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The Power of a Vegan Community, by Lita Dwight, VLCE

Nearly eight months ago I embarked on a journey with 12 other individuals determined to change the lives of animals by becoming vegan lifestyle coaches and educators (VLCE) through Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan Academy. Little did I know at the time, the power this group would have to exponentially impact my singular efforts to positively impact the lives of countless animals.

In 2014, I decided to start a corporate wellness practice rooted in a desire to help people make better nutritional choices. In that pursuit, it was an otherwise benign documentary about the experience of three individuals experimenting with a vegan diet called Vegucated that brought me to veganism. But it wasn’t the improvement in the participants’ vital signs, the joy they experienced losing weight, or even the fact that they were able to get off of their diabetes medications that moved me most it was the experience of a tiny nameless piglet being “processed” to enter the food industry under miserable conditions foreclosing the possibility of his (or her) ever experiencing what it truly would be like to live the life of a pig. It was at that moment that I internalized all of her pain and the pain of the millions of animals who experience a similar fate. And on that day, after watching Vegucated, I became a vegan.

Shortly after that epiphany, I decided to form a company that would help those transitioning from animal-based foods to a vegan diet by offering non-dairy equivalents of popular dairy foods such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. I had heard that dairy and, in particular, cheese, was one of the common obstacles for non-vegans who wish to make the switch. And so Bryt Life Foods was born, but given that I had no background whatsoever in the food industry, I knew I would need help.

With the intention of learning from others in the vegan community who were expressing veganism in their own unique ways, I signed up for MSVA and this decision would alter my vegan path forever. [Read more…]

Livestock on the Open Range: What’s Wildlife Got to Do With It? by Jennifer Gannett, VLCE

Many become vegan for ethical reasons, connecting animal sentience with the billions of animals slaughtered for human meals. While we are more aware of the environmental devastation wrought by intensive animal agriculture, few of us know about another tragedy related to animal agriculture: the widespread killing of animals who threaten ranchers’ livestock. A federal government program called Wildlife Services is killing millions of wild animals every year for this reason.

What is Wildlife Services?

Wildlife Services is a program of the United States Department of Agriculture. It is mandated to perform a wide variety of work, including reducing rabies, controlling or killing birds near airports, and monitoring wildlife diseases. Wildlife Services carries out these programs nationwide.

How Wildlife Services Works in Conjunction with Agricultural Interests to Kill Wildlife

When livestock on the open range — predominantly cattle and sheep — are killed by a wild predator, ranchers may contact Wildlife Services to protect their animal agriculture interests. Ranchers see predators as a direct threat to their livelihood and many have frankly stated that their animals graze and give birth on the open range because getting adequate hay and other resources into a protected area would impact their bottom line. Wildlife Services has broad discretion to determine how a ranched animal was killed and may then find and kill the predator(s) believed responsible.

Wildlife Services uses a variety of methods to remove (kill) the predator(s) including poisoning, trapping and aerial gunning, where animals are shot from the air as a helicopter or small plane gives chase. This was the fate of a wolf family in Oregon as recently as March 2016 due to what was characterized as their “chronic livestock depredation.”[1] The patriarch, OR 4, was well known to wildlife biologists and nature lovers. Radio collared for many of his 10 years, OR 4 was considered old for a wild wolf and his many offspring are believed to be a large part of a strong wolf recovery in Oregon. His mate, who was also shot, was known as Limpy, due to a poorly healed leg injury; she may have been pregnant.

Ranchers put their animals in a very vulnerable position by letting them give birth and live on open rangeland which is habitat for wild predators such as wolves, coyote, bears, big cats, and birds of prey. Predators are attracted to prey animals in or near their territory. Is it right for us to subsidize the killing of wild species in order to protect animals that are going to be eventually rounded up, slaughtered, and eaten by humans? I invite you to ask why ranchers are passing on to taxpayers the costs of fully protecting their animals.

But That’s Not All… [Read more…]

Movement as Spiritual Practice, by Victoria Moran

We see it in Michelangelo’s David, in da Vinci’s anatomical sketches, and in Indian and Tibetan renderings of enlightened beings: the persistent concept that strength and beauty are part of the divine design of the human form. The sedentary lifestyle that’s so easy to live in the western world, circa 21st century, can make this seem like an impossible ideal, but it doesn’t have to be. The first step in reclaiming it is to appreciate your body as it is this minute, and trust its God-given ability to gain fitness, grace and elegance at any age.

