Medical professional, counselor and activist.
SS: What made you go vegan and why?
MS: Quite honestly, it was because of you, Melissa Schwartz. I have been vegetarian for most of my life, for reasons I will discuss later in this interview, but I didn't realize that I needed to become vegan until I learned more about how factory farming works in this country. Since I grew up in Michigan and saw many farms where cows appeared to roam freely, I thought they were living well and being treated kindly. Before the advent of factory farming, there were many family farms that treated animals with respect and consideration ---or so I believed. The media does a wonderful job of fooling the public into thinking animals are happy, content, and living comfortable lives until they are 'utilized' for food. This is an illusion I fell for until the truth was revealed to me by various videos, books, articles, animal rights groups, vegetarian and vegan informants, opening my eyes to the horrors of factory farming and the lies the animal product industries imposes on the unsuspecting public. As I became aware of how horrible the egg and dairy industries are, it became essential for me to choose to be vegan.
As naive as it sounds, when I was a young child, I thought animals aged, died, and then we ate them. I worried about that, but it seemed like everyone accepted the idea of eating animals so I thought it was probably only me that considered the idea of eating animals strange. I knew my beloved cat (Noon-y-rough), and dogs (Pamper & Bambi), were animals, and no one ever ate them. It made no sense to me that people were willing to eat farm animals, and it troubled me daily. It was a question I continually went around asking everyone I met about, particularly in religious school. Needless to say, I never received a valid explanation. Although most people largely ignored my concerns, an older woman answered me with the following: “God put animals on the earth for us to eat.” I was incredulous! How could that possibly be true? I could not possibly buy into that! At that very moment I decided not to trust adults ever again. Fortunately my parents were both kind and thoughtful of animals, and they never forced me to violate my principles. My father died when I was four, (1955) and I remember him telling me to avoid animal products, particularly butter, since its consumption was soon to be discovered as being largely responsible for heart disease as well as a host of other diseases in humans. I was repulsed by butter, hated milk, and could not believe people lined their sandwiches in butter and mayonnaise. I felt the same way about eggs, although I was under the impression then that the method for treating hens and gathering their eggs was humane and all were treated well. Little did I know that the male chicks were of no value to the egg-laying industry and were thrown into grinders alive to be used for livestock feed.
While pregnant with my second child, (Melissa Schwartz), I saw a news clipping that showed a cow on board an ocean freight liner that had injured itself and appeared to be in a great deal of pain. It had a broken leg, as well as other problems. The next thing that was revealed sent shock waves through me and to this very day I shudder at the memory. The poor, terrified cow was pulled up by her broken leg by a hydraulic lift and thrown overboard to her drowning death!
There is no excuse for this unconscionable treatment of animals, which is motivation enough for me. Although I was educated as a nurse to believe animal protein is essential for good health, I realized mental health is far more important, and I could not eat animals in good conscience. I have become stricter about my eating habits since I have become more educated. In contrast to what I had originally learned, eating a plant based diet is in fact far healthier for humans. I understand now how to stay optimally healthy by eating a plant-based diet and how important it is to the environment. There is no turning back!
SS: Has it been difficult for you? If yes, what was difficult and did it get easier?
MS: It has not been difficult in terms of food choices. Since I have been vegetarian pretty much my whole life, it was a short distance to veganism. Becoming vegan has resulted in feeling younger and better than ever. I am healthier, more alert, and devoid of any health problems whatsoever. Although I decided to do it for the animals, the health benefits are a bonus for me. I do not remember eating cow or pig ever, so there is really nothing to miss. Fortunately, I love vegetables so it is with great pleasure that I enjoy earth’s bounty of fresh, organic, local farm grown vegetables and fruits of all kinds. I go to farmers’ markets on a regular basis and buy sustainable, local, fresh, pesticide-free food that provides me with a plant-based diet that is delicious and healthy. I make huge, delightful salads and soups created daily out of in-season, fresh and wholesome family-farm grown vegetables and fruits of all kinds. It is a way of life, an environmental, economic, and political statement for me. Now that I am enlightened, the ability to be vegan is pleasurable and without question one of the most important decisions I have ever made during my entire lifetime.
Dating however at this point in my life has been a major challenge for many reasons, none the least of which is related to my veganism. I know I can't expect to impose my values on anyone else, but there have been a few really bad dates... one in particular. I met a man who had been Harvard-educated, a great guy who I thought had what I was looking for. On a very special evening after we had talked for several hours regarding veganism and other cruelty-free issues, I was almost speechless when we sat down to dinner and he ordered veal. I visualized rows and rows of mothers and babies being ripped apart, chained in the dark, starved and deliberately kept anemic and, unable to move or turn around in filthy stalls. When his meal arrived I thought I was going to be sick so I excused myself and headed to the bathroom, where I was indeed sick, and then left the building, never to return. We had already discussed my views in detail, yet there it was, the “disconnect,” between theory and practice. Although I didn't necessarily anticipate he would order a vegan meal, it felt like he was being deliberately oppositional and disrespectful. At that point for me, the date was over, as well as any future possibilities for “us.” There have been other similar disappointments and difficult situations, and I just take them as they come, never losing hope that there might be a "personal hero" out there with a like-minded viewpoint: a strong and sturdy commitment to animal rights.
