Saturday, March 27, 2010
Interviews: AJ: "I Think, Therefore I'm Vegan"
CYoFC: Describe your current diet/lifestyle (vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, freegan, flexitarian, omnivore with vegan tendencies...etc.).
AJ: Vegan. A no-honey, no exceptions vegan.
CYoCF: For how long have you been vegan?
AJ: I was a pescetarian for 10 years and February 3, 2010 will be my 3 year veganniversary. Typically celebrated with a feast of delicious vegan food. Oh wait, that's every day.
CYoCF: Veganniversary, I love that! What prompted you to become vegan?
AJ: After 10 years of being a fish-eating vegetarian, I started dating my partner, who, at the time, was a real vegetarian. We had both lived in vegetarian/vegan co-ops as undergraduates and knew that being a vegetarian (especially me as a not real vegetarian) was basically pussy-footing around what was basically an issue of oppression and equal rights. We're lesbians so we are perhaps more sensitive than average to these issues and it seemed hypocritical to want an end to oppression of sexual minorities while ignoring other oppressed populations. So we decided to go vegan, postponed it for a bit, gorged ourselves on non-vegan food, then took the plunge. As we started to concurrently educate ourselves about the food industry, we were confirmed in our initial reasons to move towards a compassionate lifestyle.
CYoCF: Right on. Were there any challenges to becoming vegan? What about current challenges or aspects about veganism that you don't like?
AJ: Yes, naturally. I miss being able to get a slice of gooey cheese pizza at Rays Original when I'm home in NYC, I miss bagels and lox with a schmear, and spicy tuna sushi. However, these "sacrifices" are nothing compared to animals unwillingly sacrificing their lives. And in actuality on a day-to-day basis I hardly miss these foods because (and this leads me to my more pressing challenges) there is a great variety of delicious indulgent vegan foods, which people who are not vegan do not realize. I dislike that restaurants are unwilling to provide vegan options on a regular basis (I can cook delectable vegan treats, surely professional chefs can do the same).
I absolutely HATE that when I tell people I'm vegan they tell me all the reasons they are not vegan. An inability to consume sufficient calories to support whatever crazy metabolism you believe you have is a bogus excuse. So is not being able to get enough protein - there are successful vegan body builders, if they can get enough protein, so can you. Additionally, not being able to give up (insert food here) is a similarly bullshit excuse.
You are asking other living beings to be tortured and killed for your lifestyle. That is a fact. You have choices about what you eat and you can make the choice to give up whatever you say you cannot live without. That is another fact. Don't argue with me about it. Don't tell me about it. This is about oppression, this is about power inequality, this is about torture and cruelty. If you support these things and are hell-bent on continuing to support these things, keep it to yourself around me. If you have an open mind and are serious about learning more about farming practices and the food industry, I'm happy to discuss it with you.
CYoCF: You're so clearly passionate about this issue, and it's admirable. Do you plan on remaining vegan? If so, what would you say is the crucial motivating factor for you?
AJ: I have the symbol for "therefore" and the word "vegan" tattooed on my arm (as in "I think, therefore I'm vegan") so yeah I do plan on remaining vegan. I remain vegan because it's the only choice for me in my dedication to a compassionate, cruelty-free, green lifestyle. I cannot ask for an end to my oppression as a lesbian, and a woman, and continue to oppress other living beings. Animals feel fear and pain. The argument that animals are lesser beings or somehow less deserving of equal rights is the same argument that has been used to justify inequality (racial, sexual, gender, ethnic, religious) throughout history.
CYoCF: As a fiercely committed vegan yourself, tell me, why should other people go vegan?
AJ: If you care about the environment, it is the single most important contribution you can make towards protecting the planet. If you care about equal rights among humans, extend that caring to all living beings. Educate yourself, there are plenty of printed and electronic resources. Skinny Bitch is a really accessible (if somewhat blunt) resource.
CYoCF: Do you have any tips or advice for new vegans?
AJ: Keep going! You have made a really important decision for your own health (I haven't even touched on that, but yeah being vegan is much healthier than any other way of eating) and for the health of those around you. Surround yourself with others who support your decision - other vegans! They will cook for you, take you out to other restaurants and continue to affirm your decision and provide you with even more reasons to continue this lifestyle. And continue to educate yourself - the more you know about how animal products are derived the more you will be affirmed that your decision is the best one, really, the only one.
CYoCF: What are your favorite foods?
AJ: PASTA!!! I've always loved pasta, noodles of any kind, and of course it's a good basic for any vegan. Thai noodles, veggie lo mein with tofu, Italian style spaghetti & meatless balls, and Mac n' Cheeze (I'm on a quest to find the best.... Chicago Diner and Soul Veg in Chicago are tied for lead). My partner's vegan nachos are also up there! Veggies of all kind. Anyone who thinks vegan cooking is boring, doesn't know how many crazy veggies are out there and the billion different ways to prepare them all (and add them to noodles).
CYoCF: So much goodness and yet none of these contain cheese, which is commonly a favorite food. Describe what the giving-up-cheese process was like for you.
AJ: The toughest part were two foods that are important to my background as a New York Jew... NY Style Pizza and Bagels and Cream Cheese. I did enjoy cheese before going vegan and I won't lie and say it wasn't hard, but after I learned more about the dairy industry, my decision was affirmed to me. And I found amazing substitutes... avocado and/or hummus on a sandwich can be great instead of a creamy cheese, loading up pizza with veggies and a good soy cheese (Vegan Gourmet is the best I've found) is great and much healthier! and bagels with hummus with tomatoes, onion, capers and some tapenade is a great brunch! These days, I really don't miss it. Yes, I walk past Ray's Original in NYC and it smells gooooood, but then I remember the cute little kosher/vegan place a few blocks away from my parents' in NYC and give my business to them. And honestly, their pizza place smells just as good, if not better!
CYoCF: One last question. Are you getting enough protein?
AJ: More than enough!!! non-animal derived protein is not only more efficient to produce (the same amount of land that produces 1 lb of beef can produce 13 lbs of soy protein), easier to digest and more rich and varied, but it's incredibly easy to get in a diet without thinking too hard. I eat beans in a lot of varieties, tofu in all its incarnations, seitan, tempeh.... the list could go on. This question is my pet peeve and indicates to me that someone knows very very very little about nutrition.
CYoFC: "You need a lot of protein" is a message most Americans hear from early childhood. But what is "a lot?" (Not to mention, how much is actually too much?) And where are the "best" protein sources found? We are often told the answer is meat, but you bring up evidence to the contrary. These are important but rarely discussed points.
AJ is a pro-choice, atheist, vegan, tattooed, lesbian. As she puts it, she is "everything your mother warned you about." She's also the edgy-yet-eloquent author of Queer Vegan Runner.