A growing collection of research tells us that this doesn’t take a great leap of faith, but it probably will take some time at the gym. One US/Canadian study looked at the effects of twice-weekly strength training on healthy senior volunteers with an average age of 70. Before the weight-lifting program, the older adults were 59% weaker than the younger controls, but after only six months they’d narrowed the gap to 38%.

A temple of the spirit

We know that, at any age, the body requires cardiovascular exercise (continuous movement, such as walking or running within your “training heart rate” range), resistance exercise (weight training), and stretching to maintain flexibility. Current recommendations suggest doing cardio at least four times a week for a minimum of half an hour, full-body weight training two days a week (with rest days in between), and stretching after every exercise session. (One or two yoga classes a week will give you even more flexibility.) Fitting these into your life can be a spiritual commitment as well as a healthy discipline when you:

  • Look at regular exercise as a sacred trust. The body is a gift to care for, and it was engineered to move. In his classic, Invitation to a Great Experiment (the experiment is to achieve an experiential knowledge of God), author Thomas Powers tells readers to arise an hour earlier in the morning to be sure there’s ample time for prayer, spiritual study and physical exercise.

great experiment

  • Explore those types of exercise that have an inner component. In addition to yoga, tai chi and sacred dance, innovative programs that invite students to go within and find the metaphysical underpinnings of physical activity are cropping up around the country. “The soul can only be present when body and spirit are one,” says Gabrielle Roth, author of Sweat Your Prayers: Movement as Spiritual Practice. Roth and her son, Jonathan Horan, founded New Vibration Wave, an exercise program in New York City where prayer and panting are part of the workout.

sweat your prayers

  • Include your spiritual self in the exercise you do already. You can recite affirmations—“I’m healthy and strong,” or “Thy will be done”—while you’re on the treadmill; or you can walk or ride your bike outside with the commitment to see God’s handiwork wherever you look.

Exercise and your inner self [Read more…]

How Do Others Feel About Having Vegans in Their Lives? by Jennifer Gannett, VLCE

Our friends and family influence a broad spectrum of decisions we make. I am always interested in seeing articles like the one my colleague Shoshanna wrote recently [http://mainstreetvegan.net/creating-the-community-you-crave-by-shoshana-frishberg-izzo/], discussing the value of finding a supportive, like-minded community after becoming vegan or adopting a plant-based lifestyle. Support is so important.

However, I often think about the flip side: many of us have a cherished community that has little or nothing to do with veganism. Our friends may not be interested in making veganism a part of that relationship, yet it inevitably has an influence. Many people cite real or perceived inconveniences as reasons they feel they are unable to adopt or maintain a vegan lifestyle; as we know, issues around food with friends and family arise regularly. I wanted to explore the perspective of the folks in my community to see how my veganism was influencing our relationships, so I asked them to answer a few questions. I spoke with a smattering of friends, including my partner. I very much enjoyed reading their responses and hearing their thoughtful replies.

I started with a question about whether the respondent had known me prior to becoming a vegan and, if so, if they’d experienced a change in our dynamic. The answers varied but the overarching takeaway seemed to be “Not really.” A college friend responded, “Pre-vegan Jen was basically vegetarian Jen. Jen’s lifestyle is a guiding principle that seems to really help her live a good life.”

My partner responded, “I think that pre-vegan Jen and vegan Jen are about the same, but there’s a little less chance for shared serendipity (in the case of Serendipity [famous NYC ice cream parlor], literally!) because there are just fewer carefree options. You usually can’t just pop into a bakery or ice cream store or whatever; you have to know where the vegan joint is and plan for it.” (And he does bear witness, and aid in, the planning!)

