Interview with Melissa Schwartz | Model | Vegan

Tell us a little about how you became a vegan?
I have been vegetarian on and off since I was a kid. I knew instinctively that it wasn’t right to eat animals but I didn’t really know of any other vegetarians growing up, let alone vegans and didn’t have the education or support that I have now. I learned more about the egg and dairy industries when I got to college and decided if I was vegetarian for ethical reasons I should, in fact, be vegan because the egg and dairy industries are just as cruel if not more cruel than any other animal product industries. I tried it for two weeks and then quit because I thought I would never be able to maintain it. But a couple years later I went with my best friend to watch a documentary, Peaceable Kingdom, at a UCLA animal rights meeting and we were inspired to become vegan together. It helped to have a friend make the transition with me. We were also roommates at the time.

When did you start shifting to a Vegan Lifestyle? The first time I tried it was about 2001 but it wasn’t until 2006 or 2007 when I really committed to it. I had been trying to be vegan since that first attempt and my self-discipline just wasn’t at the level I needed it to be. In hindsight, I know where I was failing, I have learned so much more about eating and breaking food addictions. I was keeping the desire for animal products alive by occasionally slipping and that made the transition feel impossible for me. Once I really resolved to stop thinking of animal products as options it became much easier. Some people say they stop wanting animal products right away but for me it took years. But now I can say truthfully I do not miss animal products in my diet at all and I am actually a little grossed out at the thought of eating the bodies or secretions of animals. Its so weird to me that it was ever not weird to me!!

Do you enjoy being Vegan? Yes! Especially in LA, all the best restaurants with the highest quality foods are vegan; I feel very fortunate to live in a city that is so progressive in this area. Also I am so, so much healthier than I have ever been and I am in way better shape than I was before.

Do you have a Vegan Group? Can you tell me something about the group?
I haven’t but I would love to know more. I do have large networks of vegan friends on social media platforms though and that’s really an amazing thing. We are kind of like a big team of people that share that philosophical ideology. It is wonderful to have that kind of support system, especially because I didn’t have that growing up and being vegetarian could sometimes feel alienating and make others feel judged and defensive. There are still areas in this country where not many people are vegan and it’s socially/culturally hard for them to find others that care about animals as much as they do, so online support is instrumental.

What is a typical vegan breakfast, lunch and dinner for you?
Right now I am trying to lose a little weight so I am eating really healthy. I kind of follow John McDougall’s Starch Solution philosophy. I highly recommend his books.

What are the main advantages of a vegan diet?
For me, the biggest advantage by far is knowing I am not willfully contributing to the suffering of animals and I am standing up for what I believe in. Second biggest advantage is doing far less environmental damage and lowering my GHG footprint. It is also so much healthier than being an omnivore. I have spent the past few years of my life researching all the advantages because I am writing a book, The Vegan Revolution, and its truly mind-blowing how superior this lifestyle is in every way.

What are the disadvantages of a vegan diet and how can they be overcome? It isn’t so much a problem in LA but it can take some planning because you don’t always know if restaurants or stores will have something you want to eat when you’re out and about. But that is easy to remedy — and much cheaper and healthier — just bring snacks with you and prepare for those situations. Another much more profound disadvantage is knowing how much cruelty there is involved with consuming animal products and living in a culture that accepts it. However, that is changing rapidly. The more educated we become collectively the more everyone is switching to this lifestyle. Our minority is growing exponentially. In the near future, we will see a huge shift in the general population’s minds and lifestyles.

What do you think is generally misunderstood about the vegan approach to eating?
I think there is so much misinformation as well as purposeful disinformation being disseminated about human health and veganism. From a very young age we are led to believe that being vegan is less healthy than being omnivorous and nothing could be further from the truth. Also we are influenced to believe these industries maintain some level of humane treatment for animals which is absolutely false. There is no such thing as humane meat, dairy or eggs. It is a lie created by these industries to sell products. Also we are led to believe there are laws protecting animals against abuse when in reality there are very few and they have no real world consequences so they are ignored completely by the industry.

During the time that you’re not yet a vegan, what favorite meat dish do you usually cook or order in restaurants?
I had a really hard time giving up breakfast burritos and chicken tikka masala at my favorite restaurant. I learned how to make booommmbbb vegan breakfast burritos though and now I am just ashamed of myself for letting something as unimportant as my taste preferences control my lifestyle for so long.

Do you think you became more healthier on being a vegan?
Absolutely, no question about that. I was continually gaining weight and feeling lethargic before I went vegan. Every aspect of my life and health improved when I changed.

What’s the most important thing that people should know before shifting to a vegan diet?
Being vegan is easy and by far the best thing you can do for yourself, the animals and the world but you can’t be a junk food vegan and just expect to be healthy solely because you are vegan. Luckily being a healthy vegan could not be more simple. You ready? I am about to tell you the secret: eat fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes — pretty much anything natural and unprocessed and you’re good to go. And buy organic. Seriously, that is so important and theres not enough room in this interview to express every reason why. It is easy to research online though.

Is being vegan more expensive? No, that is a common misconception. It can be expensive if you are going out to eat a lot or if you are trying to be a raw vegan. But buying vegan food at the store — even if you only buy organic is much less expensive than not. I buy bulk rice and grains and veggies and they are cost effective and last a long time.

What should someone do to make sure that they’re staying nutritionally balanced while on a vegan diet?
See my above secret! So easy.

Should I exercise on a vegan diet?
Of course! And you will recover faster, it is the reason why a number of athletes are going vegan — performance enhancement.

Do you have any messages to other folks planning to shift to a Vegan lifestyle?
Do it, the animals need you. The sustainability of our planet’s resources depends on our choices too. There is literally no reason not to become vegan and every reason to do it. If you have trouble at first with self-discipline don’t feel discouraged. For some people, that can take time to practice and strengthen. It is such a rewarding choice to make, and I fully believe you can make it happen if you are thinking about it.

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