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Food is culture. Food is emotion. Food is one way that we communicate our values, priorities, and ideals. It comprises a large part of how we interact with each other, and if you rock that boat by being different, then get your fork ready; whether you’d like to or not, you’re about to get into a food fight. I like to call them “omniwars.”
To me, Vegucated is about the shift that happens when you sit at one side of the dinner table, looking at the vegan on the other side with amusement, envy, or perhaps, slight horror. Then you receive some information or inspiration and suddenly find yourself on the vegan’s side of the table, seeing the dinner in a whole new light.
That’s what happened to me, growing up in Indiana, loving pork chops and ridiculing vegetarians—or rather, the one vegetarian I knew (sorry, Lorena!) Then I moved to New York and saw a documentary about animal agriculture, and my whole perspective shifted. Within two months I was vegan, and within a year I had dropped 15 lbs and had the vegan lay of the land. I could tell you where to find the best seitan skewers in NYC, and I could tell you that if you drove one hour in any direction from my childhood home, you could hit any one of 84 factory farms.
A whole world of opened up for me. I tried foods that I wasn’t sure how to pronounce (It’s “keen-wah”) and ones that tasted way better than they sounded (Nutritional Yeast, I’m talking to you!) And even though I integrated myself quickly into the vegan community in NYC, I still felt isolated at times and misunderstood by friends and family who were trying to wrap their heads around this sudden change in me. How could I explain to them what I was going through? I teamed up with my vegan mentor Mary Max to organize grassroots screenings of award-winning documentaries about factory farming and vegetarianism around NYC. This volunteer work was so fulfilling that it led to a full-time job as the first employee of Mary Max’s non-profit organization now known as Kind Green Planet. For the next few years, I co-organized screenings of films at colleges, law schools, churches, community centers and food co-ops all over the U.S. and Canada and saw what an impact one good film could have in creating a shift in consciousness.
But there was a story that was missing. There were no films that chronicled the day-to-day experience of going vegan. I wanted to see the shift in perspective, the physical changes, as well as the logistical, social, and emotional challenges and rewards that people experience when they adopt a completely plant-based lifestyle. There were also no vegan films that would make you laugh more than you’d cry. So I decided to make one.
My filmmaking challenges were: how to do it on very little money; how to convey the unpleasant sides of the animal agriculture industry without alienating people; how to convey urgency about environmental crises without sounding shrill; how to explain the science without putting people to sleep; how to offer solutions without being didactic and, instead, letting people come to their own conclusions, and how, in general, to address serious topics while keeping the film enjoyable and entertaining.
The answer, we discovered, lay in assembling the right team around us and choosing the right film subjects. Once we had cameras rolling on Brian, Tesla, and Ellen, we knew that entertainment value would be the least of our worries.
What we’ve ended up with is a watchable, accessible, honest, and, I believe, universal story about the challenges and the joys that come along with consciously putting one’s actions in alignment with one’s beliefs. It’s also a timely story as we stand on the brink of an “alternative lifestyle” becoming solidly mainstream as more and more people choose plant-based living and more and more media outlets position it as a viable, common sense, and enjoyable solution to some of the greatest challenges of our time.
My hope is that this film will further the conversation about our culture and our relationship to animals, our planet, and our bodies through our food. I hope people who have started down a plant-based path will share it with friends and family and create more peace and understanding at the dinner table. And, of course, I hope that people who are curious about vegan living will embark on their own delicious and fulfilling adventures.