Saturday, December 6, 2014

A new direction

Four years is a good run for a blog, and I'm pleased that New Vegan Age continues to receive thousands of visitors each month—even without promotion or new updates. Though I'm taking a break, I'll leave its articles and interviews posted and will return to post again in the future.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A perfect time to stop eating animals

This deliciously-seasoned, nutritious,
colorful holiday stuffing is just one

of thousands of recipes that prove
giving up meat isn't a sacrifice. 
Would you be able to kill an animal? If not, and you still eat meat, you're not living in alignment with your values.

I know, I know. People sometimes say, "Animals kill and eat each other. We're no different."

Well, as one of my heroes, Harvey Diamond, first pointed out to me in his brilliant Fit For Life books, could you kill an animal yourself? Could you do what other animals do—chase it down, strangle or smother it, tear it apart with your bare hands, and swallow it raw?

If you react to this question with disgust—and couldn't or wouldn't yourself actually go through with killing a living being—you're already a vegetarian in belief, if not yet practice. In addition to the growing number of health and environmental reasons to turn exclusively to plants for nutrition, many vegans and vegetarians stop eating animals because they would not ask someone else to do for them what they themselves would not do.

"I would not kill a creature," said another of my heroes, Peace Pilgrim. "And I would not ask someone else to kill it for me, so I will not eat the flesh of the creature."

Other signs that you might "already" be a vegetarian or vegan include:

  • You find the sight—or even idea—of a butchered animal or slaughterhouse unsettling
  • You sometimes sense a "vague uneasiness" when you buy, order, or eat animal products
  • You sometimes feel like you're not living in alignment with your "true self" 
  • You've wondered why some cultures eat certain animals and not others, and why they're not always the same animals
  • You've stopped and thought about how eating horses, cats, pigs, dogs, chickens, fish, or cows is any different—especially if this happened when your beloved pet was gazing at you

After Thanksgiving 1997, I realized I no longer wanted to have others kill on my behalf, and I declared that Holiday the last time I'd ever eat turkey. A month later, I made Christmas the last time I'd ever eat ham. That New Year's Day's became a natural time to celebrate the "good luck" tradition of pork and sauerkraut with the resolution to never eat animals again. (In the years since then, delicious vegan alternatives for all of these products have become available.)

You know, the Holidays are the perfect time to give yourself, the planet, and animals this gift. It's already a time of reflection, of renewal, of gratitude, of introspection, of compassion, and, of course, of commitment. If the thought of killing your dog or cat—or any animal—gives you a lump in your throat and a knot in your stomach, you're already a vegetarian in belief, and you're ready to take this exciting next step.

Best of all, there's no sacrifice at all in being vegetarian or vegan—only the rewards of a rich variety in food, improved health, and a much lighter spirit.

A version of this article originally appeared on this site on November 21, 2011.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

U.S. tour for Growl author Kim Stallwood

Later this month, longtime animal advocate Kim Stallwood is returning to the United States—almost exactly 24 years after his first speaking tour here—to promote Growl, his widely-praised new autobiography (Lantern, 2014).

In the Introduction to the book, Stallwood writes that, while animal rights is "about our relationship with nonhuman creatures, it's also about locating meaning in our lives and finding out who we truly are." Many passages in the book mirror my own experience as I went vegetarian in my 20s, then fully vegan in my 30s (for example, "being squeamish about certain forms of animal bodies and relishing others was illogical and inconsistent").

Though I've followed his LinkedIn updates for a few years, I was surprised to learn about his culinary training, and I appreciated his hope that future chefs would be able to pursue their creativity without having to use animals—indeed, that they wouldn't even have to use the word "vegan" to describe their entirely cruelty-free cuisine. It'd be a future where vegan food is just food—kind of like "Italian food" is just "food" in Italy and "Indian food" is just "food" in India.

Much of Growl is a personal chronicle of Stallwood's work within organizations—the infernal and exhausting work of managing infighting, politics, power struggles, internal disputes, and bureaucracy. He describes how some vegans simply give up and retreat to spending too much time in what Stallwood calls our "Misanthropic Bunkers"—our safe havens, our vegan sanctuaries, our vegan blogs. 

To hear Stallwood speak in person, visit the most updated list of his upcoming U.S. appearances in the Events section of his website. The list below is a guide, but please confirm before attending.

