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vegan anniversaryAs of this week, I’ve now been vegan for nine years! In late August 2005, I transitioned from being vegetarian (I’d gone veg at age 12), to being fully vegan. (Note: You can read more about my transition to veganism and the ethical, emotional and spiritual reasons behind it in my essay in Defiant Daughters).

This morning, reflecting on my veganism, I decided to put together a list of nine things I’ve learned since going vegan nine years ago:

1. Going vegan means becoming part of a very special community of human animals.

When I first went vegan, I was an assistant counselor teaching sailing at a summer camp on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I was surrounded by hot dogs, burgers, mystery meat, chicken wings…typical stuff they serve at summer camps. I knew one or two other vegetarians, but I didn’t have any vegan friends. It was lonely and confusing to try to navigate going vegan by myself, but as soon as I got to college, I instantly joined vegan communities. It felt amazing to spend time learning from and spending time with other like-minded people. Now, I spend time with other vegans (one of whom is my partner) every day. Over time, this sense of community has only grown, and it’s one of my favorite things about being vegan.

2. The vegan movement still needs a lot of work.

There’s a whole lot of sexism, racism, homophobia, body shaming, and other crap in the vegan movement that shouldn’t be there. I’ve seen it from various perspectives over nine years, and what I’ve come to recognize is that not everyone approaches veganism from the same angle of trying to move away from all forms of oppression. The HSUS “hoofin’ it” hypocrisy is just another example of a mainstream “animal welfare” organization that takes a different approach to veganism than I (and many other vegans) do.

3. Veganism can be really, really easy.

I’ve been surprised by how easy it is to live as a vegan, in every way.  I really don’t think about how to be vegan. It’s so second nature to me, I don’t even remember what it felt like not to be vegan. I understand and empathize with new vegans, or those who struggle to make compassionate choices in our non-vegan world, but to be honest, I really don’t struggle at all anymore. It’s like breathing. I think that’s amazing.

4. Ex-vegans may be difficult to understand, but we have to be compassionate towards them.

I’m learning to be more compassionate towards ex-vegans, including those who find it necessary to broadcast their “change of heart” over social networks, blogs, and sometimes mainstream media. I feel a lot of sadness and grief about those who no longer wish to live their ideals, or whose ideals have somehow changed to condone cruelty and oppression towards other living beings. On some level, it just makes no sense to me. Still, as a vegan movement, we really need to figure out how to stay compassionate towards non-human and human animals, and find ways to keep the door open for any who may one day choose a vegan lifestyle again.

5. Going vegan for health reasons alone usually isn’t enough to keep someone vegan.

I used to work at a raw vegan holistic retreat center, and every week I’d see a new “vegan” who did it by going fully raw or just for the health benefits. A week later, they heard about new health benefits from eating raw goat cheese or some tiny fish ground up into capsules, and they’d jettison their veganism for the latest health trend. True, there’s health benefits associated with removing animal protein from your diet, but if the only reason someone is vegan is health, that probably won’t last long. We need to be honest about the fact that you can be pretty healthy on a non-vegan or vegan diet, so if that’s the determining factor, it’s usually not enough to keep someone eating plant-based for long. As a vegan movement, we’ve got to emphasize health benefits as well as the moral, environmental, and ethical reasons.

6. A lot of people feel threatened by vegans–including vegetarians, pescatarians, paleo folks and so-called meat-eating “environmentalists”.

This is something that surprised me. I try not to push my veganism on anyone, in great part because it isn’t effective, but I won’t hide my values. It’s really hard for me to listen to high-minded talk about being paleo or a meat-eating environmentalist or vegetarian, when I know that these things still contribute to animal suffering. But I’ve also found that a lot of people who fit into the above categories just don’t want to be shown their hypocricies. They feel threatened by veganism, or just not ready to embrace it. It’s weird, but it something we need to recognize and tailor our activism to address.

