On Behalf of the Innocent — A Plea

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Who is more innocent than the sheep? Born into fluffy, soft bodies, they are the embodiment of all that is good in the world. Their herds are families, and babies prefer to stay with their mothers well into adulthood. Sheep can be a little shy, it’s true, but once you’ve earned their trust, they love you with a bravery and a fervor that deserves admiration. Their affections are profound.

In my time at farm sanctuaries, I’ve gotten to know sheep as well as people know their dogs. I’ve come to know each one in the herd of Underfoots at Catskill Animal Sanctuary as individuals. I’ve understood and accepted that those beautiful yet strange eyes reflect someone looking back at me. Sheep will never be and have never been “it,” or “thing.” Their worth is so much more than what we can take from them. Like any other animal, sheep just want to experience love and to live their lives on their own terms.

Every year, as the warmth of spring begins to break through winter’s grasp, I look at my sheep friends with a twinge of sadness. I know that these sweet sheep are just the lucky ones—very lucky ones—and that over 500 million sheep are killed every single year. If we took only one second to honor each of those 500 million lives lost in 2018, we’d be grieving for nearly the next 16 years.

Traditions are important, I know, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t change in time. If we can recognize the cruelties of animal agriculture, and we can acknowledge that sheep are individuals, with unique personalities and who are capable of such profound love, why can’t we make the leap and say that an animal as wonderful as Scout or Nina doesn’t deserve to be eaten for the sake of a holiday?

So many of the attributes we most commonly associate with dogs and cats (and maybe horses, too) are not unique to companion animals. Chickens can be taught to do tricks. Pigs can be potty trained. Lambs and goats learn their names and can recognize human faces. Why, then, are some animals’ worth reduced to the flesh on their bones?

This year, I hope you can make the connection (if you haven’t already). I hope you can see words on a menu and understand that those words represent once-living beings, who wanted nothing more than to be part of a family, to love and be loved.

Please leave animals like Scout and Nina off your plates this spring holiday. Let the sacrifice stay metaphorical, and spare the lives of their sisters, brothers, cousins, or mothers. Choose compassion; eat plants.

Love Always,
Heather

"Fat Girl. Can't wait."

Picture this: a Fat Girl boards an airplane. She boards early, after buying jetBlue’s “Even More Speed” to make sure the overhead bin situation is manageable, because Fat Girl hates waiting for her baggage at the carousel. After she secures her suitcase in the space above her seat, she settles in. Fat girl watches as people pass her, not wanting to get too comfortable before the person next to her had a chance to sit down.

Finally, some middle-aged man with a ball cap and bluetooth headphones motions to the window seat beside Fat Girl, and Fat Girl gets up and lets him into his chair. As Fat Girl sits back down, she notices the man beside her taking a selfie that she’s in, taking up more than half of the screen, his smug face in the bottom corner of the shot. He had taken it from an upward angle, catching Fat Girl mid-sit, with her blurry, blurry double chin in motion. Fat girl thinks to herself Oh, that’s unflattering, hoping he’ll notice Fat Girl in the photo and take it again, so she can lean to the left—just out of the frame. Instead, Fat Girl watches in horror as the man sends the photo to several friends, one by one, with the caption, “Fat girl. Can’t wait.”

Now imagine Fat Girl’s talcum taste of shame, the burn of anger, and a subtle sadness growing from her heart. Imagine the wall the brain instantly tries to erect, this isn’t happening. You imagined it. You imagined it 3 times. Maybe we’re stuck in a pre-flight anxiety dream… Imagine the pressing need to make her body as small as possible, and the years of work she’d done to make that self-deprecating voice in her head go away. Imagine the arsenal of comebacks she never, ever had to use, vanish, like it was never truly there. Imagine the feeling of confidence she built, grain of sand by grain of sand, until she had a hardened conglomerate masterpiece—a fortress— and how it crumbled in a single instant.

Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty hard for me to write about because the wounds are still so fresh. I was disappointed in myself for allowing it to affect me, furious at having my privacy invaded, and yet somehow, still terrified that I would inconvenience this stranger, thus proving him right.

Inconvenience. A word I had so often labeled myself before, but had banished from my vernacular. Fat girl. A phrase I wore with pride, now used to harm me. I let it harm me.

I wanted to say something to him. I wanted to say something devastatingly witty. I wanted to laugh and say that he missed my good side. I wanted to tell him he should just ask me next time. I wanted to call him an asshole, a dickhead, a misogynist prick. I wanted to call him something. Anything. But all I could do was try to vacate my body.

I disappeared into my book, into wedding planning, and into the sultry tunes of Beyoncé, who is able to help me feel sexy no matter what the circumstances. But still, I could feel the hot waves of emotion ebbing and flowing beneath my surface. I felt tears as fat and heavy as my inconvenient body collecting in the basins of my eyelids.

Two days after the flight, at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Two days after the flight, at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

This is my body. This is what it looks like to be 5/11 and 250 pounds. This is how much space my body takes up. Yes, I am big. But does my size warrant that type of cruelty?

What is is about my body that someone “can’t wait” to endure sitting beside me for a maximum of 3 hours? Is it my thick thighs that rub together in the heat, but were folded together and tucked beneath the edge of my chair? Is it my big, soft, red cheeks that blushed with the slightest inclination of excitement? Is it my arms that I kept wrapped around my waist, holding myself together as if I would come apart at my seams?

There is no excuse for treating another human being that way.

No matter what I look like or what I weigh, I deserve respect.

If I was more petty, or if I were a different type of person, I would post his picture here. I might leave it for other people to judge him in the ways that he and his friends judged me, but I have no desire to degrade someone for their appearance.

Instead, I did something just as risky. I asked for help. I let myself be vulnerable and I posted about what happened between us in my Instagram stories. Asking for help is not easy. Not for me, not for anybody. But I needed human connection, and the response I got was overwhelming, but in a really, really good way.

Special thanks to Edyn & Joelle from the  Vegan Chub Club  for getting my story out there.

Special thanks to Edyn & Joelle from the Vegan Chub Club for getting my story out there.

As we exited the plane, I did have one final opportunity to confront him—the man who “couldn’t wait” to sit next to me. My heart raced as I thought about what to say, but in the end, I decided to try to forgive him instead. After all, it is sad how he had to pick on a stranger to elevate his own sense of self-worth.

Now, a week later, I am able to properly reflect on the experience and all the lessons it taught me. Before I became a part of the body-positivity movement, something like that might have taken years to heal, but I feel happy to have it in my rear-view.

Thank you to every single person who reached out to make sure I was okay. Y’all were the silver lining on a very shit situation. Each and every person was a reminder as to why I even started this website in the first place.

Thank you.

Love Always,
Heather

Why Do People HATE Vegans?

 
Vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals... The only group viewed more negatively than vegans were drug addicts
— Matt Ball, One Step for Animals

Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit... and vegans are a Hezbollah-like splinter faction.
— Anthony Bourdain
 

I do not feel hated. Sometimes, when I talk about veganism or animal rights, I do experience anger from those around me, but I do not admittedly feel “hated.” As a pretty outspoken vegan advocate, a large portion of that anger is experienced only in the internet comments of widely posted articles and random memes. But, I do not have to feel the hate directly to know that it’s there.

Like any vegan, I frequently encounter strangers and those I love the most eating the animals I love. However, I do the best I can to focus my efforts on positively embodying the ideals of this lifestyle. Of course, like anybody, I can become emotional and angry over the triggers I often encounter, but I don’t feel as though my lifestyle deserves a lot of the hatred it gleans.

In case you didn’t know I’m vegan, here’s a convenient label for you.

In case you didn’t know I’m vegan, here’s a convenient label for you.

“Why can’t you just eat normally?”

It’s a question I get asked often. Of course, I think the way I eat is pretty normal, considering I have lived a vegan lifestyle for 2 1⁄2 years and was vegetarian for 9 years before that. I no longer think it’s normal to pay for the flesh of a tortured animal for my enjoyment, and I hardly think that makes me “weird” or worthy of hate.

