Thursday, June 27, 2013

Interview: Main Street Vegan author Victoria Moran

We found last year's Bethlehem VegFest memorable for several reasons. First, it was the hottest, muggiest day in recorded human history. Second, it was the first time we visited The Cinnamon Snail vegan food truck. Third, we returned home with a stash of Vegan Treats donuts. Fourth, and most importantly, it was the first time we heard Main Street Vegan author Victoria Moran speak—to an old-time revival tent packed with Veganism Believers.

If you're vegan, it's likely you're already familiar with this inspiring dynamo. And if you doubt how much energy Victoria taps into to spread her message of compassion and health, take a look at her websiteBetween her blog, podcast, the Main Street Vegan Academy, and what seems like a hundred other projects, one wonders if she ever sleeps!

New Vegan Age: For readers not yet familiar with you or your work, please share how and why you became vegan.

Victoria Moran: I’d always loved animals and first tried going vegetarian when I was thirteen. I lasted three months on cottage cheese and fruit cocktail before giving in to my mom’s roast beef with wild abandon. But I knew that when I was older I’d learn how to do this right.

When I was 18 and living in London, I’d gotten interested in yoga and saw yet another reason for going veg, but I was also on Weight Watchers which, at that time, required beef three times a week and fish five times a week. I was brave enough to let go of eating land animals, but I believed that stopping the fish would cause me to gain back all the weight I’d lost—some forty pounds. And guess what? It did! I see now that the reason wasn’t lack of fish: It was that I believed that I’d gain weight if I stopped eating fish, and I went back to binge-eating to prove that belief correct.

So, I was an obese—eventually some sixty pounds overweight—20-year-old vegetarian. I had early signs of type 2 diabetes. I did crash diets and water fasts and always followed with more binge-eating. Eventually, I discovered recovery for overeaters. I wasn’t just someone who liked food: I was an addict and needed to treat my situation as an addiction. When that happened, I was given, for the first time in my life, real power of choice around what I was going to eat. I chose vegan, lost the weight for keeps, and have never looked back. I tell the full story, and show others how they can do what I did, in my book The Love-Powered Diet: Eating for Freedom, Health, and Joy (Lantern Books, 2009).

NVA: Wow. That's incredible! Let's fast forward to the present. Your Main Street Vegan Academy (MSVA) is a week with you and other experts in New York City filled with vegan classes and visiting vegan hotspots, and results in a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator certification. Tell us how this idea came to be. What impact do you see the Academy having in 10 years? Where will veganism in general be in 2023?

VM: Main Street Vegan Academy is arguably the most exciting thing I do. (It’s also the most labor-intensive: we just finished the June 2013 course and I’m exhausted, but exhausted in that great way of, ‘Gosh, I’ve hardly slept for a week, but I was involved in something magnificent!’) The idea grew out of the book, Main Street Vegan, which was published last year. After the publisher, TarcherPenguin, agreed to do the book, my editor told me I’d have to change its name because they didn’t like ‘Main Street.’ That was pretty devastating to me because it was so central to what I wanted to say. But miracles happen when you do this work, and one of them happened to me.

I was walking up Broadway in New York City, and there was Michael Moore, the filmmaker, surrounded by a group of fans. I knew he’d liked one of my earlier books, so I gave my business card to his sister who was waiting for him, and in a few seconds he was calling my name. We exchanged pleasantries and starting talking, both that day and later by phone. In one conversation, I told him about the book-title situation, and he said, “It’s a perfect title. Let me talk with your editor.”

So, in an incredible three-way call with Michael Moore, my editor, and me, he convinced her that I had the right title, and she convinced the decision makers at TarcherPenguin. The minute she called to say, “Okay, it’s Main Street Vegan,” my mind was flooded with ideas for other Main Street Vegan enterprises, the first of which was Main Street Vegan Academy, a 5 ½-day intensive in NYC to train and certify Vegan Lifestyle Coach/Educators.

The course is comprised of classes from a group of highly respected vegan experts including Marty Davey, RD, vegan pastry chef Fran Costigan (her new book, Vegan Chocolate, is coming in the fall), Michael Parrish Dudell (Michael is a marketing and business expert who’s worked with, American Express, GE, and Seth Godin), Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, JD, of, and vegan historian Rynn Berry, one of your interview subjects, who brings the roots of vegan living, from Pythagoras to Peter Singer, to life for our students.

