At a certain point, parents have lived so many years on this Earth that there is no possession imaginable they might still need. This is a daughter’s authentic, if not childish, perception of her father, at least. Wanting terribly to impress dad with a grand display of Father’s Day gifting that says, “You’re my favorite dad! (I’m your favorite daughter, too, right?)”, visions of a garage full of tools, a basement packed with memorabilia, closets stuffed with clothing, shelves hosting knickknacks-a-plenty ultimately thwart the urge. Maybe, it seems to the daughter, there comes a time when parents just don’t need more stuff.
She can hear her mom now: “Where are we going to put this?” Perhaps next to the home’s fourth TV, rarely watched in the laundry room? Maybe it would look good adjacent to the “conversation piece” collecting dust hung behind the bathroom door? The idea of sending another bouquet of stargazer lilies seems predictable and unimaginative compared to the sentiment in this daughter’s heart. If only she wasn’t on a budget (like the rest of the working-class nation) and could gift the only item no father would turn up a nose to—a new car! But the Price Ain’t Right. Let that not be a reflection upon her feelings for dear old dad.
While I’m waiting for that next big gig to come through when I will buy back dad’s classic GTO and wrap it in a bow with chocolate sprinkles on top, I’ve found a way to use my creativity to reinforce pop’s view that I am his favorite daughter ever. Some dads get new ball caps, some dads get cologne, my dad is getting a nest of baby sea turtles! C’mon, how can anyone scoff at baby sea turtles? Dad has already called to thank me. He gets it. And I know he gets the deeper meaning behind the gift, too.
When parents have children, I see it as a sort of symbol of the desire to connect to something that will outlive their individual lives. They put a little of their life into a new one and we, as the children, live on and carry them on. I’ve personally decided not to have children, but that does not mean I don’t have the urge to parent in different ways. I parent through conversation and community building. I parent through gardening and environment enrichment. I parent through writing and media. I parent ideas, art and activism—all of which will outlive me, too. These things are the grandchildren I give my father.
When I discovered that the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) offered a way to adopt a nest of baby sea turtles in a loved one’s name, I knew this was the unique gift I wanted to offer my father. All seven species of sea turtle are endangered globally. The STRP is everywhere these at-risk species need protection: the Gulf of Mexico, the California coastline, the reefs of Australia and the islands off Costa Rica. My dad represents the protective force to me and it gives me creative and compassionate joy to imagine this gift helping protect even one baby sea turtle in my dad’s name—his life, in symbol, protecting my parented children. Please, Universe, let even one baby sea turtle beat the odds and live to maturity to reproduce because of my demonstrated love for my dad through this Father’s Day gift.
I think my dad gets it, too. No, I know he gets it. As unique and unpredictable as I am, dad gets me, and so I know, when he receives this gift, he will know what love he’s inspired in this world. And he’ll be happy not to have to dust around another strange truck-stop statue that says “I Love You” in all the cursive colored blown glass a shelf can hold. Happy Father’s Day, dad. I love you.
“The first time I saw Tonya is when I watched Bold Native at one of the premieres in LA. It is an incredible movie, if you haven’t seen it definitely check it out. Tonya was brilliant and funny and I liked her even before I met her many months later. She is even more brilliant and funny in person! She is one of those people that is herself, no matter what and I have a lot of respect for people like her. She brought tons of creative ideas for the shoot and was excited to shoot sexy looks – her confidence and independence are truly inspiring. She is a strong woman; proud of her femininity, sexuality and body and she let’s nothing hold her back from being a good person, following her dreams and having fun. She has links to much of her work below, please check out some of what she has done! Another thing I wanted to mention because it made such an impression on me during our shoot, is her dedication to leaving a small footprint on the earth. She wastes nothing, reuses, buys food from local farmer’s markets to support small humane business and her local economy, buys awesome fashion forward clothes from thrift shops to reduce her consumer impact and of course she eats the best possible way for the environment! Vegan! And I knew it before – but shooting her really drove it home for me: if one wants to look young over the years, eating raw (and keeping your skin safe from the sun) is instrumental. She looks amazing, is totally energetic, athletic and toned – there is no way anyone can argue that vegans are not healthy when Tonya Kay is an example of what veganism can do for a human’s health.” – Melissa Schwartz
It is my honor to be included in photographer, Melissa Schwartz, vGirls/vGuys series, a multimedia project promoting veganism by featuring prominent vegan’s beauty, strength and diversity. You will find the full photo series here accompanied by our lifestyle interview. Again, it is my honor to shoot with Melissa’s extraordinary talent and connect with her compassionate activist heart.
