Friday, October 13, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Nathan Runkle

Back when Vegan Street was in its original incarnation, we had a P.O. box we’d check a couple of times a week for picking up t-shirt orders – so, yes, this was the olden days – and we would sometimes get a check from a young teen in Ohio named Nathan Runkle. We got orders from all over the country but there was something about these orders, written with a young person’s handwriting, sent from a town we’d never heard of in Ohio that really gave us a sense of hope and excitement for the burgeoning vegan movement we were just starting to notice rising up everywhere in those early days.

Today, of course, this young teen in Ohio has grown up to be one of the most formidable, respected and well-known voices in animal advocacy through his work with the organization he founded as a 15-year-old in 1999, Mercy for Animals, which has grown into a powerful force of change-making for farmed animals with Nathan at the helm, leading a dedicated, talented staff, inspiring countless volunteers, awakening many, many more and, most important, saving lives. I have so much admiration for Nathan and what he has accomplished so far, which is really still in its infancy, I suspect. Now, Nathan is doing a tour in support of his new book, Mercy for Animals: One Man’s Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals. Despite everything, though, Nathan will always be that sweet farm kid from Ohio to me, the one who gave me so much hope back in 1999 and has gone on to far exceed my expectations. Love you, Nathan Runkle! I am honored to feature Nathan as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

My “vegan evolution” started with an evolution in my perception of animals. Sometimes big lessons come in small forms. In the book, I tell the story of Caesar, a beautiful Siamese rat, whom I rescued from a laboratory breeder when I was just six-years-old. Caesar became my best friend. He was playful, smart, and social and would come running when I called his name. But when I’d bring friends over to meet Caesar, many would shriek at the sight of him. "Eww! His tail!" they would say. They judged Caesar based on what he was, not who he was.

I began to realize that the prejudices we have about animals are really about us, not them.

It’s because of Caesar that I started to challenge the arbitrary lines our society draws between animals considered "pets" and "pests," "friends" and "food."

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

Simply having a positive, healthy, joyful vegan role model would have been super helpful for pre-vegan me. Someone who showed me that there was a way to live that reflected my compassionate values, was healthy for my body and spirit, and easy and delicious. I think for many people, having someone show them that there is a better way goes a very long way.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

I always try to be authentic and share stories – whether they are stories of animals I’ve met, how great I feel being vegan, etc. Anytime we can speak from personal experiences with “I” statements, the less judgmental and threatening it is to others. No one can discount your own experience and feelings. I also always try to communicate from a place of love and understand, rather than judgment or criticism.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

We have love, compassion and truth on our side.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

Willful ignorance.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

If you don’t want to pay people to abuse animals in horrific ways on your behalf, going vegan is a beautiful way to live a healthy life that’s centered on compassion for all.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

Too many to list.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

Balance is so crucial. We have an epidemic of burnout within the vegan and animal rights movement. It’s something we need to talk about and address, as we are loosing far too many people and with them all of their knowledge and skills. For me, it means taking care of myself – mentally and physically. Facing the reality of factory farming on a daily basis can be emotionally traumatizing. It’s important to recognize that, first and foremost, so we can nurture ourselves. For me, that means going to therapy, yoga, meditating, eating well, traveling, spending time in nature, exercising, laughing, and focusing on loving freely and openly.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

There are so many – from LGBTQ rights to the protection of our environment. But the cause of so many of the problems facing our society today is the same: apathy. When we open our heart to the plight of “others” the world begins to transform in wonderful ways.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

…the ultimate expression of love.

Friday, October 6, 2017

SASHA Farm, October, 2017...

We've been lucky enough to be able to visit SASHA Farm since my son was a wee one with the Chicago Vegan Family Network and it remains one of the highlights of our year. Even at 15, our son still looks forward to our annual SASHA visit. Being able to interact with these innocent beings who have found freedom and sanctuary is so enriching to the vegan spirit and to see them in such a beautiful environment where they can just live their lives without fear or exploitation is gratifying beyond measure.

We met up with some of our vegan family crew and were able to bring along two additional young friends who are vegan. As soon as you pull up and hear the roosters crowing, see the sheep peacefully grazing, you know you are in a special kind of place. In all, it was a beautiful day, though, as always, bittersweet. Heartwarming to know these animals have found their way to sanctuary and heartbreaking to think of the billions more - no less full of personality and a capacity for pain than these individuals - who live their short lives, day-in and day-out, in the kind of sheer horror few of us could imagine. For now, though, we will keep sharing their pictures and their stories, hoping that humanity one day stops inflicting the needless brutalities we inflict upon them. Maybe then we'll begin to find peace? One can hope.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ten Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Diana Rein...