I figure there are five major reasons why many find vegans so annoying, and they are as follows:

5. Vegans represent change

Calculated by  Vegan Calculator

Calculated by Vegan Calculator

Some folx are better at accepting change than others but most people don’t really like change. Almost everyone understands that due to climate change, limited resources, and a projected population of 9 billion people, something has gotta give in our food system. But to give up animal agriculture completely seems like a massive change—too rapid and too radical. While it is undeniably true that a majority of the blame for global warming can be placed on a select few people and corporations, it is problematic to suggest that nothing we do can truly make an impact. Vegans are a direct representation of the necessity for change in our eating habits. Simply by existing, by shunning animal products, palm oil, and animal-based clothing, we suggest to others that change is inevitable. Whether you believe that adopting a vegan (or vegetarian, or flexitarian) diet will have a positive impact on the world or not, the data is there.

4. The mere suggestion that eating animals is wrong makes people defensive

What usually happens to me is that I will be explaining to someone why I am vegan—or merely state that I am—and whomever I am talking to will tell me that they eat only “humane meat,” and “humane eggs” and “organic milk,” or maybe that they don’t eat that much red meat anyway. That tells me that whomever I’m conversing with is already trying to rationalize their decision to eat meat, but more importantly, that person has become defensive. It’s much easier to just shrug off my lifestyle choice as “extreme” than it is to really examine what those labels mean, and why they are so popular amongst omnivores. I’ve written previously about those labels before, and to make a long story short, the reasoning behind these choices is sound, but I’d encourage everyone to not buy the humane myth.

3. Cognitive Dissonance: a refusal to absorb animal suffering

Picture courtesy of the  Plant Based Bride

Picture courtesy of the Plant Based Bride

Perhaps you’ve witnessed (in person or online) a person abusing a dog. Or maybe you’ve seen one of those unbelievably sad ASPCA commercials of trembling animals in cages, desperately awaiting your donation. Or maybe you’ve noticed a dog kept inside an overheated vehicle and worried about them—all while being angered at whomever had such little regard for a life—an animal who deserves love. Think about that feeling of shock, sadness and anger.

Now, have you ever seen conditions in a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)? Have you been driving on the highway and passed a transport truck of doomed animals in all weather—sub-zero or in intense heat? What, exactly, is the difference between a pig open-mouth panting, packed wall-to-wall with other animals, in a transport truck doing 80 mph in 100°F weather, and a poodle left inside someone’s Range Rover for a half-hour while his humans shop for groceries?

What’s the difference between someone picking up a chicken by his legs and slamming his head on the concrete, and someone else kicking a cat? The only real difference is perception. Most of us are against ALL animal cruelty, and we’re horrified when undercover footage of what happens in CAFOs (factory farms) emerges, but not enough of us do anything about it. It’s a lot easier to shrug it off and think that dogs and cats are more emotional, more intelligent, more worthy of love and life than chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows, and refuse to believe it when people suggest otherwise. It’s easier to say, ”This is how it’s always been,” and to accept eating some animals while loving others is just the American way of life. Somehow, animal suffering means less for non-companion animals.

Graphic courtesy of  Medium

Graphic courtesy of Medium

Cognitive Dissonance is defined by Google as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.” In other words, our brain tries to protect us when information arises that contradicts our values and beliefs. This means it is much easier for folx to just write off vegans as crazy heretics than it is to examine how one’s personal choices contributes to specific problems. Acknowledging this phenomenon is the first step toward opening your heart and mind to forming new opinions and accepting contradictory information as it becomes available.

2. Vegans care more about animals than humans

I suspect there are a fair number of people, vegan and non-vegan, who claim to like animals more than people. In fact, I have a quote on my refrigerator that says “Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” And while I do consider myself an animal lover, I would not say that I care more about the plight of animals than I do about the plight of my fellow humans. In my experience, vegans often advocate for more than one cause, and (largely speaking) most vegans also tend to be very in tune with social justice issues and movements. It may come as a surprise, but the act of eating vegan in itself has multi-faceted benefits that go way beyond simply sparing animal lives. Eating a vegan diet is not the perfect answer by any means, and there are plenty of serious issues that are completely unaffected by a focus on animal rights, but plant-based eating is a personal choice that has big ripple effects. Veganism is in line with many larger movements, like feminism, environmentalism, and the fight for human rights. (You can read more about that in my post Veganism is a Social Justice Movement)

1. Vegans are annoying, bigoted, militant, and elitist

You know what? They absolutely can be. I will totally give you this one. There are plenty of vegans who try their hardest to erase these stereotypes (The V-Spot podcast, The Bearded Vegans, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau just to name a few) but even I know vegans who are like that. Any person who believes in something strongly is prone to getting a little aggressive at times when those beliefs are challenged (that lovely cognitive dissonance at work again), but the true heartbeat of veganism is compassion. There are vegans who choose to be aggressive, who shove dogma over fact-based argument, who refuse to acknowledge when they’ve crossed boundaries, use words like “murder, slavery, holocaust, etc.” to further an agenda without regard for the people they might offend, who celebrate the destruction of families in animal agriculture, celebrate the misery of non-vegans, and completely leave behind that idea of compassion for all. But vegans are hardly the only group of people with members who lack regard for others.

I think what I find annoying, deep down – and, again, some meat-eaters, you don’t have to own up to this, but it might interest you to discover whether you feel it – is the very fact that I can’t discount vegans any more. The thing that’s annoying about there suddenly being lots of them is the nagging suspicion that they might be right. When there were hardly any vegans, I hardly ever had to think about that.
— David Mitchell, The Guardian

The truth of the matter is that no matter how “hated” vegans are, we’re not going away. We’re just a group of people with as many factions, varying beliefs, and appearances as any other group of people. If the mere mention of the word “vegan” is enough to send you down a William-Sitwell-sized spiral, maybe you should reflect upon why that is. And if you’re a vegan who inspires this type of distaste for plant-based eating, please consider new ways of advocating for animals and the earth that does not inspire vitriol in others.

To read more about Cognitive Dissonance or The Backfire Effect, please refer to my favorite comic by The Oatmeal.

Love Always,
Heather

Wedding Planning for Fatties

A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog post about what it means to me to be getting married at my heaviest weight. I’m sure many feminine folx can recall a time where we fantasized about what our wedding dress might look like. I know for many years I tried not to think about it, because I couldn’t quite picture myself get married in my body.

Of all the aspects of planning my wedding, trying on dresses was one task that was shrouded in fear.

I’m not a big fan of reality TV, but I’ve sat through my fair share of Say Yes to the Dress marathons on TLC, and while I’ve never been involved in a wedding until now, I had some sense of what to expect. I’d seen stick-thin women try on gown after gorgeous gown, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever have my moment like those women in Kleinfeld’s.

But, if you’ve been following me on Facebook or Instagram, then you know that not too long ago, I found the perfect dress, and after some deliberation, sitting, standing, and dancing, I said yes.

I said YES to the DRESS at Designer Loft in NYC

I said YES to the DRESS at Designer Loft in NYC

All in all, the experience wasn’t overly maddening. With a little research and a “Plus-Size Options” filter, I was able to find a great selection of designers and dress stores that catered to fat women. Pinterest became my best friend as I pinned and pinned and pinned dress styles that I liked, and figured out the terminology.

Empire, A-line, Fit ‘n’ Flare, Illusion… these were all terms that didn’t really mean very much to me before…

The first place I went to was Designer Loft in New York City. After filling out a profile of dress styles I liked, I did some research on the designers they carried. The website did have some plus-sized options, but they seemed fairly limited. I tried not to get my hopes up as my appointment date approached.

I arrived in Midtown Manhattan with an entourage. One of my best friends, who is also getting married this year, came with her family, and I came with mine. I had asked ahead of time to make sure that all the dresses selected for me be made with all man-made materials, and I was assured that no animal-produced materials would be considered.

Ali, the lovely human who helped me, helped me get situated and showed me the Plus-Size dress collection in the back. Fellow plus-sized folx know how this feels. It’s never fun to be regaled to the back corner while your thin friend picks out clothing in the rest of the store (I’m looking at you, Forever 21).

But thankfully, my options weren’t as limited as they seemed. I did pull a few dresses from the Plus-Size rack, but my bridesmaids also picked ones from the front. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I swallowed my anxiety and put my brave face on.

In the dressing room, I dove arms-first into the first dress. After some shuffling, pulling, squeezing, and sucking-in, Ali held the first dress in place.

I took my reflection in in the mirror as Ali pinched fabric together, looking to see how it was falling on my figure. After a few adjustments, and the application of a bunch of clamps, the first dress was on.