7. Random people will be very supportive of veganism, even if they’re not vegan, and that’s wonderful.

I’ve been so surprised and humbled by how many people have supported my veganism, even if they aren’t vegan themselves. In my day job, I do marketing for tech startups, and a few weeks ago had lunch with an amazing CEO who suggested we eat at a local vegetarian place for our team’s group lunch meeting. He’s not vegetarian, and I didn’t even know he remembered I was vegan (I may have mentioned it once, but again, it’s like breathing to me, so I don’t even notice anymore when I’m outing myself as veg). I was the only veg person who attended the lunch, but everyone went for it because they wanted to be supportive of my lifestyle. It was incredible, and completely unexpected. My non-vegan family has been also incredibly supportive, as have non-vegan friends. It makes me feel really lucky and grateful.

8. Having a vegan partner is really, really nice.

I know there are amazing vegan-omnivore relationships. I believe it can work, as long as you share other values. Truly, I have no judgement about this. But for me personally, it’s just been so unbelievably nice to have a partner who is vegan. (Side note: You should read her blog!)

9. Being vegan means constantly learning and improving.

lauren Ornelas, Mark Hawthorne, Food Empowerment Project, and others have helped me see that being vegan means constantly improving and learning. It’s not ok to be a vegan who consumes products that perpetuate cruelty towards nonhuman or human animals (like chocolate created through slave labor, or palm oil that contributes to destroying orangutan habitats, for instance). I want to be a better vegan in great part due to those who challenge me to grow. I thank them, and humbly accept that I need to continue researching and learning and adapting my lifestyle to be as compassionate as possible, knowing I won’t be “perfect” but can always strive to do my best.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned since going vegan in the comments.

 

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Linger in Denver

Linger in Denver, CO

Last night was a superb one–not only did Courtney and I move back into our apartment after three weeks away (it was being repaired post-Boulder flood)–but we were also treated to a magical vegan dinner at Linger in Denver, CO with fabulous new friends The Gay Vegans!

I have admired Dan and Mike of The Gay Vegans from afar for a long time, so it was such a treat to get to meet them! I so admire their compassionate approach to vegan activism; kinder, more caring and passionate vegan activists I’ve never found. These guys are also smart, witty, and charming, and Courtney and I had a lovely time trying out one of their favorite vegan-friendly restaurants, Linger. The Gay Vegans have written about Linger before on their fabulous blog, which you can check out here.

Starting with sweet potato waffle fries and a sweet dipping sauce, we elected to split dishes including a delightful seasonal butternut squash salad, dosas, and a unique carrot falafel dish that came with a smoky, cheesy-like sauce. Heavenly! We also enjoyed some incredibly prepared watermelon appetizers with sugared spicy topping.

For dessert, after laughing and sharing stories and getting to know the people behind the blogs (!), we enjoyed tangerine sorbet and a melt-in-your-mouth homemade peanut butter cup dish that kicked store-bought versions to the curb. Linger has a to-live-for location with a great view of Downtown Denver and a sweet rooftop bar. Linger isn’t a vegan restaurant, but they do right by vegan gourmands! I really love when restaurants that aren’t exclusively vegan feature amazing vegan dishes beyond standard veggie burgers and salads! The waitstaff and owner were also really sweet, which is always wonderful. I highly recommend checking out Linger if you’re in the Denver metro area.

It was a truly delicious meal with uncommonly kind and generous vegan rockstars–I can’t believe how much Mike and Dan of The Gay Vegans do for human- and non-human animals, and Courtney and I were so grateful that they took us to this lovely spot as a great introduction to Colorado. I highly suggest checking out Dan and Mike’s blog if you haven’t yet (aka you’ve been living under a rock!) Also, you can read more about causes The Gay Vegans are involved in and care about here.

Incredible butternut squash salad at Linger in Denver with The Gay Vegans Such a treat!

Incredible butternut squash salad at Linger in Denver with The Gay Vegans Such a treat!