October 30
Presenting ‘The Animal Rights Challenge’ at a public meeting hosted by NYU’s Animal Studies Initiative

October 31
Interview with Caryn Hartglass of REAL Radio

November 4
Presenting ‘Growl’ at Professor David Cassuto’s Animal Law Class, which is followed by making the same presentation to Professor Len Mitchell’s Business Ethics Class at Pace University

November 5
Second ‘Growl’ presentation for Professor Mitchell’s Business Ethics Classes at Pace University, which is followed by a meeting with Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House

November 6
Speaking at the launch party for the anthology, Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals & the Earth, at Bluestockings bookstore, NYC

November 7
Meeting with attorneys Sarah Griffin and David Wolfson about Minding Animals International

November 10
Presenting ‘Growl’ at the vegan cafe, Grindcore House, hosted by The Humane League in Philadelphia, PA

November 12
Presenting ‘Growl’ at Red Emma’s bookstore and vegetarian cafe in Baltimore, MD

November 13
Lunchtime presentation of ‘Growl’ for the staff, volunteers and trustees of Alley Cat Allies, Bethesda, MD, which is followed by presenting ‘Growl’ at a public meeting hosted by ACA at the Washington Humane Society’s Behavior and Learning Centre

November 14
Consultation with Dawn Moncrief, A Well-Fed World, which is followed by an afternoon presentation of ‘Growl’ for the staff of the ASPCA’s Washington DC office

November 15
Evening presentation of ‘Growl’ hosted by Maine Animal Coalition at University of Southern Maine

November 16
Evening presentation of ‘Growl’ at the vegan Grasshopper Restaurant hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society

November 17
Evening reception hosted by GREY2K USA Worldwide at their offices in Arlington, MA

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Interview: Paula Sandin and Jennifer Sandin Adams

Jennifer Sandin Adams & Paula Sandin
After the publication of Why aren't more Christians vegan?, I met Paula Sandin and Jennifer Sandin Adams, vegan sisters who were "totally healed from a litany of incurable diseases" by adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet.

The sisters' transformation was so successful that they co-founded A Litttle Light, a Christian t-shirt business with designs that make the Christian/ vegan connection and inspire healthy eating. They're also writing a book about their individual journeys from debilitation to excellent health.

New Vegan Age: Tell us about your lives. Where were you born? How did you come to be vegan? When and how did you come to start your business?

Paula: We grew up in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. In 2006, I got very sick with a number of debilitating conditions and, as a result, lost my job. (I was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and its many accompanying corollary illnesses). After having been denied disability insurance, I was thinking about how to make an income. It was nearing Christmas, and I had gone on-line to look for uplifting Christian tee shirts as gifts for my sister and best friend. I could find none that appealed to me. Most were a little scary, to be frank. It was at that time that I thought there might be a market for tee shirts with positive and loving Christian/ inspirational messages. Thus, A Litttle Light, LLC was born. My sister was very involved from the beginning and eventually decided to officially become co-owner with me. 

In May 2008, Jennifer suffered from a complete collapse resulting from heart problems and seizures. After many months of doctors’ appointments, she, too, was diagnosed with a litany of chronic and “incurable” illnesses. After a few years of research and still suffering with the “incurable” illnesses, my sister and I adopted a whole food, plant-based diet leading us both to completely restored health. The food did for us what no doctor or medicine could. We are now both healthier than we have ever been in our lives.

As a result of our vegan lifestyles, and our belief that our food choices should reflect deeply held Catholic Christian values about respecting all of life, we created a "Change the Food, Change the World" line of tee shirts that inspire healthy eating.

NVA: I love the name of your business—that the "misspelling" of "Little" with three ts is intentional, to symbolize the three crosses on Calvary. How did you settle on specializing in t-shirts, and not another product?

Paula: Seeing the great success of Life is Good tee shirts and their uplifting messages, we knew there was broad public interest in inspirational tee shirts with cute designs. A Little Light, LLC appeals to a somewhat narrower niche market. Our inspirational tee shirts are also uplifting and whimsical, but they point specifically to God, our true Inspiration.

NVA: In addition to the impetus for starting it, what makes the business vegan? Sourcing? Materials? A percentage of profits to vegan charities?

Jennifer: We aspire to be able to support a number of charitable organizations, including farm sanctuaries and vegan food/water charities that feed the poor and hungry. In 2014, A Litttle Light, LLC donated to Esther the Wonder Pig’s Indiegogo animal sanctuary campaign. Our ultimate goal is to create a foundation that supports farmers who want to switch from animal-based to organic, plant-based agriculture.

We are also very interested in partnering with non-profits to which we would donate a percentage of t-shirt sales. The types of organizations with which we are most interested in working are those that are Catholic (and other Christian denominations), as well as those organizations that support animal welfare and other pro-life issues.

NVA: You've found a way to combine your closeness as sisters with your strong personal beliefs, business passion, and life experience. Where and how do you market and sell your shirts? How do most of your customers find you?

Paula: A Litttle Light, LLC is an internet-based company, so our commerce is primarily done on-line. However, we did exhibit at the 2013 DC VegFest trade show and may exhibit at the Northern Virginia Christmas show at the Dulles Expo Center in mid-November.