I teach several classes, as well, and we take fabulous field trips. NYC is really Disneyland for vegans, and we hit high spots such as the Brooklyn boutique of Vaute (vegan fashions and dazzling winter coats), MooShoes, Babycakes Vegan Bakery, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, High Vibe (a raw food market), and more, plus optional dinners out at some of New York’s notable vegan restaurants.

The program stays small—14 students max—so everyone gets attention. I also look for special events happening in the city during Academy weeks and do my best to get the students in for these. For example, the June class attended Ingrid Newkirk’s presentation at NYU that kicked off her first-ever nationwide lecture tour, and the August class will attend the Vegan MainstreamVegan Business Bootcamp” happening the same week as the MSVA program.

You asked what impact I think the Academy will have in ten years.

I can say that in the single year we’ve been around—we just graduated our 4th class—there are now Main Street Vegan Lifestyle Coach/Educators in locales including Montana, California, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Ontario, Germany, and Qatar. These folks are coaching individuals, lecturing, blogging, and starting vegan businesses. Their training here either jumpstarts a brand new philanthropic or entrepreneurial path, or infuses their current work with new knowledge and new purpose. Since they’re doing so much in their own communities and beyond already, it’s hard to imagine what they, and hundreds like them, will be doing in ten years. I just know it takes my breath away.

As for veganism in general, I believe it will continue to grow and thrive, but I expect some setbacks. It will lose its trendiness at some point: Trends have to either end or morph into something else. In addition, the industries that stand to suffer economically in a vegan or near-vegan world—animal agriculture, pharmaceuticals, the fur industry, etc.—are not going to watch their livelihood disappear without a fight.

But over time, as we’ve seen in the past few years, people’s consciousness will continue to expand in terms of compassion for all beings. In addition, the sickness care crisis will vividly bring the adoption of a more plant-based diet into that discussion, simply because our nation will go broke if we stay on the course we’re on. And, frighteningly, the environmental situation—climate change, emptying oceans, water shortages, and all the rest—will push humanity into raising fewer animals. I wish that we’d all go vegan for the pure joy of it, but I believe it will be a combination of people who want to follow this path and people who are forced into it by necessity.

The one thing that I think we as part of this movement need to focus on is unity. The seeds of division are taking root, from dietary fine points (no oil, all raw, nuts or not, etc., etc.) to the explosive rights/welfarist debate in the animal protection movement. We’re not as big as Christianity at the time of the Reformation, when various denominations could rise up and prosper; we need to be a united front for the animals, the planet, and dietary sanity. Of course we have our personal perspectives and we can talk late into the night among ourselves about our differing views and approaches, but in the bright light of day when the world is watching, we need to be united.

Adair & Victoria Moran
NVA: You raised your daughter (and Main Street Vegan partner) Adair through a healthy, productive childhood on a vegan diet. How did your relatives, friends, and even strangers react to that decision—particularly when you were pregnant and when she was an infant?

VM: First, I need to be completely upfront and tell you that Adair was sick a lot as a child. This was not because of being vegan—she’d have probably been sicker if she’d been drinking cow’s milk—but she got the family trait of sinus issues and she got it bad. (My dad was an ENT and my mom was a patient, so you can see the predisposition.) Anyway, Adair had frequent colds, ear infections, sinus infections, and bronchitis throughout her childhood and young adulthood, and it was awful—for her, certainly, and for me as her mom, believing that I’d tried everything, conventional and alternative, to help her and I wasn’t able to.

Looking back, I see two things I could have done differently. One, I could have found other homes for our four cats, as in retrospect I’m sure that being around them exacerbated her problems. At the time, that wasn’t even on my radar. They were family and she loved them with all her heart. So, we had cats. And, now that I know Karen Ranzi (author of Creating Healthy Children) and her story of curing her son’s asthma with a raw-food diet, I suppose I could have done a “purer” vegan diet and it may have mitigated some of my daughter’s issues. At the time, however, just being vegan was so outrageously bizarre that going even further didn’t really cross my mind.

The happy ending to all this is that Adair is fine now—and still vegan. She’ll tell you that what helped her was getting sinus surgery when she was eighteen; I believe there was some divine intervention with the late Indian guru, Sai Baba. Whether the answer is all scientific, all mystical, or some combination, she’s healthy today, active, and has a full-to-the-brim life as an actor, a stunt performer—she’s taping a stunt today for the USA Network series, Royal Pains—and a wildlife rehabilitator. (She and her husband live with two dogs, no cats.)