My college roommate had an insightful way of putting it when she said, “We all had poor habits in college and have evolved in different ways.” So true, on so many levels! [Read more…]

Tips for Maintaining Vegan Lifestyle Choices, by Heather Swick, VLCE

When I started my vegan journey in May of 2012 I was determined to live a more compassionate and sustainable lifestyle and show my family and friends that anything they could eat, I could eat vegan. I took on the task of showing my friends and family that it is possible to create wonderful meals that are vegan. I wanted to educate my family and friends that I would not live a life of deprivation or starvation but rather quite the opposite—a life of good health, compassion, vibrancy, and flavor. And that is what I set out to do.

As my vegan journey continued anytime that I wanted to eat something that I would normally have had in my old lifestyle, I made it a point to stop myself and put in the time needed to find the vegan equivalent. For example, if I was looking for ice cream, I would have some coconut based or soy based ice cream found at my local grocers. For me, this thinking, of “anything you can eat, I can buy/have/find/bake/cook vegan” really worked for me. There was never a time that I felt deprived, but rather empowered, to create the vegan equivalent needed to sustain and maintain my health and lifestyle choice.

Whether you are in search of tips for yourself, or family and friends, below are some helpful ways to successfully navigate your new lifestyle and help reduce the urge to eat non-vegan or old-lifestyle food choices. [Read more…]

How the Love of a Dog Guided Me to Veganism, by Colleen Hope Diaz, VLCE

colleen 1In 2003 a very sick dog came into my life. My partner at the time brought her home from the ER vet hospital where she worked. We named her Savannah Shea. She weighed in at under half a pound, was malnourished, had heart worms and hydrocephalus. In the beginning she had seizures often but always bounced back quickly. She grew to just over three pounds, was fierce and feisty and loved everyone she met. She taught me so much about courage and living life in the moment. Savannah was my biggest joy, my muse. My partner and I split up in 2009 but Savannah remained in both of our lives. On August 30, 2012 I got the phone call that would change my life. Savannah had been attacked by 2 large dogs and didn’t survive. My girlfriend drove me to the ER and the vet tech brought me into a room to let me hold her. I sobbed and told her I was sorry. I told her I would make her proud. As the days went by I sunk into a deep depression. My muse was gone and I was devastated and lost. What exactly was I doing with my life to make her proud? When I looked in the mirror I felt that I was a disappointment to Savannah. [Read more…]

From Here to Vegan – at Your Own Pace, Adapted from Main Street Vegan, © 2012 Victoria Moran

Sometimes, the thought of going vegan just plain scares people. It can seem complicated. Impractical. Exotic, but not in a good way. In reality, however, you’ve eaten vegan food every day of your life (unless you were ever on Atkins and consumed only roast beef and hard-boiled eggs until your best friend told you, in confidence, that you were starting to smell funny).

In the current, ever enlightening era, going vegan on the spot is a kind of positive epidemic. Somebody will see a video about the conditions on factory farms or in slaughterhouses, or catch a documentary about the near-miraculous health benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and voilà! Instant vegan. This is great if you can do it – and stay with it, but you don’t help anybody by being an overnight sensation and burning out in a month. For you there is:

The One-Day-at-a-Time Plan

Alcoholics put down the bottle one day at a time, and you can dispense with animal foods (and most processed foods, too, if you’re willing) the same way. All you have to do is eat foods from the plant kingdom for this day’s meals and snacks, and you’re good. You don’t have to worry about your sister’s wedding next June, your company’s Labor Day barbecue, or what you’ll eat if you ever go to Argentina. Today, you’re enjoying a plant-based diet. And this is the only day there is.

here to vegan 1

The One-Thing-at-a-Time Plan

A lot of people feel comfortable in cutting out red meat first, then other meat, then fish, then eggs, and finally dairy products. I can’t fault the system: it was, with some trips and starts, the one I used. If I were making the change today and opted for this plan, however, I’d eliminate chicken first, red meat later, simply because it means fewer deaths. Cattle are large, and one death makes a lot of meals; chickens are small and one death doesn’t make many nuggets.

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The Vegan-at-Home Plan [Read more…]

Historic Heroes, by The Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, VCLE

The Rev. Sylvester Graham

graham
Sylvester Graham, probably best known today for the Graham Cracker, is a historic forerunner to the modern day vegan health movement. Graham was vegetarian but I cannot help but believe if he lived today his message would be vegan.