Shock was the biggest thing I felt, and pride followed shortly after. Maybe this won’t be so bad, I thought. I swayed from side to side and the poofy half of the dress moved with me. “Wow,” I said aloud.

That sentiment was echoed as we walked out of the dressing room and in front of my bridal party. That first dress… it was beautiful. I was beaming as I stepped up onto the platform in front of the long, long mirror. Somehow, I suppressed the urge to do the royal wave. For possibly the first time, I felt like a true bride-to-be.

Once I was done being showered with compliments and admiring my own reflection, it was time to try on another dress. Ali removed the clamps, and the dress seemingly lost its magic and it shrugged off my body. A few rough tugs and shimmies later, it was on to the next one.

By the end of it all, I tried on almost 10 different dresses, all held together with clamps, spare fabric, and sheer force of will.

My consultant explained to me that wedding dress samples typically come in a “Wedding 12,” which is actually a size 8. Getting those dresses on and off was a magic act in itself, and by the end, I was definitely sweating. Big props to Ali who was graceful as ever as she shoved layers of tulle and lace over my body.

Though two of those teeny-tiny, totally not plus-size dresses piqued my interest, but I wasn’t quite ready to say yes… yet.

About a month later, I tried on dresses at Ivory & Main, a dress boutique specifically for full-figured women on Long Island.

If you are a full-figured person looking to try on wedding dresses, I cannot recommend a plus-sized boutique enough.

There wasn’t a single gown in the store that was “off-limits” due to my size. (I say “off-limits” in quotation marks because nothing was ever off-limits at Designer Loft either, but it was just different somehow). But additionally, the entire vibe was different. I didn’t get that out-of-place feeling I tend to get when things don’t fit.

At Ivory & Main, the body anxiety just wasn’t there. Though I enjoyed my time at Designer Loft, the experience at Ivory & Main was so different, it was hard to believe they were the same type of store.

I tried on dresses where I could actually squeeze my arms into the sleeves. I tried bustiers, ball gowns, and even a mermaid style dress—something I had never, ever considered as a possibility before.

It’s an amazing feeling when you know that your size isn’t the biggest obstacle to a piece of clothing, and that’s exactly what it was like trying on gowns at Ivory & Main.

I felt like a fat and fabulous princess instead of an over-sized bride squeezed into someone else’s dress.

Andrea, my Ivory & Main consultant, was patient, complimentary, and sweet, and she checked every single dress’s materials for animal products, which was so appreciated.

In the end, though, the dress that won out was a thin-person dress back in NYC, which is being custom-made in my measurements (though it’s worth mentioning that that’s pretty standard, plus-size or no). As much as I’d like to show you pictures, no one gets to see the dress before the wedding!

Especially not a certain fiancé who is known to read this very blog.

So now that I have the dress, am I #SweatingForTheWedding?

Abso-freakin’-lutely not.

You can miss me with your toxic diet culture, thank you very much. I get my clothes to fit me; I don’t get me to fit my clothes. I am not here for the suggestion that I need to lose weight in order to get married. I can present my best self exactly the way that I am.

Because I already AM my best self!

I am loved at my current weight. I am loved if I gain weight. I am loved. That phrase is not what being a bride is all about.

What matters is that I feel happy, confident ,and beautiful on my wedding day. It doesn’t matter how many pounds I lose from now until October, or how toned I can get my arms before the big day. And I’m confident the dress I chose will reflect that.

I have much bigger and better things to worry about rather than how much I can work my body to fulfill an idea of what my body should look like on my wedding day—like picking out the perfect high-waisted bikini to wear on my honeymoon in Hawaii!

Love Always,
Heather

Join the Body Revolution

This time of year can be a little challenging to those of us with body image issues. Between the cold weather, the holiday treats, increased drinking, and increased fatigue due to a decrease in sunlight, it’s easy to eat more and do less.

For so many of us, the winter months are an excuse for us to hole up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and binge watch whatever TV show we’re diggin’ at the moment. Food is very much the highlight of the beginning of winter. Thanksgiving is a binge-fest. Christmas is full of sweets, big meals, family recipes… you name it.

Even TV commercials and programming seem to be centered around food.

Folx, this is not a coincidence. These times are the fat times.

In only a few hours, those sugary sweet advertisements and images of full plates and tables will turn into gym memberships, diet programs, and fitness gear. Like clockwork, December will fade into January, and we will welcome in 2019 by once again promising to fall victim to the same damn marketing ploys that have had our attention since we were old enough to remember.

But this year, we can do better!

As the years have changed, we’ve learned more about what a healthy body looks like (any body can be a healthy body), and we’ve learned more about the seriously damaging effects fat-shaming has on our society. It’s been amazing to witness the shift first-hand, and more and more people in my community & globally have begun to accept their bodies. Around this type of year, one of my favorite graphics begins to go around, giving me hope that others have also begun to find peace in their skin…

Make this year (and every year) a self-care holiday season!

Make this year (and every year) a self-care holiday season!


We’re mere hours from 2019 now. Even if you’ve already considered what your resolution for the New Year might be, this year, consider making it a REVOLUTION instead.

Join the Body Revolution!


Endangered Bodies is a global movement that dares us all to enjoy our bodies exactly the way they are. This year more than ever, diet companies are starting to hear us, saying we’re “fine the way we are,” but that is not enough.

Going into the new year, when you start to hear Weight Watchers, and Noom, and Planet Fitness, etc. talk about changes you should make, ask yourself, Who profits off this? If the answer is anyone but yourself, think again, my loves.

Loving your body is possible. Let’s make 2019 the year that our resolution becomes a revolution.

Love Always,
Heather

Thanksgiving’s Bittersweet

I used to love Thanksgiving. It was never my favorite holiday, but there was always a tradition to look forward to in November. When I was a child, my family and I would travel to spend Thanksgiving with my grandmother, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. We’d play Mario Kart, build houses out of cardboard bricks, watch Nickelodeon, and “help” in the kitchen. We’d watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade and later, when my father would watch football, we’d go for walks in my cousins’ backyard.

As we got older, we moved out on our own, we got jobs, and we had to worry about airfare hikes. Thanksgiving seemed like less of a priority, but if we could make it happen, we would. Our lives seemingly spread further and further apart each year, and our traditions were forced to change, but we still made as much time for togetherness as we could, even if it was digital.

When I was young, Thanksgiving didn’t carry any of the bitterness I’ve felt in recent years. I never thought much about the animal whose smell permeated the house, whose body cooked for four hours in the oven while my mother whipped up stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pies like it was nothing. Turkeys were never animals to me; they were food.

But even after I was vegetarian, and I recognized that turkey didn’t deserve to be eaten, I’d never bat an eye as we went as a family to pick up the body; How many pounds? and Do you want any sides with that? I can even remember making a wish and pulling at half of the wishbone with my siblings to see whose wish would come true, a tradition that continued even after I declined to take part in eating the body.

It never bothered me to see my mother handling the bird, the heavy, lifeless body basting in its own “juices.” The smell didn’t even really bother me much back then.

Ten whole Thanksgivings went by before Thanksgiving earned a bitter aftertaste to me. Everything changed when I met a live turkey for the first time and touched her soft feathers as she came over to investigate me, a new companion to play with.

Beatrice preening me in exchange for the good pets (Woodstock Farm Sanctuary)

Beatrice preening me in exchange for the good pets (Woodstock Farm Sanctuary)

Beatrice at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary was the first turkey who stole my heart. Beatrice, who had a very severe beak trimming very early in life, has become one of the most affectionate and outgoing beings at the sanctuary. She often comes over and begs for attention, just like a dog would.

Beatrice

Was born on a commercial turkey farm where her beak was cut without painkillers or anesthesia. Thankfully, she was spared from her fate of being a centerpiece one Thanksgiving and will live out her days at Woodstock!

Even though I came to farm sanctuaries loving all animals, I never imagined that the turkeys would command much of my attention. I assumed I would be enamored by the goats, the cows, or the pigs, but never imagined wanting to return to spend more time with the turkeys.

To me, part of what makes the turkeys so special is how much they want to be loved. They yearn for human connection. Even though they can pick clovers out of the ground themselves, they love it most when they can eat it straight from your hand. Even though they came from horrendous abuse, they still want to have their chests massaged. Even though so many people think turkeys are so stupid they’d drown in the rain, they demonstrate time and time again that they not only have the capabilities to problem-solve, but they also have individuality.

