Stephanie and I first met many years ago. Thanks to a small world, and social media, we reconnected a few months back. I'm thankful to her for introducing me to a loving group of animals just waiting for their fur-ever home at the Humane Society of Deer Park/Port Jervis, a place where we both volunteer. She is boldly devoted to animal welfare and it shows through her lifestyle choices and compassionate care for animals in need. She is the real deal and I'm happy to bring her story to you.
Tell me a bit about yourself. What do you do for a living?
I am a high school special education teacher in a private school. My boss encourages students and staff to embrace their passions. As the science teacher this allows me to talk about animal sentience, environmental issues and healthy plant-based diet choices. I also volunteer at my local animal shelter. So I must say please always neuter and spay!
I have a supportive immediately family which includes my partner of 12 years, Andy, and our beautiful daughter, Kayhla. Our furry family includes two rescued dogs: Slugger and Diamond, twice as many rescued cats: Buster, Moe Cha Beanz, Tootsie Roll and Mama Fluff. I thank my parents for instilling in me the importance of lifelong companion animal care. As an only child I was especially close to my animal companions growing up. To this day our animals are not our pets, but cherished members of our multi-species family.
How long have you been a vegan? What made you decide to go vegan?
I became vegan January 1, 2010 at the age of 39, but the process started long before then. As a very young child, I was disturbed to find out animals had to be killed for our food. However, I continued to do as I was told and ate the flesh that what was on my plate. I did not question this practice again until I became a teenager and saw a leaflet about the cruelties of factory farming. This time my Mom, (sorry to call her out, I do love her) told me that these were only very rare, extreme cases used for propaganda. So again I quieted the voice of my young, inner child who knew it was wrong and still continued to eat animals. As a veggie-hating teenager this was not hard to do. Finally at the age of 38, I witnessed a truckload of chickens that were in such horrific conditions that I was completely shaken to my core. At that moment I knew I would never eat sentient animals again. Networking on Facebook educated me to the violence in the egg and diary industries. Ethically, I knew I had to give up some old favorites like ice cream and milk chocolate. Today I do not miss those foods at all. There are great alternatives and like I like to say, nothing tastes as good as being vegan feels.
Do you find it difficult to *be vegan*?
It was harder for me to go vegetarian than vegan, because I never liked vegetables. Once my taste buds changed I actually started to crave vegetables I used to despise. I even enjoy making green smoothies and juicing now.
What is still hard about being vegan is that you see cruelty everywhere you look that you may not have noticed before… from animal by-products in so many products to products that have been needlessly tested on animals. I hear gun shots in the woods and see signs for rodeos and circuses. I cry for the companion animals who are euthanized (though the correct term would be killed) for lack of space. I see people wearing fur and leather. I see other people wearing wool who think it is okay, because the animal is only "getting a haircut." Yet the truth is the sheep in the wool industry suffer terribly.
We are facing the 6th mass extinction of animal and it is the first one caused by the actions of one species- ours. The rainforest is cleared so cattle can graze and be slaughtered for their meat. This is a double edged sword. Less trees means less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is cleared from the environment. These rainforest trees, along with ocean algae, are the lungs of our planet. Furthermore, the cattle’s flatulence adds methane, another greenhouse gas to the air. Biodiversity is lost as native species lose their homes to these cattle fields. Additionally, the oceans are in grave danger not only from over fishing and plastic waste, but because of agriculture runoff which creates dead zones where no life can exist. Also, as more people in developing countries began to eat our western meat based diet, this will strain our water supplies even more. Much more water is needed to sustain a meat based diet than a vegan diet. Some believe the next wars will be over water not oil. How scary is that?
Some people are open to hearing the vegan message, but too many others are not, thinking it is too radical or ridiculous. The science is clear that animals, including fish feel pain, and that humans do not need to eat animals or their by-products to be healthy. Science has demonstrated that eating animals is detrimental to the environment and our health. Animal liberation is human liberation. We are all connected.
What kind of reactions do you get from people when they find out you are vegan?
Within my own small circle, I have my daughter who is proud of me, a few relatives who think I am too extreme and other relatives and friends who accept me regardless of my lifestyle. My students have the most questions about my lifestyle. Some of them think my choice is weird, but more are open to listening. They are impressed people can thrive without hurting animals.
Favorite vegan products?
Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps
Nature’s Gate conditioner
Loving Hut’s Spicy Chacha – a yam based meal that tastes like shrimp
So Delicious Ice cream
Homemade dark chocolate and peanut butter desserts of any kind
What would you like to tell people who are considering switching to a plant-based diet?
Just do it! Watch Forks Over Knives or read The China Study to learn of the health benefits. You will feel better physically and psychologically. If you have health issues seek the advice of your doctor or nutritionist so you can make the change in the most beneficial way to your body. Watch Earthlings, if you can bear graphic images. This movie has been called the vegan maker.
Is there anything else you would like to share not asked above?
For anyone interested in becoming vegan, I would suggest the following:
1. Keep reading as much as you can on veganism and animal liberation. Start with Pete Singer’s classic Animal Liberation. Johnathan Balcombe’s book Second Nature- The Inner Lives of Animals is also insightful as to how animals think and communicate. Karen Dawn’s Thanking the Monkey is a great introduction to the grand scale of animal exploitation. Melanie Joy writes on carnism. It is an ideology based on meat consumption and the blocking of empathy towards certain species that are eaten. Why is it okay to eat pigs, but not dogs in our country? Carnism is the opposite of veganism and it is unfortunately the dominant ideology in our society. Carnsim is what kept me eating meat for far too long.
2. Watch Bold Native online. It is a fictionalized account about an abolitionist. This movie does a remarkable job of showing the internal conflicts of the animal rights movement. Are we seeking bigger cages or do we seek to smash all cages? Does animal welfarism help or hinder the cause of liberation?
3. Get active. Volunteer for the animals, protest cruel practices or start a letter writing campaigns to change unjust laws. Use your talents to help the animals however you can.
4. Win over naysayers with awesome vegan meals and snacks. Have fun trying new dishes. There are tons of mouth-watering recipes online; a simple Google search will give you many options.
5. Find time to unwind. While you will feel wonderful about the positive changes you are making, you will likely feel overwhelmed by the staggering amount of cruelty in the world too. Utilize support networks and stay positive, the animals need you strong to fight another day for them.
Photo credit: TDIV