NVA: Tell us about the design and manufacturing processes.

Jennifer: Together we develop the ideas for tee shirt messages and designs and sketch (read: scratch) them out on a piece of paper. My husband, Steve, then uses his own creative talent and graphic design skills to create something beautiful for us. We use a local company to print our tee shirts.

NVA: Do your offerings rotate seasonally? Annually?

Jennifer: We do offer seasonal designs, which also include holiday designs. For instance, we have created designs that are more appropriate for spring and summer, and we also have specific designs for Christmas. Right now, we are featuring our Fall collection of crisp apple tees. They celebrate the season and its abundant harvest of delicious, healthy foods.

NVA: What's been your most popular product to date? Why do you think it resonates with your customers?

The Bee Still design
: We have three very popular designs: (1) our Bee Still shirt, featuring a whimsical bumble bee with the words “Bee Still” underneath, (2) our Green Apple shirt, with the words, “Every seed bearing fruit shall be your food,” surrounding a green apple, and (3) our American Flag shirt with the words “In God We Trust” below the flag.

Jennifer: The Bee Still shirt may be popular because it reminds people to slow down and give God the reigns. It has a double meaning, as well. It subtly reminds us about our need to protect bees from extinction. Aside from their own value as God’s Creatures, they also help us to maintain our food supply through pollination. We want the bees to still be around for future generations, hence “Bee Still”.

Paula: Our Green Apple shirt is popular with vegan audiences because it points back to God’s original plant-based eating plan for humanity.

Our In God We Trust Flag tee is popular because it points to the foundation upon which our nation was founded. As well, the three stars represent The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, any tee that features “three” of something is our way of pointing to The Trinity.

NVA: Congratulations on finding a much-needed niche! We hope it will continue to find new markets and hearts as veganism grows. Will you offer any discounts or promotions for the upcoming back-to-school and holiday seasons? If so, how can readers take advantage of them at checkout?

Paula: We regularly offer discounts and promotions. We try to widely communicate them by announcing them on our website homepage and on Facebook and Twitter. Our best communications come from our satisfied customers who tell others about A Litttle Light, LLC.

NVA: Anything else we haven't yet discussed? Any other upcoming projects or plans you'd like to mention here?

Jennifer: We have just finished writing a book, Pick Up Your Mat…And Follow God to Divine Health, which chronicles our journeys from debilitating sickness to extreme good health by following God and adopting a whole food, plant-based diet (God’s eating plan found in Genesis 1:29). The book is currently with our publisher undergoing an initial editorial review.

Paula: In conjunction with the book, our vision is to be able to speak to audiences, including churches and colleges, about our health and spiritual journeys and share the incredible health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. So many people are sick (or will be), and we want them to know there is a way out of illness and debilitation.

NVA: Thank you so much, Jennifer and Paula. All the best to both of you as you continue your important work, and please stay in touch! We look forward to reading your book when it is ready.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On fundraising excess

Have you ever had to write a letter like this to a favorite vegan charity?
"Thank you for the amazing work you do for animals, and for your role in raising awareness about the importance of protecting them. As longtime vegans and longtime supporters of your organization, we are grateful for your efforts and will continue to support you financially when we can.
That being said, I must relate my concern with the amount of money you've recently spent on securing donations. In the last few months alone, we have received between 15 and 20 individual pieces of mail exhorting us to give or renew our membership. We've also received a few phone calls.
As someone who works with nonprofits, I know that many donors appreciate an occasional reminder to give. However, I also know precisely how much these campaigns cost—and I know that twenty touches in two months is, by any measure, excessive.
Please remove us from all telephone and USPS mailing lists, effective immediately. Please also reconsider the amounts of solicitation you do, both because of the cost (much of it could be going to the veterinary care and feeding of the animals) and of these "hard sell" efforts' tendency to alienate people who otherwise support your work."
As someone who sincerely appreciates this organization and its work—I've even raised funds for them on my own—I hope the right people receive (and take to heart) this message.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

10 important moments in Christianity & vegetarianism

By John A. Zukowski

I give presentations on religion and vegetarianism. And when I do, the section on Christianity leads to the most questions.

Eastern religion is easier to explain—mostly because of a belief in reincarnation.

Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains believe all sentient beings have souls. They become new life forms after they die based on the karma they’ve accumulated. That seems to have created empathy toward animals—who are viewed as fellow creatures in the cycle of reincarnation. These religions also embrace an ideology called ahisma where it’s a virtue to practice non-violence toward both humans and animals.

But Christianity is a different story.

Christianity has had a problematic relationship with vegetarianism. But since the days of the New Testament, a minority of Christians have been vegetarians. And in recent years there’s been a slow but increasing movement toward Christian vegetarianism and veganism.

