Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Tammie Ortlieb – Compassion is My Bottom Line

Tell us a little about yourself.

One part academic, one part tutu and tights, I’m a book nerd, a research nerd, and a glass of almond milk half full kind of gal. When I’m being all suit and tie, I say I am on this earth to spread peace, love, and compassion, to encourage individuals to love others and to love themselves. But when I loosen that tie and kick off those business heels, I confess I really just want to make people smile, look at pretty things, and read until my brain explodes. Indie author and managing editor of VegOut Los Angeles, I live in Southern California with a sweetheart of a Goldendoodle and a fat, sassy calico cat.

I’m Author of If the Crown Fits novella trilogy and The Laundromat Ladies fiction series, as well as the upcoming Detour Ahead: How to Overcome Obstacles Like a Pro.  My personal website aims to help individuals break personal barriers to happiness and success with a focus on diet, play, and kindness. 

What led you to veganism? How long ago? 

Fifteen years ago, I was freelancing for various vegetarian magazines. I had transitioned from an omnivorous diet a few years prior and was writing on the topic. One of the magazines, a vegan publication, hired me as a staff writer. The transition required me to dig into research on veal crates, dairy production, factory farming practices for chickens, and the impacts of a vegan diet on chronic disease. 

The more I read, the more I realized that while I wasn’t directly consuming meat, I was still contributing to practices that were byproducts of that industry. The health benefits between a vegetarian and vegan diet also lured me into attempting the transition. I became determined to drop eggs and dairy from my diet.

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

At the time, I didn’t know anyone who was vegan. I lived in the Midwest, a very meat-centric area of the country, and had limited resources as far as literature, vegan grocery brands, and meet-ups with other vegans. The movement hadn’t yet seen the progress it’s enjoyed in recent years. 

So, armed with nothing more than the magazine that I was writing for, I made my first attempt to go vegan. I say the first attempt because it took me four tries to “make it stick.” I relied heavily on Boca burgers (one of the only meat-alternative options at the time) and the brand’s veggie crumbles in addition to my diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Every time I attempted the transition, however, I gained ten pounds in the first two months. Not sure what I was doing wrong, and with no one to ask, I quit and went back to my vegetarian diet. 

On the fourth try, I happened to be following the Weight Watchers Core plan, which focused on moderate amounts of whole foods. The program helped me realize that I leaned too heavily on nuts during my earlier ventures into veganism—afraid that I wouldn’t get enough protein if I didn’t. So, I tried again. My fourth effort was the winning attempt. I went vegan and never looked back. 

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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’m single with grown children living out of the house, so it’s just me. I don’t make exceptions. More accurately, I don’t care to make exceptions. When someone says, “Oh, that’s right, you can’t eat that.” I tell her I can eat it, but I choose not to. My diet is a choice. It isn’t a punishment or a restriction. I make a conscious decision with every meal not to carry dead animals or their suffering in my body.

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

Honestly, I don’t even believe adults need to see the process. I have four adult children, so I’ve gone through all the mealtime questions: “What is this?” “How did the chicken get to be a nugget?” “Why is it a cow if it’s got ketchup and pickles on it?” There is a difference between educating in an informative way and educating through shock tactics. I’m a huge believer that what we see, do, think, and eat becomes a part of who we are. I don’t want to be responsible for images of torture entering anyone’s psyche, especially not the psyche of a child. Children can learn through a kind and gentle approach, just as adults can learn through a kind and gentle approach. 

What does being vegan mean to you?

Veganism, at its core, is about compassion. For me, that extends beyond animals to include human beings as well, meeting them where they are on their soul journeys, loving them for the attempts they make at plant-based eating, respecting that their choices may not be mine. 

As for my stance on supporting mainstream non-vegan companies that incorporate vegan items or lines of products, I’m a huge fan! I’ve always been about inclusion, never understanding the need to build private clubs where only certain members are accepted. If veganism is a house with a “Members Only” sign on the door, the movement will never see the numbers most beneficial to the animals, planet, and societal health that it needs to reach. The more we provide “regular-looking” options from “regular-sounding” businesses for the skeptical consumer, the greater the possibility of making veganism the norm. 