Critically acclaimed blues-rock musician Diana Rein was born in Romania but grew up in Chicago, which is very evident in the soulful, lively music she creates. Labeled the “Six String Siren” by fans, the virtuoso guitarist and singer enjoys a growing fan-base as a working musician on the rise – she’s opened for Bonnie Raitt – and keeps a very busy schedule, but as she goes, she continues to be a voice for the animals and mindful, compassionate living from her platform. She will be playing at the San Diego Veg Fest October 1, so you will definitely want to check out the fest and her performance if you are in Southern California. I am honored to feature the warmhearted rock star Diana Rein as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
My sister, who is seven years older than me, became a vegetarian as a child after our pig named Poo-Choo was sent to slaughter in Romania. I was too little to understand the horrors of it all and as I grew up my family would give her so much grief about not eating meat that I didn’t think twice about eating meat. Somehow not eating meat meant less love to my child self so I kept eating it. But in my 20s after my mom had a hysterectomy due to cancer I researched everything I could to help her naturally after her surgery and to also help myself because I had digestive issues, acne, acid reflux. I ran across the raw vegan diet and I started doing that as well as eating cooked vegan foods...but sometimes I veered towards eating vegan junk food, which was way better than eating meat, but still not the healthiest. I did that off and on for a couple of years until finally in 2008, after taking daily yoga classes at a studio in Chicago, I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything with eyes, a soul and a heart anymore. My body didn’t want it and my compassionate self couldn’t handle that burden anymore. So ever since then, I’ve been eating a vegan raw or cooked diet.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
I find that the most popular documentaries that have come out over these last years like “What the Health” and “Forks Over Knives” can be very influential to someone wanting to know more. I also feel like the proof is in the pudding. I would have loved someone to make me a vegan meal and invite me over to see what the possibilities could be without any animal products on the dining table. Or I would have loved to have a friend that was thriving on the diet that could be a great example. But the bottom line is love. Loving yourself and working at it daily. When you love yourself, not from an egoic place, but from a spiritual find it extremely difficult and heart wrenching to inflict pain on another being. So you naturally start seeing the error of your ways and clean up your karma. And compassion just flows over into every aspect of your life. If someone could have taught me that from the start it would have helped me avoid many hurtful moments and bad decisions in my life.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
I try not to draw attention to it on purpose. I tend to talk about my health struggles and how veganism has helped me because I know that most everyone is hurting on the Standard American Diet. Or if they are not hurting yet, they have family that is hurting. And once you are vegan for a while, you really start shining...especially if you stick to the more whole food plant based side of the vegan street. Heck, go to eating mostly fruit and you will glow like the brightest star. I am not a zealot about my lifestyle choices because I learned my lesson when I first started being a raw vegan in 2005. I started feeling so good that I couldn’t stop talking about it and it turned my family off. But once I just led by example and they saw the changes that were happening in my life over time...they started treading lightly on the path as well. My mom is fully vegan now, my Dad has gone on/off being vegan but he has dramatically reduced his consumption of animal products. My husband rarely eats any animal products at all. So I think the best way to be is to be is to do what you have to do to be healthy and happy, let it transform you from the inside out and then you won’t have to say a thing. People will be begging to know what your secret is.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
You can’t mess with the truth. There is way too much evidence now that animal products cause disease. I attribute it to the same trajectory that happened with cigarettes and smoking. It took awhile before people were convinced about the dangers but then it finally got ripped open and the jig was up. We are at the brink right now with veganism where the scales are tipping and people are finally waking up to the truth. Not only that, but man, we are bunch of awesome people that make change happen! In my community of Temecula, CA, we have a Facebook group called Temecula Valley Vegan Society and we are relentless to create vegan friendly options in this town. It’s so refreshing to be a part of a community that cares enough about every living being on this planet to create opportunities for others who have not woken up yet to see that there are options that don’t hurt animals. We are passionate people and passion will move mountains!
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
I think the biggest hindrance is Fear. Fear doesn’t allow people to be open-minded because eating a certain way is part of who they “think” they are. It’s their identity. And it doesn’t just come from ourselves...our friends and family also put a label on us so it can be really frightening to shift things because the ripple effect of that can also cause a disturbance in the relationships you have with everyone you know. That’s a lot to take on! So if we can aim to relay our message in a caring and understanding way then we can slide into that hard protective shell that people keep up and really allow them to think before they do. I also don’t feel it is necessary to tell people that have eaten meat their whole lives to stop cold turkey. We should tell them to just give it a try. Maybe just one meal a week, then maybe that can go to three, four, etc. Or maybe you can eat the plant and vegan foods first for a meal and then decide if you still need that meat. Here is the thing, we crave what we are currently eating. If someone who regularly eats meat starts eating more salads, it won’t be long before they crave some salad. And the slower they go through the transition, the less disturbed their ego will be and the less abrupt the change will be to those around them. Make it a transition and not a race.