Being Vegan, Vegan Being – Stephen Rykwalder – Anyone can be Cruel, but only the Strong Stand up to Others

My name is Stephen and I am 30 years old. I live in Tampa, Florida. I am an accountant/entrepreneur. I founded a vegan clothing company called, Meat Free Mafia, but have since decided to use this platform just to spread awareness for veganism, the animals, and the planet. My Instagram is @meatfreemafia and my business Facebook is Meat Free Mafia.

What was the moment you realize that you wanted to go vegan?

Well first, I went vegetarian because I didn’t realize everything all at once. The moment I decided to go vegetarian was right in the middle of eating the best tasting hamburger I had ever had. I had seen a video like Forks Over Knives about a week before and some pigs just started popping into my mind while I was holding the burger. I began feeling nauseous, put the burger down and never ate meat again. About a year later, I started wondering what veganism was all about, so I started looking into it and was appalled at everything I was still participating in, so I immediately cut out all foods with animal products and then replacing everything else in my house with cruelty-free/vegan products. I gave away all of my leather jackets and even sold my Mercedes because of the leather seats.

How long have you been Vegan?

I went vegetarian in Spring of 2013 and vegan in spring of 2014, so vegan for about 3 years and vegetarian for a year before that.

Why is being Vegan important to you?

Because I don’t want to be the cause of suffering for any living being on this planet. I have a very high level of empathy and it pains me to see animals suffering. The first real loss I ever experienced was when my cat got hit by a car on Christmas Eve when I was ten years old. I was devastated. When I was 19 years old, my sister was murdered and I noticed all the same feelings of anger and extreme sadness that I felt when my cat died. When I became vegetarian and then vegan, it was because I finally connected what happened to my sister with what we do to the animals and I realized that to the animals, I am the person who murdered my sister. I wanted to change that. I strongly believe that being vegan is the greatest thing I have ever accomplished in my life. Not because of how hard it was, but because of how much it means to me.

Do you have a blog or favorite vegan blog you read?

I wish I could say I do, but I am extremely busy for the most part.

Any recommended Vegan books?

Just finished The Happy Vegan by Russell Simmons. One of the best books I have come across in a long time!

Any recommended social sites, Facebook Groups or other?

@MeatFreeMafia on Instagram haha jk, I would say to surround yourself with vegans who prove the stereotypes wrong or who fight so hard for the cause without any ego. Six people who I am a huge fan of are Jordan (@Conscious_Muscle), Torre Washington (@Torre.Washington), John (@BadassVegan), James Aspey (@JamesAspey), Mary (@Jane_Doe7x), and Eddie (@Go_Vegan_Or_Go_Fuckoff). These people inspire me every single day. When I see everything they are doing, it makes me feel like I need to do more.

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

The main videos I watch are comedies because the daily grind for animal rights is very mentally and emotionally draining for me. I will occasionally watch parts of documentaries like Cowspiracy, Food Choices, or Earthlings, but I usually cannot finish them. For the most part, I work on trying to stay positive with the comedies. As for vegan media comedy, there is none better than Mark Furze, the Redneck Vegan. His YouTube channel is beyond hilarious.

Do you actively promote veganism? How? Please share any stories you would like.

I mainly use social media and vegan shirts. Up to this point, I have focused on those strategies because they have served me very well. With social media, I feel like I have had a really positive impact on helping introduce veganism to people and I have even seen a lot of my friends go vegan simply because of my posts. On my Instagram, I have lost count of how many people messaged me saying they either went vegan because of my page or asking me for advice on how to because they want to do it. As for the shirts, there is no better way to start an unconfrontational conversation with someone than them seeing your shirt and asking a question. Now they have started the conversation and shown you they are open to hearing why you are wearing that shirt. I am going to consider more physical protests and things like that soon, but I want to make sure I am in a peaceful place when I do that.

What’s your favorite Vegan Meme?

Do you miss any non-Vegan foods?

I would say cheese pizza, but the vegan options are getting so good that some of them I can’t even tell the difference anymore. I think more than anything, I don’t like that some restaurants still refuse to adapt to the times and so the food options are terrible at some places.

What is your favorite Vegan stereotype? If someone asks you a question about it, how do you respond?

That vegan guys aren’t manly. I laugh and tell them that vegans have an average of 16% more testosterone because we don’t eat all the hormones that the average person does. Then I tell them that when they get older and their man parts don’t work anymore from clogged arteries, it will be a vegan guy their girl goes running to.