So often it’s the turkeys who connect with folx who visit. It’s the turkeys who change people’s hearts by connecting and by loving. It’s as if their soft feathers are made of magic; one touch and your heart is changed. After spending time with turkeys, they quickly became my new favorite animal (sorry, koalas).

I love turkeys because they’ll surprise you. They’re unexpectedly intuitive; they’re gentle with kids and a little more excited around familiar faces. They remember ones who love them. They purr like cats do when you massage them just right, and they like to sit on your lap if they trust you. They have so many ways of expressing their love, from slow, quiet blinks, to relaxed wing feathers, to gentle coos.

Enjoying a winter snuggle with my best friend, Imogen at Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

Enjoying a winter snuggle with my best friend, Imogen at Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

Falling in love with Beatrice and Imogen and all the other turkeys I’ve come to know has changed me. Suddenly, it wasn’t just Thanksgiving anymore; it wasn’t just a day to be with my family anymore; and it wasn’t just someone else’s food choice anymore. The centerpiece of Thanksgiving became someone’s body, and it broke my heart.

46-48 million turkeys are killed every year for Thanksgiving.

And that’s just a fraction of the number of turkeys who are killed throughout the course of a year. Just to put that into perspective, that number for one day is the equivalent of the entire population of Spain being killed in one fell swoop. It’s every single person living in California PLUS 7 million more.

It’s a little hard to celebrate a day knowing that so many will die for a holiday that is already based on a lie.

So for me, and for so many others who don’t believe in eating animals, Thanksgiving has become a bittersweet day. It’s sad knowing that the focus of this holiday has shifted away from gratitude and togetherness in favor of a traditional roasted bird. For some, it’s not even “Thanksgiving” anymore, it’s “Turkey Day.”

People make light of it from the moment Halloween fades into November, and folx don hats of headless, featherless bodies, or sing twisted preschool songs of turkeys being killed, basted, and baked, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find it funny.

As featured in  Where the Sidewalk Ends  by Shel Silverstein

As featured in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Last year, I wrote an open letter to turkey eaters all over the country. With a version of that same letter, I also convinced my family to forego eating animals for Thanksgiving, and they thankfully agreed.

This year, for the second time, my Thanksgiving will spare the life of a turkey instead of taking one. For my Thanksgiving, no one will have to die for me to say “thank you,” and “I love you” to the people in my life.

Me massaging Imogen, who is happily relaxing into my lap

Me massaging Imogen, who is happily relaxing into my lap

Thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving without eating turkey might be scary or seem sad, but with all the alternatives that exist these days, we can still enjoy the taste sensations we’ve come to love and expect without harming someone, harming the environment, or our health. The days of vegans eating only green beans and cranberry sauce are long past, and now there are so many faux-turkey choices to choose from, a person can go mad discovering which one is the best.

I hope this is the year that number begins to decline. I hope this year, more of us recognize the individuality of these birds, understand that they’re intelligent, and that they want to live. I hope this year is the most plant-based year yet!

Love Always,
Heather

Winter is Coming... Stay Warm Compassionately

If you’ve been following me for a while on social media, then you already know how much I love sheep. Not only are sheep absolutely adorable, super fluffy, and sweet loves, they are also the non-human animal most like me.

Sheep are shy, almost introverted. They’re very hesitant to trust new faces, but the connections they build are strong and powerful. They hate to be separated from their loved ones. They like to roam and explore, as long as they can be together with their family. Once you’ve earned a sheep’s trust, they’ll remember you and continue to give trust to you freely. They are loyal to the nth degree.

Enjoying a snuggle with Marin at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

Enjoying a snuggle with Marin at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

Before I went vegan, I didn’t know very much about the wool industry. I was under the safe assumption that sheep enjoy being shorn because that’s what I had been told. I’d heard stories of sheep who walk up to their shearing stalls, desperate to have their wool removed. I’d even seen it first-hand at various festivals.

I thought, well, if sheep are going to produce wool anyway, what’s the harm in using it to keep warm?

That picture-perfect ideology of what farming “should be” is a lie—but worse, it covers up all manner of evils in the larger wool industry by making us completely misunderstand what raising sheep for wool is like.

Christopher Sheep at his home at Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Christopher Sheep at his home at Catskill Animal Sanctuary

This is Christopher. He is a Barbados sheep, and as a result, he’s a little different from what most of us grew up thinking sheep looked like. Actually, he’s often confused for a goat at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, where he lives with his friends. His wool is more like hair. It’s not curly or fluffy like most sheep we see today, and actually, he is one of the only sheep who does not need to be shorn. He, like all sheep should, sheds his wool naturally, like a cat or dog (though he does appreciate some assistance with a good brushing).

Modern sheep have been selectively bred to produce so much wool that they cannot shed it on their own, meaning they actually do need to be shorn. If they are not shorn, many of them would overheat in the summer, so shearing is a sad necessity when one loves sheep.

Your fave fatty giving a freshly shorn Scout some love.

Your fave fatty giving a freshly shorn Scout some love.


Sheep farmers would have us believe that sheep don’t mind being shorn. Many are often happy to provide anecdotal evidence in support of raising people for their wool, but generally speaking, sheep hate being shorn.

At Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS), where I work as a tour guide, shearing day is outrageously stressful for the animals. Many of the sheep hyperventilate, display anxiety, and need to take breaks from the shears in order to get through it. A few years back, one of the babies (Seneca) was so stressed out during shearing day that she had to go through the remainder of the season half-shorn (which looked like a rad undercut).

At CAS, as I’m sure you can imagine, the folx who shear the sheep are encouraged to go as slowly and gently as possible. Whereas shearers on large-scale farms are paid per sheep and are often careless and violent in trying to get through as many sheep as they can, humane shearers are paid by the hour. The focus is on making sure that nobody gets hurt.

Having a laugh as a very impatient Stewie can’t understand why I’m not using both hands to pet him.

Having a laugh as a very impatient Stewie can’t understand why I’m not using both hands to pet him.

I can only imagine what it might feel like to be at a hair salon with an inexperienced, rough hair stylist who was encouraged to get me over with as quickly as possible, not caring if I got hurt or not.

I think we’d all like to imagine the idyllic picture of sheep grazing on a hill somewhere in Scotland or New Zealand, living their lives and being herded by an old, friendly shepherd, but that’s just not the reality for most of the sheep who provide the wool that winds up in clothing. Even those sheep who have that great, beautiful life often endure more than any being should.

Helen Gutfreund, Happy Hempy Days CBD consultant, recalls shearing a sheep while on vacation in New Zealand. These types of experiences are often advertised and popular with tourists because it offers a unique opportunity to be a part of something we all think of as “natural.” Helen says, “I was a wreck. I nicked the poor baby with the clippers and felt terribly.”

Nicks and cuts are actually more common than you might think, as so many sheep have been selectively bred to have extra folds of skin so that they will grow more wool. Especially when one considers the speed in which shearers often go, the actual practice of shearing is often bloody and rough.

But one of the worst parts about wool production is what happens when the babies are very young. Common practices for those who raise sheep for their wool are mulesing and tail docking.

Mulesing is the process in which strips of skin around the sheep’s anus are cut off without any painkillers or anesthesia. This is done to lambs when they are very young. This inhumane practice is thought to reduce the risk of contaminating the sheep’s wool with fecal matter and of infection, or flystrike.

Tail docking is the practice of removing one’s tail without any painkillers or anesthesia. This, too, is done to lambs when they are young because they are thought to be able to endure the pain better. The tails are removed because if the sheep are without their tails, they have less of a chance of flinging fecal matter on the rest of their wool, which is obviously bad for business.

Doin’ a good scritch for Stewie with his long, fluffy tail. Davey begging behind him.

Doin’ a good scritch for Stewie with his long, fluffy tail. Davey begging behind him.

When I first started coming to animal sanctuaries, I didn’t even know that sheep had long, fluffy tails. I had always assumed their tails were short and stubby, because that’s all I had ever seen before. Toy sheep typically don’t even have tails, or if they do, they have short stubs where their tails should be. The first sheep I’d ever seen with tails were rescued young at Catskill Animal Sanctuary (no fecal matter on their bodies, though).