SS: What made you go vegan and why?
TK: At this point in my life, I have been vegetarian and vegan for many decades and raw vegan for the past 11. I transitioned each shift for a different reason. Specifically, though, I went VEGAN when I was on tour with Kenny Rogers. I was a bit of an insomniac back then and was the only one awake on our tour bus when the driver pulled off to a truck stop for refueling. I was hungry and stretched my legs while wandering inside to look for food. However when I got in there, all I could find was neon colored packages and cartoon character marketing on products that I was supposed to consider food. Suddenly, I wasn’t fooled. I was outraged! Perhaps I was just tired enough and just loopy enough, but in that moment I went vegan out of the pure renegade desire for real food.
SS: Has it been difficult for you?
TK: Regarding going RAW vegan, which people sometimes perceive as more difficult than cooked vegan, I have to say this: eating cooked, animal-based or junk foods is like hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer. Once you find out what’s causing the pain, it’s pretty easy to not hit yourself with the hammer again. Eating raw vegan is easy because the rewards are so tangible.
SS: Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind of someone helping an animal?
TK: I grew up in a farm town in Southern Michigan with lots of country roads winding around lots of lakes and swamps. Invariably, the lake turtles would try to cross those country roads to the other pond, and if a car roared by, they’d just pull into their shells and hide there as if they were protected. My mom and dad would pull over to the side of the road, stop the car and pick up any living turtle (snappers included) and place them on the other side. What a great feeling. I still save turtles if I see one in the road and just returned from volunteer travel to Costa Rica protecting endangered sea turtles down there through PRETOMA and Sea Turtle Restoration Network. I’m still saving turtles.
SS: What are some of the animal rights related things you participate in?
TK: I produce media, I am a conscious business owner, I donate to organizations and I’ve been known to rally and speak at city hall when moved. I always try to keep it positive, not only because I find people naturally gravitate towards what’s working but also because I insist on my lifestyle being easy going/no problem, so keeping it positive is just as much for the public as it is for me.
You can read my award-winning column, Clean and Green Everyday in EcoHearth Magazine. New episodes of my Eco Tourist web series feature wildlife conservation-based volunteer travel with Asian elephants and sea turtles in upcoming episodes. And I hope my free raw vegan lifestyle videos help those already on the path. You can enjoy my performances in health, fitness and compassion promoting-projects like Bold Native, Rawman and Green Girl and Vegan Fitness dvd. I enjoy doing vegetarian-based press and I am also a conscious business owner and my companies Happy Mandible and Solid Hollywood are doing amazing work bringing organic, raw, vegan and natural products to major motion picture and television sets.
SS: What are your favorite animal rights organizations?
TK: I donate to and/or support http://elephantnaturepark.org/,http://seregetifoundation.org/, http://seaturtles.org/, http://pawsweb.org/,http://centerforbiologicaldiversity.org/, http://treepeople.org/,http://carbonfund.org/, http://norml.org/, http://www.idausa.org/ andhttp://www.ad-international.org/adi_world/.
SS: What would you say to someone considering going vegan?
TK: If you want average results, do what average people do. If you want extraordinary results …
Episode 10 of The Eco Tourist, my web series documenting a 3 week volunteer conservation trip to Thailand where my travel partner and I work with the endangered Asian elephant.
Told from the perspective of two Hollywood-based high raw vegans working in the film/television industry, in this tenth episode, you’ll see some very healthy and hilarious behaviors of Asian elephants. If the zoo, circus, sanctuary or trekking camp you are considering attending does not provide the opportunity for their elephants to exhibit these natural instincts, then find another. Find a true sanctuary where the elephants are free to:
1. scratch all day! 2. rumble, trumpet, squawk and communicate with other elephants 3. dust themselves with loose dirt 4. forage for wild plant food 5. roll in mud pits! 6. touch constantly and socialize with other elephants continually 7. raise the youngsters with familial discipline 8. be free from poking, stabbing and beating with the bull hook
These elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand (a real elephant sanctuary) are free to exhibit all these natural behaviors and are obviously healthy elephants. Just take a look:
Read about the difference between most circus, zoo and trekking elephants vs. HEALTHY elephants in sanctuaries in my award-winning column, Clean and Green Every Day, in EcoHearth online magazine here: Circus Elephants Life and Exposing Cole Bros Circus Elephant Cover Up.
I thought I had happily escaped the holiday madness by visiting a Buddhist country during the season in question. Little did I suspect the Elephant Nature Park had a very unexpected event planned for the park volunteers:
Read why I try to get away from the US during the holidays here: “Christmas Is Trying To Kill Me“
See more photos from this volunteer trip to Elephant Nature Park, Thailand.