So why has Christianity been so ambivalent about vegetarianism and veganism? Here are 10 important moments in the history of Christianity and vegetarianism

#1. Book of Genesis: Both humans and animals were originally vegetarian

After God tells humans they have dominion over the world (more about that later),
he tells them they’ll live on vegetables and fruit. And all animals will too. (The exception is that
Adam and Eve can’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. We know what happens there.)

But after The Fall, things changed. When Adam and Eve cover themselves with fig leaves,
God gives them skins to wrap themselves in – did God sacrifice an animal to do this?
And later Abel offers an animal sacrifice which God prefers over Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables.

Why it’s important: The idea that God originally designed all life forms as vegetarian before The Fall to this day inspires some Christians to be vegetarian. Some Christians also believe the world will return to this state of paradise where living creatures will all exist peacefully (Isaiah 11:6-9).

#2. After the flood: A mandate to eat meat

After the flood is over, Noah comes out of the ark and performs an animal sacrifice.

After Noah’s sacrifice, God says he won’t destroy humans again. And God tells Noah,
 “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green
plants, I give you everything.” Humans are now commanded to be omnivores, it seems.

But as vegan author Victoria Moran told me in an interview, this could be interpreted as a
temporary dispensation. After all, the plantation on the earth would have been destroyed
by the flood. What else was there to eat?

Interestingly, in the recent “Noah” movie starring Russell Crowe, the sacrifice and
command to eat meat aren’t shown. And before the flood, the villains are meat eaters
while Noah and his family are vegetarians.

Why it’s important: God’s order to eat meat has been cited many times for centuries as a defense of eating meat.

#3. Post-flood Old Testament: Kosher diet, animal sacrifices

In the Old Testament a diet that pleases God is outlined in detail. Now called a kosher diet, it prohibits eating pig, shellfish and other creatures considered unclean.

Animal sacrifices also went on regularly the Jewish temple. They were made every day—more often during religious holidays and other events. Sacrifices were usually meant to atone for wrongdoing.

It’s Jesus himself who seems to call for an end to animal sacrifice. In the Gospels when he overturns the moneychangers’ tables in front of the temple, it’s his signal that the idea of sacrificing animals to atone for sin is no longer acceptable. Part of the business being done there in front of the temple was to sell animals for sacrifices in the temple—and it’s clear Jesus doesn’t approve.

Why it’s important: In the post-Flood Old Testament, God has a required diet. And it isn’t vegetarian. Animal sacrifices imply that God approves of killing animals.

#4. The early Christian divisions over vegetarianism

Scholars debate how extensive it was, but the early Christian movement squabbled over Christian doctrine.

And some of the debate focused on food. There were Christian vegetarians in the early church. And the Bible has a mixed view of them. The best view is tolerance; the worst is condemnation.

In the Book of Romans, Paul writes that “Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.” But he goes on to say that both meat eaters and vegetarians must not judge each other and that God welcomes both. But in 1 Timothy, the writer (who may or may not be Paul) condemns “deceitful spirits” that lead people to abstain from some food—as well as marriage.

Some early church fathers were vegetarians including Basil the Great, Jerome, Tertullian and Oregin. Most of the early Christian vegetarians were ascetics, who believed that self-denial, fasting and sacrifice of some worldly things could bring one closer to God.

Why it’s important: Although the church rejected vegetarianism as a regular practice, the church later incorporated the ascetic practice of abstaining from meat during Lent and other fasting periods.

#5. St. Augustine condemns the gnostics and vegetarianism

After converting to Christianity in the 4th century, Augustine regretted a lot—his mistresses, his hedonism, his years in a gnostic sect. As anyone who is familiar with “The DaVinci Code” knows, gnosticism was an alternative view of Christianity considered heresy by the orthodox church.

The gnostics believed in a dualistic view of the world. There was both a good god and an evil god. And flesh was associated with the evil god. So gnostics often were celibate vegetarians because they believed there was something inherently evil in flesh.

Augustine spent nine years in a gnostic sect led by a Persian man named Mani. After he left the group and converted to Christianity, he condemned Mani, the group and its practices – which included vegetarianism. Augustine said it was superstitious to not eat meat and wrote that the commandment “thou shalt not kill” didn’t apply to animals.

Why it’s important: Augustine’s influential writings make vegetarianism associated with gnosticism, which the church considers heresy.

#6. Thomas Aquinas: Animals don’t have immortal souls

In a section of “Summa Theologica,” Aquinas differentiated humans from animals. Animals were sentient beings, but they didn’t have an intellect necessary to have an immortal soul, Aquinas said. They couldn’t choose morality, they operated on instinct.

However, this wasn’t carte blanche to do anything to animals. Aquinas believed animals were to be eaten, but he didn’t support killing animals for pleasure. And he said being kind to animals was a good spiritual practice to be a better person.

