allow it.

I have endured a life-threatening disease, and some of the effects cause me to become weak and vulnerable to sickness. It is my Jesus and my vegan diet that keeps me healthy and my body functioning. For that reason, I will never turn away from this lifestyle.

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

I do believe we should show our children the process of how meat is turned into meals. I believe it will make them more compassionate beings plus what you set as normal for your household your child will follow. I want to raise a healthy compassionate human being to the best of my ability.

What does being vegan mean to you? For example, does it extend to not killing bugs and bees? Does it include not patronizing vegan companies owned by non-vegan parent companies? Does it affect the way you treat other humans?

Vegan to me corresponds to my love for animals and trying to eat healthy to the best of my ability.  Bugs and Bees, I am not as compassionate about. I will restrain from eating honey and eat agave instead. But I do still struggle with the idea of liking bugs and tolerating them.

The meat and dairy industry is run by the love of money, so I know my health needs are not a concern. Also living in Atlanta, food that is not chemically infused for growth and profit is extremely hard to find. Even at stores like Wholefoods and farmers’ markets. So many seedless grapes and watermelons etc. I buy from completely vegan companies and companies that have both options. I do use my convictions on companies too though, some companies I will not give my money and support. It is a case by case basis.

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

I do not believe it is every vegan’s duty to become an activist. When I first became vegan, I thought I had to convert everyone else to the lifestyle, but I was wrong. I believe we all have gifts we were graced for. Some people are activists, some people are entrepreneurs that provide vegan food and products, some people are teachers, while some people are just graced to make better decisions for them and their families. That is why I am empathetic towards non-vegans because at the end of the day we are all doing the best that we personally know how to do. I believe as vegans we can lovingly expose the truth behind eating meat and dairy and carelessly wearing animal products, but that is all we are responsible for.

What is the vegan scene like in your city?

Atlanta is growing rapidly when it comes to vegan restaurants and options at non-vegan restaurants. The grocery scene is not a welcoming, though. Most if not all of our food is tainted with chemicals or genetically modified even if it says organic. Luckily, I am still able to get some good eats. My favorite place to get dessert is from Artisan Foods owned by @plantbasedprincess on Instagram. She has ice cream, pies, brookies, cobblers and even soul food, gumbo, and nachos at times. Her treats are a vegan’s dream and a nonvegan’s myth breaker. She breaks down all the accusations that vegan food is boring.

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

My favorite restaurant is hard to choose because I love different restaurants for different meals. I love Yeah Burger! For their Burgers and hot dogs. I love Green sprout for my vegan Chinese food. I love Plantbased Pizzeria for my vegan pizza. And I love Upbeet for my grain bowls and salads. Any of these places will have you wanting to commit to the vegan lifestyle forever.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe?

My favorite vegan recipe is inspired by the Thanksgiving holiday. I love making dressing, candied yams and collard greens and cornbread. Southern comfort food is so delicious. If it didn’t take so much time, I would eat this every week.

Any recommended Vegan books?

I recently came out with a recipe book called “Help I Wanna Be Vegan” on amazon. If you follow my page on Instagram @swaytheveganista the link is in my bio. I created this book because I received so many DMs when I would cook meals. I realized people are not against eating vegan, they just don’t know where to start or how to make this new food taste good. People do not want to put in the effort of committing to a new lifestyle with everything else going on in their life (their job, family, friends, etc.).

The recipe book includes recipes for curries, risotto, lasagna, breakfast sandwiches, alfredo, burritos and so much more. My book is for the new vegan, the busy vegan, the I’m not quite vegan, the veganish and the committed vegan. I wanted to share my favorite recipes, so people have a reference to start their journey or to spice up the journey they are already on.

Some encouraging words for new Vegans?

If you’re new to this lifestyle I encourage you to tackle this as any new course in your life. You’re breaking habits you practiced for years. It’s not going to be easy. If you eat meat or dairy one day that doesn’t mean throw in the towel. That means remember why you started and do better the next time. It takes work and commitment to cooking your own meals, be left out at parties, preparing your own but what good thing was ever easy to come by? It’s a mental thing. If you can silence your flesh by telling it what you will eat every other area of discipline will come easy. Have fun creating new dishes, don’t take yourself to seriously and research how cruel and disgusting the meat, dairy and animal product industries are.

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

When you see events and festivals that are promoting veganism go to them. If there is a popular place in your area and there is always a line, wait in it. There you can meet people and exchange tips and knowledge you picked up along the journey. Search the vegan hashtags on your Instagram and follow those people who are sharing recipes and ask questions.

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

The hardest thing to find is Greek vinaigrette dressing. It’s a once in a lifetime moment when I find the vegan version of this dressing.

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

Cruelty-free to me means being empathetic towards all of God’s creatures. I fail in this area when it comes to bugs, spiders, mosquitos, etc. Also being empathetic towards my peers. 99% of my friends and loved ones are not vegan. I don’t push it on them. I allow them in and still accept them if they reject the idea. I love animals and don’t support products and food that does the opposite.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

My biggest struggle being vegan is having many people around me holding me to this standard, but not showing empathy towards me. Like just not inviting me when a group is going to eat or not considering me when planning out places to go eat and always saying well there’s a salad.  Or continually bashing the vegan diet but running to me to make a meal or guide them on eating vegan when they’re on a quick diet or need a recipe for their office party. That part gets hard not to get frustrated, but I’m learning to set boundaries.

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