The saddest and most difficult to thing to fathom about sheep who are raised for their wool is what happens to them once they get older. Eventually, sheep are exported live to slaughterhouses where they will become a meal for someone else. Australia and New Zealand are among the biggest producers of wool, and they got into a bit of hot water last summer as thousands of sheep died in transport in deplorable conditions on a “death ship” to the Middle East.

But that happens to sheep on small scale “humane” farms, too. I can recall going to a Sheep & Wool Festival a few years ago and watching animals (including sheep) being sold at a livestock auction. I can recall watching sheep being shorn right in front of me, standing as still as a stone, eyes wide as saucers. I can also recall that it snowed that day, and how fast people were buying up the wool hats and scarves and coats, while the sheep shivered in their pens.

But if sheep are going to produce wool that needs to be cut off anyway, what should we do with it? At CAS, we only shear them when it is absolutely necessary, and we put the cut wool in the woods so that other animals can use it in their nests.

There are so many alternatives to wool out there. Acrylic is just as fun to knit with and doesn’t cause an animal a lifetime of suffering.

So this winter, please consider keeping warm humanely. Check the materials of clothing before you buy them, and make sure your blankets are 100% man-made.

Winter is coming… snuggle up with compassion!

My best girl, Scout.

My best girl, Scout.


Love Always,
Heather

Vegan Travel: Orcas Island, Washington

Last week, I went to one of my favorite places in the entire world, Orcas Island. Orcas is not a very well-known destination, but it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Nestled at the very tip-top of the “Upper Left” of the USA, it offers breathtaking mountains, lakes, and of course, beaches on the Salish Sea. With a classic Pacific Northwest feel, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a place to live—it’s got summers that are hot but not overbearing, winters that aren’t too snowy or cold, ocean access, lake access, hiking, not a huge population, amazing wildlife, and great vibes.

The View from Red Rabbit Farm on Orcas Island

The View from Red Rabbit Farm on Orcas Island

One of the only drawbacks of visiting is that there’s not very many options in the way of restaurants that readily accommodate vegans. That being said, many of the restaurants are willing and able to whip up amazing dishes upon request, but… I do miss the availability of easy vegan choices that I’ve come to love in the Hudson Valley.

Lately, I’ve come to resent the never-ending bustle of my life. It’s not that I dislike what I do… I love the jobs I have and the things I do, but it’s a struggle to maintain a work week that is 6 sometimes 7 days long. So I was in great need of a vacation.

We flew from JFK to Seattle, where we met up with the folks from Kenmore Air, who shuttled us to a smaller airport at Boeing Field. From there, we got on a teeny tiny little plan that sat 10 people and flew to the San Juan islands.

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The plane was so small, they asked me how much I weighed when I booked the tickets. This is unnerving, as I’m sure you can imagine, in more than one way.

When we finally landed in Orcas Island, I was so excited! It was just about dinner time on the west coast, so we set out to find something to eat. We wound up at Madrona Bar & Grill, where the service was excellent, but the vegan choices were…nonexistent. The last time I went to Orcas Island, they had created a vegan pasta dish with delicious vegetables, but this time, our only option was spaghetti plain with olive oil.

The next day, however, we ate our fill at Red Rabbit Farm, where they have weekly dinners at long, communal tables. The dinners are family style, and consist of a variety of different foods passed around the table. The last time I went, I wasn’t vegan, so I asked ahead of time if they would be kind enough to accommodate, and did they ever accommodate.

Christina, the chef at Red Rabbit, made the most delicious vegetables and a rice pilaf, which was exceptional AND colorful. The glazed beets were a personal favorite. For our main course, the chef made tofu Fish & Chips with a delectable vegan tartar sauce that had capers and fresh garlic and it was so good, I ate it by the spoonful. She used nori to give the tofu an extra “seafood” flavor. I am a huge fan of Gardein’s fishless filets, but WOW. That was the best fish alternative I’ve ever had. Then came dessert—something I admittedly did not expect to partake in. We had delectable apple crumble. I love Red Rabbit Farms because it’s not just about the food (even though the food is extremely noteworthy). The setup of the dinners revolves around community. The long tables encourage conversation among patrons. Sadly, the owners of Red Rabbit Farms are seeking to sell their land and will probably not be doing any more dinners, but I feel honored to have been a part of the last one.

The following day, we got to go on a whale watch with Outer Island Excursions where we tracked the Southern Resident Orca Whales and saw some of the whales in J and K pod. Our captain, Lindsey, took us into Canadian waters to see awesome surface behavior, like spy-hopping (where they pop their heads out of the water to see what’s going on), full breaches (pretty full-body jump out of the water), and plenty of tail-slapping. We even got to see Stellar Sea Lions toward the end of our tour.

Male resident orca J-26 (Mike) with some ladies

Male resident orca J-26 (Mike) with some ladies

After we warmed up a little from being on the boat, we drove through Moran State Park to the top of Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. The drive up to the top of the mountain is not easy… it’s a lot of sharp turns and big cliffs. We made it, though, and we were treated to an incredible view.

The view from the lookout tower on Mount Constitution, 2,399 feet above sea level

The view from the lookout tower on Mount Constitution, 2,399 feet above sea level

Once we were back out of the clouds, we went to the local grocery store, Island Market, to pick up a few things for dinner at home. For a place sadly lacking in vegan options at restaurants, the grocery stores sure have plenty of great plant-based foods! We picked up some Miyoko’s cheese, Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon, Daiya cheddar shreds, Field Roast chorizo, and Gardein chickenless tenders. We had a delicious dinner of grilled veggies (loved the grilled broccoli) and chorizo.

The next day was a highlight for me! We jumped on a morning ferry and drove to Friday Harbor in San Juan Island to visit Island Haven Farm Sanctuary and the wonderful animals who live there. Julie Duke, director of the sanctuary, took me and family around to meet the wonderful beings who get to live out the remainder of their lives in peace. It was a one-on-one visit, and we got to hear the details of each being we met. I fell in love with everyone. Some highlights for me were meeting alpacas for the very first time, playing with Taco and Tamale the goats, and scrubbing Fred, the very big pig, who was snuggling with his life partner, Missy. The grounds were idyllic, rolling hills set a stone’s throw away from the bustle of Friday Harbor and the animals seemed happy and healthy. Julie and I traded sanctuary stories and talked about the importance of rescue work in a non-vegan world.

I learned that Fred and Missy, the two pigs, often leave flowers for one another while they are sleeping. I’ve made my views about pigs pretty well known throughout my time writing for this blog, but I think that’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever heard.

Island Haven Animal Sanctuary is a much needed hub in the midst of cattle country. From the safety of the grounds, I could see doomed cows grazing in the nearby field, a sad reminder that animal rescue can often feel like hopeless work. But I’m glad that places like Island Haven exist, and that folx like Julie Duke put in so much time, money, and effort into making the world a better place for animals.

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Back on Orcas Island, we did a quick sunset kayak paddle before heading out to dinner. It was a stark difference to find ourselves from Island Haven to Inn at Ship Bay, where they proudly served mangalitsa pig flesh from the animals they raised onsite, but at least we were able to get a memorable vegan meal (off menu, of course). The rice and vegetable meal the chef prepared for us was delightful. So much so that I completely forgot to take a picture! We even got to have homemade pear sorbet for dessert.

Then, just like that, the trip was over. It went by (as always) way too fast. BUT, I know I will remember it forever, and not just because it was epic, but also because I got engaged!

I said yes, by the way.

I said yes, by the way.

Love Always,
Heather

Taking Risks

 
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Fear can be an overwhelming emotion. When it sinks its teeth into our veins, it radiates volts through our nerves in pulses, and sometimes even the simplest movements can seem challenging. If you're a person who suffers from anxiety or obsessive behaviors, fear is such a common thing, we sometimes don't even recognize it when it controls our movements and dictates the things we will and will not do. 

When that fear radiates around body insecurity, or limitations I have because of my shape, those fears can be amplified because a lot of the time, people don't consider what it's like to live in a fat body. There are things that I'd like to do, but either my brain or my body will not allow me to.

Sometimes, even writing about fear can be challenging. Fear is one of the most common emotions, but the way it affects each of us is different. No matter what the root of it is, it makes us feel vulnerable, but we almost always come out of the other side feeling as though we're on a high—we faced something horrible and came out the other side with a fresh perspective, with adrenaline, and a profound sense of happiness. 