Why it’s important: Because of the belief that animals don’t have immortal souls, Christians weren’t motivated to be vegetarians for that reason. Instead, the reasons have been for improved health, asceticism to be closer to God, and ethical considerations of animal treatment.

#7. Ellen White starts a veg-friendly denomination

With a public anxious about disease and death, there was a health movement in the 19th century – which called for a change to a plant-based diet.

The first vegetarian society in the United States was founded by the Rev. Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey. Graham believed sickness sometimes was created by not following the pre-Fall vegetarian diet.

One of his followers was Ellen White who with her husband started the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in 1863. She wrote of a vision she received where God wanted people to be vegetarians. “It was contrary to his plan to have the life of any creature taken,” she wrote. “There was to be no death in Eden. The fruit of the trees in the garden, was the food man’s wants required.”

Why it’s important: The idea of a healthy God-made pre-Fall diet went further toward full-time vegetarianism than the ascetic Lent fasting.

#8. Tolstoy documents the slaughterhouses

When someone was curious about why the Christian Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was a vegetarian, sometimes he’d take them on a tour.

He’d bring them to a slaughterhouse to see animals being killed. Usually after seeing the carnage and the screams, the shocked spectator stopped eating meat.

Tolstoy’s landmark essay on vegetarianism called “The First Step” was more than just a description of slaughterhouses. Tolstoy believed non-violence was a central component of Christianity. He wrote about how the early Christians were pacifists and that killing was against what the Gospels taught. He also believed that self-control and self-denial were essential virtues for Christians. Eating meat was contrary to Jesus’ examples of anti-violence and self-control. He wrote this about eating meat:

“Its use is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to the moral feeling – killing; and is called forth only by greediness and the desire for tasty food,” Tolstoy wrote.

Why it’s important: It shifted the debate to animal ethics. Previously, many vegetarian Christians focused on health reasons or returning to a pre-Fall vegetarian diet from the Book of Genesis.

#9. C.S. Lewis: Do animals go to Heaven?

The Christian apologetic author C.S. Lewis believed animals didn’t have immortal souls. It seemed illogical to him that all animals could go to heaven.

“Where would you put the mosquitos?” he wrote.

Animals had no concept of either sin or virtue, Lewis believed. The animal world was so brutal with wild animals cruelly killing each other that maybe Satan had corrupted the animal world the same way he caused the Fall of Man, Lewis wrote in his book “The Problem of Pain.”

But Lewis loved his pets. He nicknamed himself “Jack” after a neighborhood dog that was run over and killed. He owned more than a half dozen dogs and several cats in his lifetime. He returned home from his job as a professor every work day to eat lunch and walk his dogs.

Because of his affection for his pets, he believed that some animals developed a sense of self or personality. That didn’t seem to happen often to wild animals. He believed it happened when man made them tame. So he left the door open for seeing his pets again in heaven.

“Certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters,” he wrote.

Why it’s important: This indicated a spiritual perspective toward animals where pets are in a different category than animals killed for meat.

#10. Smashing Stereotypes: The new conservative vegetarian movement

In pop culture, vegetarians and vegans are often portrayed as either radical flaky hippies or overly sensitive girls.

But that stereotype is changing. Veganism now has a more health-conscious image—and some conservatives are responding to that.

Where I live in Eastern Pennsylvania, the churches that have regular vegan groups and pot lucks are at conservative non-denominational churches. Not at Unitarian, Quaker and liberal Protestant churches. What’s going on?

In some Christian conservative churches, the idea that the body is a temple and one must honor it by being healthy is increasingly gaining popularity. (The animal ethics part of vegetarianism seems to follow after the initial emphasis on better health.) And the idea of a purer pre-Fall diet in the Book of Genesis is being talked about in more than just Seventh-day Adventist churches.

The catalyst for the conservative vegetarian/vegan movement was probably the 2003 book Dominion. Matthew Scully (former speech writer for George W. Bush) wrote that the concept of dominion over the earth and animals from Genesis needed to be redefined and re-examined. God told humans to be caretakers of the natural world, not ravagers of it, he wrote. Practices such as safaris, factory farms and whaling expeditions were out of line with how God intended humans to care for the world and its creatures.

So why do some liberal churches resist vegetarianism? Maybe some liberals are part of foodie culture—which abhors asceticism or self-denial. Vegans and vegetarians on the left may be more countercultural or libertarian (and live in rural or urban areas) than some mainstream liberals (who often live in suburbs—a mecca for foodie culture).

Why it’s important: The growth of vegetarianism among conservatives isn’t a huge trend yet. But it’s a cultural shift that may have far-reaching implications. It could smash the hippie vegetarian stereotype and extend its appeal.