Inventive and delicious falafel merged with carrot and spices and a rediculous vegan yoghurt sauce at Linger in Denver!

Inventive and delicious falafel merged with carrot and spices and a ridiculous vegan yoghurt sauce at Linger in Denver!

Chocolate peanut butter cup genius at Linger with The Gay Vegans and Courtney Pool!

Chocolate peanut butter cup genius at Linger with The Gay Vegans and Courtney Pool!

The gorgeous, kind, compassionate, charming and fabulous gay vegans!

Gorgeous, kind, compassionate, charming and fabulous Dan and Mike from The Gay Vegans!

A nice shot of Linger in Denver, CO. Photo via Gridskipper.com

A nice shot of Linger in Denver, CO. Photo via Gridskipper.com

I am so grateful to be settling into life in Boulder, CO after a bit of a rocky start! I look forward to sharing more news and photos from the Front Range! In other news, I’m proud to say Queer Vegan Food was recently featured as a top “Gay Foodie” blog on The Huffington Post! Check it out!

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Gone Home is a new indie story exploration video game.

Gone Home is an indie story exploration video game.

I recently played and beat the new independent video game Gone Home. Set in the 1990s, Gone Home is a story exploration game centering on a young woman who returns home from a year in Europe to find her entire family missing. Sifting through letters, stories, and other artifacts at the house, we learn all about the family and get to solve the mystery of where everybody has gone.

Jane McGonigal, a prominent scholar, author and game expert, has spoken a lot about the potential  for games to make our world a better place. I don’t game very much (ahh, life…how it gets in the way!) but I do strongly believe that games have the potential to offer many benefits both from personal and cultural standpoints.

Gone Home is indeed a remarkable game that offers a truly immersive, empowering and meaningful gameplay experience. Unconventional to the core, it leads with a strong queer narrative and has remarkably gotten mainstream attention and tons of accolades from diverse critics. There’s no guns, no blood, no violence, no scary zombies (maybe a ghost…that’s all I’m sayin’…). There’s just a really sweet queer coming of age tale, a family drama, and tons of awesome 90s relics and riot grrl music.

If this sounds at all intriguing, I highly suggest buying and playing Gone Home and supporting the indie developers who made it (The Fulbright Company), as well as that little part of your heart that’s aching for a truly unique interactive storytelling experience.

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Never Read The Comments On Queer Vegan Food

The infamous “Never Read The Comments” tote bag guest poster Jamie J. Hagen spotted after Vida Vegan Con this year.

Today, Queer Vegan Food readers are in for a major treat: a really amazing guest post by writer/activist and scholar Jamie J. Hagen. I’ve long been a fan of Jamie’s writing and strong feminist-vegan social media presence, and am SO excited that she volunteered to share this personal and important post about the feminist implications of comment sections on online articles and blogs.

Jamie’s discussion is drawn from her experience as an editor of queer lady site  Autostraddle, and other sites. As a speaker at Vida Vegan Con this year, Jamie led a discussion about how to keep comments sections respectful AND maintain healthy discourse. It’s got my wheels spinning; How do online communities enforce respectful commenting while simultaneously encouraging healthy debate?

I’d love to hear what others think about the comments sections in blogs and whether you think Jamie is right that feminist spaces can benefit from a well-enforced comments policy. Her great questions allow us to consider our own experiences with comments sections, and I’d encourage anyone who feels moved to share to do so.

And now, the post you’ve been waiting for… ~ Sarah

Why I Read The Comments: A Feminist Argument For The Value Of An Engaged Comment Community

By: Jamie J. Hagen

As a freelance writer I’ve received incredibly adamant advice to read the comments. I’ve also received incredibly adamant advice not to read the comments. The worth in responding to comments is a somewhat contentious and confused topic, often overshadowing the potential value of an engaged comment community.

During my time as a Contributing Editor to the girl-on-girl culture website Autostraddle I became a big fan of the potential for conversation and community in the comment space. As a regular writer and reader of the website, I value Autostraddle’s efforts to promote a “safe-space” conversation with a well thought out comment policy.

