Being Vegan, Vegan Being: Topaz Hooper – (Founder, Afro Feminista Vegan) – Find Your “Why” and stick with it.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where you live, what you do for a living.

My name is Topaz and I’m a vegan chef, coach and owner of Afro Feminista Vegan. I help women of color start and sustain a healthy vegan lifestyle in 30 days with personal coaching, monthly meal plans and motivational advice. I currently live in Boulder, CO just outside of Denver.

What lead you to veganism? How long ago?

I became vegan in 4 1/2 years ago. I was a vegetarian for 3 years before and only decided to take the plunge when I went to a Veg Fest in Tampa, FL where I was exposed to the Earthlings documentary for the first time. I knew after that I couldn’t go back to eating animal products of any kind. I also gain a lot of     inspiration from my 100 year old grandmother who swears by eating a mostly plant-based diet as partially responsible for her longevity. I choose to stay vegan for health reasons with the hopes that I will live as long as my grandmother.

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

When I first went vegan, I didn’t know how to replace all of my favorite animal  products with vegan versions. I started working at a raw food juice bar in Tampa about a month after going vegan and ended up apprenticing with a vegan chef. I took home all of her recipes and slowly found a way to make cheese from cashews, milk from almonds, and “meat” from raw walnuts. It took a mentor for me to make all of those transitions.

As far as non-vegan clothing goes, I simply stopped buying items that weren’t vegan.

For cosmetics, I decided to learn how to make my own since most of my products at the time were not vegan. I discovered recipes for hair, skin, and dental products that I feature on my blog:

Do you make any exceptions for yourself or if you are married with kids – your family, when it comes to veganism? For example, how strict are you with your children’s veganism at school or at family gatherings?

There are so many products out there that look vegan but actually aren’t. I can’t tell you how many chocolate bars, muffins, chips, beverages and other items that I would eat regularly that weren’t actually vegan. I’m pretty strict with my veganism nowadays but if I unknowingly eat a product that isn’t actually vegan, I  don’t beat myself up about it. At the end of the day, I’m a health vegan and I choose this lifestyle for the health benefits. If I eat one small animal product by mistake, I understand that it’s one moment and doesn’t make me any less vegan or intentional about this lifestyle.

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

GOOD QUESTION. No, actually. Unless a child is born on a farm and is exposed to the truth of animal agriculture as a lifestyle from their parents, I think it’s torturous and traumatic for a child to see animal cruelty. It may cause them to become vegan in the future but perhaps, it may not. I think teaching the morality of going vegan to children is a much more effective and less traumatic route.

What does being vegan mean to you? For example, does it extend to not killing bugs and bees? Does it include not patronizing vegan companies owned by non-vegan parent companies? Does it affect the way you treat other humans?

To me, veganism includes reducing or abstaining from harm to all animals which does include bugs and bees. Yes, I often do not support brands that don’t have a stance on veganism as a company. But I’m not always dismissive of a product if it’s owned by a non-vegan parent company as long as that company isn’t actively participating in animal testing or cruelty practices.

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

No. Like any activism, some people can participate and other don’t need to. I’m a vegan for health reasons and my interest is demonstrating the health benefits that come from a vegan lifestyle. Shaming people for not being vegan is not a part of my repertoire and often doesn’t work as a technique for the people who I hope to reach.

How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?

I’m very empathetic towards non-vegans. I get that some people have no interest or struggle with going vegan. I don’t see them as any less human. I know people who have an array of health issues that simply cannot go vegan. The vegan lifestyle plus their health issues would dramatically limit their food options. For some people, veganism is a wonderful option and for others, it’s not. I don’t judge. I simply live my life and treat my friends and acquaintances with respect regardless of their position on veganism.

Any recommended Vegan books?

Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry

Sistah Vegan by A. Breeze Harper

Afro-ism: Essays on Pop culture, Feminism and Black Veganism from Two Sisters by Apho Ko and Syl Ko

Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?

I recommend the recipe page on my blog. It has a lot of tasty recipes that are made for busy people, unexperienced cooks or simple eaters. It has a lot of soul food recipes as well for those who miss savory southern bites with a healthy twist.

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

This isn’t a favorite movie but it is for sure the one that made me go vegan: Earthlings. Definitely worth watching (with a friend!) It’s like a horror movie but I think it’ll make anyone go vegan.

What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?

Depends on the city. In the Tampa bay, I love, Love Food Central in St. Petersburg, FL. In Denver, CO, I love City O’ City. In Atlanta, GA, I love Soul Vegetarian No. 2. In San Francisco, I love the Plant Organic Cafe. In Washington DC,  the NuVegan Cafe is incredibly delicious.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe?

One of my favorite vegan recipes is my 5 ingredient Maryland-Style Crab-less Crab Cakes. It’s inspired by a crab cake recipe that my family in Washington DC really loves but it’s made with simple ingredients that most people can find in an average grocery store. It’s featured on my blog under lunch recipes.

Some encouraging words for new Vegans?

Find your “why” and stick with it. Ask yourself, “why am I going vegan?” Once you find your reason why, it will be so easy to stay vegan. Stick to your values and never let anyone tell you that you’re invalid for choosing this lifestyle.

What is the vegan scene like in your city?

Denver has a vibrant and growing vegan scene. We have vegan grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, clothing companies and more on the way. It’s definitely a good place to live for a new or seasoned vegan.

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

Eating vegan food with your friends and family can be hard but can also be easier than meeting new people. I would recommend hosting vegan potlucks at your house and inviting friends over. Encourage them to bring a vegan dish. Create a routine around gathering people around vegan food and it will build a positive association with your friends and family. Go to vegan restaurants and make light conversation with people around you. Attend vegan meetups in your city. Follow an inspiring vegan Instagram page or join a vegan support group on Facebook.

What does living cruelty-free mean to you? Does it extend to the way you as a vegan treats other humans too?

Absolutely. Cruelty-free means reducing harm to animals, nature, the planet, living creatures, other humans and myself. It means emitting radical kindness by surrounding myself with positive and healthy lifestyle choices that radiate out to the people and creatures around me.

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

For curly hair products: I love Kinky Curly and Shea Moisture

For bags and accessories: I love Matt & Nat

For clothing: I like thrifting actually and reducing my harm on human life in sweatshops by buying used.

For skin and beauty products: I simply make them myself with zero-waste recipes I’ve found online.

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

Vegan curly hair products are kind of hard to find. The good stuff either has animal products in it or are owned by non-vegan companies.

Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?

When I became vegetarian at 18, I remember living with my family and being the only one not eating meat and I found it to be extremely difficult. I didn’t want to be left out but I wanted to keep my principles. I found that my biggest struggles with being vegan and vegetarian have always been when the majority of my friends, family or loved ones didn’t share my lifestyle. At this point, I surround myself primarily with plant eaters and it’s made my struggles as a vegan almost disappear.

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