Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Stephanie Terronez & Patrick Burwell – Owners, Cowhugger Vegan Boutique

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! We are Stephanie Terronez & Patrick Burwell.   We are the owners of Cowhugger Vegan Boutique. 

We are based in the Long Beach area of southern California.  Our website is https://cowhugger.com and you can find us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest & Twitter @LoveCowhugger.

(*If in the answer to these questions, you see “I”, it is Stephanie who is elaborating on an answer.)

What lead you to veganism? How long ago? 

We have been vegan going on 16 years. When we met, Stephanie was a pescatarian and Patrick, was of his own instincts, beginning to eat less meat.  He became a pescatarian, too.  We bonded over a love of animals, among other things, and became active in dog rescue.  As we educated ourselves more about issues and laws regarding the protection of dogs and cats, we began to realize it made no sense to value the lives and rights of certain animals and not others.  As we pulled on that thread – the whole thing unraveled.

It’s as if the universe was intent on shaking us out of our stupor.  First – working with the rescue because as we got to know so many animals who were equally deserving of love and attention and care and were simply stuck in unfortunate circumstances through no fault of their own. 

One day we went to a music festival where an animal rights group had a sign up that said, “Hey Vegetarians! Cut out the crap! Go Vegan!” I remember being taken aback, like “Whoa!”  “That’s kind of aggressive.”  But I thought about it and thought some more and looked up more information about why that would be true…and the light began to shine through.

Stephanie made the shift first to veganism and Patrick followed soon after.  What really hit us hard and absolutely solidified our resolve to live a vegan life, was seeing Earthlings when it premiered at the Artivist Festival in Los Angeles.  It was so powerful and heartrending and we were just shattered when the lights came up in the theater.  Our bodies had wanted to flee the horror, but we felt we had to witness – those animals’ lives mattered and they would not be forgotten and they deserved to have the memory of their lives be a rallying cry for the end to animal exploitation and the imperative of liberation.  There was a panel after the film – Shaun Monson was talking about how he had put this film together – how he originally was going to do a film about shelters and euthanasia, I think, it was, but as he did his research, he kept learning new things about the way animals of all species are treated as disposable property, chattel, lab experiments, material, entertainment, food, sport…he was compelled to bring attention to the true horror of what we as humans have inflicted on our fellow earthlings.

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

We started out with making a lot of pasta and buying vegan meatballs and vegan hotdogs and vegan burgers, veggie crumbles for tacos – the simplest things.   At the time we didn’t have the amazing cheeses like Miyoko’s, Follow Your Heart, Chao, and Kite Hill – there were a couple that was alright, but the taste and quality today has improved so much – so we would substitute hummus on things that we used to put cheese on. 

There weren’t many restaurants that offered vegan meals at the time, the vegetarian and vegan restaurants that we could make it to, were an absolute treat. So many people didn’t know what it meant, yet, we met people who had already been vegan for 20 years and they were so inspiring. Going out to eat usually meant finding somewhere we could easily eliminate the meat, eggs, and dairy on a menu item.  That meant asking questions…always. 

That is something that is actually a great habit that anyone who becomes vegan will get into doing…asking questions about how something is made.  If you go to a non-vegan restaurant, you ask what the ingredients are, how it is made, is it cooked in the oil as the meat?  Is the bread made with egg? It makes the people you talk to aware as well.  In a Mexican restaurant, it’s not enough to leave the meat, cheese and sour cream out of a burrito.  Are the refried beans made with lard?  If they are pot beans, is it cooked with bacon?  Is the rice made with chicken broth? Are the tortillas made with lard?  In an Asian restaurant – is the sauce made with oyster sauce? Is the soup made with beef broth?  These things take time to learn and sometimes you find out something after the fact.   That’s why it’s so very wonderful to have so many vegan restaurants now – no worries.

The same attention to ingredients goes to grocery shopping.  It helped us make healthier food choices.  We end up reading every label so we began to realize, even some of the vegan items had a lot of sodium or sugar and so we started to make changes in how we shopped and opting for more nutrient-dense foods and fresh ingredients to make meals and we made our own dressings and nut burgers.  Sure, we still buy Gardein and Beyond Burgers and other convenience foods, but they are not our usual meals.  We love loading a salad with colorful veggies and adding some quinoa, avocado, sometimes beans or bits of leftover pasta.

