This summer, we’re doing the Main Street Vegan Academy program, training Vegan Lifestyle Coaches and Educators, online for the first time. We’re on Zoom so classes are live, but not in person in my home in New York City, as was the case for the first twenty-nine courses, starting in 2012. I’m impressed by how “real” the connections can be in this format, and the camaraderie in this diverse group of people from five countries is beautiful. This is taken from the letter I sent the students after our second weekend together, when classes included a couple of heavy ones — Martin Rowe with animal agriculture and the environment, and Dr. Milton Mills on the effects of racism on health.
Even when we’re dealing with tough truths, I kept thinking that we, and all vegans everywhere, can be such lights in the world. During our graduate panel when previously certified Vegan Lifestyle Coaches and Educators shared about their businesses, I noted that two of them have the word “bright” in their titles. We heard from Lita Dwight, VLCE, of Brytlife Foods, vegan cheese and yogurt, based in New York; and from Laura Callan of Bright zine and Bright Store (ethical shopping, coffee shop, and event space in London).
To me, it’s no coincidence that these very different vegan companies would both include in their names such a hopeful word, because that’s really what we’re doing: brightening things up, shedding light on problems, yes, and then coming in with uplifting solutions. When we juxtapose the solutions we provide — a new vegan cheese, a thought-provoking article, an hour with a client helping them learn to cook or shop or feel safe about protein — with the huge problems in the world, they may not look like much, but when you add them all together, their power is astounding.
These bright businesses got me thinking about my own young life. I’d graduated high school at 17, worked for ten months, and made the break to a place that seemed magical, then and now: London. I’d enrolled in a fashion course but didn’t like it. I’d thought it would prepare to be an editor at Vogue magazine, but it was rather about design and garment crafting for which I had no inclination. I stopped going to school and took a volunteer position in the East End, charged with teaching tween girls “poise and grooming.”
At that time, 1968, the East End was the poorest part of London. Heavily bombed during World War II, many areas were still blighted, yet to be rebuilt, and many of the people who lived there never left the neighborhood. I was working with girls eleven, twelve, and thirteen who lived in one of the most magnificent cities on earth, but who had never laid eyes on what any tourist would see in a few days — Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Harrods department store, the Victoria and Albert. So I took it upon myself to be sure that they experienced all these and more. We’d do a cursory lesson on poise and grooming, and I’d load my little group onto an Underground train for exploration of the city. I can still see their eyes and their faces, the wonder of realizing how much magnificence was so nearby, and how much more the world might hold.
One August morning as I walked from the Whitechapel tube station to the community center where our class met, I felt that I was an emissary of something light and bright and good. It was an unusual feeling because my self-esteem was not in great shape. I despised myself for being overweight, having recurrent acne, and difficult hair. I felt ashamed for those parts of my face that showed my Italian heritage, taking on my father’s embarrassment that his parents had come to America with no money or education, and that his mother never learned English. And I further felt “wrong” because of my mother’s roots in rural poverty. Her passion to “rise above her raisin’,” to make something of herself no matter what, was admirable, and yet to me as her child, the intensity of it had been frightening.
That morning in the East End, however, the mortification I often felt for just being who I was, lifted, and I was instead a blessed being, able to show a dozen young women what they might aspire to. In retrospect, I realize I was showing that to myself, as well. This is what all of us do as we live our lives as vegans. We’ve made changes in our lives that have give us clarity and hope and promise. When we can free ourselves from self-doubt and the discouragement that the problems are too huge to tackle, that clarity and hope and promise show in our essence and in the energy we bring to each situation. I say to you as a vegan: even before you do something positive, your mere presence can be something positive.
As we show up to do the work that’s before us, let’s show up bright. We need to take care of ourselves, be well fed, well rested, adequately exercised, and well prayed up (or meditated or chanted or whatever your means of spiritual connection might be). It is incumbent upon us to be thoughtful, taking care before we act or speak or press “send” or “enter.” Let’s not aim to be so heroic that we fail to ask for help when we need it, or to put ourselves first when that’s appropriate, or to allow others to change the world for a time when there is an individual close to us whose world only we can change. As we set high standards for ourselves, can we perhaps give others a bit of slack? We can’t know what someone else has experienced, and if they fail to live up to our ideals, let’s be sure before jumping to criticize that we’re living up to them ourselves. Let’s make a difference by what we do, of course, and, perhaps even more, by who we are, and who we’re able to become.
Victoria Moran is an author, podcaster, and founder and director of Main Street Vegan Academy, training Vegan Lifestyle Coaches and Educators in both MSV-Zoom and MSV-Elite (in person in NYC) iterations. She will teach a public Zoom class, “Zero to Plant-Based in No Time at All” Tuesday, August 4th, 7:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time, and again Saturday, September 19, 11 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time. These are free, but registration is required. She will also host a delightful and productive weekend retreat via Zoom (ticketed) on Saturday and Sunday, September 26 and 27. The topic: “Acing Age with Ayurveda” — and, come on, whatever your age, it never hurts to be a little bit younger.