Social Impact Authors: How & Why Emilia A Leese & Eva J Charalambides of ‘Think Like a Vegan’ Are Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
We want our work to enable readers to analyze and pull apart ethical issues, questions and dilemmas related to using animals for food. And although our primary focus is the injustice of animal use, we recognize society’s systemic injustices are related and interconnected. Seeking a fair world for animals means we must also seek to reject and redress the injustices perpetrated on people. These aren’t mutually exclusive goals or ideas. Seeing the vulnerability of one will open our mind, eyes and heart to the other. All human injustices may be opposed, fought, addressed, dismantled, read, written, learned and talked about, whilst sticking to eating plants and being vegan.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emilia A. Leese and Eva J. Charalambides.
Emilia A. Leese, writes essays on life, travel and veganism for a variety of online publications and is closely involved in a long-term forest rewilding project in the Scottish Highlands. She regularly hosts benefit supper clubs and is a speaker on vegan ethics at a variety of events. She also developed life skills and ethics workshops for underserved youth. She has been a corporate finance lawyer for over twenty years. She and her husband Roger, who is also vegan, live in London and the Highlands.
Eva J. Charalambides discovered her voice while studying radio and television, writing for on-air and screen, and food blogging. Through her transition to veganism, thought-pieces on animal advocacy were added to her curriculum vitae and the opportunity to help produce multi-city vegan events followed. She has lent her voice to non-profits, T-shirts and everything in between, seldom passing up opportunities to promote veganism. When she’s not writing, she says thousands of words through her photography business. Today, Eva can be found in rural Ontario, building her first home with her husband, Matt.
Their recent book is Think Like a Vegan: What everyone can learn from vegan ethics.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Emi: I was born in New York when my parents were living there from Italy. At the time, my father was a professor of Indian philosophy at The New School. Most of my childhood was spent in a small town near Naples, Italy. We were close to the land and made much of our own food and wine. We even roasted our own coffee and had a special room for it. After the Irpinia earthquake of 1980, we moved to the US. This living between cultures set the tone for the rest of my life. I went on to live in Paris, Bangkok, Singapore and ultimately the UK, settling in London and the Highlands of Scotland.
Eva: I was born and raised in Toronto and spent my summers in Beaverton, Ontario. I was the first one into the lake each day and last one out, and I think that time up north cemented my love of nature. My mother was a homemaker, my father ran his own business and my older sister was a busy equestrian. With lots of time in solitude, I found great companionship in our cat and dog, Kahlua and Gizmo. My early independence also inspired a lifelong passion for cooking and baking.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
Emi: The earliest memories of something which shaped my thinking were two films. The first was Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell when she says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” I was six or seven max when I watched that film (dubbed in Italian). That line was liberating. I could be as unabashedly curious and imaginative as I wanted and never stop appreciating or discovering whatever was around me. In retrospect, it’s a slightly biting comment, but that was Patrick Dennis (the world’s best camp author, I believe). The second was King Kong (1976) which I saw at the cinema in Naples. I cried and cried when Kong died and found his entire saga so incredibly unjust. I still do!
Eva: The very first book I ever read was The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse. It centres around a girl who is cared for by dolphins after a plane crash and her struggle to find her place between the human and animal worlds. Ultimately, performing expectations for the humans who ‘rescue’ her leads to heartache, betrayals and a longing for the music of her water world. She ultimately returns to the ocean and I remember wishing I could do the same. I’d swim out as far as I safely could in the lake and hum underwater and imagine what it would be like to join a family of dolphins. In hindsight, it feels like it planted some seeds about the gentle, loving connection humans can have with animals that fuels my vegan activism.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Emi: When I clerked at the US Court of International Trade, my judge, Hon. Judith M. Barzilay, said to me the best lesson she ever learned was “praise in public, criticize in private”. I put that advice to good use. Years later, I was overseeing the renovation of a farmhouse. I had been away for a few days. The contractor called me to say the paint I had bought for them was all wrong and the colours didn’t match, so they mixed them! I was surprised so I asked if he had checked everything. He assured me they had. When I returned to the premises in the evening, I was in the kitchen and happened to look over where they had stacked the paints. To my dismay, I saw the paint tins were not wrong at all. They were clearly labeled — one was one finish for the exterior and the other for the interior. They were different labels, same make, and somewhat same colours. The texture of the paint and the purpose was the difference and it was marked on the tin. Thankfully, I was alone and it was evening. I had an absolute tantrum, like a five-year-old, complete with arms and legs flailing on the bed I had thrown myself on in total frustration. I caught myself reflexively grabbing for the phone to call the contractor. I stopped. I knew I was in no emotional state to effectively address the problem. The next morning, I took a deep breath, smiled and noted what a good job they’d done in another room with different paint. Then I took the lead decorator aside and dealt with the so-called wrong tins of paint. Never a greater lesson and never a more hilarious sight than an adult having a complete toddler meltdown.
