CommitmentNow.com: Your latest book is Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World. What inspired you to write this book?
Victoria Moran: You worded the question well because I really was inspired to write this one (and since it’s my eleventh book, I know which ones are inspired and which aren’t). It was December 2010, and I’d gone to a PETA fundraiser in New York City and watched video footage showing various kinds of cruelty to animals. This wasn’t new to me, but for some reason it struck me so deeply that particular night that all I wanted to do was help – in some real and present way.
I was thinking about this in the subway on the way home and I got a thought – I’d almost call it a message: ‘You’re supposed to write a book and call it Main Street Vegan. It’ll have short chapters and recipe after each one. That’s how you’re going to help.’
CommitmentNow.com: What exactly is a “Main Street Vegan?”
Victoria: A Main Street Vegan is a regular person who is either moved by the plight of animals used for food; concerned about his or her own health; committed to helping the environment in every way possible; or some combination. These people aren’t celebrities; they don’t have private chefs; and they’re not hippies, leftover or revisionist. They’re a cross-section of America: all ages, both sexes, Democrats and Republicans. (A poll done late last year determined that vegans are equally represented in the two parties – something that surprises a lot of people.) These Main Street Vegans (and the many potential ones) may not know a single person who doesn’t eat meat, but something inside them is quietly suggesting that they move in a ‘veganward’ direction. This book exists to give them information, inspiration, practical tools, and support.
CommitmentNow.com: You’ve been a vegan for almost thirty years! How did you come to the decision to change your lifestyle this way?
Victoria: It was process for me, which is why I’m so comfortable in allowing other people to do this at their own pace and in their own way. I first tried to go vegetarian when I was 13; I lived on cottage cheese and fruit cocktail for four months and finally just got hungry. When I got into yoga as a high school senior, I learned more and became vegetarian at nineteen.
Getting to vegan was hard for me. It seemed very strange and extreme at the time, plus I was a practicing binge eater and it was pretty impossible to do that and be a vegan since nearly all the junk food had some egg or dairy in it. I dealt with the eating disorder – I needed to do some serious inner work on that – and once I did, I had the gift of choice. I chose vegan.
CommitmentNow.com: How has eating a vegan diet changed your life?
Victoria: There are so many layers to it. On the physical side, it’s helped me keep 60 pounds off for all these years. Before, I was always either gaining weight or on some awful diet. I’ve also avoided the diabetes and heart disease that run in my family; and frankly, if anybody told me that I’d look and feel the way I do at the age I am, I wouldn’t have believed it. Being vegan – especially a ‘high-green, high-raw’ vegan – is seriously the fountain of youth. I would tell anybody over 40: go vegan right this minute and you’ll love being 50 and 60!
But there’s a lot to this that doesn’t show. I grieve for the horrible suffering the animals go through, but knowing that I’m not contributing to it and that I’m attempting to help all I can means that I have this beautiful connection with other beings. It’s almost mystical, really, the sense of privilege I feel from hanging out with a pig or cow at a farmed animal sanctuary, or even a spunky urban pigeon who’ll come close to get some sunflower seeds.
And then there’s just the fun of it. There’s a lively vegan fashion scene – coats with no fur, down, or wool; and gorgeous leather-free bags and shoes – quite a treat, remembering that we used to have only PayLess and canvas Keds. I have delightful vegan friends of all ages and there are social events in NYC almost every night of the week. And I see people I’ve influenced to take this route thriving and happy and influencing the people around them. It’s really rewarding.
CommitmentNow.com: What are some of the most common obstacles to becoming a vegan and how can a person overcome these obstacles?
Victoria: There are two kinds of obstacles, real and mythical. The mythical can be every bit as daunting because they seem real, so let’s start with them. First: protein. Everybody worries about it, but they don’t have to. Protein is in everything that grows up out of the ground. Unless you’re anorexic, or an alcoholic drinking all your meals, or eating only junk food or only fruit, you’ll get more than enough protein eating a plant-based diet. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, and you’ll be fine. You also don’t have to ‘mix proteins’ to try to have a perfect amino acid balance at every meal. It’s now known that body draws on a blood pool of amino acids and provided you get all the essential ones over the course of a day, or even a few days, you’re fine.
