Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Merissa Underwood – Miss Montana USA 2020 – Treat Everyone with Kindness, Most of all Yourself.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Merissa, I live in Missoula, Montana! I am Miss Montana USA 2020, I will be competing in Miss USA next year and my platform is Animal Rights, Veganism, Environmentalism, and Sustainability. I am a Political Science major, property owner & manager, I also sing, write poetry, and DJ!

What lead you to veganism?

I was in Future Farmers of America in High School and we were taught to see animals as commodities and a means of monetary gain. My classmates regularly mocked PETA beat their animals at the county fair and insulted anyone who didn’t believe animals were below us. It was because of FFA that showed me how twisted it is that we raise animals for the sole purpose of living in a cage to die. I was then vegetarian on and off for years (only because I had no idea how devastating dairy was) and then in about 2015 I decided “Why on earth am I eating animals anyways?” I then removed different aspects of animal products from my diet and become fully vegan over about 6 months.

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

I first started with dairy. I specifically wanted to see how it would affect my very acne-prone skin. Living in Los Angeles at the time it was incredibly easy for me to transition as nearly every restaurant has an option and let’s be honest the Whole Foods on 3rd probably is the first store to get all of the new Vegan foods. Transitioning my make-up and skincare was arguably the most difficult aspect for me, and it wasn’t something I had ever really understood! I allowed myself to do research and then understand what products I would be okay purchasing from then on, but I don’t believe in throwing anything away (simply adding to more consumerism) so I didn’t purchase anything until I needed it, but then I would purchase the vegan & cruelty-free version. It’s not something that can happen overnight, as a society we’re dealt the cards of using animals in literally everything! So, I had to become extremely cognizant of every single purchase I made…I’ve spent copious amounts of time wandering Sephora aisles googling “Is Marc Jacobs cruelty-free…” then googling which products are vegan…phew!

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

I am currently single but I would not seriously date nor marry anyone who wasn’t vegan and if we had children they would be raised in a vegan household.

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

Yes, absolutely.

What does being vegan mean to you?

I don’t kill any bugs, I have tons of spiders in my house actually but it doesn’t bother me at all. If they get on my couch or bed, I will put them in a cup and place them outside but if they’re on the walls or ceilings I leave them alone, It’s their home too. I do not consume honey as well. I personally will go to restaurants that aren’t vegan, hopefully, one day there will be enough vegan restaurants where I’ll never have to look at a non-vegan meal again!

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

Hmm. Yes and no. Many people are not extroverts and don’t wish to live a life that is as intense as being an activist requires, as there is a lot of push back especially online. So, I don’t blame or look down upon anyone who isn’t an activist. We all have our life purposes.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?

This really depends on the person I’m speaking to. In general, I believe that many people don’t even think about where their food comes from and no one likes to be told that what they’re currently doing and what they’ve been doing their whole life is wrong, so with that, it is necessary to be empathetic and offer kindness and guidance. For me, I become frustrated and hurt when people not only acknowledge the evil that is done to animals but willfully choose to take part in it and often mock their pain, however, those people also require compassion and empathy because the only way to change a person is through a human connection in my belief.

Any recommended Vegan books?

I actually am embarrassed to say I’ve never read a specifically vegan book! But my favorite vegan blogs are Cruelty Free Kitty, Ethical Elephant, Rhian HY (Wifelife) and Logical Harmony!

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

How many people have said “DOMINION!” That movie had me in tears within a few minutes. It’s the first film I tell every non-vegan to watch. Also, literally anything Earthling Ed.

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

In Missoula, Veera (donuts he he) and in Los Angeles Cafe Gratitude.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe.

I’m obsessed with mushrooms and sweet potatoes. Probably 4 nights a week I cook this: – 2 sweet potatoes in olive oil – A TON of mushrooms cooked in light oil – A handful of Seitan and some tempeh – A massive amount of spinach – Carrots in the oven for 10 minutes – Roasted almonds – Some of that amazing Miso sauce – All poured into one big bowl 🙂

Some encouraging words for new Vegans?

Do it for the animals and don’t be hurt when others make fun of you, people make fun of what they don’t have the capacity to understand and feel.

What is the vegan scene like in your city? I

t is booming in Missoula actually! I’d say there’s a vegan option almost everywhere you go. We’re also starting a new AV Chapter right now!

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

The online community is amazing. There are so many Facebook groups that are so helpful. Get involved in your local Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV) chapter, or local Animal/ Climate Save chapter. Be careful to not get pulled into the online fights. They’re tempting, but just exit out, it’ll haunt you.

What does living cruelty-free mean to you?

I try to live a life that has the least amount of negative effects as possible. I, however, have noticed that with that mindset I become extremely hyper-sensitive and self-loathing if I do make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, gets annoyed or angry, or has a bad day. Allowing oneself to be human is so necessary. Treat everyone with kindness, most of all yourself.

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

Oh, wow I could talk about this all day. Sole Society (my favorite backpack). Paravel has vegan & sustainable luggage. Summer Fridays for skincare, CoverFX, and Hourglass for makeup! Vegan Club is one of my faves for clothing and vegan stickers! Versed for affordable skincare. Apparis has AMAZING faux fur coats. Jambu has lots of vegan shoes/ hiking boots at a very affordable price

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

Okay, I spent HOURS trying to find vegan cowgirl boots yesterday that weren’t hundreds of dollars. But I finally found tons at Dollskill! Also, eyeshadow is shockingly difficult to get vegan 🙁

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

I think I’d been vegan for about a year and I was with my friend late at night and I looked at her and said, “My goodness I really want chicken nuggets or a bacon burger.” And I caved and indulged in a Carl’s Jr. bacon western burger (no cheese because I would get sooo sick) and it was horrible. It was kind of cold and overall disgusting and I think it was necessary for that moment to happen because it was really the final nail in the coffin for me to not crave meat.

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