John A. Zukowski is an award-winning religion journalist whose website, Spiritual Pop Culture, critiques popular media with a spiritual and ethical perspective. Book one of his  engaging hour-long presentations on religion and vegetarianism for your upcoming church Bible study.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview: How to be Vegan author Elizabeth Castoria

Interview by Tom Epler

Elizabeth Castoria is not yet a mononymic vegan like Isa or Victoria, Gene or Wayne, but with last month's publication of How to be Vegan (Artisan, 2014), the former Editorial Director of VegNews is well on her way. The well-written, beautifully-designed handbook makes a great gift for vegan-curious friends and colleagues, since it's fun, conversational, and informative without being preachy or pretentious.

This week, Elizabeth answered a few questions about her vegan journey, her tenure at VegNews, and the publication of her colorful, fact-filled new book. I recommend ordering a copy for yourself, friends, and family—even though I don't normally encounter words like "zillion" or "nohow," I loved How to be Vegan, because reading it felt like a conversation with a fun, enthusiastic friend.

New Vegan Age: Why, when, and how did you become vegan? Did you have any close vegan friends or family members who modeled or encouraged veganism?

Elizabeth Castoria: I went vegan when I was about 17. I had already been a vegetarian for a few years before that, and then made the switch after learning more about the issues. (And, yes, I did this learning by way of the cute vegan skater dude whom I was dating at the time!) There was actually a small group of friends in my hometown who were vegan, so that definitely eased the transition.

NVA: How did your daily work as Editorial Director at VegNews help develop your ability to engage readers in the book's chapters and capsules?

EC: Through my work at the magazine, I definitely got to develop both my writing and the ability to represent ideas visually, like the little charts and graphs in the book. It's really fun to add another layer of content that helps convey ideas in a different way.

NVA: What was glamorous about your time at VegNews? Travel? Parties? What might people be surprised to learn made it difficult?

EC: Ha! I don't know that I'd use the word "glamorous" necessarily. I did have the chance to meet and work with so many wonderful, amazing people in the vegan world, and report on all the completely inspiring work that they were doing. That was such a rewarding part of the job!

NVA: Your book tackles some difficult and serious topics (animal cruelty, nutrition, and factory farming) in an informative, yet non-accusatory and non-judgmental way. Did you ever have trouble striking that balance?

EC: When I first went vegan, I definitely had a different approach than I do now (admittedly, this was when I was a teenager, so I was a little bit more brash in general!). The older I get, the more I realize that people are dealing with different things in their lives—sometimes even depending on the day!—so it's really important to just meet people where they are and provide information so that people can make their own choices. Nobody likes being yelled at or talked down to (least of all me!).

NVA: Well, we hope the response since publication last month has been great. Your audience for this book is non-vegans; it introduces them to our world. Since you've been vegan for so many years, was it ever difficult to keep that newness in mind? Did you keep a particular non-vegan friend or family member in mind as you were writing?

EC: That was one of the really fun challenges of writing the book—going back and re-thinking through all those questions that someone who is new to veganism would have to ask themselves. I have a number of non-vegan friends and family members, and over the years the questions they've asked me about how I live this way definitely all bubbled up when I was writing the book.

NVA: The book is fun and well-written, and the charts, flowcharts, and Venn diagrams were unusually informative and useful. (The "Food or Not Food?" pop quiz neatly summarizes what it takes many other writers—including this one—entire blogs to develop). Do you think, or even doodle, in graphic representations?

EC: Thank you! I really enjoyed getting to come up with the concepts for the sidebars. Making graphic elements is definitely something that I learned working on the magazine content, and I always love seeing how other publications (in print and online) use graphics to tell stories, so it does seem like an ingrained part of storytelling now. (Though, I have to say, I'm immensely grateful for the amazing job that the design team did on the graphics, because the sketches I sent over were these horribly drawn little stick figures!)

NVA: They're sophisticated, with lots of great info, but somehow simple—condensed, clean, and inviting. I also really liked your meal-planning encouragement to enjoy beans, fruits, and vegetables for their own sake, and not to always seek out processed replacements for things we were accustomed to eating as omnivores. Has that appreciation come for you in time?

EC: You know, I love eating a variety of things—including vegan meats and ice creams and that sort of thing—but one of the main things I wanted to convey in that section was just that there are so incredibly many varieties of fruits, veggies, beans, and grains that people might not be familiar with or not be in the routine of eating. For anyone, vegan or otherwise, it's important to try new things!

NVA: Agreed! Have you ever successfully introduced a friend, family member, or reader (through VegNews or this book) to veganism? How does it feel to know that, with this book, you'll likely be doing that for strangers for years and decades to come?

EC: I love your vision of the future! (And I really hope you're right—I'd love to be helpful for decades!!) All the feedback so far on the book has been really positive, which is incredibly satisfying, and it sounds as though people are finding it useful. I've been pleasantly surprised that even folks who have been vegan for years are getting handy tidbits out of the book. It's all been such a fantastic experience!