Sometimes people ask me if it can be done. If one can actually be a professional athlete on a plant based diet. The truth is, I can’t imagine how one could on any other diet. I imagine bogging my system down with slow digesting animal products or lifeless over cooked foods and I think to myself how much my performance would suffer. In fact, if I eat a cooked vegan meal or two on a weekend, my balance is off in my yoga class on Monday and I’m just kinda tired in general until my body finishes digesting the heavy meal. I THRIVE as a vegetarian (vegan/raw food) professional dancer and danger artist and consider it the OPTIMAL lifestyle because I am serious about my physicality and physique.
I get asked that question all the time. But rarely do I get asked the question this tv segment asked me. Supreme Master TV‘s “Vegetarian Elite” series profiled me as, well, an elite vegetarian (wow!) and asked me some pretty thought provoking questions on spirituality and art. And my favorite was a question I’ve never been asked before: does the raw vegan diet make me a better actor? Watch our segment to see my surprised, impromptu answer:
Episode 6 of The Eco Tourist web series is LIVE! I never thought I’d be called to protest – I mean; rally – in Thailand, but as I mentioned in episode 5, to save an endangered species, you have to address the social, cultural, environmental AND political issues as well. We’ll here’s my chance to walk my talk!
This rally at the Governor’s Mansion in Chiang Mai, Thailand was a quite unexpected opportunity that presented itself during my volunteer position at the Elephant Nature Park. With support from international protesters, this video is in multiple languages, including Dutch, Israeli, Mandarine, French, Thai, Finnish and Scottish (which SOUNDS like another language, that’s for sure!). Enjoy episode 6 of The Eco Tourist:
Leaked teaser scene from Bold Native, the first fictional film about the Animal Liberation Front. This independent film has turned into every film maker and cast member’s dream come true – it has become a movement. With no commercially vested backers, Bold Native sold out every seat on their first national screening tour in 2010 and the community of activists felt so strongly about the film that the entire second national screening tour was organized entirely by The People. Bold Native has played multiple dates in all major US markets, as well as international screenings in Germany, England, Sweden, Poland, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and more. The film is now available on dvd at the Bold Native website and also streaming on iTunes.
In this scene you will see my character’s introduction to the film. And what an introduction it is! Randolph Mantooth (of Emergency fame) plays my opposite and he was such a great counter balance to my energy. I think we complimented each other on our journey together in this film – he; the uptight, unfeeling, corporate monger in transition and I; the unpaved country road to Chaos. Enjoy:
Have you ever noticed how people buy more when they are scared? It’s an advertising strategy, in fact. Scared your teeth aren’t white enough? Scared your belly is noticeably bloated? Scared the chicks won’t dig your junker car? “We’ve got the products that will assure your security. Spend your money on toothpaste, prescription medications or heck, just buy a brand new gas guzzler and you, too, can rest safely at nite.”
There is a constant and intentional low-level fear inducement happening across our society at all times. I mean, when was the last time you heard “Green Alert: everything’s absolutely okay. You and your family are completely safe and there is no reason to worry about anything whatsoever,” over the airport intercom speakers? The fact is, a fearful society is an easily controlled society and the effectiveness of that mind control is quantifiable proportional to the society’s purchases. We will buy whatever we are told to (and a lot of it) if we are scared enough. Or trying hard enough to distract ourselves from what needs our attention.
Does this explain the Japanese yen hitting an all time high two days ago, in the midst of devastating world crisis, before lower-status currency-driven world banks “came together” to push it back down (for the good of Japan, of course)? I can’t help but see this as another fear indicator expressed through financial institutions and the stock market.
So forgive me if it doesn’t sit well with me when I see my community leaders taking part in the perpetuation of the fear. I expect more from the leaders of the counter culture. I’ve gotten several emails telling me to fear for my life specifically in California because radiation is swooping across the sea with cross hairs set for my roof top, and the next quake will crush everything and everyone I love in Southern California before month’s end. I don’t know if it will or won’t, but wake up everyone: it hasn’t yet and this consciousness is doing nothing for anyone.
Did you know that the worst nuclear disaster of all time, Chernobyl, had a dead zone of 50 miles? That’s really serious! It’s horrible, but it’s not across the seas killing Californians “this Friday” (which was yesterday). So why are you selling me this state of mind? Did you know that iodide and other radiation protecting foods are targeting the extremely sensitive thyroid gland, but nothing else? If it really were time to fear for my health, then I wouldn’t be “eating more chlorella”, I’d be getting the f*ck out of the radiation zone. So why are you selling me more raw food products?
