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Make Your Audience the Hero: Tips for Creating Compelling Presentations, by Carol Morgan Cox, VLCE

Congratulations! Imagine you’re booked to give a presentation at your local VegFest, community event, library, or corporate workshop. You’re excited to share the benefits of veganism, from improved health and wellness to reduction in environmental destruction and non-harming of animals.

If this is your first time giving this presentation, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed and nervous, wondering where to start and how to convey the information (without being preachy). If you’ve given similar presentations before, perhaps you didn’t get the results you had hoped, such as new clients or follow-ups.

The key to creating a compelling presentation that engages the audience is to understand where these people are in their vegan journey and to make them the hero in your presentation.

Superhero Costumes?

What do I mean by hero? Are you supposed to envision the audience dressed up in superhero costumes, as opposed to the oft-cited advice of visualizing them naked (which is just weird)?

Well, not quite.

The Hero’s Journey

If you’ve watched Star Wars or The Matrix or Hunger Games or Harry Potter, you’ve encountered Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey.

Through his research, Campbell discovered that all cultures on the planet, across time and space, have very similar stories and myths. They are how we as humans understand our world, relate to each other, and encode our values into our societies.

In the hero’s journey, the main character (the hero) faces internal and external problems, is confronted with an inciting incident that moves the hero from comfort to discomfort, with no turning back, in order to achieve a final transformation. Along the way, the hero encounters a mentor or guide who provides insights, information, and support.

Here’s the critical part: Your audience is the hero. You are the guide.

hero [Read more…]

Solace for the Vegan Soul, by Jackie Demeri Costello, VLCE

As vegans and people sensitive to the suffering of others regardless of species, we face a unique set of challenges to our sensibilities. A casual stroll through the grocery store, a shoe or clothing boutique, watching a TV show or movie, or even a family holiday gathering can bring stress, sadness, frustration, and a sense of aloneness in a world that is often oblivious to the pain inflicted on the animal kingdom to serve dietary and fashion preferences.

As a poetry therapy practitioner, I work with literature as an instrument of connection and expression. When selecting a poem or other literary piece, a practitioner seeks to find one that accurately mirrors their client’s feelings. There is something uniquely comforting about the power of the written word and its ability to heal our spirits, help us feel we are not alone, and affirm our heartfelt inclinations. Therefore, I was especially moved when I came across a beautiful passage in Milan Kundera’s, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, where the female protagonist watches the cows grazing in the pasture. Her thoughts, as she observes these guileless creatures, form a veritable animal rights manifesto. The essence of the message can be summed up in the following quotation from the novel, though reading the passage in its entirety is veggie soup for the vegan soul:

True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.

[Read more…]

Ayurveda, The Science of Long Life, by Victoria Moran

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing tradition still recognized by the World Health Organization. I learned about it in the mid-1990s and find it more appealing as time passes. It is, after all, the “science of long life.” Ayurveda grew up alongside yoga during India’s Golden Age. It dates back at least 3,000 years, and the oral tradition may be even older. The gist of it all is that we are natural beings and, when we maintain our connection to and cooperation with nature, we maintain health and vitality. Like its homeland, Ayurveda is not strictly vegetarian but is usually so. However, ghee (clarified butter), yogurt, and milk are among the dietary recommendations. A vegan like me with an interest in this simply goes with the motto: “Take what you like and leave the rest.” With this in place, there is a great deal to like.

The altar that greets diners at NYC's Ayurveda Cafe on the Upper West Side.

The altar that greets diners at NYC’s Ayurveda Cafe on the Upper West Side.

Certain Ayurvedic suggestions apply across the board; others are specific to one’s body type, or dosha. Some of the general recommendations are:

  • Be in bed by 10 and rise around 6 a.m. to take advantage of nature’s energies that will assist you in both falling asleep and awakening with energy for the day ahead
  • Upon arising, gently scrape your tongue with a silver or stainless steel tongue scraper to remove ama, metabolic debris, which has accumulated overnight on the tongue
  • Drink 8 to 10 ounces of warm or hot water with a bit of lemon juice or a few drops of edible lemon essential oil (such as Young Living) to encourage a morning bowel movement
  • Learn some classic yoga poses, as well as a few yogic breathing practices, and engage in these every day
  • Meditate daily, or even twice daily
  • Have a modest breakfast before 8:30 a.m.
  • Eat your biggest meal at high noon; this is when your agni, digestive fire, is hottest
  • Eat a light dinner at least three hours prior to your bedtime
  • Get all six tastes — sweet, salty, bitter, pungent, sour, and astringent — in both the midday and evening meal. If you’re unsure you’ve included all of them, use chutney as a condiment; it’s designed to have all six tastes.

It gets more specific when you learn that there are three doshas, or humors, and everyone is predominately one or two of these; a few people are tri-doshic, with almost identical amounts of each dosha. The pattern you were born with is perfect for you. What happens, however, is that we stress ourselves with the wrong food (or too much food), too little sleep (or sleeping at the wrong hours), too much work or exercise (or too little exercise), and emotional stresses of various kinds. This causes one of more dosas to increase within us, perhaps Vata, which is flighty and apt to rise in anyone, whether or not Vata predominates in a particular individual. This increase leads to imbalance and excessive or persistent imbalance leads to disease.

