Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, I´m Rachael! Originally from Scotland, I now live in Murcia, Spain. I run a vegan animal sanctuary: Jacobs Ridge, with my partner Julian. I am also an actress, however, at present all my focus is on the sanctuary. The sanctuary officially started in 2014 and I joined in 2016. As well as caring for 139 animals every day, we also run volunteering breaks and operate a lottery which supports other sanctuaries and rescues around the world. The work is hard, tiring and at times can be very emotionally testing. Some people think that running a sanctuary is mostly cuddling animals but unfortunately that´s a small part of it. Most of running a sanctuary is cleaning poop, repairing fences and wondering how to pay your next animal food bill! However, running a sanctuary is also fulfilling and rewarding. Seeing a rescued animal go from strength to strength after being on death´s door is one of the best feelings.
What lead you to veganism? How long
I grew up around all sorts of animals and think I was always destined to become vegan and to work with animals in some way. I tried being vegetarian on and off when I was younger but it wasn´t until I had moved away from home and was “fending” for myself did I fully commit to a vegetarian lifestyle at the age of 20. For three years, I slowly made the transition to vegan: changing dairy milk for soya milk first and educating myself on the dairy and egg industries. Volunteering at Jacobs Ridge animal sanctuary 3 years later was the final push I needed to go vegan. I have now been vegan for 4 years.
When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?
I was temporarily living back with my Mum at the time and so phasing out non-vegan food wasn´t an issue for me. As for cosmetics, I used everything up and replaced them with vegan alternatives and I gave away a couple of leather handbags. I still own a leather purse which I will keep until it needs replacing but didn´t wear leather or wool even when I was vegetarian.
Do you make any exceptions for yourself or if you are married with kids – your family, when it comes to veganism?
I would never knowingly buy or consume something non-vegan but if it accidentally happens, you shouldn´t beat yourself up about it. Once, not long after IKEA brought out their vegan meatballs, I ordered some. I didn´t know what they were supposed to look like and bit into one, assuming it was vegan as that´s what I´d asked for. It was in fact meat and it made me feel physically sick for the rest of the day. I felt horrifically guilty immediately after but came to realize that it wasn´t my fault.
Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into meats?
I believe that compulsory education should be given in schools to teach children where their food comes from and the process involved for it to arrive on their plate. Children are often taken to petting farms but they are never shown where the animals go after. I understand young children should be shielded from things that could be potentially traumatizing to them, but I do think it they deserve to know. Children are born compassionate and most wouldn´t eat a burger if they were free to make a connection with the animal first.
What does being vegan mean to you?
I am vegan as much as is possible in a non-vegan world. With the animals in the sanctuary, we have a responsibility to treat and protect against parasites, just as we would protect ourselves. As much as I hate flies and mosquitoes, I still rescue them from the water buckets if they are drowning. I can´t witness a living thing suffering and not do anything about it.
I prefer to support all-vegan businesses where possible but Spain is slow on the uptake and with our busy lives, low budget and in our small Spanish town, we have to use major supermarkets. Although I think that supporting an all-vegan business is best, creating a demand for a vegan product where the parent company isn´t vegan, is not necessarily a bad thing.
I am vegan for non-human animals first and foremost. Although I would never harm another person or wish any bad on them, my focus is mainly on animals. There are people out there doing good, just as there are people out there doing evil. I don´t like to lump the whole human race in with being bad but I do think the planet would be better off without us.
Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist?
I feel quite strongly about this: some vegans are shamed for not “doing enough” for the cause. There are many forms of activism and if you are vegan, you are already doing more than most of the people out there. Being a vegan in itself is activism. It sparks conversations where you can educate your friends and get them thinking, this, in turn, can have a ripple effect. No vegan should be made to feel bad for not holding a placard and chanting down a megaphone. The movement is strong because of the various forms we have to express and educate about our cause. Different methods affect different people in different ways.
How compassionate or empathetic are
you towards non-vegans?
I can go through phases of being really angry and upset at non-vegans. We recently lost a little rescue lamb who was found abandoned from a shepherd´s flock. He had pneumonia and died from septicemia. I get so angry sometimes, not necessarily at the farmers but the consumers who are giving a demand to meat products and the abuse that goes with it. I have to remind myself that I wasn´t born vegan and I, too, once ate meat and eggs and dairy.
However, I personally believe that the best approach is to educate calmly. An aggressive approach is often met with defensiveness.