For me, hiking is a risk. It's not that I don't enjoy it, because I do, but I often hike with people who have a much greater ability to move around than I do. What's interesting is that it's not all about the limitations on my body because of my weight. A significant part of what fuels my fear is that I don't trust my own footing. 

I grew up in suburban Long Island. My idea of "rock climbing" was someone's 8th birthday party, where I would freeze halfway up the rock wall, knees shaking, unable to move another step toward the bell at the top. My idea of "hiking" was taking a stroll through the manicured nature preserves. It wasn't that my world was small, it just existed on pretty flat ground. 

The first time I hiked on a mountain, I was 19 years old. My best friend Cecilia took me on a trip to Vermont to hike with her and her father in October, and I was... underprepared. She took me to Stratton Mountain and our first trail was the black diamond ski trail.

As you can probably tell, inclines of almost 90 degrees didn't quite do it for me in my All-Stars. In the left photo, I'm frozen with fear at the precipice of an enormous hill as Cecilia's father tries to literally talk me down. On the right, I'm embarrassed and anxious and hoping I'd never have to do anything like that again.

Clearly, I got over it...

Clearly, I got over it...

Of course, I did go hiking again. And again, and again.

Every time, though, I have to talk myself through the fear. Last time I went hiking, just a week and a half ago, I thought I had found the perfect trail. It was relatively short—only 4 miles—and didn't have too much of an incline. It took us right by a waterfall and the reviews kept talking about the beautiful "vistas." 

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

We got heckin' lost in the Shawagunks.

We got heckin' lost in the Shawagunks.

As easy as the trail seemed like it would be, we got pretty lost. We were supposed to loop back to the waterfall where we started our hike, but somehow, we wound up scaling cliffs with real rock climbers with helmets and ropes. 

And then it started to rain.

Fear, to me, said, "You'll never make it to the car in time." Fear said, "Maybe you'll get struck by lightning." Fear said, "Could you even make it out alive?"

Ethan, my boyfriend, said, "Give me the map," sensing my growing panic. He took it and ran off in a few directions, trying to find the correct path we were supposed to take, and he returned, saying that we needed to backtrack significantly to better get our bearings. "Unless," he said, "you want to climb down this way, but you won't like it." 

I made my way over to the path so that I could sense for myself, but Ethan was right. It was a wall of rock. Only about a 7 or 8 foot drop, but not one I could have landed. He motioned to a foothold and explained that I could climb my way down, if I was up for it.

Here's where the fear crept up from my fingertips all the way up to the roots of my hair. I felt it zip up and down my spine, felt it tense and loosen my leg muscles, felt the rise of discomfort in my throat, and I decided I would try it anyway. 

Ethan said he'd talk me through it, and even though I trusted him, I was still uncomfortable with every step. He leaped over the edge, landing with a loud THUD on the soil below. He instructed me to turn around as if I were walking down a ladder. I reached my right foot down, down, down so far I had to crouch as far as I could go with my left leg, but I didn't reach the ground underneath and I pulled myself all the way back up. 

"I can't reach," I whined. "I'm stuck. I can't do it. Can't go up, can't go down. What do I do?"

"Heather," Ethan said, "you were touching the ground with your foot. You literally brushed it before you pulled yourself back up. You can do it. I'll catch you if you fall."

Now, fellow fat folx, I'm sure you probably can understand where I'm coming from when my fear whispered in my ear, "Like hell he can!" He had both his hands on my back holding me up and I tried again. I bent down, down, down, and I silenced the voice in my head that told me I was too fat to move my body that way, and I silenced the voice in my head that said I was hurting my boyfriend by making him support me like that, and I silenced the voice in my head that told me I was stuck halfway up a rock on Mt. Minnewaska. 

My foot reached the ground. I climbed down.

The fear melted away fast, like a slice of butter in a frying pan, like ice pops in August, and I was not only relieved, but I felt proud.

I was afraid, but I did it anyway. My body had limitations, but I managed within them. I got lost in the mountains and found my way back to the car.

There are so many things worth doing in life that set off the fear in my brain. Hiking is just one of them, but it reminded me of my fight to stop hating my body. That battle was a lot bigger, harder, and longer. 

If I can conquer self-loathing, and I can conquer a mountain, what will I conquer next?

Stay tuned :)

What a rush! 

What a rush! 

Love Always,
Heather

Veganism is a Social Justice Movement

Veganism exists at the crossroads of feminism and animal rights.
— Bob Comis, former pig farmer

It is HARD these days to be a compassionate person. I have found it difficult to be anything more than numb so many times in this political climate. America has become reckless with basic human rights. In smaller circles, we joke about how this is the "darkest timeline," but the things that are going on every day are enough to gut a person.

I often feel overwhelmed by all the causes I try to give money to, the hashtags, the campaigns, the deaths... but I do what I can. I donate, I speak out, I write, I teach, I advocate, I protest. Most importantly, I vote.

Earlier this year, I talked about "The Bigger Picture" of veganism and how much of an impact a plant-based diet can have. Though my post was far from all-encompassing, and there are many issues outside of what I discussed, the influence of a vegan diet remains far-reaching. In this post, I will discuss the ideology of veganism and how it can affect a person's outlook on life. 

The basic ideology behind a vegan lifestyle is that we are all the same. The heart of veganism is literally heart. Compassion and love for ALL BEINGS is what it's all about.

It's about compassion for insects, to animals used for food, to wild animals, to pets, to your neighbor, to entire groups of people (even people who eat meat!). This is what vegans believe in. This ideology is not radical, it's not extreme, and it's not farfetched. In fact, it's also the basis of most religions. Love thy neighborDo unto others. The distinctions humans make between fellow humans and among different species is arbitrary. Why do we try so hard to be different? 

Obviously, in the current political climate, there has been a lot of discrimination among fellow humans. When we examine the linguistics behind this, a narrative begins to take shape. "These aren't people; these are animals," "Lock them in cages," "Monkeys," "Pigs," even a call to "put them down." We make others feel inferior by making them subhuman. In many cases, designer dogs have more protections than a people that is marginalized. 

image credit:  Lalo Alcaraz

image credit: Lalo Alcaraz

This kind of rhetoric matters. We have a lengthy history of treating, selling, and working humans "like animals." Throughout our history, we've had a need to subjugate others. There has been a lot of research into the "othering" of people, but we are doing ourselves a disservice if we don't consider our treatment of animals into this equation. 

Before I delve into this a little further, there are some important disclaimers to make. It is wrong to try to compare traumas. It is wrong to equate what happens in animal agriculture to slavery, slaughterhouses to a holocaust, confinement to internment camps, separation of immigrant families to dairy farming. It is wrong to use the problematic #AllLivesMatter hashtag to propel an Animal Rights cause. Though I (and most other vegans) personally believe that animals and humans are equals on this planet, that doesn't make these tone-deaf types of comparisons okay.

The worst types of suffering cannot be properly quantified or compared.

Animals used for food are treated abysmally. The things they must endure so that a human can experience a fleeting taste sensation cannot be properly compared to anything. The same, of course, can be said of human suffering. Some of the darkest times in our history (slavery, genocide, internment, segregation, subjugation) involve suffering and injustice so severe that we belittle the memory by trying to compare it to anything. There is nothing so terrible as slavery except for slavery. There is nothing so horrifying as genocide except genocide. These atrocities deserve respect, and as such, they cannot be used to further anyone's cause or to draw a parallel. Lazy comparisons are NEVER an excuse to belittle anyone's trauma or memory. 

Now, if we look at what's going on in modern society, we have a lot of dehumanization justifying horrendous acts of incivility. We have a major human rights crisis in our hands. Families have been separated, imprisoned, and belittled. How did we get here?

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African American citizens are being gunned down in their own backyards and on American streets for the crime of living in a broken police state. People of color are jailed, killed, and segregated. How did we get here?

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Nazis are marching in the streets, running people over in the street, citing religion as their justification for spreading a message of hatred. How did we get here?

The dehumanization of a people is one of the most crucial steps of allowing unthinkable violence to happen to our peers. By making human beings into animals, we allow them to be treated like animals. This is where Animal Rights come in. Though the fight for equal rights for all species is far from a solution, it's illogical to think that these movements are not connected. 