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Your health will dramatically improve in every way, it is highly unlikely that you will get heart disease if you are eating a healthy vegan diet. Your sense of “helping make the world a better place” will feel very tangible when you realize that what you put on your plate makes a big difference. You are saving more than 100 animals a year by being vegan! You will decrease suffering on the planet. You will feel more love in your heart for all beings. You will let the powers that be know that you don’t stand for cruelty by putting your money into vegan products. Meat is full of bacteria, antibiotics and fluids from the animal, not to mention the energetic sadness and fear that comes from an animal that knows it is about to be slaughtered. I could spout off more but then it’s time to get real and say... Just take a moment, in silence. Listen to your heart, not your mind. I am sure that you will hear and feel what the right choice is.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
I adore Tao Porchon-Lynch who is one of the most amazing ladies I have ever learned of. She is 99 years old and still wears high heels and teaches multiple yoga classes every week on the East Coast. She also took up ballroom dancing in her 80’s. She is a total vegan rock star and she is really proving that with how active she is.
I am also in awe of Ellsworth Wareham, the 103 year old Heart Surgeon (who is no longer practicing) that became vegan in his 50s and is thriving and very active. I also have read a lot of Tonya Zavasta’s books on the raw vegan lifestyle and she is 60 years old but looks half her age, as well as Annette Larkins who became vegan at the age of 40. I have many examples of beautiful men and women that are radiating true beauty because of their vegan lifestyle.
I have also watched many films like “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead,” “Forks Over Knives,” “What the Health,” “Food Matters,” “Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes,” “Super Size Me.” On my list to watch are also: “Vegucated” and “Peaceable Kingdom.” I have also done a 200-hour yoga teacher training and in reading the books that came along with my course, I came across the practice of ahimsa: the concept of not harming any living beings. So this message is everywhere, not specifically from a vegan book but why are there still people on the planet who are not listening? How is harming an animal any different than harming a human? We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that there is a hierarchy on this planet and there isn’t. The more we keep sharing that, the more it will get embedded into our makeup that we all belong and we all have a right to live out the journey we came here for.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I love doing Kundalini yoga and working with the breath and my energy field. I love going to the Ocean and being with my family on weekend getaways to just laugh and love.
I love not wearing shoes and grounding myself with Earth energy. I also love doing cleanses, especially with watermelon juice and dry fasting. I love playing guitar, which puts me in a meditative mode. I also love reading and researching new and old natural ways of healing as I really believe that the body can heal itself if given the chance.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Well, my Mom has had a couple of cancer scares so I would say the big C word...Cancer. Since I do a lot of research I have read about many who have gone against the grain and have healed themselves naturally to the point where I feel that there is a cure and your body will take care of it if you give it the opportunity. If you cleanse it, if you exercise it, give it good water, fresh and raw foods, sunshine, reduce stress and get good sleep and dive into some emotional can heal. But once again fear provided by the medical community doesn’t give people enough time to really figure this out. It’s been very depressing to see how my mother’s condition has been handled. The doctor’s talk so fast and push you hard to make decisions quickly and chastise you for doing any research or for opting out of treatments. It is truly sad because it doesn’t feel like they are really working with you from a heart place. It’s from a money place. Things are so twisted. So I just say take it back to square one and know that it is possible to heal from such a disease. And best of all, try your best to prevent it from ever happening. The most control that we have is with what we put in our bodies and on our bodies. So get to health by eating a vegan diet and also look at those lotions and potions that you use...there are so many vegan and natural options available nowadays. I don’t even wear perfume anymore. Way to many chemicals in commercially produced perfumes. It’s all about the energetic and healing powers of essential oils...and they smell so good!
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
...the only way to be.”
It will change your life and it will be a domino effect where things just start going well in all areas of your life. Health, Love, Work, Sleep will improve. Moods, Stress…everything negative will start falling away and the Universe will reward you for your positive life shift. Your frequency will starting rising up higher and higher and you will attract better and better things. It’s a gift for the gift of life we are not taking away from sentient beings. And do yourself a favor and visit an animal farm sanctuary. See how full your heart feels when you get the privilege of being close to a beautiful animal. They know so much more than we do and they feel so much more. They are way more enlightened than us. It will hurt because you will get a download of all of the horrible pain that us humans have inflicted on such innocent beings. But it’ll keep you a vegan for life. Your whole being will desire to be a part of this shift.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Story of Chicago VeganMania Told in Photos...

