Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Dina Appel – I Paint to Save the Animals

Tell us a little about yourself. 

 I live in West LA, and I’m a painter and freelance illustrator. I paint animals of every kind with the goal of raising awareness. I donate a portion of my net profits to animal-protection charities I also love to do portraits of people’s animal companions!  The best place to see my art is my Instagram @vegan_artist_dina. I’m also on Facebook at Vegan Artist Dina.

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What lead you to veganism? How long ago? 

 I’ve been vegan for just over 8 years. When I was a child I hated the taste of most meat and I couldn’t stand the idea of hurting cows or pigs so I was sort of a …”chickentarian”?  Looking back, it was very weird and hypocritical, but I was like most people and was completely indoctrinated into our speciesist culture. About ten years ago I became very interested in nutrition and started learning to cook. I cut out dairy for health/digestive reasons. So I was leaning in the right direction and just need a push. That push came when I became aware of the ritual of Kapporos (people should google it) and the abuse of chickens, as it was happening right in my neighborhood. I was appalled at the horrific treatment of the chickens, and as I started researching, I discovered SO many awful facts about the egg and poultry industries. The fact that finally flipped the switch for me was when I discovered that all the male baby chicks were killed in shocking ways like suffocating or being ground alive. The minute I read that, I thought, “that’s it. I’m vegan now” and I never looked back.

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

My husband was not vegan at that time so he ate the non-vegan food and then I stopped buying any. I used up my non-vegan cosmetics and healthcare items and replaced them with vegan ones.  Honestly, that was harder than getting rid of the non-vegan food! Some of the cosmetic items were tough to find good replacements for. I’m still searching for some! I gave most of my non-vegan clothing to a charity that helps stray cats, but it was hard to give up a few items! My favorite old cowboy boots, a rare vintage coat, my expensive cashmere sweaters…I hid those in the back of the closet for a while until it was just too uncomfortable and I finally gave them away too. 

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

I don’t have kids, so that’s not an issue. With my family, I don’t allow non-vegan food in my home, so if they come here, they eat vegan! I actually hosted my first all-vegan Thanksgiving dinner last year and it was a big success. My family is fairly supportive, so when I go to my parent’s house they generally make vegan or at least vegetarian meals. A lot of times I bring my own food. When we go out to eat I generally insist on a vegan restaurant. At this point I absolutely could not sit next to a person eating a non-vegan burger! This year the rest of my family will be having a traditional, non-vegan dinner at another family member’s house. I won’t go…I just can’t eat at the table with all that sadness and pain in front of me. 

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

Since I don’t have kids of my own, I always refrain from saying how people should raise their kids, but I do know that If I had children they would be vegan and they would know the truth about where “meat” comes from.

What does being vegan mean to you? 

 I’ve always loved insects and generally didn’t kill them unless absolutely necessary. I try to use repellent products instead. I especially like to speak out on behalf of spiders…they are so unnecessarily hated! I’m definitely more compassionate toward all beings since becoming vegan.

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

That’s an interesting question. I heard Earthling Ed give a talk about this subject, that the moral baseline isn’t just being vegan, but actively fighting against animal cruelty. I am an activist myself, and I’m passionate about fighting for animals in whatever way I can. I think that people should do activism in whatever way they can. Some people can’t feel comfortable with protests and vigils, but if they can do activism in quieter ways like art, writing, cooking meals for people, sharing recipes, etc. I think that’s valuable as well.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans? 

I try to always remember that once upon a (very recent) time, I was not vegan. I try to be the vegan I wish I’d met back then. I strive to have compassion for all beings including humans! At the same time, I won’t stand for obnoxious carnist argumentativeness or callous disregard for sentient creatures…people like that will get an earful from me!  I think you can share information and be firm with people and still have compassion. I studied psychology in both college and grad school, and I know that human psychology works in fairly consistent and predictable ways. You’re always going to have more success if you work with, instead of against, human behavior.

Any recommended Vegan books? 

The book Proteinaholic by Garth Davis. The myths and false information about protein in our culture is astonishing. I think everyone should read that book. Then that annoying “where do you get your protein?” question would disappear!

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

 There are so many great documentaries! What The Health was pretty eye-opening.  As I was already vegan, I could only get a few minutes into Earthlings without ugly-crying and fearing for my mental health, but honestly if someone was really resistant to the truth about how animals are treated I’d strongly  encourage them to watch it. I’m looking forward to watching The Game Changers!

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant? 

LA is an absolute heaven for vegan food. I love a little hole-in-the-wall place called Elderberries Threefold Cafe in West Hollywood. I also love Flore Vegan in Silverlake.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe? 

I make a dark chocolate mousse that’s just a container of silken tofu, a ¼ C of almond or peanut butter,  a cup or so of dark chocolate chips melted in a half cup of almond milk, a bit of vanilla and a dash of salt. Blend that up in the food processor and chill. It’s delicious!

Some encouraging words for new Vegans? 

Some people can make an immediate full switch like I did, but some people take time, like my husband did.  I’d tell them, it gets easier…keep going. Some things were tough for me at first, like navigating family and social events. Eat more veggies. Eat more VOLUME so you aren’t hungry. Find subs for your favorite foods. At this point there are delicious vegan subs for almost every food you can think of. Don’t feel like you have to all of a sudden be able to cook exotic and complex vegan meals. Just start out with the foods you’ve already been eating…just vegan versions! And always remember the animals. Watch videos and educate yourself. Go to a vigil. Keep reminding yourself of the underlying reason for being vegan…the animals. 

What is the vegan scene like in your city?

 Thriving! There are so many events in LA, you could go to a couple a week, easily. I think Facebook is the best way to learn about vegan events.

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

Definitely Facebook!

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

My most recent find is SunBum sunscreens…best sunscreens I’ve ever tried, and living in Southern CA you need your sunscreen!

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

 Sour cream! I’d be thrilled to find a vegan sour cream that actually has the real sour taste and thick texture, and also isn’t full of unhealthy ingredients. 

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism? 

 I’ve never struggled with even one thought of not being vegan. I’m just like that, I guess. Once I knew the truth about how animals are treated, it’s like I couldn’t just “un-know” it, and I try to always be the best human possible. I do realize, however, that I’ve got certain privileges and things that make it easier than it might be for others. All that being said, the hardest thing for me was dealing with have-to-go family events like weddings. There’s been more than one time when I watched everyone else eat cake while I felt simultaneously sorry for myself, conflicted as to how/what to say, and mad at the people around me for being so unconscious. I’ve learned to always take some amazing chocolate in my purse if I have to go to a non-vegan event! I’ve also, like pretty much every vegan, suffered through the “sad side salad” meal at a non-vegan event or restaurant!

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