I am 49 years old and live in Los Angeles. I live with my wife, Kezia, who is also vegan, and my beagle, Frederick, whom we rescued from an animal testing lab in Spain a little over five and a half years ago, plus a parade of foster dogs from laboratories, the meat trade in Asia, or neglected dogs abandoned at local shelters. My wife and I started a public relations agency, Evolotus PR, ten years ago. We specialize in nonprofits, documentary films, books and vegan food products. We have worked with Animal Place, Mercy For Animals, FARM, The Whale Sanctuary Project, films like “Earthlings,” “What the Health,” “Forks Over Knives,” “Cowspiracy,” “The Ghosts in Our Machine,” books like “We Animals,” Tofurky, Coconut Bliss and more.
I also have a blog that is geared towards vegans and those looking to be mentored, The Thinking Vegan (http://thethinkingvegan.com). The blog is a mix of mine and my wife’s writing and interviews with vegans and activists whose voices aren’t as prominent in the community.
What was the moment you realize that you wanted to go vegan?
When I was in college, I opened up the book “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins and saw the animals in factory farms and something clicked in me. I went vegan on the spot, though I had no idea what veganism was, nor did I have any idea what I was going to eat. Remember that this was well before the internet and Facebook, so I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, I lived by a health food store and was able to find foods to eat and purchase cruelty-free products. However, I did not understand the fullness of veganism. I still wore and purchased leather and wool. I ate a plant-based diet for three and a half years but unfortunately went back to eating fishes, dairy, and eggs for several years until I finally made a permanent change.
How long have you been Vegan?
I went vegan 10 years and four months ago, but who’s counting.
Why is being Vegan important to you?
For so many reasons. From a personal perspective, veganism allows me to live my life in alignment with my highest and deepest values of compassion, empathy, and kindness. When I went back to eating fishes, dairy, and eggs, I always felt like something was off. I suppose you could call it guilt. The moment I decided to go back to veganism, everything felt right in my world again. It took a little soul searching to realize that I had rediscovered my values.
I also found my community. I don’t know how many of your readers remember the video for the Blind Melon song “No Rain,” in which the young girl dressed in a bee costume goes around trying to make a connection with various people, unsuccessfully. At the end of the video she finds a community of other bee girls and dances around in excitement and joy. That’s how it feels to be vegan. You feel completely misunderstood until you find your tribe.
Any recommended Vegan books?
Anything by Mark Hawthorne. His latest, “A Vegan Ethic” is wonderful. Ginny Messina is an important voice. I loved “Vegan For Life.” “We Animals” by Jo-Anne McArthur. All of Ruby Roth’s books are important for children.
Any recommended social sites, Facebook Groups or other?
We have a pretty good list of helpful websites on the blog at http://thethinkingvegan.com/resources.
Do you have a favorite movie or videos or your own media that you want to share?
“Earthlings,” “Speciesism,” “Cowspiracy,” “What the Health,” and “Got the Facts on Milk?”
Do you actively promote veganism? How? Please share any stories you would like.
Absolutely. With our agency, we are able to get our client’s stories out to hundreds of thousands and millions of people, whether that be an undercover investigation on 20/20 or the rescue of 1,200 hens in the New York Times or a review of a documentary film in a major media outlet. Placing vegan and animal stories in the media are my main source of activism.
I also promote veganism through The Thinking Vegan blog. One New Year’s Eve, after having a few glasses of wine, I posted on the Facebook page that I’d be happy to mentor any vegetarian or non-vegans who are thinking about going vegan. I did not have high expectations since the blog was set up to speak primarily to a vegan audience. Responses came in immediately. Over the first couple of days, I had close to 30 people asking to be mentored. A week or so later and I made the same request and received, even more, requests for mentorship. I believe at peak, I was mentoring over 80 people. In total, I’ve worked with hundreds.
I learned a lot from the questions that people had. Because of that experience, we added an FAQ page to the blog with all the issues and concerns people raised.
What is your favorite Vegan meme?
I am always humbled yet bizarrely excited when people make things I’ve written into memes. This one is popular:
What is the vegan stereotype you hear the most and how do you respond to it?