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

Green Bar & Kitchen in Ft. Lauderdale. Their hospitality was beyond amazing and the food is still in my mind months later. Other favorites include my donut spots, Valhalla in Orlando and Parlour Vegan in Ft. Lauderdale, and of course Crossroads Kitchen in Cali for their banging meatball sub.

What’s your favorite recipe? Please share it.

I keep it simple because I am usually on a really tight schedule. My favorite meal is
-a baked potato with Earth Balance butter, Just Mayo Chipotle, and bacon bits (yes, bacon bits are vegan).
-Gardein chicken parmesan style cutlet with Hampton Creek sweet mustard
It is easy to make and I can get stuff done while it is cooking.

There’s also a lot of great high-protein vegan recipes on VeganLiftz, click here for more info.  

What is the one big stereotype you hear about Vegans that you want to dispel?

That you cannot be healthy/gain muscle with a vegan lifestyle because you don’t get enough protein or other nutrients. I always laugh at first and then explain to them that if that were true, then I would not have been up to a higher weight on a vegan diet than I ever was pre-vegan, with my muscle mass being higher than ever and being in better shape at 30 than I was at 21 years old. I know more shredded vegans than I do non-vegans. I don’t take any pre-workout supplements, steroids, etc. and yet I have plenty of energy in the gym. There was a trainer at my gym who used to tell his clients the reason I could work out with such high energy for extended periods of time was because of my vegan diet.

Some encouraging words for new Vegans?

You are already a leader just by going vegan. Remember that when others try to bring you down or mock your compassionate choices. Anyone can be cruel, but only the strong stand up to others for those at their mercy. Keep fighting for the animals in the best way you know how and remember that you are vegan for the animals, not for other vegans. There will be plenty of vegans who disappoint you over time, but being vegan should be judged by the ideals, which are so pure and amazing, not by the followers of this lifestyle, who can make mistakes. And if you make mistakes, don’t be so hard on yourself. I have a friend at the gym who will slip up sometimes and while I hate to see animals suffer, I would hate for him to feel so guilty about it that he just gives up altogether. We can’t be so hard on people that we scare them off. If you are your best self, you will set a great example and others will naturally want to follow your footsteps.

Are you a cruelty-Free vegan?

Without a doubt. My life is now centered around respect for all life, no matter big or how small. I won’t even kill ants if I get an infestation in my kitchen. Everything I buy now is cruelty-free, including searching for cars with cloth seats instead of leather. I am 100% vegan for the animals, so everything I do now is done with the idea of eliminating exploitation of all living beings in this world.

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

Method products are phenomenal. I was able to get all my friends using these products as well. I use all their products, including hand soap, dish soap, cleaning products, etc.

What is the toughest Vegan item to find that you need? Toothpaste, Deo, glue, etc..

For me, I would have to say a great hair product like hair paste. I have bought a few and haven’t been impressed by any of them so far.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

I got to a pretty dark place for a long time with my veganism because of my stance, in the beginning, was very aggressive, which especially with my vegan clothing company, Meat Free Mafia, would get me into a lot of trouble on Instagram. Instagram basically started monitoring my page and blocking people from interacting with me about a year and a half ago, and they are still doing it to this day. Periodically, people will not be able to tag me in comments, respond to my posts, or share my posts. My hashtag would not even work for a while and some people were not able to follow my page. In addition, a bunch of my posts would get deleted and others wouldn’t even post when I went to post them. Between this and posting really controversial things that would cause a lot of ongoing arguments, I began to feel that my life was enshrined in negativity, but I felt like it needed to be done for the animals. This sent me into a spiral of depression multiple times, but I am still grateful for everything that happened. I have since shifted my approach a bit and am much more gentle in my conversations with meat eaters and trolls. I have found that sarcasm is an amazing tool in pushing for veganism.

What type of vegan would you want to meet if you were still a meat eater and do you live up to that role?

I think that we are all capable of improving every day of our lives, but I think it is important to understand that there are fundamental things that we need to be doing as vegans. We need to treat other human beings with respect just as much as the animals. We need to work on mastering all the virtues, which I am constantly working on myself. I struggle with patience in particular, so I have really started working hard on checking myself when I start getting agitated. I have reached a point where I understand that whether or not I want the role, others are looking at me and defining their new stereotype of vegans based on me. This goes for all vegans. When there are a limited number of people within a specific category, the people in your life will see you as the example of that category. You might be the only vegan they even know. Think about that and realize how much of a gift this is, but also realize that means you have to set the example that you wish you had before you went vegan. That is the goal I strive for every day of my life.

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