All of it is screams self-centered fear-based reactionism rather than actual compassion for anything that is happening right now. This is not productive activism that makes a difference in the peoples’, animals’ and environments’ lives that are suffering right now. They aren’t just sitting at home scared and buying more superfoods over in Japan.
A friend of mine relates this real life situation: “One of our (United States) friends sells Japanese furniture and she said people walk right out of the showroom when they realize it’s from Japan – as if they’d get cancer from a couch imported 4 months ago. Needless to say this type of reaction needs to be schooled out of us because it’s ridiculous and hurtful to people that really need our help right now.”
If you want to be useful, don’t post another video that tells me how to avoid radiation. Don’t send me another link telling me “I’m next” in the global death toll. Do something that matters and write about living the transformation you yourself are going through because of the wake up call of this world disaster. Show empathy and compassion in your communications with friends rather than doomsday speak, warnings and fear propagation. Talk to me about how you are calling your family more often because life is too short. Film a video that shows support for the injured and provides a solution. Write about what charity you are putting your $100 towards and how you are speaking out to politicians against nuclear power at home.
PLEASE write about your personal transformation towards beccoming a human being that cares, is available and is aware of the preciousness of life. We don’t need more opportunists pretending to lead by selling us more products. We don’t need more debilitating propaganda. If you are truly afraid for my well being, then help me. If you don’t have a solution to offer, get out of the way.
She’s the reason I went back. There is a girl in her twenties with eyelashes and spirit for days. Her amber eyes have seen things she has no fear of today. She is the happiest elephant I know precisely because she knows how bad it can be. And this is not it.
This is definitely not it.
The first time I volunteered here I was a student. I was a student of the gentle giants and I was a student of wo/mankind. I learned all the horrible things we can do. I learned all the awe inspiring things we can do. I watched the orphaned families all, reform new with other elephants rescued, rehabilitated and retired. I watched these massive beings take extra care to not step on any darting dogs at their feet. I watched them touch each other in movements than can only be described as caressing. And I knew, when I saw the family with two young children have an afternoon in the mud pit I had just broke back and dug out the day before, that there are great emotions in those great beings and I’m certain the capacity for joy be directly proportional to the size of a being’s heart. The elephant surrogate family unanimously lived a bliss that were it sun shine would have blinded the naked eye. I’ve never seen such magnitude of rapture outside this group of elephants, going as a family for a flop, slide, spray and wrestle in the mud pit.
To me, the elephant represents joy.
Like Medo; the elephant I have taken the time to watch and sit near. She does not flop in mud pits. Her hind body is crippled from the full accumulation of maladies this endangered species experiences in the real culture of Thailand, with logging illegal and tourism the gross national product, the layers of our human interference with this majestic species are many. Medo has seen them all. And when I touch her side and feel her warmth – I feel her breathe and feel a subconscious “thank you” issue forth from my lips regarding her life. She is alive. Thank you for Medo’s life.
She survived and now, too, she sees another layer of what humans are capable of. If we are an advanced species, it is demonstrated not in the research laboratories, the antique pews, or the 3D special effects, but in the acts of humanity I am living now. I am the impressive human that did not harm, ride or injure the Asian elephant when I visited Thailand. Count me energetically as One. One of the advanced in our species.
In fact, I worked my ass of for the Asian elephant instead. I scooped poop the size of bowling balls no kidding. I painted dried mud bricks, now a permaculture volunteer house. I loaded logs for the eles’ all nite fires. I scooped out a mud pit. I planted jackfruit and avocado trees on newly-acquired land that is protected and being turned from cabbage fields back into a wild Thai jungle with abundant fruit-bearing trees, perchance someday it may support the dietary and creative needs of a family of five pachyderms. That’s the intention anyway: privatize jungle land, but not to farm or clear for “development”. What the elephants need is more jungle.
What we all need is more jungle.
We can do this. It’s as easy as planting a tree and putting money into the hands of organizations with so much heart, their capacity for compassion is proportional.
Medo’s best friend forever is Mae Lana. Mae Lana used to be a little defensive and protective, I think, because she is 80% blind. Yes, she used to be a bit frightening at times. I liked to hang out with Medo, but in order to do so, I had to put up with her best girlfriend, Mae Lana.
Since my first volunteer experience, an older man in musht has appeared on the scene and Mae Lana’s attitude has changed completely. She is happier and almost giddy. She still can’t see a damn thing, but it is nice to be allowed proximity to Medo this time. I can observe … and feel … and appreciate the little surrogate family of three they’ve become. Elephants, like humans, have complex relationships and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing gigantic orphans form a family. They really love each other; elephants. Again; like humans. Everywhere I look, I see people wanting to communicate with other humans and live with certain ones and look at pictures of others. People love people. I know this now that I know how elephants love elephants. Elephant relationships are so complex, I learned about my own relationships from them. That’s a big lesson.
