Chef, activist and actor.
SS: What made you go vegan and why?
GT: I was raised in Toronto, Canada and in my college days my then roommate, now local grassroots activist, Daria, started me on the road to conscious eating. Neither of us were vegetarian, nevermind vegan, so I don’t know exactly how it started, but one of the first things I remember is her having us only buy free range eggs. At the time we thought that that actually made a difference. When school started, we commuted to classes. As it was, the route was the same route slaughterhouse transport trucks took to the slaughterhouses. A definite shift was germinating as I looked into the eyes of the cows, pigs and chickens being hauled to their ends. Something just didn’t sit right with that.
Over the next five years I went back and forth from vegetarian to not vegetarian. During that time, Daria had us adopt companion animals, foster rescues and volunteer at the Toronto Humane Society. Those changes got my connections to root deeper. We started tying in to local vegan organizations in Toronto and in other cities like Montreal http://www.vegemontreal.org/. At this point, Daria was now vegan, but I had yet to make the cruelty connection to eggs and dairy. After attending one too many potlucks with uninspiring dishes, we decided to hold dinner parties in our little apt. To make the outreach more productive, I made all the food. We did all we could to make sure that the dinner showed how good food could be without animal products. Every once in a while, Daria tried to drag me to some place called Farm Sanctuary, all I could think of was the 6 hour drive and the hassle of a border crossing into upstate NY. I always found an out. In 2004, the Toronto International Film Festival rejected the doc Peaceable Kingdom. Forging ahead, the producers had a screening in a local church. I was dragged to the screening, but by the end, I decided to go vegan and asked, “So when can we visit Farm Sanctuary?”
Over the next year or so, my cooking skills got better and the dinner parties became very crowded. We had to make them reservation only, with the condition that you had to bring someone non vegetarian or non vegan to attend. At the dinners we screened docs and promoted any upcoming events and trips. It was a great beginning, with the best stories the ones where one person had their whole family go vegan after one dinner, one screening of Peaceable Kingdom or one visit to Farm Sanctuary.
SS: Has it been difficult for you? If yes, what was difficult and did it get easier?
GT: Of course there were cravings. But they were greater on busy days when I went too long without eating or when I didn’t eat wholesome nutrient dense foods. In time, for the most part, my tastes and my body recalibrated to enjoy the foods that I eat now. I have to say, my variety of cuisine now is like a 300 item buffet, compared to the drive thru menu of before. Recently, the super doc Forks over Knives http://forksoverknives.com/, perfectly demonstrated a simple fact of physiology to me, the body wants the most calories and most concentrated fuel with the least amount of effort. To me that meant bacon, butter and cheese.
Fifteen years ago I had no idea that I’d be more vibrant now then I was then. What started as an ethical choice has resulted in a stronger body as well as spirit.
SS: What would you say to encourage someone is considering becoming vegan?
GT: Firstly, if you live in LA, actually, even if you don’t, you really should make a habit of reading the blog http://www.quarrygirl.com/, you’ll want to be in the know, and using the resource http://www.happycow.net/. I’ve used the latter for almost a decade, on 3 different continents.
Secondly, have a few dishes that you feel confident making and can eat often. I know that a lot of people don’t want to live in their kitchens. When it comes to a meal, they want preparation and clean up to be no longer than 10 mins. Economically, most people can’t afford to eat out or buy ready to eat meals everyday. Start out by making meals with convenience foods, like with cheeses by Daiya http://www.daiyafoods.com/, by Teese http://chicagosoydairy.com/ or by Vegan Queso http://food-for-lovers.com/products and with meat alternatives like tempeh http://www.lightlife.com/tempeh.jsp, Gardein http://www.gardein.com/index.php , Tofurkey http://www.tofurky.com/ or Field Roast http://www.fieldroast.com/. At the beginning, just make things fun and convenient. See it as a new adventure. Take familiar dishes and replace the meat, cheese, dairy, honey and eggs. You can work towards making more things from scratch and eating less and less processed products later. If you already have the interest, by all means go ahead and take the unprocessed approach http://www.eatunprocessed.com/, the macrobiotic way http://theblissfulchef.com/, or the superfood route http://www.brendanbrazier.com/book/index.html.
Thirdly, volunteer, volunteer and volunteer.
SS: What are your favorite AR organizations?
GT: In Toronto where I was raised, the organizations worth mentioning are The Toronto Vegetarian Association http://veg.ca/, which holds by far the best annual veg fair ever, Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary http://www.woodstocksanctuary.org/, a sanctuary just outside of Toronto, Zoocheck Canada http://www.zoocheck.com/ and ARK II - The Animal Rights Kollective http://www.ark-ii.com/. Locally in LA, the ones I’ve had the pleasure to support are COK http://www.cok.net/, Animal Acres http://animalacres.org/, ARME TV, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Cruelty Investigations and Buddha Bark. In NYC, I’ve supported the League of Human Voters http://www.humanevoters.org/, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary http://www.woodstocksanctuary.org/ and again Farm Sanctuary.
p.s. and any organization Prabhat Gautam, everyone’s godfather, happens to be involved with, such as http://positivetelevision.org/ourcompany.php
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?
GT: Images speak volumes. Another photographer friend of mine, Jo-Anne McArthur, http://www.weanimals.org/ deserves a shout out. With her camera, she has brought me, a fellow witness, to far reaching places filled with heartwarming beauty and soul wrenching tragedy.
Thank you Melissa for this opportunity to share :T)