The best dosha quiz I know of is found at, a Deepak Chopra website. (He is also the author of my favorite book on the subject, Perfect Health.) As a brief intro:

This lunch at Ayurveda Health Center, Alachua, Florida, looks like any healthy plant-based meal, but there's meaning behind it. It's a substantial meal, ideal for midday; the dal is spiced to calm flighty Vata dosha, the tempeh and mashed sweet potatoes to pacify irritable Pitta, and the salad to lighten and energize slow-moving Kapha.

This lunch at Ayurveda Health Center, Alachua, Florida, looks like any healthy plant-based meal, but there’s meaning behind it. It’s a substantial meal, ideal for midday; the dal is spiced to calm flighty Vata dosha, the tempeh and mashed sweet potatoes to pacify irritable Pitta, and the salad to lighten and energize slow-moving Kapha.

Vata people tend to be thin, active, and cold. When in balance, they’re creative and curious, when out of balance frightened, nervous, and “spaced out.” Vata ills include digestive and nervous disorders and osteoarthritis. A couple of iconic Vatas: Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.

Pitta folks are apt to be mid-sized, muscular, and the ones in the room asking if someone can open a window. If Caucasian, they tend to have a ruddy complexion, and perhaps red or reddish hair. In balance, Pittas are strong, dependable, strategic quick-thinkers with unparalleled executive ability. Out of balance, they’re angry, rude, and opinionated, and they develop inflammation-based conditions from skin rashes to acid reflex and ulcers. A Pitta in the news: Donald Trump.

Kapha men and women tend to be a bit round and a little fleshy, although they lack the voracious appetite of an unbalanced Pitta or the tendency to snack mindlessly as would a Vata who’s trying to ground herself. Kaphas aren’t crazy about exercise and it’s hard for them to get going in the morning. (Ayurveda generally warns against caffeine, but allows coffee for Kaphas; they can use the boost.) Because Kapha is slow-moving energy, people in whom it predominates are slow to become ill, although an out-of-balance Kapha is prone to respiratory infections, with or without lung involvement, and to obesity-related disorders. Kept in balance, Kapha is apt to remain healthy — and generous, kind, and good-natured — well into old age. A Kapha you recognize: Dr. Deepak Chopra.

Spices aren't just delicious in Ayurvedic cuisine: they're healing. Favorites include ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamom, and onion-y asafetida.

Spices aren’t just delicious in Ayurvedic cuisine: they’re healing. Favorites include ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamom, and onion-y asafetida.

While good health practices are good for everyone, learning your dosha and how to tweak certain foods and habits can be very helpful. For example, Vata tends to be pretty stimulated already; caffeine can put her over the edge. And since she’s already cold, making that an iced coffee would push her even further out of balance. On the other hand, a warm, creamy herbal chai made with almond milk (in Ayurveda, almonds are a specific for Vata) would be very comforting.

Pitta is hot and excitable by nature; a spicy Mexican meal with a few shots of tequila isn’t going to be best for him. However, Pitta can try all the new Ben & Jerry’s vegan flavors and stay as balanced as can be. Kapha is the master of relaxation and will get it whenever he can. Therefore, Kappa needs a bike ride or a hike on Sunday, while jittery Vata or pissed-off Pita might do well with a meditation retreat or spa day.

One easy way to help keep your constitution in balance, without feeling that you have to come up with separate meals to accommodate other family members, is to sprinkle the appropriate spices on your food at the table, the way we traditionally add pepper and salt. Blends called churnas, formulated for each dosha, are available commercially. I order mine from Maharishi Ayurvedic Products in Iowa:

The basics: Basmati rice, chickpeas, veggies, spices -- the dark specks that look like pepper are actually black mustard seeds

The basics: Basmati rice, chickpeas, veggies, spices — the dark specks that look like pepper are actually black mustard seeds

Ayurveda is a lifetime study, but learning even the fundamentals can lead to improved health and an uplifted attitude. If you’re a health counselor or a vegan lifestyle coach, helping your client understand her body type and how to work with it can enable you to be of added value. In March of this year, I took an incredible weeklong training in Ayurveda at the Ayurveda Health Retreat, Alachua, Florida. In addition to learning a lot and meeting really great people, I felt a complete renewal, both physically and spiritually. I plan to return annually for panchakarma, the Ayurveda detoxification program (hint: it involves lots of massages and you don’t have to stop eating). It’s a boutique facility and because I was there, they made everything vegan for the week.

No Ayurvedic program is oil-free, however. The tradition calls for using oils — sesame and coconut are favorites — to bring out both the flavor and the healing properties of spices, and Ayurveda also teaches that for someone whose digestion isn’t strong enough to deal with raw or steamed greens or cabbage-family vegetables, cooking these in oil makes them more digestible. Ayurvedic food suggestions are also not generally compatible with all-raw diets. While Pitta people take well to cold smoothies, and Kaphas thrive on salads and crudités with dip, Vatas may want to confine these foods to summertime only, and in winter, even Pitta may feel the need for oatmeal, butternut squash soup, or rice and dal.

For me, the proof is in the proverbial pudding. When I follow the simple suggestions for overall health and the specifics for my type (I’m a Vata/Pitta), I feel better and can do more. And since I have a lot to do, I’m sticking with what enables me to do that.

Victoria Moran is the author of twelve books including Shelter for the SpiritYounger by the Day, and Fat, Broke & Lonely No More. She is the founder of Main Street Vegan Academy and has probably read Perfect Health fifteen times. She also recommends The Ayurvedic Vegan Cookbook, by Talya Lutzker, a terrific guide for eating Ayurvedically without having to translate out the ghee in every other recipe.



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 [], 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.

here to vegan 2

The Vegan-at-Home Plan [Read more…]