Last year, Catskill Animal Sanctuary caught some flack for posting a photo with the caption "Love trumps hate." Supporters of the animal haven questioned why they had to stray from their steady flow of animal pictures to weigh in on a very real topic of discussion. Why can't we leave politics out of our fight for animal equality? Because they are interconnected. 

Catskill’s mission is to champion veganism, but what fuels that mission is an unwavering belief that all who breathe — regardless of regardless of race, religion, social class, sexual orientation, or species — are entitled to joy. “All hearts yearn to sing,” is how I often inscribe my books. You see, when one’s heart is truly open, ALL suffering is intolerable. There is a line connecting voting rights, desegregation, immigration, marriage equality, and our work to free animals from suffering at human hands. We have to be political.
— Kathy Stevens, Catskill Animal Sanctuary

This brazen stance may be seen as polarizing by some, but there is a greater call amongst vegans to embrace the social justice aspects of our movement. There certainly has been a trend recently on both sides of the social justice coin toward plant-based living, a trend that includes aforementioned Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, of course, is one of the most controversial figures of our time, and enough of his critics has referred to him as "lesser" or "animal." He is most known for his activism and refusal to stand for the national anthem, but not many know that he is also vegan. Kaepernick is a brave activist who is supported by citizens of the world, leftist politicians, and veterans alike. By kneeling, he stands up against inequality, and works to "fight oppression of all kinds." 

Colin Kaepernick isn't the only activist to have made the connection between animal rights and human rights. Other badass vegans include Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Dolores Huerta, Rosa Parks, Shaun King, and Cesar Chavez. 

Veganism doesn't only apply to race-related social justice movements, however. It also comes up a lot when we talk about feminism. In my posts about dairy and eggs, I've touched on how the female body is exploited to the nth degree in animal agricultural practices. Females used for milk and eggs have their reproductive system on overdrive as they are forced to live shortened lives of disease and pain for the sake of animal byproducts. 

For many, we are on the cusp of major change with the growth of the #MeToo movement. Finally, across industries, we are seeing men who have abused their power being brought to justice. And while we certainly wish that these effects could be more wide-reaching for humans, those of us who fight for animal rights also wish that animals were even part of the conversation. 

This was the  cover story  in a Friends of Animals spread.

This was the cover story in a Friends of Animals spread.

Imagine what it would be like if you had been bred to go through a menstrual cycle every single day. This is the life of a modern egg-laying hen. In the wild, jungle fowl (the original chicken) only lay 10-12 eggs per year, whereas chickens, whether they're in your neighbors backyard or in battery cages, lay between 300 and 350 eggs per year. Such a high demand wreaks havoc on the bodies of hens, and they develop reproductive disease within their first year of life.

Similarly, dairy cows have been bred to produce ten times the amount of milk than they ever would naturally. And just as no human will wake up randomly producing breastmilk, in order for a cow to lactate, she needs to first be made pregnant.

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Just as humans do, mother cows bond instantly with their babies. Just as humans do, cows carry their babies for about nine months before giving birth. Just as humans do, the babies (given the chance) would grow up alongside their mother. The sad reality, though, is that calves are separated from their mothers within the first 48 hours of life if not immediately.

Mothers and their babies will cry for one another for weeks on end. Anyone who has seen video footage of this can speak to the devastation of these sentient, emotional beings. After a while, the mother cow will stop lactating, and she will be forcefully impregnated again. 

Females are the biggest victims of the animal agriculture industry, forcing to endure some of the harshest cruelties before they are considered "spent" and will be killed. 

Given how hard many Animal Rights Activists (ARAs) work to eradicate cruelty to animals, you would think the vegan community would be a compassionate place. However, misogyny is as big of a part of the population amongst ARAs as it is elsewhere. This is the center of the Friends of Animals article, "What Animals and Women Have in Common.

[Feminism and Animal Rights] are so intertwined. Animal agriculture is built on violation of motherhood, reproductive subjugation. There are terms like rape rack; it’s all about dominating, subjugating a species, and reducing them to objects. So if we are fighting for dismantled speciesism and equal consideration for nonhuman animals, we have to completely practice that when it comes to how women are treated in the movement, and insist on total gender equality and complete respect for women. To in any way belittle, objectify or be dismissive of women and their experiences or suffering at the hands of men or just in general is a complete contradiction. We have to practice what we preach.
— Julie Gueraseva, founder and creative and editorial director of LAIKA magazine,

The larger problem, though, is how engrained toxic masculinity is into meat consumption. Men who eat less meat are often considered "less manly," or weaker by other men, and the numbers don't lie. Over 70% of all vegans identify as female. 

And it's no wonder why. Women are considered (to this day) to be lesser, and what better way to draw that connection than by comparing them to animals? When "beef" is a euphemism for penis and the more of it you eat, the more manly you are, is it any wonder why scientists have data to back up the idea that toxic masculinity and meat consumption are linked?

The bottom line is that the way in which we regard animals matter. It has bigger implications than the way we treat beings used for food, which is why Veganism is more than just a dietary choice. When we view animals as equals, our outlook on the entire world shifts. More and more, ARAs are waking up to the larger issues facing the world today. Under this presidency, it is irresponsible to do otherwise.

Veganism is COMPASSION and LOVE—for all species, including humans.

Love Always,
Heather

What's Wrong with the Vegan Body Type?

Of course we shouldn’t be ever putting anyone else down because of where they’re at with their journey... Sometimes passion gets the best of people, especially early on in their journey, and maybe they just want everyone to know what they’ve already learned, but no. Everyone is on their own path. Food is very personal...
— Jasmin Singer, Author, via The Chickpeeps Podcast

If you look at the hashtag #WhatVegansLookLike, you will see a wide variety of people who proudly represent the vegan community. If you go to any VegFest, protest, or march, the people that show up do not abide by a single physical description. The fact of the matter is that vegans come in all shapes, sizes, creeds, colors, abilities, genders, and orientations. Why, then, does the idea persist that vegans need to look a certain way in order to truly represent this community?

If you conjure up the image of a "typical vegan," an angry, thin white girl comes to mind. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with fitting that description, there is something wrong with suggesting that all vegans should look this way. 

Body shaming is a very big, real, and pervasive problem in the vegan community. It's not uncommon to come across vegan or Animal Rights messaging featuring two different body types—one vegan (thin) and one non-vegan (fat). These comparisons come up the most when we talk about the health benefits of adopting a vegan diet. While there is little doubt that a vegan diet does improve one's health, some Animal Rights Activists (ARAs) accompany their claims using comparison photos that use body shaming as a tactic to get people to convert to a plant-based diet. I think a big part of this problem is that so many vegans don't even realize the problematic themes that linger behind these type of comparisons.

To most of us, the problems behind the pictures are pretty obvious. But for those of us who don't quite get it, let me try to explain. These photos are broken down into RIGHT vs. WRONG, PRETTY vs. UGLY, HEALTHY vs. UNHEALTHY. When we post things like this, we might not always realize that this is what's being conveyed, but in each of these photos, there's someone to revere and someone to revile. The point of these images, of course, is to promote a healthy plant-based lifestyle, but other harmful assumptions come along with comparisons like the ones above.

A person like me, vegan AF, healthy, happy, but fat, looks at these photos and feels as though they don't quite "fit" into the vegan suit, and are therefore somehow less vegan than those who fit the standard idea of a beautiful body. I have worked very hard to be confident in my skin. I've made it to a place where I can reflect on these images and see the flaws in them rather than accept them as truth, but a few years ago, a picture like any of the ones above would have leveled me. I would have internalized that too-familiar feeling of not being good enough. I would wonder how a community that I embraced would find a body like mine to be repulsive. This is why it's important that we work together to embrace the compassion that is at the center of vegan living and to think critically about shaming a body for falling outside of society's criteria for "acceptable." There is no way to separate that negativity and shame from anything helpful we may have tried to convey.

There is no wrong way to have a body. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all.

If you want to celebrate your body, your lifestyle, or your diet, you can do it in a way that does not involve putting someone down who does not fit into whatever category you are trying to pass off as the "norm." 

How?

We need to get rid of the association of thinness with veganism and obesity with an omnivorous diet. We need to remember that every person's experience with veganism is different and that there is a difference between setting expectations and telling personal experiences. We need to accept that the true face of veganism is anyone who identifies as a vegan. We need to make all people feel welcome in our community. If we work together to leave behind that idea of what a vegan is supposed to look like, the entire movement seems more accessible and more attainable. Any person can be a vegan. It's easy!