Their comment policy begins, “We have really funny readers, and we love getting to know you and hearing your opinions. Dialogue with readers is so important to us, in fact, that we are working hard to make sure that Autostraddle remains a safe place for discussion as we get bigger and better.”

Covered in their policy are issues such as bad faith, fat phobia, and trans* inclusion and this has led to many constructive, fun, lively conversations moderated by Autostraddle community moderators. Further vegan, queer food for thought: Some of the members of Autostraddle’s comment community became best friends and even lovers during Autostraddle sponsored events and other offline venues. Some readers aren’t out as queer anywhere but online. Some readers don’t find support for their thoughts and feelings as queers anywhere but on online. Knowing the editors, writers and the comment community are all invested in creating a space to support queer readers who may not find that type of support anywhere else is constantly lauded by many community members.

When writing for other websites I seek to bring this same ethic in responding to the comments. For example, while writing for PolicyMic.com it was made clear that promoting our pieces by engaging with the commenters was encouraged, essentially required, to be a successful writer for the site geared towards a millennial crowd working to create a bi-partisan political dialogue.

From the perspective of someone who has been involved in Autostraddle and other feminist comment spaces I pitched the “Comments Are Your Friend” workshop for the vegan blogging conference Vida Vegan Con II conference in May of this year. As I imagined the workshop, it would offer a space to create a conversation about whether people read the comments, why or why not, and how we can make sure we participate in self-care when writing and commenting about the personal as political. Only after learning I’d be welcomed to host the comment conversation at Vida Vegan Con II did I discover the “Never Read the Comments” tote for sale at Portland‘s vegan grocery story Food Fight – so there‘s that!

At the workshop I opened the conversation for all to share their experiences with comments. Many attendees spoke to the difficulty of discussing vegan politics on personal spaces such as Facebook, but agreed there was a valuable opportunity to educate readers on the web about veganism by simply responding with a non-judgmental factual comment when possible. Attempting to change the minds of those trolling websites to get a rise out of writers certainly seems a fools errand, but a well-articulated comment left in response to a nasty or confrontational comment may reach dozens or even hundreds of readers.

Jamie Hagen and Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel At Vida Vegan Con Conference

Jamie Hagen, Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel and panel participants at Vida Vegan Con Conference

It’s hard to ignore the impact of gender-based and homophobic attacks endured by female and queer writers online. The recent campaigns by Facebook and Twitter to address violent and repetitive rape threats and the posting of rape videos on their networks speaks to the extent of the problem. Because of this reality, I feel those of us with the ability to build and structure a more feminist space in a blog’s comment community should consider and explore taking the time to do so.

Writing about queer politics, vegan politics or any other ethically charged topic can lead to some difficult and exhausting conversations. Creating a valuable comment space requires work, a well-developed comment policy and the ability to enforce it.  Whether a writer chooses to read or engage with the comment community will vary on context, time commitment to community building and meeting the needs of her own self-care.

Do you have experience engaging with constructive conversation in your comment space? If not, do you think a comment policy and more active engagement from regular readers and writers could shift the tone of a comment space?

Jamie Hagen

Jamie J. Hagen is a writer and doctoral student of Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts, Boston with a focus on gender and feminist security studies. As a freelance writer Hagen has covered queer and vegan politics, news, and culture for publications such as RollingStone.com, One Green Planet and Autostraddle

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I did a fun interview with the wonderful Vance Lehmkuhl of VegCast. We chatted about veganism, Philly, and The Queer Vegan Food Cookbook.

Mentions: Defiant Daughters Carol Adams Ashley Maier Food Empowerment Project lauren Ornelas Hip City Veg Vedge Restaurant Nicole Marquis and more . . .