NVA: It must be something to "cross over," from covering authors to being covered as one. What else are you up to these days? Any interesting plans or projects on the horizon?

EC: I've been developing a new project, but it's still very nascent, so I won't go into it too much. The newest thing so far has been that I've started blogging on my website (, which has been a fun challenge! I've been creating content in the framework of other organizations for a long time, so it's really fun to think of the kind of content that I want to create on my own. 

NVA: Thank you, Elizabeth! Please let us know when the new project is ready.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

God gave people animals to eat. Right?

Peace Pilgrim, one of our most spiritually
aware public figures, said it best.
"I would not kill a creature, and I would
not ask someone else to do it for me, so
I will not eat the flesh of the creature."
I'd like to round out this three-part series of Lenten posts by answering a few responses to last week's Why aren't more Christians vegan?

One response came from a recent acquaintance who is devout in his faith and is unafraid to defend an unpopular stance. For these and other reasons, he's earned my respect. He's put himself out in the public sphere, and even lost friends, for holding fast to his convictions. Interestingly, he is also—for health and environmental reasons—sympathetic to veganism.

In his response to me, he referenced a few well-known Biblical justifications for using animals for human purposes. As I wrote in Biblical and other religious support for veganism, the Bible has been used to justify just about anything—including veganism—so those assertions don't really move me.

What did strike me, though, was his invocation of the "animals in nature kill each other, so it's natural" justification. In this final Lenten post on the subject of vegan Christians, I'll address this and some other common criticisms of veganism. Though other vegans have already done so much better than I can, I've always wanted to answer these questions publicly and in my own voice.

"I saw a fish swallow another fish while snorkeling in the Carribean." "I saw a cheetah take down a wildebeest on a nature program on TV." "I saw my cat trap a bird and tear it to pieces in our backyard." "It's the cycle of life. We are mere participants."

With thanks to Harvey Diamond, who first opened my eyes on this subject, my response to these observations is that those animals are doing precisely what they were designed to do. In their native habitat of water, savannas, or backyards, and using only the claws, fins, and jaws God gave them, they are able to stalk, capture, kill, consume, and digest their living prey.

All of this occurs naturally, without the use of any motors, binoculars, maps, spears, sharpened sticks, traps, slingshots, darts, bolt guns, stun guns, shotguns, prods, rods, bullets, knives, nets, assistance from invisible third parties (like ranchers or butchers), or processing (a slaughterhouse, stove, oven, or a campfire) to help them complete the acts of capture, consumption, and digestion. Humans, on the other hand, must use some combination of all of these to order a cheeseburger, prepare a turkey at Thanksgiving, or even "go fishing."

If we were to turn a man loose in nature, allowing him only the hands and feet God gave him, but gave him no traps or other advantages, he would probably succeed in capturing, killing, and eating earthworms, domesticated animals that trusted him, and perhaps the babies of other species (if their parents didn't defend them). But adult birds? Deer? Even common squirrels?

"Vegans kill, too. They kill living plants."

I once saw a question that addresses this response well: If you saw your neighbor mowing his lawn, would you call the cops to have him arrested? No? What if you saw him chopping off the legs of his dogs and cats? Yes? You mean there's a difference?

Vegans say there is a difference—and that this difference is the sentience that animals share with humans. We have observed that animals feel pain, make decisions, and are inclined to protect themselves and their families from harm, just as humans do.

Vegans believe that the compassion we innately feel towards other people and domesticated animals naturally extends to include all animals. We've looked inward (and/or visited farms) and concluded there's no difference between domesticated and farmed animals, despite how we are conditioned or "taught" by the medical establishment.

Many non-vegans probably agree with us—as evidenced by their disgust or inability to watch slaughterhouse footage of whimpering, scared animals being jostled with electric prods, dragged around, stunned, shot through the head with bolt guns, hung on hooks to slowly bleed to death, or cut apart.

Put most simply: Life is life. Flesh is flesh.

"Vegans eat crops harvested by machines that destroy the habitats of—and kill—untold millions of rodents living in fields."

Yes. We know about harvesting. When we can eliminate this unnecessary death by growing things ourselves or shopping at the local CSA where crops are harvested by hand, we do. When we cannot, we trust that a general intention to respect life is better than a general policy of seeing it as ours to exploit.

"Animals kill each other. Homo sapiens are animals. Ergo, we must kill other animals."

Well, not exactly. Hawks and snakes that snatch baby ducklings are following their instinct, and therefore, don't have a choice. To survive, they must eat smaller animals. Humans, in most places and times in history—and certainly in our modern world—very much have a choice. We can easily thrive selecting only plant-based foods. People without supermarkets and meat substitutes have probably thrived living vegan lives for as long as we've inhabited this planet. (This is a good place to point out that many delicious pasta, soup, and ethnic dishes that omnivores enjoy are already vegan.)