NVA: When criticism of raising a vegan child came, how did you address it in that moment? Separately, how did you remain calm and patient—say, later that evening—when you reflected back on the exchange and prepared to undoubtedly receive it again from someone else again the next day?

VM: There was almost no criticism. Once, when she was in a nursery program in Milwaukee and I sent her with fresh carrot juice instead of the soy milk that the teachers assumed was dairy milk, I got a form in her lunchbox informing me that my child’s lunch lacked one of the Four Food Groups, and “The Dairy Group” was checked, along with an explanation of why calcium was important. I was livid and pretty much pitched a fit, but it was really because my feelings were hurt. I’d been told, in essence, that I was a bad mother, or at least an ignorant one. If my ego hadn’t been in the way, this would have been an opportunity to share information about plant sources of calcium, but at the time I preferred being “right” to being effective.

The only other incident came when I took Adair (she was Rachael back then; she switched to Adair, her middle name, at fourteen) to an acupuncturist for her sinus issues. He burned her with moxibustion and then blamed her, saying “You wouldn’t be sick if you weren’t on this crazy, restrictive diet.” Well, mama bear showed up again and I totally read this guy the riot act, telling him that if the diet were indeed crazy, it was my doing and he needed to bring his complaints to me, not browbeat an innocent child.

But in all the years of her growing up, those were the only two instances of hostility we ran into. Admittedly, we did move in something of a hand-picked circle. We had our vegan friends through Vegetarian Summerfest and the like, and at home—most of her childhood was in Kansas City, Missouri—we were with moms and kids who’d been through La Leche League, were members of our food coop, fellow homeschoolers, or Adair’s theatre clan—all free-thinking, highly accepting people. Omnivorous and vegetarian parents accommodated Adair’s veganism much the way Protestant parents had accommodated me thirty years earlier when, as a Catholic kid, I wasn’t to have meat on Fridays. Extended family were equally accepting. I know it isn’t like that for everyone, but in our case it was.

Part of the reason for that may have been that I never doubted our veganism. There was never any, “Gee, gosh, maybe a few eggs…” I was committed, Adair was committed—she loved animals fiercely from the time she was an infant—and while people love to try to sway the unsteady, very few will challenge unwavering resolve. (The fact that I’d already written a book on the subject, Compassion the Ultimate Ethic, helped too. In those days, having a published book was still a rare and outstanding accomplishment. People wouldn’t argue with someone who’d “written the book”!)
Adair with a baby squirrel
that she rehabilitated

NVA: Adair's vegan infancy occurred long before experts were openly and accessibly talking and writing about how to raise a happy, healthy vegan baby. Where did you turn at that pre-Internet time for nutritional information? For emotional support?

VM: This was such a tiny movement back in the 80s, but there were resources. Freya Dinshah, co-founder of the American Vegan Society, was the main one: she was raising two children and had written on the subject. Later, Dr. Michael Klaper wrote a book about vegan kids, Rachael Adair among them. We had the Ten Talents cookbook by Seventh Day Adventist, Rosalie Hurd, who was raising a large family on whole foods, no animal products. I also got a great deal of support from La Leche League. The international support organization for breastfeeding mothers isn’t vegan, or even vegetarian, but it’s delightfully open-minded and diverse; those moms taught me how to be a mother.

NVA: You've written that you have looked and felt better as you have passed milestone birthdays—which is obviously the reverse of what many people experience—and that you attribute this to being vegan. In your experience, what arguments, evidence, and information can be most convincing to help people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s cut back on—or altogether renounce—animal products?

VM: The aging thing is so interesting to me. I’m 63 years old and I believe I look—and know that I feel—quite a bit younger. Certainly anyone my age, vegan or not, can catalog various physical changes that have transpired over the past 30 years, but despite these, vegans seem to age more slowly than the people around us, and a high percentage of us tend to present an overall impression of being younger than our chronological age. People deal differently with the cosmetic aspects—I color my hair, for instance; a lot of vegan woman don’t care to and look dazzling—but the things that really matter—being fit and energetic and healthy, having great skin, an intact libido, and a youthful enthusiasm for the day ahead—are part of the gift of eating a whole-foods, vegan diet.