Listen: http://www.vegcast.com/vegcast114.mp3

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ErinRed1

Amazing vegan activist/radio host Erin Red and her entertainment co-host Laura Yaz invited me to do a guest appearance on the radio show Erin Red Radio to cover the recent controversy surrounding Ellen DeGeneres and “happy eggs”. It was a great discussion (my interview starts about 1 hour in) and a great show. I was honored to participate and invite you to check it out!

photo-full

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Greetings, Queer Vegan Food readers! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Ellen Degeneres egg posts. The discussions have been enlightening and I think very useful in figuring out how our vegan movement needs to address the backyard egg movement.

Today, I am beyond excited to post this article written by guest blogger Jessica Zafonte! In this guest blog, Jessica calls attention to unique queer-vegan issues within the gay parenting-themed American television series “The New Normal,” which airs on NBC and is co-produced by openly gay Ryan Murphy and out lesbian Ali Adler (both of whom also work on the series Glee, another LGBTQ-themed show). Jessica calls attention to how animal welfare is portrayed in this series, and her discussion about the show’s portrayal of how the privileged gay characters (both of whom are wealthy, male, and able-bodied) relate with animal welfare concerns on the television series is excellent and needed. LGBTQ issues and animal welfare issues are inextricably linked.

Jessica asks us to consider why an opportunity to showcase a meaningful connection between oppression against animals and LGBTQ folks was squandered when the television series made a muck of the topic of animal welfare during a recent episode. Jessica wonders if the show’s creators fear that in order to portray gay themes to mainstream audiences, they cannot simultaneously work against oppression of other groups (or even, I would add, non-privileged gay groups)?

I invite you to read Jessica’s fascinating, well-written and insightful post, and to leave a comment and share your thoughts on her post and this topic:

Guest Post: “The New Normal” TV Show’s Attitude About Food Animals

By Jessica Zafonte

the-new-normal-utah-new-home__oPt

I know that in order for our society to awaken to the cruelty and injustice behind raising and killing animals for food and for our culture’s consumption to move towards a more compassionate diet, the topic will need to enter the public discourse and become a mainstream debate. However, as I’m sure many of you can understand, currently when the mainstream media address any animal issues they are usually frighteningly misinformed and one-sided. I often wish that a given newspaper article/news segment/ TV show just chose to ignore the subject rather than address it in such a biased or unhelpful way. But I think it is important to remember that before any societal norm can change, it has to be discussed by those on both sides of the issue. It might seem like things are getting worse before they can get better.

This topic came to mind after watching the Thanksgiving Episode of NBC’s new show, “The New Normal.” For those of you not familiar, the show is based around a gay couple who hire a surrogate to carry their child. The antagonist of the show is the uber-conservative, angry, homophobic, racist, etc. grandmother of the surrogate mom. Although the show is cheesy and gets most of its laughs from playing off of stereotypes, it does promote a progressive and pro-gay rights message. When I read the synopsis on a recent episode on Hulu though my heart sunk. It stated that upon going to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, two of the main characters decide instead to rescue all of the turkeys at the farm. Sounds like a good thing, no? But I knew it was too good to be true. Sure enough, while the “pardoning” of all the turkeys motivates the characters to initially acknowledge that Thanksgiving is about peace, compassion, and forgiveness, they ultimately regress to their old ways of thinking about these animals.

TheNewNormalseason1e09

Characters on “The New Normal” prepare for a dinner party.

The more flamboyant half of the gay couple takes the daughter of the surrogate (don’t get bogged down in the details) to an organic farm where they can buy a “hormone-free, antibiotic-free” turkey. (Since the surrogate is pregnant of course, otherwise it would be perfectly fine to put these sorts of additives into the human body). They are then horrified when the farmer tells them to pick their turkey and that he will kill it right in front of them (as the camera zooms into a bloody tree stump and axe). The duo is horrified – it was their understanding that they’d be buying something already killed and wrapped up- something that didn’t look like the living thing it was! Yes, I like this! Demonstrating the disconnect between living animals and the food we eat! Upon returning home, with the rescued living turkeys in tow, the closed-minded grandma, known for her offensive and ignorant lines, is appalled that the family won’t be eating turkey for their holiday meal, insisting that “meat is American” and that “vegetables are for poor people.” At this point I’m really excited.