Eva: I spent a few years working in television and learned a hard lesson many people in the industry learn: turn your mic off. In my case, I went to the washroom and broadcast the sounds associated with that to a team of laughing television producers. It was essentially a lesson in having awareness for my surroundings and the people around me that I am still obsessive about today. I don’t have a mic like that anymore but the integration of digital meeting spaces into my life has helped me get familiar with mute buttons very quickly.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
Both: We want our work to enable readers to analyze and pull apart ethical issues, questions and dilemmas related to using animals for food. And although our primary focus is the injustice of animal use, we recognize society’s systemic injustices are related and interconnected. Seeking a fair world for animals means we must also seek to reject and redress the injustices perpetrated on people. These aren’t mutually exclusive goals or ideas. Seeing the vulnerability of one will open our mind, eyes and heart to the other. All human injustices may be opposed, fought, addressed, dismantled, read, written, learned and talked about, whilst sticking to eating plants and being vegan.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Both: We’ve got lots of interesting stories in the book but our piece on vegansexualism seems to titillate people most (pun intended). We discuss some surveys that looked to prove whether or not vegans care about partnering up with other vegans and why that’s even part of the vegan equation. Since veganism is a part of our lives, and is not just a plant-based diet, we have to consider if we’ll share a bed with anyone who contradicts our ideals. Find the full story in our “Live and Love Vegan” chapter.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
Both: After a particularly satisfying visit to a lovely vegan bakery in Toronto, we were heading to the airport. Emi was returning to the UK after participating in a vegan festival in the city, which Eva was instrumental in organising and running. At the festival, Emi had answered hundreds of questions from visitors to the “Why Should I Go Vegan?” tent. We were talking about the questions and about how often vegans don’t feel confident in discussing veganism, or they find the emotions take over, or they feel they’re being asked to be experts on a variety of subjects starting from nutrition. And those are tough asks of anyone. So we wanted to create a tool for vegans to use for centering and clarifying their discussions. Something to empower vegans and, simultaneously, set out the principles in a clear way for any non-vegan who wanted further understanding on the subject matter. We initially thought of a “workbook” with scenarios and that’s something we provide in the last chapter of our book. A workbook requires substance to make it a useful tool, which led us to write the series of interconnected essays to support the practical aspects of the scenarios.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Both: We’ve both had similar experiences in this regard. For example, Emi took an uber to the airport early in the morning after a vegan festival in Chicago. She decided to sit upfront with the driver, a tall and broad African-American man in his late-30s/early 40s. They got to chatting about the city and what she was doing there. When she told him, he said he had a long-term vegan friend whose parents were also vegan. He said, “you’re an educator, tell me why go vegan.” His friend had never discussed it with him. So she asked him how he felt when he saw animals mistreated. He thought it was horrible, he said. Then she asked him what the difference was between the animals we eat and those animals we don’t. He was silent for a bit and then replied, “nothing. We say they are different.” They talked about that. She told him how dairy milk and eggs are produced. He had no idea. He turned to her after a very long silence and said, “this is monstrous.” They talked more. He was incredibly perceptive, funny and got it. They arrived at the airport, he got out of the car, helped Emi with her bag and said with arms outstretched, “oh no, you don’t. Come here! I believe the biggest gift you can give someone is education. And you have changed my and my family’s life forever.” He emailed Emi several weeks ago. He is vegan.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Both: Yes! At a community level, there needs to be more support for education about plant-based foods and the ethical heart of veganism. At a high level, governments should support farmers who want to transition from animal farming to plants; stop subsidies of animal agricultural industries and support the workers who may be displaced from that shift; ensure healthy plant-based foods are available and accessible to everyone and ultimately, far off in the future we suspect, give animals legal personhood, just like people and corporate entities, so we may begin relating to animals other than as objects.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Both: Leadership is having the courage to learn from others and change your mind when presented with new facts.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Video — https://youtu.be/apJt38avayo on YouTube
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Both: “If you have to compromise, be sure to compromise up”. It’s something Eleanor Roosevelt said and it means if you have to compromise, make sure the compromise serves a larger purpose, not your own advancement, and doesn’t sacrifice the beliefs you hold or the group you’re concerned about. It’s relevant to us because when it comes to animals, we routinely compromise down and our goal is to help people compromise up!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Emi: Angela Davis without a doubt. Her activism, veganism, eloquence and simply her presence are remarkable.
Eva: I’d have to choose Bo Burnham. He is my favourite performer and I’d love to convince him to go vegan.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For our book, Think Like a Vegan: What everyone can learn from vegan ethics, www.thinklikeavegan.com and all the related social media. To follow Emi, www.emisgoodeating.com and related social media, and Eva @eatinworkout on Instagram.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.
In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.
Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.
With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.
At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.
Also in 2020, Sylvan launched SEGI TV, a free OTT streaming network built on the pillars of equality, sustainability and community which is scheduled to reach 100 million U.S household televisions and 200 million mobile devices across Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV and others.
As Executive Producer he currently has several projects in production including The Trials of Eroy Brown, a story about the prison system and how it operated in Texas, based on the best-selling book, as well as a documentary called The Making of Roll Bounce, about the 2005 coming of age film which starred rapper Bow Wow and portrays roller skating culture in 1970’s Chicago.
He sits on the Board of Directors of Uplay Canada, (United Public Leadership Academy for Youth), which prepares youth to be citizen leaders and provides opportunities for Canadian high school basketball players to advance to Division 1 schools as well as the NBA.
A former competitive go kart racer with Checkered Flag Racing Ltd, he also enjoys traveling to exotic locales. Sylvan resides in Vancouver and has two adult daughters.
Sylvan has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and has been seen on Fox Business News, CBS and NBC. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.