Self-change takes time, and comes with caveats and set-backs for everyone. Despite this fact, I am proud to say there are wonderful people in the medical community where I work in Arizona and California who are increasingly becoming aware of the hazards of eating animals as well as the torture holocaust that is going on outside of our homes all around the world. As people write books, like Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, Why We Eat Pigs, Wear Cows, and Love Dogs, by Melanie Joy, Will Tuttle’s work, and countless others who have documented their own path to veganism, I become stronger, more motivated, and certain we are heading on the right path of a cruelty-free existence.
SS: What would you say to encourage someone is considering becoming vegan?
MS: Educate yourself, read, and don’t shy away from the truth. Honesty is the best policy, and although the truth hurts, we all have to face the fact that our society supports and promotes cruelty in the interest of profit and the magnitude of the human palate. When a truck pulls up next to you bulging with animals crammed in so tightly they can barely breathe, think about what you are eating. When you think about what the Native Americans believed about “taking on the soul of the animal when we consume it,” (which theoretically makes it easy to understand why we experience so much depression in this society), you realize that we are consuming miserable, frustrated, sick animals filled full of steroids, non-therapeutic antibiotics, living in squalor, often treated horribly by the very people who are assigned to care for them. Depression stems from feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, feelings of being out of control, and powerlessness. The animals are powerless, but we are not. We can become vegan, we can protest, we can enlighten others, and we can evolve as a better, healthier, kinder human race.
Get support, start with "Meatless Mondays," or the 21 day kick-start, or whatever works for you. Whatever you do, go at your own pace and realize you are saving lives. Look for vegan clothing, avoid buying any products that are animal tested, and most of all, don't be afraid to be a role model. The animals are counting on you!
SS: What are some animal rights related things you participate in?
MS: We live in The United States Of America, the greatest nation on earth, in the 21 century and we are protected by the Bill of Rights, so I use my voice to stand up for what I believe in. I protest what I do not accept as right or moral. I stand up for what I believe in, even if my ideas are unpopular with the general public. I attend lectures. conferences, and educate myself as much as I can. I read books and articles, join groups, and donate to protect and save as many animals as I can possibly afford to. I wear animal rights t-shirts and other clothing, supporting all of the animal rights causes I believe in. I display and place stickers and badges on my computer and other belongings, and I "walk the talk." I attend City Council meetings to appeal to our government officials to stop cruelty wherever and whenever possible. I am a member of the American Humane Party in California, and I vote accordingly. I believe there are more people becoming enlightened every day and I hope to influence as many people as possible by providing an example. Additionally, I am the oldest "vGirl," that I am aware of, at the age of 61 and counting!
SS: What are your favorite AR organizations?
MS: ASPCA, PETA, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, Animal Acres, ARME, COK, ACI: Animal Cruelty Investigations, In Defense of Animals, Sea Shepherd, LCA: Last Chance for Animals, any organization that supports Animal Rights!
SS: Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind about someone saving an animal? Or relating to an animal in a unique way?
MS: You saved many in your childhood, Melissa. A baby starling was trapped in our fireplace, and you brought it to safety and freedom. Your "Save It Club," helped countless animals by encouraging others to protect animals. Together we saved bunnies, a Great Horned Owl, many dogs and cats, a pigeon, and countless others. I realize we are all very lucky because all the parental figures in our lives were kind, compassionate, visionary people who supported helping animals and planted the seeds for evolving into vegans and animal rights activists.
As a little girl I brought home birds that fell out of their nests, stray dogs and cats, and many other animals. During the riots in Detroit in 1967, there were many displaced animals, and my mother and I rescued several... As an older child I brought home a nest of baby squirrels that had blown out of a huge Oak tree in our front yard. I fed them kitten formula out of a dropper for three weeks and miraculously all four of them survived! Weeks later the mother squirrel entered our family home and proceeded to carry her babies out the front door one by one....an absolutely amazing sight. She knew I helped them live, and she seemed to thank me as she hesitated briefly before exiting with her last youngster in tow. Animals are smart, have feelings, maternal instincts, and they suffer just like human do.
In conclusion, these experiences punctuate my belief in the need to reform our agricultural system. We have a responsibility to protect animals, to avoid thinking certain species are superior to others, and to live a cruelty-free life.