tofurkeyThis seemed like it was turning out to be a humorous commentary on what is now a growing awareness of the harm and unhealthiness behind animal agriculture! The character making these ridiculous statements is the one that always says the things that are “wrong” and “non-progressive,” after all. But, to my great disappointment, it was all downhill from there. After numerous comments about how stupid and dirty the turkeys are, the family sits down to their tofurkey dinner and then proceeds to be so revolted by the meat substitute that they all simultaneously spit it out onto their plates. Cut to the last scene where the little girl goes off to school and the mother snickers at the turkeys and tells them they will make a “delicious Christmas meal.” End scene. Heart drops. Blood pressure rises. So even a show that attempts to convey an important message of compassion and tolerance to a wide audience, which inevitably includes many prejudiced or closed-minded folks, just cannot extend this kindness and acceptance to animals?

Gays have been oppressed, marginalized, and physically and emotionally attacked throughout history – but I think we all derive hope from the fact that the public sentiment is finally changing. Yet the show proceeded to focus this same cruel and unjust treatment on living, breathing, feeling animals. Even the characters who were undeniably created by the show’s writers to stand for acceptance of an “alternative” lifestyle, tolerance of those difference from us, and compassion towards those we may not understand, acted inconsistently with their own moral fibers.

I often feel similarly after receiving google alerts that I set up for the words “vegan,” “animal rights” and “animal welfare.” Some of the articles that they lead me to are from inside the animal agriculture industry, where the authors bash animal activists for being extremist. One such article said something to the effect that only farmers know what is truly best for their animals, not animal activists. After my blood stopped boiling I began to think that maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing. First, Big Ag is getting scared of those on the side of animal welfare. If we weren’t a threat to the way they run their businesses (aka torture animals) then they would not be discussing this in the first place. (See this somewhat encouraging article in “Alfa Farmers,” acknowledging that the animal rights movement includes some “very influential people,” are “well-funded” and worries that “in the future, will one out of five people be vegans?” And that they cannot “underestimate our society’s ability to change.”). Second, the more publicity a topic is given, the greater chance that someone who has not yet made his/her mind up on the issue or even though about it, will begin to. Change doesn’t happen before discussion and a fight. Just like that famous Mahatma Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I think right now our movement is somewhere in between the” laughing at you” and “fighting you” stage.3950908873_when_you_are_right_you_cannot_be_too_radical_design_answer_3_xlarge

But the underlying question is why the public sentiment on this topic is so negative, even among educated, caring, progressive individuals? Is caring about animals just TOO progressive? Is veganism really that radical? I know that a lot of us tend to live in our vegan bubbles but when we step out of them we realize that many people do see our lifestyles as extreme and our way of thinking as “outside the box,” to put it mildly. But not long ago, a non-heterosexual lifestyle was seen as the exact same way, and still is by many people. The same is true throughout history of our view and treatment of other races and cultures. In today’s age, is having no compassion for and killing/eating animals the great equalizer?

Is this the issue on which conservatives and liberals, gays and straights, blacks and whites can agree on? And if so, why? Is an iteration of the common enemy theory? Do we, as a society, always need to be marginalizing some group in order to function? I don’t think so. I think that the animal agriculture issue is one that most of society is still uneducated about, especially as farm animals become more out of the public eye than ever before, closed behind factory farm doors. So while I sometimes wish that no one would even touch on the food/animal issue if it is going to be done in a misinformed, hypocritical, closed minded way, maybe this is actually the first step.

me and SophieJessica Zafonte is a vegan animal lover and attorney. She worked as a criminal prosecutor in Brooklyn before becoming an associate at a large law firm practicing patent litigation.  Jessica lives in New York City with her boyfriend, three cats rescued off the streets and fifteen mice rescued from a lab.

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