Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Maria Lee – You are a Beacon of Light, and Mother Gaia is Thankful

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi guys! My name is Maria (@meatfreemarialee on Instagram), and I live in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve lived here since I was a year old and am of Hong Kong descent. I’m a small business owner and a certified personal trainer, as well as former natural bikini competitor. 

I started my PT business Tribe Fitness in 2014, so it’s just over 5 years old! My clients’ success stories can be found at tribefit.ca online and at @tribefitvan on Instagram.  I also have a tee shirt line called VGN Outfitters (@vgnoutfitters) that I started last year, as a fun streetwear-inspired brand for vegans who wanted to look a bit boujee.

What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

I was already regularly meal prepping and eating quite healthily even before becoming a certified trainer in the fall of 2014. I’d not bought meat from grocery stores as I was vaguely aware of the atrocities of the animal agriculture industry, but out of sheer convenience I was clinging on to eggs and sashimi. 

One day in September 2015, I met a guy who was a hardcore activist. He added me on Facebook and always posted searing, blunt and raw content. One of his posts stopped me in my tracks as it forced me to turn inward and consider the ramifications of my actions. 

It said: “How can you say you’re a good person when every meal you eat you contribute to some of the worse suffering in the world?” BOOM. 

From that day, I was vegan and vowed to never put consumer dollars towards and eat animal products again.

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

I simply stopped buying and cooking with eggs and stopped eating raw fish at sushi restaurants. It was a joy to finally become aligned in my ethics and actions. I didn’t have much food that needed phasing out. In terms of articles of clothing, I slowly donated the few leather items I had over the months. I’ve also become more minimalistic in my purchases, so I will deliberate for a long time over each product before buying it and consider its potential for use versus resource expenditure and other variables.

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?

I’m not married and I don’t have kids, but if I did then they would still adhere to vegan ideals as much as possible. The only exceptions I make for accepting non-vegan products is when it is of really special exception, where my insistence at complete compliance would actually be detrimental to the cause overall. It’s a fine line to balance on when out in social settings where representing veganism is concerned. As there’s still a negative connotation to the word “vegan,” I try to maintain a friendly yet firm approach that is personable and positive to others who aren’t vegan yet. I’m very cognizant of avoiding behaviour that would turn people off of it, such as over-preaching, being argumentative, and being picky and overly demanding.

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

Yes, I think that is a really good idea. I know some may disagree that it’s too much for young children, and of course it may not be appropriate for kids until they’re maybe 10 or so. But if atrocities like that are a reality, then the problem isn’t with whether we should expose kids to its footage – the problem is that IT IS A REALITY. Many kids have huge hearts and no filter from their compassion. Many children instantly become vegan upon watching videos, and some stop their own parents from killing and/or cooking animals. I think that instead of thinking they’re too young, we should start considering the fact that we may be too hardened, and that we have much to learn from our youth.

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?

Being vegan to me means abstaining from killing any other lifeform that can be negatively impacted by death. Some people make the comparison of plants having feelings, which may make them seem comparable to animals in being negatively impacted by death. That is absolute garbage. When you slaughter an animal for food or commodity creation, it dies. When you harvest grains, or fruit, or vegetables – the plant is still alive! 

I still frequent non-vegan establishments to do some activism in the way of asking for vegan options. If we never go to non-vegan businesses, how will they know the demand? Every little bit of interaction and representation helps. I consider it a lack of responsibility and a show of selfishness by only frequenting or supporting vegan businesses, to be honest. I wasn’t born vegan, and many future vegans need to meet us to have seeds planted and watered. If I never met that guy previously mentioned, or the other activist friends I made online – I would never have become aware!

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

Absolutely! If the reason for you being vegan is ethical in nature, then just by that logic you are required to be an activist. You know what they say, if you stay silent in the presence of a crime being committed then you yourself are an accomplice to the crime.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans? 

Much more now than I used to be! When I first went vegan I was filled with a storm of negative emotions like disgust, horror at our mass ignorance, anger at the system, despair, even hatred. I had to develop my empathy for people again, after my empathy for animals and the planet had become full-blown. It’s been quite the spiritual journey, but now I feel at peace with my own endeavors in helping shift the planet towards a better future, as well as with the overall evolution of our species as more and more people around me are transitioning to plant-based.