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

Let’s redefine activism. The word has come to mean marching through the streets, carrying protest signs, while shouting animal rights messages at those on the sidelines. Activism doesn’t have to be about that. 

Whether you maintain a vegan blog, run a plant-based business, or share photos of your lunch on your social media sites, you are a spokesperson for the movement. Even if you do none of those, you are the model for veganism to everyone who knows you. Everything you do and say becomes “VEGAN” to the omnivores in your life. 

I try to come across to my friends and those around me as a healthy, positive, happy individual who loves her life and loves others. That is activism just as much as is throwing fake animal blood on a nonbeliever. Possibly, it’s a greater tool for the cause, because it happens every single day, all day long, and not just once a year on a designated date. 

As far as it being every vegan’s duty to be an activist, this is not a militant operation but rather a movement toward wellness, compassion, and environmental healing. The minute we make anything a duty, we’ve created an exclusive system with superiors and subordinates. I don’t think that’s what we’re going for here. 

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans? 

Very! Compassion is my bottom line. I am a human being before I am a vegan. As a human being, it’s my nature and responsibility to love others and to accept them where they are on their soul journeys. I used to be a non-vegan (and a non-vegetarian!) and can remember strong-arm tactics used on me by the vegetarians I knew. It was hurtful and divisive. I won’t be responsible for building that kind of karma in my life. 

In the end, everyone wants to feel loved. If I feel loved and safe, I am more likely to consider new ideas and to listen to opposing viewpoints, more likely to try a new food product or watch a vegan documentary. If I feel unsafe or in danger, if I feel threatened, I am more likely to run. This is a basic psychological fight or flight and how humans are inherently wired. 

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?

As a proud vegan mama, I absolutely have to suggest checking out my daughter’s site, VegOut Los Angeles. She’s the founder of the company—I’m managing editor—and has worked hard over the past few years forwarding the vegan movement by facilitating the transition to and maintenance of a vegan diet. What I’m most proud of is that she markets not only to other vegans but also to the mainstream, reaching those individuals who are often missed—or passed over—by more exclusive vegan tactics.

Some encouraging words for new Vegans? 

There is no right way to transition. Whether you go cold Tofurkey or alter your diet a little at a time, you are making a positive difference for your health, for the animals, and for the planet. Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge. Don’t allow others to judge you either. Every plant-based meal you eat is a win.

You will make mistakes. You will “forget” that you no longer eat ranch dressing. You will order a dish at a restaurant not realizing it contains eggs. You will have days you want to quit. You will give in to cravings for your old meat-centric favorite foods. That’s okay. The next time you sit down with a plate and fork, you have the opportunity to make a different choice. 

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

Finding like-minded souls is one of the most important factors in maintaining a happy, healthy vegan life. Many areas have vegan meet-ups. Get online to check what groups exist in your town. Face-to-face interactions are the best! If that’s not possible, look for social media connections, follow vegan influencers, vegan blogs, and vegan businesses. This is a great way to establish virtual connections that may lead to in-person friendships.

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

I’ve been vegan for fifteen years, and until last year, I had not had baklava since before I made the transition. It seems like a small thing, and I really hadn’t missed much from my previous diet, but I craved some great baklava. Thank goodness I found @thefalafelfactory, a food truck in the Los Angeles area serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine. It made my little vegan heart super happy. 

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism? 

I’ll loop back up to the question about how I went vegan. It took me four tries. I hear about people who consume meat, then the next day they are vegan for life. That’s not how it happened with me, and I think about that. 

I didn’t have any resources, any support, or any idea what I was doing. If I had given up after that first try (shoot, if I’d given up after the THIRD try!) I wouldn’t be sitting here fifteen years later—managing editor of a nationwide vegan media company—completing this interview and reflecting on all the changes for the good I’ve made in my health, the animals I’ve saved, and the positive impact that I’ve had on the planet. I think, too, of the many friends and acquaintances who’ve changed their own dietary habits as a result of seeing my progress. I reflect on these things, and I’m glad for the morning I was sitting in that chair at a Weight Watchers meeting, deciding to “give this vegan thing one more try.”

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