|Enewsletter • April 8, 2002|
Having been out of the office for well over a week, we have a huge backlog of orders and messages to get to. In the mail was a copy of this article, which ran in a Michigan newspaper. While we get caught up, we thought we'd share it with you:
On Being Vegan
Ellen is a healthy, very bright 7-year-old, who holds a Red belt in Tae Kwan Do, and describes herself as "happy, cheerful, funny, and I love animals."
But Ellen has never had a Big Mac, a chocolate milk shake, a Dairy Queen, a breakfast of bacon and eggs, a dinner of Lake Michigan perch, a Milky Way bar, or even a bowl of Jell-O. Because since her birth, along with her parents Matt Ball and Anne Green, she has lived as a vegan.
Veganism is defined in the Encarta Encyclopedia as "the practice of excluding all animal products and their derivatives from the diet for moral, social or religious motives." Matt, who is co-founder of Vegan Outreach, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the spread of veganism, puts it this way: "Being vegan, for me, is about lessening suffering as much as possible."
Matt has been a vegan since 1990. "I became a vegan because I finally decided it was more important to live ethically – not causing unnecessary suffering – than it was to keep eating the same foods as everyone else," he told me recently. He met Anne in 1992 at a meeting of Students for Animal Liberation he was leading at the University of Illinois.
Anne, who had been my daughter Shelley's roommate when they were both graduate students and teaching assistants in German at the university during 1991 and part of 1992, had recently made her own decision for veganism: "I just decided that animal suffering was something I no longer wanted to support."
Anne and Matt were married in February, 1993, and when Anne became pregnant in the fall of that year, they agreed their child would be raised as a vegan.
I asked if Ellen questions them about why she doesn't eat the kinds of food her friends eat. Anne said no, but later asked Ellen if she did have any questions about those foods:
Anne: "Do you want to eat those things?
Ellen: "NO WAY!"
Ellen: "Because animals have to suffer."
Anne: "What if you don't know those animals?"
Ellen: "Doesn't matter."
"Matt and I agreed that we needed to explain to Ellen, as soon as she was old enough to understand, why we are vegan." Anne said. "Our first message was simple: 'animals are our friends and so we don't eat them.' Also, preventing animals from suffering was something she could relate to, having herself gone through the pain of a stomach ache or ear infection. And environmental reasons were something Ellen understood by kindergarten age.
"Her friends know she is vegan because she talks about it all the time, and asks them why they eat meat," Anne said. "She has a strong sense of who she is, and even if she is teased sometimes about being a vegan, it doesn't bother her."
Before co-founding Vegan Outreach in 1993 Matt's experience had included working for Booz, Allen & Hamilton and Pratt & Whitney. He had received a M.S. in Forest Ecology from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University. For five years he was a Department of Energy Global Change Fellow, and for one year a Research Associate in the Biology Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He was working toward a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon when he decided to leave that progam to run Vegan Outreach full time.
Matt's Vegan Outreach co- founder is Jack Norris, a friend of several years with whom he had pursued a variety of activist activities. "Jack and I both came to believe that the key to animal liberation is altering society's view that animals exist for humans to use, especially as food," Matt said.
"Vegan Outreach really began in earnest when Jack traveled to college campuses across the country for two years, devoting his days to passing out copies of Why Vegan, our brochure explaining why people choose to follow a vegan lifestyle," Matt explained.
"By the end of Jack's second year of traveling, Vegan Outreach
had a substantial network of activists ordering copies of our literature
to distribute in their areas. Over the years Vegan Outreach members
have distributed more than a million and a half copies of Why
Vegan and Vegetarian Living, with a record 330,000+ distributed
"We've grown from basically Jack, Anne and me in 1993 to about 4,400 members today who receive our print newsletter, and just under 2,000 on our email newsletter list," Matt said. About 95 percent of the organization's funding comes from its members.
The focus of Vegan Outreach continues to be distribution of literature, with Why Vegan as its primary tool. This brochure illustrates with vivid, often gruesome photos the inhumane ways animals are transformed into food, such as "factory" farms: warehouses where animals are kept in crowded pens or restrictive stalls; breeding sows spend their adult lives in gestation and farrowing stalls where they can't turn around; calves raised to produce veal are kept in tiny stalls, chained by the neck on 2 to 3 foot tethers for 18 to 20 weeks, then slaughtered; laying hens have less than a square foot of floor space in which to live their entire lives.
Particularly harrowing are the photos and descriptions of the slaughtering of animals. To quote Paul McCartney: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we'd all be vegetarians."
Why Vegan is available on the Internet at www.whyvegan.org. Take it from me: after reading Why Vegan, anyone who can sit down to a meal containing even a tinge of animal products without at least a twinge of conscience must have a heart of obsidian.
So if you should happen to read Why Vegan and be moved enough to consider becoming a vegan, what would you be able to eat? The best answer to that question can also be found at www.veganoutreach.org. The website has much information on vegan foods, including a glossary of ingredients and a "starter pack" of vegan recipes. A quote from the website:
"Many people believe that eliminating all animal products will greatly narrow their menus. However, according to any vegan that you ask, quite the opposite happens. Once you start frequenting your local health/natural food stores and co-ops, and start reading vegan literature and cookbooks, you will soon become familiar with the wide variety of options that were missing from your previous diet. Over time, you will also discover that it is possible to follow almost any recipe by using substitute ingredients."
Being a peanut butter addict, I am going to try a vegan recipe called "Peanut Butter Spirals." It's a simple-to-prepare pasta, with green peas in addition to the peanut butter. (Another vegan recipe, for bean burritos, is printed on this page.)
Place the beans, tomato sauce, bell pepper and seasonings into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 5 min., stirring occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat and mash the beans slightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Spoon 1/4 of the bean mixture onto each of the tortillas, placing it in a strip along one side, slightly off center. Add your favorite toppings (lettuce, tomato, olives, scallions, onion, avocado, cilantro, etc.), and roll the tortillas around the filling.