"Being vegan is about what's in our hearts, not what's on our hips," writes Ginny Kisch Messina, the Vegan RD. Her take on this epidemic of body shaming is similar to mine. She writes about the trouble with emphasizing a vegan diet as a way to lose weight. Just like any other fad diets, people who go on them with this goal in mind tend to fizzle out and revert to their prior eating habits. If the goal is to get people to stay vegan and to make all vegans feel embraced by their community, then this type of public plea is counterintuitive. 

Going vegan is unlikely to cause weight loss for most people unless they also restrict their food intake in other ways. And even embracing some of those other restrictions—like avoiding all fats—isn’t a guaranteed weight loss plan. When people don’t achieve their desired weight on a vegan diet, they are likely to decide that veganism ‘doesn’t really work,’ or that they have somehow ‘failed’ at being vegan. They might move on to another of the hundreds of diets that promise weight control, or—if they embrace the ethical reasons for being vegan—feel uncomfortable talking about their veganism to others if they believe that they aren’t portraying veganism in a good light.

False promises about health and weight loss also shift the focus away from the [ethical basis] of veganism and animal rights...If we want a vegan world, then we need to build a vegan community where everyone feels comfortable and accepted. That will never happen as long as we define veganism as a weight loss diet.
— Ginny Messina, the Vegan RD

 

Similarly, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, author and producer of vegan podcast Food for Thought, says "being vegan is not a formula for immunity against being human." On her Youtube channel, she talks about the dangers of making promises about a vegan diet, especially weight loss. She highlights the beauty of each individual, and the diversity that makes up the vegan community. The emphasis is on the fact that every person's experience in their vegan journey is unique, and just because an individual may experience a particular effect, it does not mean that that effect is universal.

About messaging involving fat-shaming, Goudreau says, "Not only does it perpetuate stereotypes of what women are supposed to look like, i.e. thin and perfect, the bottom line is that it's judgment... Compassion isn't compassion when it's shown only to those who look like us or act like us or live like us. Compassion isn't true compassion when it's extended only to those who agree with us." 

One of the biggest problems within the vegan community is that it can sometimes feel like everyone is competing to see who can out-vegan everyone else. Driven by a desire to educate one another and to be more compassionate, we're oftentimes scathing in our approach. Going forward, I hope that members of this community work harder to be more welcoming to not only people of larger sizes but to all people—especially those who disagree with us. 

Love Always,
Heather

Disney-ing while Vegan

A little disclaimer here: I am a complete Dis-nerd. My "Disney" playlist is my most listened to playlist on Apple Music. While I cook, the Disney Pandora station is the only station I want to hear. I watch Disney movies frequently and without prompting. I sleep with a stuffed animal of Pua from Moana (2016). I adore all things Disney. 

Pua & I get ready for takeoff.

Pua & I get ready for takeoff.

Going to Disney World as an adult is just as magical as when I was a kid. Even if meeting characters is a lot more awkward for me these days than it ever was when I was young, I felt like a kid again as I raced from ride to ride and posed with my favorite princesses. 

Oh god, so awkward

Oh god, so awkward

I was very impressed by the wide array of vegan options throughout the park, though I certainly with that there were more, and that they were more readily available. On more than one occasion, my questions sent servers and workers frantically searching through their allergy binders to find which foods were safe. I am unendingly appreciative of the consideration people gave me for wanting to adhere to a vegan diet, and I also feel like the presence of options for me (and for people with allergies) suggest that a major shift is coming.

The last time I went to Disney World, I was only vegetarian. I was only a few years into the meat-free lifestyle, and things were a lot easier then. So I wasn't really sure what to expect as a vegan, but thankfully, there were a lot of resources (like Vegan Disney World) that made it a breeze. I was delighted to read that Beyond Burgers made it to the scene, that the big restaurants like Be Our Guest have at least one plant-based option on the menu, and that classic Disney treats like Mickey pretzels and Dole whips are already vegan—thankfully.

Coconut rum Dole Whip at Animal Kingdom

Coconut rum Dole Whip at Animal Kingdom

Mickey pretzel in Animal Kingdom

Mickey pretzel in Animal Kingdom

A lot of Disney fanfare, though, revolves around animal flesh. It was striking to me that EPCOT celebrates a green future and celebrates the wonders of our plant while also promoting Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion and hamburgers in America. It's quite a contrast to be in the happiest place on Earth where we celebrate animal characters of all species, from fishes, to bears, to lions, to deer, and even mice, and then to pass someone chomping down on a whole turkey leg. 

It was especially jarring in Animal Kingdom, the only Kingdom that uses paper straws instead of plastic, and highlights the animals in our world, talking about the "light inside every being that connects us all" in the nighttime spectacular, Rivers of Light, while keeping beautiful, exotic animals in captivity and serving them at every stand. That cognitive dissonance rears its ugly head once more. 

For example, at one point while we were in Animal Kingdom, we came across a beautiful, huge fox-faced fruit bat with a 6-foot wingspan. He was eating some mango that had been tied to a branch. I was awestruck looking at him. I remembered the book Stellaluna that I had loved so much as a child, and I admired the paper-thinness of his wings, the bones that stretched across them like fingers. "Wow, it's so big," someone near me said. "You could make a meal out of that," they said. Who thinks like that? 

Later that same day, we were admiring some exotic birds. I noticed a placard that said there were some green jungle fowl that lived inside the netting, and since I know that jungle fowl are the original chickens, I wanted around until I was able to see one. Finally, a rooster walked across my path. He was handsome, and people admired him for the beauty he was. They marveled at the rich color in his comb and wattle. They gasped aloud at his behaviors, how interested he was to watch. I wondered how many of us had already eaten his cousins throughout the day, and how many of us would eat them again for dinner. 

Male green jungle fowl

Male green jungle fowl

I am constantly amazed at the ways in which we justify exploiting animals for human enjoyment, whether it's for entertainment or food. 

An owl float was a prominent part of the Rivers of Light show. I completely agree that owls are wonderful creatures who deserve celebrating, but I think chickens and turkeys are just as worthy of consideration.

Focusing more on the food...

On a culinary level, Disney was a treat! (See what I did there?) Though it was sometimes a little challenging to figure out what exactly was vegan, we always had an enjoyable meal. We had a vegan platter at the Akershus Princesses Buffet, which featured grilled vegetables, tofu scramble, and potato hash.

Akershus vegan platter featuring grilled vegetables, tofu scramble, and a hash

Akershus vegan platter featuring grilled vegetables, tofu scramble, and a hash

Lunches were great at Pecos Bill's in Magic Kingdom where we had rice bowls with buffet style fixings, and we even got to have a "vegan burger" at ABC Commissary in Hollywood Studios (it's a Beyond Burger, and it's literally on the menu as a vegan burger, which is awesome). 

Pecos Bill rice bowl at Magic Kingdom

Pecos Bill rice bowl at Magic Kingdom

Vegan Burger at ABC Commissary in Hollywood Studios

Vegan Burger at ABC Commissary in Hollywood Studios

Dinners are where the vegan options got real creative. At Cinderella's Royal Table, we had tofu. At Be Our Guest, we had layered ratatouille and a triple salad tasting, and at Pandora's Satu'li Canteen, we had tofu bowls. 

Be Our Guest salad tasting trio, layered ratatouille and a pretty napkin rose

Be Our Guest salad tasting trio, layered ratatouille and a pretty napkin rose

Fried tofu bowl at Satu'li Canteen in Animal Kingdom

Fried tofu bowl at Satu'li Canteen in Animal Kingdom

Did I mention Dole whips yet? What about the Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street?

Chocolate tofutti ice cream on Main Street!

Chocolate tofutti ice cream on Main Street!

Options abound. I am sure this trend will continue.

I love Disney because animals have voices. Lions are free to rule Pride Rock, not crammed in a small enclosure. Fishes preform amazing stunts to free themselves from a dentist office aquarium. Chickens save the heart of Te Fiti in the middle of the ocean. Pigs outsmart the big, bad wolf. And all of it was started by a mouse. If we can celebrate these animals on the screen, why can't we celebrate them in real life, while they're alive and well?

If you love animals as much as I do, please don't eat them. 

Love Always,
Heather