1) You were raised in Kansas City, Missouri, which at one time had the second largest stockyards, yet you have been vegan for over 30 years. Why did you choose to become vegan?
I’d been fascinated by vegetarians since I first heard that they existed (from my grandmother when I was five) and I went vegetarian at nineteen out of compassion for the animals and also because I’d gotten into yoga and wanted to practice ahimsa, reverence for life. I learned about veganism a year later and read everything the late Jay Dinshah of the American Vegan Society wrote. I hung on every word, but I couldn’t give up my cheese and ice cream and baked goods. (In those days, pizza and pastries didn’t exist. That’s why everybody who went vegan then lost weight and got healthy, but some of us had a very hard time taking the plunge.) Ultimately, after my daughter was born and I wanted to raise her with integrity (not “It’s immoral to take the calf’s milk so we don’t drink it at home, but out at restaurants, we make concessions”), and I stepped, somewhat haltingly, onto the vegan path – at home and everywhere else.
2) In your book Compassion – The Ultimate Ethic; An Explanation of Veganism, first published in 1981-83 as your thesis, you write about the history of veganism in the UK, and refer to the movement as “compassion in action.” Do you think the contemporary animal advocacy movement is honoring this approach? What do you think are our areas of strength and our areas for growth?
I do see the contemporary animal advocacy movement as “compassion in action.” I have so much admiration for people in this movement, their bravery and commitment and the creative ways people come up with to advocate for animals. I know that there are areas of disagreement in the movement, but there’s been an abolitionist/welfarist split as long as I’ve been around – and I was around before the term “animal rights” was coined. In those days, the welfarist position was pretty much that cats and dogs mattered, other animals didn’t count much, bigger cages were a nice enough idea, and you could choose from beef or chicken at the fundraising banquet for the animal shelter. We’re so much closer together now. Those who are called welfarists are animal rights people who want a vegan world but also want to make things better for animals stuck in the system now. And those who won’t settle for anything short of a vegan world have their hearts in the right place too. Every movement for change has had people in both of those camps. As long as we’re sincere in caring about the animals and putting their interests ahead of our own pet philosophy, whatever it might be, I think we’re on the right track.
3) In an interview with Veg News in August 2012, you say that as vegans “We don’t just threaten Big Ag; we threaten Big Pharma by the radical act of being healthy.” Can you talk more about this?
To me, this is one of the most exciting aspects of being vegan: we’re a liberation movement that, when widely adopted, will free even the animal captors from their diet-induced suffering while it liberates the animals. There’s never been a more perfect win-win. And, yes, I totally see that widespread, whole-foods vegan eating will change the health picture in North America and around the world. People are so sick! Almost everyone takes some prescription medication and many people take half a dozen. As we eat really well – keeping those vegan cupcakes to a minimum and focusing on real food – that’s going to change in a societal way, just as so many of us have seen it change in a personal way already. Health care – which is really sickness care – is big business. When our money is going more to the farmers’ market than to the drugstores, there’ll be a lot more health, happiness, and prosperity for regular people.
4) Your writing style is very personable yet directive at times. For example, in Main Street Vegan, you write, “Outgrow your need for milk and everything made from it. This may not be easy, and I’m about to tell you why so I can help you through it.” How have you managed to be successful in telling the truth to the general public without alienating them?
Thanks for saying that. I’m a very flawed person. It took me twelve years to get from vegetarian to vegan and even then, I cheated sometimes. I know what it’s like to be imperfect and to find change daunting. For that reason, I can meet people where they are and not make them feel guilty for being precisely where every experience up to this time has led them to be. On the other hand, I know more than I did thirty years ago about what animals go through. But I see that moving into veganism at the pace that make it last for an individual is okay. I’d far rather have somebody coming this way than saying, “I did that once. It didn’t work. Now I’m Paleo.” It is a fine line, because for a lot of people making this change is still radical, threatening, and frightening. But it’s necessary. I do my best as a writer and speaker to acknowledge that it might be a challenge, but it’s even more necessary.
5) So much of your work around the nonhuman animal issue speaks about compassion. How do you personally deal with the issue of suffering we inflict on nonhuman animals daily?
I focus on doing what I can to alleviate some of the suffering rather than zeroing in on the suffering itself, which is overwhelming and causes me to feel negatively toward humans when, in fact, most of them are victims too. The Ghosts in Our Machine is a beautiful film that reminded me of the depth of the agony that animals are put through, but it did it with so much art and so much heart that I was able to go to that dark place, revisit what I know, and go out with more energy and conviction to make a difference. Other than in a special case like this, however, I don’t go out of my way to witness the horrors. I can’t afford to be depressed, because the way deep sadness shows in my life is stupor, apathy: “It’s all too awful: there’s nothing I can do.” So I don’t go there. I stay enough in the solution that I believe there’s plenty I can do. And then I do it.
Victoria Moran, shown here meetting her rescue dog Forbes in 2012, is the director of Main Street Vegan Academy. This interview was originally published in VegNews.