"Vegans are full of it. If push came to shove, they'd kill animals to feed themselves and their families."

What if society breaks down, and supermarkets are empty, you might ask? Would I kill an animal to feed my family, or to feed myself if the only other option were starving to death? Like everyone else who's never been in such a survival situation, I'm glad I don't have to know the answer to this question. Self-preservation and providing for family are, of course, very strong motivators. But when these types of questions are only theoretical, I don't believe we have any moral justification for not at least considering being vegan.

I know I probably won't change many minds with this series of posts. But thankfully, through writing and posting them, I've learned I'm not alone. The Christian Vegetarian Association lists pastors and churches, and posts essays written by other Christians who are vegan and vegetarian. Other bloggers and authors have written extensively on the subject, and plenty of other people and organizations have listed support for a vegan life found in Bible verses.

For the sake of the animals, our health, and the environment, I hope that this conversation continues to grow—and take root in—more hearts.

This is the third and final in a Lenten series on being Christian and vegan. Please visit my other postings on Biblical and other religious support for veganism and Why aren't more Christians vegan?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why aren't more Christians vegan?

This Lent, I've written a challenge to non-vegan Christians to prayerfully consider going vegan. Head over to Spiritual Pop Culture to check it out—and please comment and share it if you are able.

Why aren't more Christians vegan?
Spiritual Pop Culture, April 6, 2014

Many thanks to John for posting the essay, to Have Gone Vegan for expertly editing (and vastly improving) it, and to Vegan Bloggers Unite! for sharing it. Also, please check out last week's related  Biblical and other religious support for veganism if you get a chance.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Biblical and other religious support for veganism

When we adopted our dog three years ago, I took a photo of the Bible verse that the rescue organization had printed on the side of their truck.

Since then, that verse—"A righteous man cares for his animals"—has been bouncing around in my head as the seed idea for an essay challenging more Christians to consider veganism.

This Sunday, that essay will finally be published. In the meantime, I'd like to post a few more Bible verses I've found. We all know that specific passages in the Bible have been used to justify just about anything. But it's important to remember that, for every Biblical or other religious reference to animals as meat or for other human uses, there are plenty of counterparts suggesting support for a vegan life.

Here are a few. Please suggest any corrections and/or add others as Comments!

Psalms 145:9
“The Lord is good to all men, and his tender care rests upon all his creatures.”

Saint Francis of Assisi
“All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man. God wants us to help animals, if they need help. Every creature in distress has the same right to be protected.”

Saint Jerome
“The eating of meat was unknown up to the big flood, but since the flood they have the strings and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just as they threw in front of the grumbling sensual people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed for us to eat animal meat.”

Hosea 2:20
“Then I will make a covenant on behalf of Israel with the wild beasts, the birds of the air, and the things that creep on the earth, and I will break bow and sword and weapon of war and sweep them off the earth so that all living creatures may lie down without fear.”

Saint Basil
“The steam of meat meals darkens the spirit. One can hardly have virtue if one enjoys meat meals and feasts. In the earthly paradise there was no wine, no one sacrificed animals, and no one ate meat.”

Genesis 1:29-30
“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, all the birds of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’” 

Isaiah 11:6-9
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed;
Their young shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp,
And the weaned child shall put his hand on the adders den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.”

Proverbs 12:10
“A righteous man cares for his beast.”

Isaiah 66:3
“The one slaughtering an ox, striking man, sacrificing a lamb, breaking a dog’s neck, making an offering of pig’s blood, burning incense, honoring an idol—these have chosen their own ways, and taken pleasure in their own abominations.”

Isaiah 1:11-12
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
The offer of your gifts is useless, the reek of sacrifice is abhorrent to me.”

Hosea 6:6
“For it is loyalty I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Albert Schweitzer
“Let no one regard as light the burden of his responsibility. While so much ill-treatment of animals goes on, while the moans of thirsty animals in railway trucks sound unheard, while so much brutality prevails in our slaughterhouses ... we all bear guilt. Everything that lives has value as a living thing, as one of the manifestations of the mystery that is life.”

Peace Pilgrim
"I would not kill a creature, and I would not ask someone else to do it for me, so I will not eat the flesh of the creature."

More, from Have Gone Vegan:

Rev. Andrew Linzey
"Animals are God's creatures, not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God's sight."

Micah 6:8
"...and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Cardinal John Henry Newman
"Cruelty to animals is as if a man did not love God."

This is the first of a three-part series on Christianity and veganism posted during Lent 2014. Please take a moment to also read Why aren't more Christians vegan? and God gave people animals to eat. Right?