Sometimes non-vegans volunteer at the sanctuary. I don´t challenge them, but I let the animals do the talking. 99% of the time, they make a connection with one of the animals and this sparks a change. Even if it´s a small change, like not eating pigs anymore, it can be the catalyst they need to begin their vegan journey.
Any recommended Vegan books?
I can´t say I´ve read many vegan books but documentaries helped educate me: Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives, Vegucated, What the Health, etc. I´ve heard that Sapiens (although not a vegan book as such) can inspire non-vegans to eat a more plant-based diet due to the rational reasonings given by the author not to enslave animals.
Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?
Give sophie.bullimore on Instagram a follow! She does baking with Soph every Sunday where she veganizes some classic favorites (Bounty Bars, Twix, Battenberg cake, etc.) and is just a genuinely lovely, strong, independent woman with so much positivity to give. Despite her large following, she still makes time to offer life advice to everyone who messages her.
Do you have a favorite movie or videos or your own media that you want to share?
My partner is an actor too so it would be rude not to recommend one of his films. In no way vegan-related, but check out No More Shall We Part if you’re into dark indie films.
As for vegan films…give 73 Cows a watch. It´s not graphic but tells the emotional story of a farmer who could no longer live with the guilt of sending his cows to slaughter and found another solution so his cows could live out the rest of their days at Hillside Animal Sanctuary in the UK.
What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?
I like trying independent vegan restaurants. Veganism is a bit slower in Spain and so we aren’t spoiled for choice like in other countries.
Please share your favorite vegan recipe.
I cook for our volunteers. I use recipes as an idea but then tend to do my own thing and go with how I´m feeling at the time. I find cooking a very creative process. However, when it comes to baking, I need a bit more help. I love this recipe for vegan snickers bars. It works well for me as you don´t have to measure everything exactly. For the chocolate, instead, I mix cocoa powder into melted coconut oil with some agave syrup.
Some encouraging words for new Vegans?
Don´t worry about what other people might think. Remember why you are doing what you are doing and keep up the good work. There is no guideline that you have to adhere to, except your own. Don´t be disheartened if you have a setback or slip up. Just brush yourself off and keep going.
What is the vegan scene like in your city?
We have a handful of vegan/veggie restaurants and the vegan scene is on the rise every year. When I first moved here, most people didn´t even know what vegan was. Now, if you go into a non-vegan restaurant and ask what you can have that´s vegan, the waiters and chefs generally have a better understanding. Just don´t try to explain to the local supermarket cashier of a small Spanish town that nutritional yeast makes a good cheese alternative…they look at you like you´re crazy!
What personal recommendations can you make for people to meet other vegans?
Volunteer at Jacobs Ridge! Of course, I´d say that but people have made lifelong friends here who they meet up with whenever they can. Jacobs Ridge is a place where vegans are the majority, not the minority. You can sit around the table with likeminded people and discuss vegan issues without having to watch what you say or worry about being judged. If you can´t volunteer with us then see if there´s anywhere local you can lend a hand. Or join a vegan Facebook group that´s relevant to your area and attend meetups and vegan fairs etc.
What does living cruelty-free mean to you? Does it extend to the way you as a vegan treats other humans too?
I think living cruelty-free means existing in a way that causes the lowest possible negative impact on other beings. For example, I try to source clothing that is ethical and sustainable. I want to cause the least harm to animals (human and non-human) and the environment as possible.
What are your favorite Vegan non-food products or companies?
I love greenerhabits.com. They are a low-impact, plastic-free, vegan store and have everything from bamboo toothbrushes to reusable sponges. I seriously wish I knew about reusable sanitary wear sooner. Don´t knock it ´til you´ve tried it.
What is the toughest Vegan item to
find that you need?
I try to source plastic-free solutions where possible. I haven´t yet found a vegan, plastic-free toothpaste that I love though there are some good options out there (Truthpaste, Denttabs, Georganics Tooth Soap). I also wish that alcohol had to state whether or not animal products had been used in the process.
Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?
I have lost friends through being vegan. It can be isolating. You can feel like nobody understands you and that you are fighting the cause alone. I am lucky enough now to have a vegan job and live in, what is essential, a vegan bubble. Sometimes I have to step outside the bubble for a little while but I always hurry back. It´s easy to forget there´s a non-vegan world outside of the sanctuary but I have still faced criticism from non-vegans and, rather sadly, vegans alike.
Whatever struggles you may go through, it´s important to know you are not alone. As vegans, we need to be here for each other and not put others down for not being “vegan enough”. Remember, we are all just doing our part.