Clothing was an evolution of sorts. It can take a little while because you need to look a certain way for work – you need a belt, you need nice shoes.  We stopped buying anything with leather, wool or silk and started replacing items – like our belts and shoes and sweaters as we were able to.  We would have loved to have done it all at once, but it was financially prohibitive.  It was kind of funny how we would hold on to a pair of shoes because they were nice and too expensive to replace right away, but then would avoid wearing them so that a year later, they were still nice and, in the closet, and finally it would be like “This is going now.”

Soaps, shampoos, face care, make-up…we would try different products and eventually found ones we really like.

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

We do not have children but we do spend time with our nieces and nephews.  When we host meals, we only have vegan food.  For kids, it can be a challenge. Our elementary school-age niece, for instance, identifies as a vegan.  She has vegan roller skates, talks about her favorite vegan products and asks if things are vegan if she is ordering at a restaurant. If she takes snacks or cupcakes to school, they are vegan. But at school, they have days where they hand out treats; at birthday parties they have cake; visiting friends, their parents may serve snacks – all of which most likely are not vegan, but vegetarian.  If a child in this situation accepts these snacks, she’s being a kid, she’s doing what kids do and as she or he gets older, they’ll be able to be more discerning.  I think we need to back off of judgments where a child is concerned and where the situation is one where the child is out of their normal element. 

When we go to family or social gatherings that are potluck style, we bring vegan dishes.  We will meet family and friends at non-vegan restaurants (we first check to see if they have vegan options) although if it is up to us, we try to find a vegan restaurant.  We have found, for ourselves, if we go to an event or a restaurant with family or friends where it is not vegan, people tend to engage us about our choices and ask questions about veganism and I think have to be aware of the origin of the food on their plate. 

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

That would best be determined by the parents since they know their children.  Age and maturity and a desire to know details are crucial factors in how much to show children.  Certainly, explaining that meat came from a living, feeling, unique being that didn’t want to die is important.

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What does being vegan mean to you?

Being vegan means doing our best to do no harm and to respect the lives of all living beings. In the course of everyday life, we all cross paths with various living beings and it should be just crossing paths. 

If it is a choice between purchasing a vegan product from a vegan company, and purchasing a vegan product from a non-vegan parent company – we will opt for the product from the vegan company.  We do, however, appreciate that a non-vegan company would create a vegan product and that it is available to us and that more companies are recognizing the growing demand for vegan products and so are adding vegan options to their customers.

We hope that it helps us to expand our sense of compassion to all our brothers and sisters.

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

Ethical vegans, yes, have a duty to answer the call.  But the actions take different forms and it is not the same for everyone. By being a living example of a compassionate vegan life, you are promoting veganism.  But it is also imperative that vegans use their voice to advocate for animals and the power of their dollar to register the need for cruelty-free, ethical vegan products.  You can be an activist through spreading the good word through food, through fitness, art, products…you can help at animal sanctuaries, you can educate, you can lobby government representatives, you can attend demos, you can participate in vigils and in protests.  There are so many ways to be an activist.

And just as it is important for us to be good citizens and participate in our democracy, it is important to keep aware of issues that affect animals and to vote and agitate and demand on behalf of the animals.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans? 

It’s important to have compassion for others, regardless if they are vegan or not.  Everyone has experienced that have shaped their lives in ways we can’t know or imagine.  Certainly, the individuals have a choice in how to act, in what they buy or support so the consequence of their actions is their responsibility. 

Very few people started out as a vegan.  We certainly had a lot to learn.  Every ethical vegan we have met all wish they had made the connection sooner.  We could have spared more animals if we had, we could have influenced more people if we had.  When we are young, we are encouraged to play with stuffed animals or animal figurines, to be entertained by books and movies and cartoons with cute animal characters.  Many of our schools have them painted on walls and use them as mascots.  But there is a huge disconnect between that and what we are expected to eat.  As a child, you don’t realize it is the same animal that you fall in love with on your plate.