A day in the life of Chicago VeganMania and not really including much of it: the 250 volunteers, the volunteer lounge, much of the Culture Café, our beloved Green Team (sorting waste in the back), much of the load in, any of the tear down, most of the food court (22 restaurants!) any of the speakers, panels or cooking demos that were happening simultaneously all day, the rest of the vendors (more than 80) and on and on and on. Still, this gives you a sense. Until next year!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Julie Hasson


This week’s vegan foodie is someone who just sends me into an instant shame cycle with her productivity.
Julie Hasson has been a fixture in the vegan scene for a long time, and as if being owner of the popular Native Bowl food cart in Portland, recipe developer, prolific cookbook author, columnist, cooking show host, and baking mix entrepreneur weren’t enough, she has now embarked on a new project with her friend and fellow vegan, gluten-free foodie Kittee Berns: fun and fabulous new e-books and consultation via their new venture together, Julie & Kittee. Despite her impressive resume, Julie remains an approachable, friendly, warm and engaging presence online, helping everyone learn some amazing new vegan recipes without judgment or condescension. She’s just the bomb and I am honored to feature Julie Hasson as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

My mom really instilled my love of food, as well as my French grandmother, at a very young age. So it was of no surprise to my family when I changed my career path in college from pursuing an art degree to enrolling in culinary school. My brother and I are both chefs.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Growing up I ate a very healthy diet. Until my mom went back to work when I was in 6th grade, my parents were health nuts. My mom made everything from scratch. It was all about whole wheat bread, home-grown vegetables, tofu, carob, and granola. No Wonder Bread sandwiches for me, no matter how much I may have begged at the time. Chocolate and sugar were frowned upon for quite a few years there too (and may have inspired my future career in pastry!). My mom’s bread and homemade soups were some of my favorites.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Fried rice! I just shared the recipe in the new issue of VegNews.

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

That’s a hard one! I’ll have to get back to you on that.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

Under-seasoning food is the biggest mistake I see. Vegan food should have tons of flavor, and texture and color too. Don’t be afraid to really season your food with layers of spices and fresh and dried herbs, as well as lots of colorful vegetables. Also, a little salt and oil go a long way in flavoring food.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

I am loving the last of the summer corn, peaches, and tomatoes. It’s hard to see the summer fruit and veggie season come to an end. As for ingredients I always try to have on hand, there are lots! There’s nutritional yeast flakes, chickpea flour, a variety of gluten-free flours, smoked paprika, granulated onion and garlic, zucchini, fresh garlic, onions, tomatoes, scallions, lemons and limes, broccoli and red cabbage. I know I’m missing some, but that’s a good start.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Again, so hard to choose, but Korean, Mexican, and Italian, followed closely by Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indian. I really love spicy, bold flavors, as you can see.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path?

My friend Heather for sure! She really inspired me to go vegan when I was first vegetarian. Also
Tanya Petrovna, who shared her delicious recipes and let me assist her cooking classes years ago, when I was a vegetarian chef. And Bryanna Clark Grogan, who inspired me with all of her amazing recipes, and did a 3-day cooking intensive with me in her kitchen!