The next myth is a new one: that being vegan is really expensive. This one has sprung up, I think, because of all the vegan celebrities (they’re rich; this must be expensive), and also because of the plethora of vegan specialty and convenience foods which do tend to be pricey. I think that people also confuse ‘vegan’ with ‘organic’ – both are good, but they’re not the same. In actuality, you’ll save money on a whole-foods plant-based diet, especially if you stick with basic foods: vegetables and fruits in season, beans and whole grains, and nuts and seeds from the bulk bins. Use the fancy prepared foods for fun and convenience, not as the basis for your diet.
OK, now for the real stuff: vitamin B12. You need it and the nerve damage that could result from a long-term deficiency is irreversible. B12 isn’t reliably found in plants so vegans need to take a supplement. (Back when we ate produce straight from the ground and got dirt with our greens, we were getting B12, which is actually a bacterium, that way.) The supplements come chewable, sublingual, even in the form of nasal spray and chewing gum. (Most non-dairy milks and some cereals and other foods are supplemented with B12, but take a supplement, too, just to be safe.)
And: a little inconvenience. These days there’s not much of it because vegan food is everywhere. Household cleaners that weren’t tested on animals fill a whole aisle at any natural food store. And cosmetics from very familiar companies like Avon, Revlon, Bobbi Brown, and M.A.C. are cruelty-free. But still, the world isn’t fully set up for vegans. If you dine at a conventional restaurant, you probably won’t find a vegan dessert on the menu. If you fly and they forgot to put the ‘pure vegetarian’ meal you ordered on the plane, it’s good that you’ve got an apple and some almonds and a Lara Bar in your carry-on. But these really are little inconveniences. The other side of the vegan coin is really big payoffs.
CommitmentNow.com: Is veganism a diet? A philosophy? A lifestyle?
Victoria: I suppose it’s all those things, although it certainly isn’t a diet in the sense of being on a diet. It’s a way of eating and living and relating to the earth, the beings we share it with, and our own bodies. It’s about respect and compassion and a wonderful phrase attributed to Dr. Albert Schweitzer, ‘reverence for life.’ As a diet, it means that we eat scrumptious dishes from the plant kingdom. And not just salads – there are veggie-burgers, veggie burritos, mushroom Stroganoff, tofu pot pie, chili con (veggie) carne, pasta dishes, rice dishes, stir-fries, loaves, soups and chowders, plus ethnic dishes from India, Ethiopia, the Middle East, and the entire Asian continent.
As a philosophy, veganism is about doing the most good and the least harm we can in our everyday dealings with everybody – all species – realizing that we’re not perfect, never will be, and that’s okay, too. As a lifestyle, it’s about health and vitality, having a great time, and trying to make a world a little kinder.
CommitmentNow.com: Is veganism for everyone?
Victoria: It’s for everyone who wants it. There’s no such thing as a body type or blood type that can’t be vegan, although some totally unsubstantiated theories maintain that there are. The American Dietetic Association says that ‘appropriately planned…vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and…appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.’
That’s pretty much ‘everyone.’ But because this is still a minority choice, the desire has to be there. And to stay with this over the long haul, the desire has to be deeper than to lose a few pounds or even get your doctor off your back about your cholesterol or blood pressure. I find that when people really get the animal piece in place, when they understand that even if they’re doing this primarily for their health, somebody else is involved when meat’s on the menu, and it’s his (or her) whole life.
CommitmentNow.com: Where can we learn more about you and Main Street Vegan?
Victoria: Thanks for asking. The Web site is http://www.mainstreetvegan.net/. There people can read about the book; watch the video trailer; learn about Main Street Vegan Academy (training for Vegan Lifestyle Coaches); catch the podcast I do with my daughter Adair, (she’s a lifelong vegan and a stunt performer, and she collaborated on Main Street Vegan); and get a free e-guide (we actually call it a v-guide), ‘Vegan, Vibrance, Vitality’ when you sign up for our newsletter.