An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life
For our latest contributor Tracey, being vegan means that every day she stands for something, every choice a contribution to a cause bigger than herself
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m a 54-year-old American woman currently living at my house in Fasano in Puglia, Italy. I moved here three years ago from Los Angeles. I have four rescued dogs and a rescued fish. I worked both in the advertising industry and as a fundraiser in the non-profit sector raising money for higher education and environmental conservation. I am the co-founder and producer of a production company that is developing a new streaming vegan travel/cooking series, launching in a few months. I also help run a business called Skull Pup that sells personalised apparel and accessories that honour our dogs. And we support dog rescue.
You’re vegan now, were you vegetarian before?
I became a vegetarian in 2000 and transitioned to vegan after moving here to Italy. I would say I have been vegan for about two years.
What led to that?
I was driving on a highway near Seattle in the US and passed a truck full of chickens on their way to slaughter. Something clicked that day and I stopped eating meat and fish. It obviously took a while for me to realise the hypocrisy of still eating cheese and eggs, while claiming the importance of animal rights. I am so thankful that today there is so much information available on the dairy and egg industries so we have no illusion about their cruelty.
Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
Never. I couldn’t live with myself.
Are you a ‘healthy’ vegan? Often people assume we’re all fitness-obsessed, when the reality is that we come in many flavours and for many people life is an eternal hunt for vegan cake. What makes up your diet?
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “junk food” vegan. But I do have a diet full of food that spans the spectrum of healthy. Just like anyone, I try to strive for balance. Living in Italy, we get such amazing produce that it’s not ever a sacrifice to consume fruits and vegetables. But I do mix in some processed meat and dairy substitutes. And snacks like popcorn. I love popcorn!
Where do you shop?
I shop in small bakeries and fruit/vegetable vendors here in Puglia. But also large grocery stores that have an increasingly diverse offering of vegan foods. It’s very cool that we have two shops here in Fasano that specialise in vegan food.
Do you consciously think about where you get your protein, etc, from?
Not so much. Protein intake is not something that concerns me. I seem to be doing just fine. I suffer from lupus, but I am in clinical remission. Yay! I have perfect cholesterol and triglycerides and blood pressure. However, as a 54-year-old woman I am conscious of my diet in terms of bone health, etc. My doctor regularly monitors my vitamin D levels. And I do understand the need for B12.
For many vegans, the initial realisation of facts that make us turn to a different lifestyle is pretty life-changing and alienating. We view things differently, from the supermarket shopping experience in a meat-eating world to the people around us. How was that change in mindset – the reality of being an outsider in many situations – for you?
I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t feel like the “oddball” in many situations. People’s reactions to my diet/lifestyle run the gamut from curious, to admiring, to critical and sarcastic. And I do sometimes tire of going to restaurants where there is ONE menu item that caters to my needs. However, that is rapidly changing. Dining options for vegans are expanding, more people are aware not just of animal cruelty but the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. So they are more receptive to what I am doing. I love going to London, New York, Los Angeles, and doing tours of the ever-growing list of vegan restaurants.
Do you mix with many other vegans – does your lifestyle mean that you come into contact with people of a similar outlook regularly?
I have only a few vegans in my immediate circle of friends and family. But I can see them shifting to more of a “flexitarian” lifestyle. I suppose I am grateful for that. However, especially because of my new vegan production project, I am increasingly connected online to the global vegan community. That gives me hope every day.
Do you live in a meat/dairy eating household? And if so, how is that?
Not really. I live in an adjoining house with my ex-husband (strange, I know). He is about 90 per cent vegan, 10 per cent vegetarian. My own house is vegan, however.
Do you feel you have more in common with vegans than the majority of other people who don’t believe plant-based is the way forward?
I suppose being vegan immediately gives you something very fundamental in common. But the vegan community is so diverse, of course I find commonality with some more than others. Admittedly, I am more positively predisposed to someone if the first thing I learn is that he/she is vegan.
Do you, as most of us have to, eat out with non-vegans often and how do you feel about their eating choices?
The majority of people with whom I eat out respect my choices. And many alter their eating when with me, including letting me choose vegan restaurants. There are a few who take pleasure in making fun of me and flaunt their meat eating. But overall I don’t have problems. It gets better all the time.
Are you involved in any form of activism?
I live in a fairly remote location in southern Italy, so I don’t have many opportunities to take part in face-to-face activism. However, I do take the opportunity to share stories online, sign petitions, post amazing food, and do whatever outreach I can to my online contacts. And I get generally good feedback. In fact, just today, my cousin told me my tweets had made her and her son start choosing almond milk and impossible burgers. Go figure!
How do you feel about the vegan jokes… you know, that vegans can’t go five minutes without mentioning the fact or they explode?
Of course I find vegan jokes annoying. But the fact that they exist must mean we are under the skin of many people who want to squash the movement and deny being complicit in torture and environmental degradation. My initial reaction is to hit back. But I’m trying to use opportunities to share info instead (not always successfully, however).
Do you believe veganism to be a fad?
Not at all. For me veganism is critical to the future of the planet, important beyond my personal concerns for animal welfare. I’m counting on the next generation to understand that. Hoping I live to see the world transition.
Do you believe that the meat and dairy industries have a future?
I think it will take longer than any of us would like, but I do believe they will have to adapt or perish. I am very interested to see research in how we as a race will logistically manage that transition.
How do you think we best ‘convert’ omnivores to a plant-based lifestyle? And do you actively try to do this?
I think there is a role for all types of activism. For some, the “shock” of seeing a slaughterhouse video works. Others run away and blame you for being sick. Some need a more rational, gentle approach. What I try to do is steadily feed information to those with whom I am in regular contact. Health info. Environmental info. Info on animal cruelty. And then I share in person and online amazing vegan food. And show that my life and my palate are still full of pleasure.
How do you feel about the horror-show videos of the reality of meat? Do you share them? Do you feel they have a positive place in changing people’s understanding of the meat and dairy industry?
Please see above. I also would share that one year I took part in an anti-fur protest in Beverly Hills on Black Friday. The posters were horrific and the chants very graphic. I saw mothers running away in horror with their children. And people looked at the group as a bunch of freaks. I believe there is a delicate balance to be struck to change hearts and minds.
Are you positive about the future of veganism?
What does being vegan mean to you?
Veganism has changed my life in a substantial and very positive way. Every single day I stand for something. Every choice I make is one that is meaningful. I choose cruelty-free wherever it is possible. What I eat. My clothes. My make-up. When I am having a bad day, I can go to bed knowing that, all else failing, I have that to point to as my contribution to the world. It’s a great thing.
If you are interested in sharing your thoughts in our Everyday Vegans slot, please get in touch and we’ll let you know what to do.