Gosh, there are so many of them! I’ll go with vegans are gaunt and weak. There are so many male and female bodybuilders in the community now. Robert Cheeke was really the pioneer, but there are so many now, it’s easy to debunk that stereotype. I also like to keep in shape, so no one really gives me flack.
What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?
We are very lucky in Los Angeles to have so many choices and so many great choices. I’d have to say Shojin. Their vegan sushi is out of this world!
Please share your favorite vegan recipe?
Once Daiya came on the market my wife perfected a recipe for mac and cheese and began adding veggie meats like tempeh bacon or soy chicken. One night we were having friends over to dinner, Casey and Denis, the filmmakers of “Bold Native.” My wife asked me whether I preferred bacon or chicken in the mac and cheese. I decided to ask my Facebook friends for their opinion…and the lovely and talented Josh Hooten, owner of Herbivore Clothing, said – and I must paraphrase because it was a while ago – “both, because if the apocalypse happens tomorrow, you’ll all be really sorry you didn’t double down on the mac and cheese.” So I present to you…
Josh Hooten’s ‘Double Down’ Mac and Cheese
2 tablespoons vegan butter
2 tablespoons flour (can sub gluten-free flour)
2 cups shredded Daiya cheddar or equivalent vegan cheese
2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
8 ounces elbow pasta or shells (we like quinoa pasta in the turquoise box)
1 package tempeh bacon, or homemade, cooked in a pan until nearly perfect then crumbled or diced
1 package vegan chicken strips, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
About a half cup panko bread crumbs, optional
Boil pasta a minute or two less than package directions, drain and spread in a 9 x 9 oven-safe dish. In the pasta pot over medium heat, melt butter, then slowly add flour, whisking vigorously. When the flour is browned and slightly golden, about five minutes, whisk in milk, a little at a time so it remains creamy. When all the milk is incorporated, add cheese, whisking occasionally until smooth and thick. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. At this point, my wife sometimes likes to jazz it up with liquid smoke, sriracha, or other seasonings.
Carefully pour cheese sauce over pasta. Add in chicken and bacon, stirring around carefully until all ingredients are incorporated. Top with bread crumbs if using and bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven, or until crumbs are golden and sauce is bubbling and browning around the edges.
Serves at least four. This recipe is very easy to double or even triple for a crowd, and can also involve frozen peas or broccoli florets: just add to the boiling pasta when there are a few minutes to go.
Some encouraging words for new Vegans?
Welcome to the future. You’ve made a choice to join a social justice movement that is growing and catching fire.
Now, some advice. Build community, whether that be in person or online. The biggest lesson I learned from mentoring new vegans is that the social aspect is the most difficult. New vegans get a lot of pushback from family and friends. You need to stay strong, hence the need for community. We have all been there. It gets easier over time. Please feel free to reach out to me at the blog.
What does living cruelty-free mean to you?
To a lot of vegans, it means being vegan, which it is not. A lot of foods that are vegan are not cruelty-free like palm oil, chocolate, and others. Living cruelty-free to me is being conscious of all these choices, along with purchasing products that are not tested on animals like cosmetics, household cleansers, and garden chemicals.
What are you favorite Vegan non-food products or companies?
I get my belts and wallets from Vegan Collection. I think every vegan wears Chuck Taylors.
What is the toughest Vegan item to find that you need?
It took me a while to find stylish vegan neckties and bow ties, but I discovered Jaan J. and have a nice stock now, plus it’s become easier to find non-silk ties online.
Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?
In the 10 plus years that I’ve been vegan, there has not been a moment of struggle or doubt, at least compared to the first time I went “vegan.” This time I fully understand the entirety of what it means to be vegan and being an activist fuels my veganism.
What is one question you would ask other Vegans? Please answer it.
Assuming they aren’t, why aren’t you active for animals? Being vegan is not enough. If we are going to succeed as a movement, we need to be active, and we need as many activists as possible. Buying more vegan products is not the answer to ending animal exploitation. We need to shift consciousness and to do that, we need to do the educational work, the advocacy work, and the work of hands-on rescue. So please go out and volunteer at a sanctuary or shelter, foster, go to a protest or a vigil, write letters to your legislators, attend city council meetings when an animal issue is on the agenda. Animals need our voices.