Graham was born in 1794 and, after a sickly start to life, would eventually go into the ministry. He followed in the clerical footsteps of his father, the Rev. John Graham, and other men in his family. Sylvester was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1826. His parish ministry would be relatively short lived but in it he developed his ideas related to health.

Rev. Graham believed animal flesh, alcohol, and spices led to lust. People, Graham believed, should eat a relatively bland diet in order to lull sexual urges but, just as importantly, for better health. Animal flesh, Graham recognized, made one sluggish. It was difficult to digest and was poor in nutrient value. He encouraged people to greatly increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Graham also focused on bread. The bread of his day was becoming very commercialized. Nutrients were being taken out of bread in order to make it whiter; fewer people were baking bread at home, and they were instead purchasing it from bakeries. He felt so strongly about this he wrote a book titled Treatise on Bread and Bread Making emphasizing coarse, whole-wheat bread made at home.

His ideas on bread eventually led to the conception of the Graham Cracker which could be eaten easily when homemade bread was not available. It should be noted the cracker Graham recommended was much like his bread, made from coarse grain and without a great deal of taste. The good reverend would not endorse the cracker that uses his name available for purchase in stores today. Nor would he, it is safe to say, approve of s’mores – whether vegan or not. [Read more…]

Creating the Community You Crave, by Shoshana Frishberg-Izzo, VLCE

Pic1When I went vegetarian in 2006, and my mom became vegan later that year, I thought she was radical and extreme. Over the years I began to listen more, to hear more of what the truth was behind eggs & dairy, and I desired to make the switch. However, as a Jewtalian, I felt obliged to keep dairy in my diet. It was such a staple of both cultures, how could I not? So I spent about 18 months in in NYC living amongst a thriving vegan community, attending their events, supporting their causes, even being invited to participate in art shows & fundraisers as an ally. I went fully vegan in the Spring of 2012, and I was so grateful to already have a community laid at my feet, because of the people my mom had introduced me to, and because of all of the tolerant, patient vegans I’d gotten to know who invited me into their world before I even knew it was mine too.

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There’s been a strange shift I’ve noticed over the past year, where it’s become almost common practice to shame other activists for their methods, especially if they are tolerant to non-vegans. What’s so difficult for me to wrap my head around is that veganism is about compassion and giving all living beings the equal respect that we all deserve. So instead of shutting myself off from every single Facebook group, or becoming the shaming vegan myself, I decided to do something about it. I began searching for like-minded individuals who were as passionate about activism as they were building real friendships.

Pic3

Many of us in the NYC boroughs have found a home at VSPOT Organic in the East Village, where fundraisers & vegan events are hosted on a regular basis. Through the common ground of loving their food & the Cheers-like atmosphere, an all-vegan market has sprouted, a home for vegan cooking competitions has developed, and we all get amped for the parties they throw for nearly every holiday. I have found my people, and we are continuing to grow our community through events like the market, where we seek out people running the types of businesses & nonprofits that we believe in, to help give them a platform to be noticed, but also to have a reason for us all to gather in a room on a (somewhat) regular basis, and spend time with people who over time are coming to feel like family. [Read more…]

Dearth, by Carlo Giardina, VLCE

You Vegan, Bro?

I have both good news and bad news for my fellow vegans. The good news is that the population of vegan men continues to rise and there are probably more plant-based eating fellows than you think. The bad news is that I’m writing this piece because there’s still a dearth of vegan men and the gap between genders is wide. According to Huffington Post, women make up about 79% of the vegan population and guys are lagging at 21%. Interestingly, vegetarians are split between 59% women and 41% men. So, what gives? Are men inherently thoughtless brutes, who think with their stomachs and not with their hearts? Are guys hardwired to eat meat? Are boys just being boys?

Many feel that the underlying reason why men can’t shake off their meat fixation is machismo. And although machismo can be a factor for some men’s choice to never give veganism so much as a thought, it’s not the reason. Not by a longshot. Blaming the social prison of macho culture that we men have cultivated would be a lazy explanation that doesn’t have the data to back it up. After all, there are many kind and compassionate non-macho men who are not vegan as well. And most vegans, both men and women, were non-vegans at some point in their lives, further illustrating my point. [Read more…]