Any recommended Vegan books? 

Oooo, there are so many good ones!  For kids, Ruby Roth has a wonderful vegan cookbook that is colorful and charming and made especially for kids to make healthy vegan dishes and snacks on their own.  Where adult supervision is suggested because slicing or cooking is required, the page has a special alert icon.  She also has a series of kids storybooks that talk about animals as the unique beings that they are and veganism. 

A great book to have close by is Vegan’s Daily Companion:  365 Days of Inspiration for Cooking, Eating and Living Compassionately by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.  It’s been out for a while, but it’s inspirational messages are timeless.  There is an entry for every day of the year- either a recipe, an inspirational message, a bit of wisdom, a story of hope or helpful information – and you can go sequentially or just pick it up and flip open to a page. One particular bit of advice she shared that I find helpful in my own life is to remember that you may be the first vegan that someone meets. So, be open, patient and compassionate because whether you like it or not, you represent all vegans at that moment and that is a powerful thing.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe? 

We love this dish because it is easy to whip up, a great addition to any party and people will be amazed when you tell them it is vegan. 😀

Ingredients:

  • 1 8oz container of vegan cream cheese (Tofutti, Trader Joe’s, or Kite Hill are great)
  • All-natural peanut butter – creamy or crunchy
  • Brown sugar
  • Celery
  • Apples
  • ¼ cup crushed peanuts for garnish (optional)
  • Combine ½ cup peanut butter with ½ cup brown sugar.
  • Mix in vegan cream cheese.
  • Serve with sliced apples and celery stalks
  • Voila!

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?

VegNews is great for keeping up on the latest vegan news.  We love watching Earthling Ed, Joey Carbstrong, Jane UnChained

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

At the risk of echoing what others have probably told you – “Earthlings” and “Dominion” are bedrocks of information regarding animal exploitation and the industries that profit from it. “Game Changers” is inspiring for those who value physical fitness; “What the Health” is so important for examining how we nourish our bodies; “Cowspiracy” is a critical and crucial look at what we are doing to our environment.  “True Cost” reveals the damage to people’s lives and the environment caused by society’s obsession with fast fashion at a cheap price.

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

Au Lac, SeaBirds, Little Pine, Vinh Loi

Some encouraging words for new Vegans? 

Your choices make a difference – to the animals, to the planet, to your health and though you may not realize it, to other people.  You will by your actions, get them thinking about why you are vegan and why it is important – you will inspire and motivate others by living your compassionate truth.

What is the vegan scene like in your city? 

Amazing!  We are so fortunate to live in the Long Beach area where the food scene has exploded.  New vegan restaurants continue to open and vegan pop-ups happen regularly 2-3 times a week.

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

Get out to Vegan Festivals and events in your area – vegans tend to be extremely friendly and vivacious.  Volunteer at a sanctuary or join an activist group.  Join or start a vegan meet-up.

What does living cruelty-free mean to you?

Living cruelty-free absolutely is a concept that should extend to all beings. It means avoiding all harm to animals, and also to the environment and to our fellow human beings.  It means making choices with the well-being of others in mind.

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

Bare Naked Botanicals face care is wonderful and made with ingredients that are carefully chosen and free of bad stuff.

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

Vegan dog food in a store near us.  (Thankfully we can order V-dog online and will now be ordering Natural Balance vegan canned food – for a topping – online since Centinela stopped carrying it.)

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism? 

For Stephanie, it was probably when she first went vegan.  At the end of the first week, she let those voices that insisted she couldn’t possibly get all her protein being vegan and got a tuna sandwich from Subway. “I ate it quickly, but then felt so bad afterward,”  I swore to never do that again and was troubled by those voices no more. More than 15 years since I have not had any issues with protein or getting all the nutrients I need from a vegan diet.

For Patrick, the challenge was at work.  He would have to travel for training and conferences from time to time and then there were the work events where they would bring in food.  It was a time of adjustment when he would find himself singled out from the attention brought by not eating what everyone else had or his attempts to see if he could get a vegan option. 

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