I’m so interested in this topic, in fact, that I’m going to emphasize it some in my next book. I’m tossing around working titles—today I’m thinking The Glow Factor; sometimes I want to call it The Good Karma Diet. In any case, I wrote Main Street Vegan with a wide-open door, presenting every vegan option to people, with lots of “transitional” and “fun” foods to make the changeover easier. This next book will emphasize what you might consider doing if you do indeed want to look younger and “glowier” all your life. The women—and I know this works for men, too, but I’m focused on women—I see who do this best eat whole foods, a lot of raw foods, and they also exercise and meditate and take care of themselves as if they were priceless. We are all priceless, of course, but we don’t always recognize it.

Another project on the horizon for me is a documentary film—I won’t start that till mid-to-late-2014, after I finish the new book—on women who age exquisitely. I already have my list. My (joking) title at this moment is “The Incredible Ageless Woman!”

NVA: Back to patience for a moment. You counsel new vegans to prepare to be asked, every day and for the rest of their lives, where they get their protein. I also sometimes find it challenging to not repeat—especially to close friends and family— "Look at me! I've only had two minor colds since going vegetarian fifteen years ago! My lifelong allergies and acne disappeared when I went vegan three years ago! And it's not difficult! You can have the same thing!"

So, you're tirelessly supportive and patient in public, but don't you ever get frustrated about how easily people could change some of their most fundamental predicaments by going vegan? What is your strategy for handling defensiveness at the well-intentioned suggestion to consider going vegan?

VM: I suppose I fall into the same trap you do—saying, “Look, I’ve kept off over 60 pounds for nearly 30 years!” but the truth is, I had to go into recovery for compulsive eating in order to do that, so the vegan diet is only half the story.

And I envy you about the “two minor colds” thing. I still get colds, and the flu. It’s my weak link. In one of Ginny Messina’s presentations (she’s a vegan RD, co-author of Vegan for Life and the upcoming Vegan for Her), she has a slide that says there’s no validated evidence that being vegan will keep you from catching what’s going around, and I took some comfort in that. There’s so much anecdotal and empirical information around this, though, that it obviously works for some people—you, for instance: congratulations!

But back to your basic question: I look at veganizing the world the way a salesman looks at having everybody buy his product. He goes for warm leads, people who have already expressed an interest, people who are leaning this way already, or at least have a healthy curiosity. There’s no way I’m going to convince someone to do this who isn’t interested, who either doesn’t care about animals, health, or the environmentalism, or who is thoroughly convinced that what they’re doing now—locavore, organic meat, whatever—is addressing these issues just fine, thank you.

I proudly share that I’m vegan but I don’t offer additional information unless someone asks. People value information more when it comes like tapas—small portions. I have to restrain myself sometimes to keep from giving the 60-minute lecture, but I attempt to keep every answer to a sound bite. Then people hear me, and remember what was said, and very, very often, they ask for more. I also take comfort in that bit of conventional wisdom that suggests that people need to hear about something nine times before it really makes an impression. Maybe I’m vegan #6 for somebody.

And I love what they say in the 12 Step Programs about “attraction rather than promotion.” If I have something that appeals to people, they’ll want to do what I do. The 12 Steppers also say, “This isn’t for people who need it: it’s for people who want it.” The same is true for going vegan. If someone wants it who also happens to have type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, great: this person wanted and needed it. But there are hundreds of thousands of people with that same health profile who have no interest in what they perceive as such a radical change.

My philosophy is that we get all those who are leaning this way and then, when vegans are 50% of the population, maybe, instead of 2.5%, we can go after the ones who genuinely do not want to do this.

Victoria meets a friendly turkey
NVA: You've said that most people come to veganism for two reasons—health or ethical concerns—and that over time, they usually come to understand and embrace the other way, in addition to their own. But what do you tell people who view the use of animals as an injustice—and not simply an "unhealthy choice"—who resent that it makes our way of living look inconsistent, fleeting, and fickle when the latest 'health vegan' celebrity announces he's abandoning it "because I lacked energy" or "admits that she missed meat"?

VM: The ex-vegan issue is a big one. I’ve always thought that if for some, inexplicable reason, I were ever to abandon my principles and go back to animal food (heaven forbid!), I’d do it quietly and with a grieving spirit. I’d be sad, bereft, embarrassed, and I can’t imagine that my response to those emotions would be to splatter all over the Internet that veganism is bad for everybody. Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich, one of my beloved mentors in this movement, stated it so well when he called this approach “couching the abandonment of integrity in the guise of pseudoscience.”