Even though some will never venture to see the native Asian elephant walking free, they still benefit from this ancient, wise, and wild vital energy existing on earth. I may not get to touch or feed an elephant every day, but the elephant energy walks this earth and all our lives are better for it. We must do what we can now, when the time is right. Now is when we have a place where our contributions matter . If you want to restore your faith in life and feel powerful and effective, save an elephant. If you want to believe something matters, believe in this.http://elephantnaturefoundation.org http://elephantvoices.org http://www.serengetiusa.com/ http://pawsweb.org http://www.helpelephants.com/
After a back breaking day of cutting corn in the fields, I escape from another cold shower and stumble to my raised bamboo hut to nestle a mosquito net around my mattress, per chance to sleep.
The moon has been full waning every nite, illuminating the conservation property and my screenless windows. Occasional trumpeting, crunching or squeaking of our rescued elephants dances through the jackfruit trees. Invariably, our semi-wild dogs go into pack howling every few hours, waking every sleeping being within miles.
I started actually listening to the dogs’ barking one nite – not as a sleep irritation, but as a conversation. The more I listened, the better I began to decipher their seeming ruckus into valuable communication. I hear a distant dog bark, possibly alerting everyone that movement has been detected near her territory. I hear three dogs to the East respond in acknowledgment of the situation, possibly communicating backup support or confirmation that their territory is in watch as well. It spreads this way throughout the park and for 15 minutes all dog voices take turns offering, responding, alerting and listening – I actually hear the conversation.
Howling and barking is such a natural part of their dog lives that I no longer wish to “shut them up” so I can sleep. Empathy has replaced resistance to their furor – I relate to my deep need to communicate with those of my own species. If someone tried to stop people from conversing with one another, we’d suffer individually as well as a group. Communication is one of our instinctual urges – so is it for these dogs. If there was ever any debate left in my personal mind over the injustice of how most animals are taken as “pets”, let it be resolved now as I observe the dog’s need to form “gangs”, to run free all day every day, to dig holes in the earth and seek a human out only occasionally as a potential source of easy food. Only a few of these dogs will even stop to be scratched by a human – we just don’t really register on their dog priority scale.
My respect for all animals expands during my volunteer position at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. This park is a refuge not just for the magnificent, endangered Asian elephant, but also for dogs, cats and water buffalo. Recently, the park saved a baby Asian black bear whom now resides in a towering tree, with a raised climbing hut and a bathing pool underneath. In Burma, these baby bears are caught and stuffed into tiny cages. Their front paws are cut off and their stomach bile is drained for the rest of their crippled and confined lives for sale for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This bear was rescued and the park believes they have located two more baby bears for rescue from a similar fate. Rescues of this sort are always accommodated – somehow – and the additional two baby bears will give the first baby the chance to form social companionship and possibly a family bond, over time.
The Elephant Nature Park’s refugees are not limited to four legged animals, either. Burma’s political climate has been one of literal genocide for years. Burmese refugees flee to Thailand and occasionally the Thai military does scrapes of the Northern jungle villages to detain and export the immigrants, however I often see the Thai people offer support systems for refugees out of compassion for Burma’s strife. It is a complicated situation which I can never pretend to fully understand, but getting to meet the Burmese refugees, now employed as elephant mahouts here at the park, has raised my consciousness and compassion to this complex reality. Some of the mahouts had to fight their drafted brothers in civil war. Some mahouts have watched their whole family be killed in front of them. Some fled to Thailand with their families for protection. Many have the scars of a genocidal political climate and need as much patience and rehabilitative love as the elephants they are caring for.
Everywhere I turn at the Elephant Nature Park, I see lives being saved. I see elephants whose spines will not be broken under the weight of trekking tourists. I see dogs whom will not be caged at the end of a 5 foot leash. I see bears whose paws will not be cut off in the name of medicine. I see humans whom will not face execution in front of their families.
As well, I see myself and all the places I must grow to accommodate these new realizations. After experiencing this, I can not remain the same. As children we lived with hope – the belief that anything could and might happen at any time. For some; bit by bit, and for others; all at once, hope is taken away. Possibility is crushed, freedom is limited, cages are built and the child inside dies – our spirits become severed. It is the precious gem of hope that is being returned when we speak of being saved. All our lives – dog, human, elephant – are being saved at the Elephant Nature Park. Hope returns.