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

There are so many important issues to focus on now that need our attention, so it’s really hard to pick just one issue. But, that said, dog rescue is something very close to my heart. I became involved with
One Tail at a Time – Portland, which is doing amazing work, including setting up a hospice program for old and sick dogs, and creating a short-term fostering program for those that are hospitalized and have no one to take care of their dogs while they’re away. There is also a huge need for fostering dogs as well as adopting. I wish I could foster all the dogs in need.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…”


Friday, September 8, 2017

Guide for New Vegans: Update!

Hi, all!

Just a quick note to say this this week's update is a new chapter in an ambitious project we've been working on, The Guide for New Vegans. One thing I have noticed is that there are many vegan starter kits that help people learn about the "whys" of veganism as well as some of the "hows" but there is a dearth of materials available to help people who are already on the path but who, in those new months, are facing challenges. Without materials addressing the challenges, what we are doing is asking people to consider going vegan but not setting them up for success.

People often struggle, sometimes in silence, when they face challenges with their new vegan path and think that they lack the character, the willpower or whatever else to successfully maintain a vegan transition so they quit. We created the Guide as a user-friendly way to help people navigate the often steep learning curve of the first year, from listing free or inexpensive resources available to discussing how to find community as a vegan and everything in between, trying to keep it succinct but genuinely helpful. As a living document, we will be adding new sections and resources as we think of them and learn of them. As more people are exploring veganism with popular new films and books out that promote it, we feel this resource couldn't come at a better time.  If you've not seen it before, please check out the Guide and send me an email with any materials we should consider adding. If you have seen it before, please check out Chapter Five, our newest chapter and perhaps the most important, on "Staying Strong Against Social Pressure and Gaining Resilience as a Vegan," which is, to my mind, the biggest challenge new vegans face. We also have new links up on Chapter 2 and Chapter 7 as well as revisions throughout.

We are proud of this resource. We'd love it if you would share it as the feedback we've gotten on it has been very positive. Last, if you'd like to support the work we do as Vegan Street to create free materials like the Guide as well as all the recipes, memes and other content we create every week, please consider signing up as a Patreon, which affords us the ability to dedicate our time to creating this work.

Thank you!

PS - It will be available as a PDF soon. :)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

20 Reasons Not to Go Vegan


There are many valid reasons to go vegan but probably as many misguided ones. Don’t misunderstand, I am happy for anyone who quits eating animals, but the main thing is that I want it to last. When people are motivated by reasons beyond than their perceived personal gains, in my opinion, veganism has the greatest likelihood of lasting, which is not to say that all the benefits shouldn’t be appreciated.

When people “go vegan” for reasons that are more outwardly directed or in pursuit of something that a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily guarantee, they are susceptible to becoming the disgruntled “former vegans” I talk to all the time. While people are driven by a variety of motivating sources, I think it’s important to remember that veganism is at its foundation a way of living that seeks to reduce cruelty and make the world more just, equitable and sustainable. Does that mean that you are an inauthentic vegan if you’re primarily motivated by something else? Not at all. It just means that there are some very bogus reasons and if you want veganism to stick, rooting your veganism in ethics will provide a more stable foundation.

With that, I offer twenty reasons not to go vegan.

1. You want to be skinny.

2. You’re feeling inspired by a celebrity who was paleo just last week.

3. You want to impress someone, especially a romantic interest/partner.

4. You want to rebel against someone, especially a parent/relative.

5. You thought it would be a fun challenge, kind of an endurance feat.

6. You’ve heard good things about being gluten-free.

7. The most popular kid in school/at the office is vegan.

8. You haven’t gotten attention for a while.

9. You saw a picture of a vegan Instagram celebrity with washboard abs so…

10. It was either that or try paleo again.

11. You think veganism might help you live forever.

12. You think veganism might help you never get sick.

13. You think veganism might help you look 20 years younger.

14. Maybe this will be your ticket to making six figures as an influencer after all.

15. Alkaline something-something? Something about alkaline?

16. You saw a David Wolfe meme.

17. You’re bored.

18. Blood type something-something? Something about blood type?

19. You’ve been wanting to go on a cleanse.

20. It’s trending.

So forget those twenty reasons because this is the only reason you need to go vegan: Because you don’t believe animals should be exploited, suffer and be killed for your fleeting desires and the fact that you can help to improve the environment as well as prospects for future generations and enjoy some health benefits at the same time is just the icing on the cake.

If you are vegan for one of the other reasons listed above, don’t fret! Just build a stronger foundation underneath it if you want it to stick.