Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Veganism and Cleveland VegFest!

We often talk about the health aspects of eating a plant-based diet. Today we will learn more about the powerful implications and benefits that result from veganism (100% plant-based eating and living) as we hear from Jen Jaden. In today’s interview, Jen gives some wonderful insight into the vegan lifestyle, provides alarming statistics, shares a personal journey, offers helpful advice, and communicates her excitement for an amazing, FREE, event coming up this weekend, in Cleveland,Ohio – VegFest! Jen Kaden is one of the founding board members of the Cleveland Vegan Society, which hosts the Cleveland VegFest, and now serves as the organization's Speakers Chair.  She also serves as president of the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance. Jen has been vegan for 12 years and is a dedicated advocate for peace and nonviolence towards all beings.

An Insightful Interview from Jen Kaden

"Conscious Living, Compassionate Choices" -- I just love this! Please briefly describe the vegan lifestyle as if readers knew nothing about it. How do you categorize veganism (a diet, a lifestyle, a religion, etc)? Please explain.
"Veganism is an ethic of non-violence and non-participation where individuals live in a way that excludes all forms of animal use and exploitation. Veganism encompasses the food we eat but goes far beyond that by considering animal use in all forms such as entertainment, vivisection, clothing, transportation, etc.   At its core, it's about living by the golden rule:  Treat others as you would want to be treated, and extending that ethic of compassion beyond our own species."  

Is the vegan community becoming more open to people making more vegan choices? What is your best advice for those interested in changing their eating habits to a more animal-free diet species?  

"It’s very exciting to see more and more people making vegan choices!  There's an explosion of new vegan foods and products on the market and the demand is definitely growing.  For those interested in transitioning to fewer animal products in their diet, I'd first highly recommend they join us at the ClevelandVegFest on May 7th. They will have the opportunity to get a crash course on vegan living from multiple experts in the field, as well as see and sample vegan food and vegan products that are available to the vegan consumer.  Second, I would encourage them to initially look at what they're currently eating and begin replacing the animal products with plant-based versions of the same foods.  For example... with dairy there's such a variety in plant-based products with new milks, creamers, yogurts, ice creams and cheeses coming on the market all the time.  So much more variety than the animal-based versions actually!  There's soy, almond, coconut, hemp, cashew, hazelnut, flax, oat, rice, macadamia nut.... the list keeps growing.  Also, finding community with others of like mind is an important way to gain support and encouragement which will reinforce these new behaviors."

Please tell me about how, why, and when you became vegan? What challenges did/do you face as a vegan?

"I went vegan 12 years ago after reading the book "Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating".  I had been gradually moving towards being vegetarian during the decade prior to that out of a general sense that something pretty awful must happen to an animal for them to be turned into food.  But it wasn't until I read that book that I understood how the egg and dairy industries operated and decided I could no longer support such violence and harm to animals.  I had been consuming organic dairy and free range eggs and believing the feel-good package labels and that all was good for the animals.  We're taught to believe that dairy cows just naturally produce all this milk that is ours for the taking.  I never realized that just like other mammals, they have to be impregnated in order to lactate.  Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated every year and male offspring have the misfortune of becoming veal calves.  The females often end up becoming dairy cows themselves.  Dairy cows can live 20+ years but are slaughtered at 4-5 years of age when their productivity declines.  That's where most hamburger meat comes from in our country.  And with the egg industry, I never understood that chickens are selectively bred either to grow very quickly for meat production, or to produce large quantities of eggs.  The males born of the egg-laying variety have no use because they don't grow fast enough to be profitable for meat production and they don't lay eggs.  So they are killed right after birth by horrific, industry standard methods that entail being ground up alive or suffocated to death.  This happens to 250 million male chicks each year in the U.S. alone.  The female hens then are slaughtered once their egg productivity begins to decline.  There's no retirement plan for animals in these "by-product" industries. Just an extended period of suffering followed by a gruesome death." 

We love numbers. Do you have any interesting stats to share (locally, worldwide, hypothetically, etc)?
  • "Animal agriculture contributes 51% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
  • Close to half of all water used in the U.S. goes to the production of animals for food.
  • The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops.  Animal agriculture is responsible for 90% of Amazon destruction.
  • Ten thousand years ago, 99% of the earth's biomass consisted of wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the biomass.
  • 90% of fish and other ocean life have perished in the last 100 years.   By the year 2048, all major fisheries will have collapsed if current trends continue.  Our global ocean ecosystems are breaking down and quickly losing biodiversity.  When we kill the oceans, we kill ourselves.
  • Shrimp trawlers discard as much as 85 percent of their catch, making shrimp arguably the most environmentally destructive fish flesh a person can consume.
  • 90-95% of our exposure to dioxins (the most toxic chemicals known to exist) are found in our food supply and almost entirely from animal products (according to the World Health Organization).  The most important thing we can do to reduce our exposure is switching to a plant-based diet."

The Vegfest is coming up on May 7th at the Convention Center! I saw a life changing lecture by Dr Rich Oppenlander in Santa Rosa, CA this February, so I am so excited to see him on the speaker lineup! ! Dr Caldwell Esselstyn was also lecturing at the class I attended, and did a wonderful job as well! We are so lucky to have him here in Cleveland, Ohio! Finally, while he wasn't a lecturer, I heard great things about the motivation of Rich Roll! So, besides awesome speakers, what will be happening at the event (activities for children and adults, vendors, etc)? What part of the day are you most looking forward to?

"We're very excited for our city's third VegFest to be expanding into the brand new, state-of-the-art Cleveland Convention Center!  Cleveland VegFest, presented by the Cleveland VeganSociety and Jakprints, for sure has an incredible line-up of speakers this year but there are also vegan food demonstrations taking place throughout the day, yoga in the morning and a wide array of vendors in our Cruelty-Free Marketplace.  We'll also have films screening throughout the day including one of my favorites, Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home and a special screening of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret in the evening with a panel discussion.  Plus 36 food vendors with a huge variety of delicious vegan offerings is quite a draw too!  The full schedule of events taking place is available in our program which is accessible on-line and in print at the VegFest."

Sneak peak from Cowspiracy

"My favorite thing about VegFest is seeing the excitement rapidly growing in our community to learn about vegan issues.  People come to Cleveland from Canada, surrounding states and beyond for this event and it's fantastic to see the positive energy it generates!  VegFest is the perfect opportunity for anyone who's at all interested in healthy eating, environmental issues, social justice and animal ethics to learn and experience so much in one day... all for free!"

What is the single most important thing you hope readers will take away from this interview? What action would you like readers to take?

"I hope that readers become curious to learn more about how their choices each day have an incredible impact on the world.  Most people don't want to think that they're paying someone to harm animals on their behalf but these industries are about supply and demand, so our choices do in fact have that power.  When we stop to think about the life or death impact our daily decisions have, and shift to making choices in alignment with an ethic of compassion, it's a good feeling.  And it's what our world urgently needs."

Jen Kaden is one of the founding board members of the Cleveland Vegan Society, which hosts the Cleveland VegFest, and now serves as the organization's Speakers Chair.  She also serves as president of the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance. Jen has been vegan for 12 years and is a dedicated advocate for peace and nonviolence towards all beings.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jen, for your passion and valuable information. Hopefully more people than ever will take advantage of the opportunity to learn about and get motivated for change at this year’s VegVest!

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