I agree that being vegan, in the way that you and I and Bruce Friedrich and probably the bulk of your readers are vegan, is not a “diet.” I never say, for instance, “My dog is vegan.” I feed my dog vegan food, but if he could get hold of some chicken nuggets—or catch a squirrel—he’d be quite happy about it. Just eating vegan food does not a vegan make—not in that soul-deep, all-encompassing, ethical sense.

On the other hand, if I were the chicken who didn’t get tortured and slaughtered, I wouldn’t care if it was an ethical vegan or a health vegan who opted for the tofu. Even so, I do have concerns with many of the health-only people. First, lots of them aren’t vegan and, to their credit, most don’t pretend to be. They’re “plant-based” and their diets are close to vegan. They do not, however, have that ethical compunction that, in some hypothetical airport where the choice is grilled salmon or French fries (i.e., the “healthy” non-vegan option versus the unhealthy vegan one), would cause them to opt for the non-animal choice, no matter what. (When I think of the people I admire most in this movement—Bruce and Will Tuttle and John Pierre among them—I think that in that airport they’d abstain from both fish and fries and simply fast—maybe having a bottle of water—glass bottle, of course.)

NVA: I was excited to learn of your affiliation with Unity! My grandparents made pilgrimages to Unity Village and kept the literature at home; I still keep a Silent Unity prayer card from them in my wallet. Do you find any connections between veganism and the Unity acceptance of "honoring all paths to God" and "helping people discover and live their spiritual potential and purpose"?

VM: My connection to Unity started because my parents both worked and I was born in the days before daycare. They hired a woman to live with us and take care of me and she happened to be in Unity. She’d also studied Rosicrucianism and Christian Science and she told me about vegetarians, even though she wasn’t one herself, when I was five years old. With her, I’d go to the Catholic Mass as my father required, and then we’d hop on an express bus to the Unity church in Kansas City, the birthplace of both Unity and me.

Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, Unity’s founders, were vocal vegetarians and their first publication, Weekly Unity, had a vegetarian column for many years. Their son, Royal, was vice-president of the International Vegetarian Union at one point, and their son, Lowell (who lived into his 90s) was vegetarian all his life. The other son, Rick, ate meat and took the reins of the organization so the vegetarian message went underground. The Unity Inn, opened as a vegetarian restaurant in the 1800s, started serving meat but kept one vegetarian entr√©e on the menu every day. Unity continued to publish a sole pamphlet called “Vegetarianism” but most churches didn’t order it because the individual ministers were, almost exclusively, not vegetarian.

That is slowly changing. When Main Street Vegan was published, Adair and I were contacted by Denise Blake, a vegan herself and the head, at that time, of Unity Online Radio. She said: “Would you like to have a show on our station? You can call it ‘Main Street Vegan.’ It’s about time we got back to our roots.” It’s become wildly popular. We’ve had great guests including Drs. Neal Barnard, Michael Greger, and Brian Clement, and other experts such as Kris Carr, Jonathan Balcombe, James McWilliams, and Skinny Bitch co-author Rory Freedman, who announced on our show for the first time publically that she had a internal change and is no longer going to swear or use profanity, either in her personal life or in her writing. (Her new book, Beg: A Radical New Way of Regarding Animals, is superb.)

The Main Street Vegan Show airs live on Wednesday afternoons at noon Pacific and 3 Eastern time, and it’s podcasted for listening later at, and on iTunes. That way you can access the past show with Rory or anyone else you find particularly appealing.

I’ve also been invited to go out to Unity headquarters in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, and do a pro-veg retreat April 11-13, 2014. It’s called “The Look-Great, Feel-Amazing, Age-Later Lifestyle.” Anyone who is interested in that can contact Denise Blake,

As for how living a vegan lifestyle complements the spiritual teachings of Unity, I have to say that I believe it complements the spiritual teachings of all religions and any kind of non-religious spirituality that seeks to help individuals find meaning and create a better world. Unity is very big on the power of thought and when you make the mental switch to go vegan, a great deal of power is generated to heal your life and let that ripple out to heal the world. As I see it, there’s no downside.

NVA: Thank you so much, Victoria. We hope to attend the Main Street Academy next year. In the meantime, we'll continue to be faithful friends and fans of your work!