Any recommended Vegan books? 

I would recommend The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger, and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. 

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?

There are so many now…! plantbasednews.org is great, so is livekindly.org. My friend Janice of @plantbased_janice is an incredible vegan athlete who does insane stunts and exercises, along with her husband and Under Armour ambassador Jeff of @thecodycore. @jannicke32, @leangreenmommachine, @erinireland, @nimaidelgado, naturopathic doctor @drmatthewnagra, coach in Texas @theveganfitnesscoach, my friend and fellow coach @thevegantrainer… @ I am blessed to know so many incredible souls shining as beacons of light online and beyond!

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

Definitely The Gamechangers for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet, it’s on Netflix and has been responsible for igniting DOZENS of my friends and clients in transitioning to becoming much more plant based. 

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

I don’t have just one favourite – I love all of them for gifting their communities with ethically sound food options! I do love Doomie’s in Los Angeles. Dharma Garden is a welcome addition to the vegan/vegetarian restaurant scene to my city (Richmond), as it’s now the second vegan-friendly restaurant there! Lol yea we only have two. The other one is Four Stones Vegetarian, which has been a mainstay for the Buddhist community for years.

Kind Cafe on Main St in Vancouver is a super cute, LA-esque cafe with specials, happy hour, events, and delicious treats, soups, salads, and flatbreads. Of course, Meet on Main is a long-time crowd fave that’s since expanded to three locations (at least), serving comfort food-style burgers and bowls. I also really enjoy Virtuous Pie and Vegan Cave for their excellent pizzas!

Please share your favorite vegan recipe? 

I’m not the most experienced chef in the kitchen! I do mostly meal prepping only as my cooking. I would say that I can now make a mean vegan Taiwanese chicken nugget though. I buy mock salted chicken from a local Asian vegan/vegetarian grocery store called Happy Veggie World, and season it heavily with an array of spices: Himalayan pink salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chopped basil leaves, seasoning salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to give it that distinct umami flavor. Then I panfry it to death for extra crisp edges! When I first made it I was in shock I could make something that tasty haha!

Some encouraging words for new Vegans? 

You are an amazing beacon of light, and the animals and Mother Gaia is thanking you for your courage and strength! It may seem lonely and intimidating at first to step out as an ethical representation of the movement, so that’s why it’s important to seek out groups online and in person to build that community of support and friendship. Vegans are usually instant friends, connected by a shared heart. Never forget that you are doing the right thing!! 

What is the vegan scene like in your city? 

We’ve got a boomin’ scene! We’re fortunate to have quite a plethora of vegan restaurants, non-vegan restaurants that are able and happy to accommodate (and incorporating more plant based all the time), boutique shops selling vegan product lines, lots of activist events, a large vegan community that is tight-knit and gets together at social events.

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

There is a wealth of connection and community online now, especially in Facebook groups and on social media platforms like Instagram. I’ve befriended hundreds of fellow vegans over the years, some amazing females beautiful inside and out! Just keep adding and engaging with others you come across. If you come across a situation where you feel you need to reach out for support, message someone for another perspective or even to help you diffuse a situation (or defend you, which I’ve had a friend do for me!).

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

Cruelty-free of course has to be universally applied to all living beings! Otherwise that would be quite hypocritical. As mentioned, few of us were born vegan, and so really don’t have the right to be critical of anyone else who isn’t yet ready to make the shift. All we can and should do is to maintain a stance of loving, unconditional acceptance while still defending the vulnerable and exploited.

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

Oh man… there are so many! I personally like the MyChelle skincare line as they’ve been one of the gentlest and yet effective at cleansing. 

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

Delicious meltable vegan cheese! Vegan yogurt was hard to find until Silk came out with their vanilla almond milk based yogurt. Vegan athletic footwear… Vegan jackets, gym wear, and other apparel in general.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever struggled with being vegan, as it’s about more than my own personal experience as a human individual. I’ve received some flak from friends and family, especially when I first made the shift – but that’s nothing compared to the extreme pain and suffering and sheer hell on earth the animals experience their entire lives. I am happy and blessed to be on the right side of history now. And like all other vegans, I just wish I could’ve done it sooner!

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