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I grew up in a farmtown in Michigan. And despite my eccentric appearance, I have farmtown values. Family and nature mean a lot to me, so it breaks my heart in a secret way that I can not live my dreams as a performing artist anywhere but in a large city. After all, to us farmtown folk, cities are “dirty, impersonal and always in a rush”.
To some degree, of course, all accusations are true. You don’t have to be from a farmtown to smell the exhaust blanketing Hollywood Blvd. on a 105 degree day in late July. And you don’t have to take the NYC subway for long to get that mystery grit under your fingernails – and in your nostrils, and in your pores. The city is dirty. But despite the obvious street grime, dirty city life just might be the most environmental living design I’ve ever experienced.
It all depends on how you use it.
When you grow up in a small town, you’re in nature a lot, if only be default. And the old saying applies, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. My parents aren’t the only thing I miss living and working in major metropolitan areas – I miss nature and the smell of the color green. And it is precisely this longing that evoked my passion for green living. Had I never left my farmtown, I might not have felt the urgency to protect what the country has to offer. Had I never lived in a farmtown, I might think pollution and consumerism is an accepted way of life. But I have had both. And that makes me care.
I used to think it was the immense concentration of people that make cities dirty, but now, I see it as one of urban living’s greenest assets – LOCAL mindset. Others like me have moved to the city, mostly from smaller towns (there aren’t many towns larger than LA or NYC in the United States, after all). And we all remember nature’s bounty. Are we preserving what we left behind? Are we restoring what is absent to our new homes? Whatever our reasons, together we build composting and recycling systems that succeed only because there are so many of us running it. We pass laws that ban the use of petro-plastic grocery bags countywide because there are enough of us rallying for the cause. We support wildlife protection agencies with our time and money and by sheer number, we really do make a difference.
Now when I see skyscrapers I think how many thousands of people are housed there, rather than clearing acres of natural habitat to farm soybeans, paving miles of countryside to connect only four family homes, and living so far away from a school, market, or movie theatre that residents spend more time in their 4×4 trucks than I do on LA freeways.
It all depends on how you use it.
LOCAL living applies to more than than the concentrated mindframe, though. It dictates my consumer choices. I purchase LOCAL organic produce because fresh food is cheaper and more nutritious. I support LOCAL businesses because I want to keep my city employed. I choose LOCALLY manufactured products because it cuts down on transportation pollution when I don’t request it be shipped over from China. Or mailed over from New Jersey.
LOCAL living dictates my transportation choices, too. I choose activities I can walk to. Within a short five block walk from my apartment door, I can take professional dance classes, martial arts classes, pilates and yoga. And I do. I can walk to the post office, the bank, my mechanic and the office supply store. I sit at the local coffee shop, medicinal herb bar and live music venue. In fact, I’ve often pronounced that mine would be the perfect neighborhood if only it had an organic/raw/vegan cafe. And the inner-city deities must’ve been listening, because this month, Cafe Flourish, an organic/raw/vegan cafe opened in South Hollywood just five blocks from my front door. I officially live in the perfect city neighborhood.
Sure, we all want to live where the air is clear and the water untreated. But I am convinced I live in paradise right here right now. LOCAL living in the city makes all my environmental dreams a possibility. Vegan sneakers on the sidewalk keep my transportation, diet and consumption as green as it can be. And that little neighborhood walk does it’s part to shatter the “impersonal and always in a rush” city stereotype of small town fears, too. If only my vegan sneaks could bring my mom and dad closer. Now that would be paradise.
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:
The Eco Tourist, Episode 2 is LIVE! In this episode, we arrive in Chiang Mai, Thailand and adventure the Sunday walking street (coolest weekly art fair in the WORLD), Awana House (artsy city lodging for $18/night) and the Wat Suan Dok temple with the famous golden Buddha and Pun Pun vegetarian restaurant.
I wrote about why I believe Thailand and the Buddhist culture is so affluent in vegetarian culture while there.
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:
The impressive health educator, Victoria Moon and I filmed a five part interview series going in depth on raw food, life experience and world vision for Permission To Heal. This first segment asks the question, “What Was Your Experience of Food Like Growing Up?” Every day I will post a new clip of the 5.
So I return from a 3 week volunteer trip in Thailand, and being the owner of two businesses, immediately start in on my year end tax filings. Business owners know what I’m talking about. During taxes, I book a huge gig dancing on the The Muppets movie, which films 16 hour “days”, starting at 4pm. During the day, my manager has me going to callbacks and producers’ sessions, so I literally get NO sleep between jet lag and the work schedule, which is pretty much what did it. I got sick. And cursed/thanked every moment of it.
Often times I think “sick” is your body’s way of making you slow down. The more driven you are, the sicker you have to get to actually pay attention. I had a fever and everything. And it’s not like I wasn’t aware that I needed rest – it just wasn’t in my layout for the first three weeks of January 2011. I booked a spot on Spike’s Auction Hunters show and actually filmed with a fever. Imagine how rotten my body had to make me feel to get me to lay down.
Well, lay down I did and it was awesome turning off the ringer of my cell and bowing out of dates with friends. I watched a bunch of SAG Awards movies. I read a lot of books.
I’m the type that might take two months to read a book, if my schedule is rockin and rollin. But other times, like when I’m flat with fever, I can read a couple in a day. I’m feeling better now, but I secretly wish I was still illin just for the excuse to read, read, read all day. I can feel my brain swelling. My creativity gets all assertive. Reading is quite literally addictive.
I read several books and some of them were written by friends of mine. Some of these friends self-publish or are published by small companies and that’s why I feel strongly about shouting out to them – word of mouth is how the popularity of many grass roots projects infects the masses. The internet really does make diversification of art and education a reality – I can be an unsigned musician with a solid following. I can be an alternative health educator whose ideas are shared with the the masses. I can be an author whom makes a modest living without selling the rights to all my words to someone else. Word of mouth works.
Of course, I would not shout out about a book JUST because it’s self-published. I would not promote something just because my friend created it. The truth is, I am sharing the following books with you because they are high quality literature I think someone in my audience is interested in and needs to know about.
You don’t have to have a fever to read these books in one sitting:
Let’s Get Cracking by Robert Dante
If you can learn from a book, then this is the one that can teach you. Robert Dante’s whip skills are unparalleled as a performance artist. He shares a coherent and effective training method for the beginning whip cracker and includes several advanced cracking sequences for those with experience, too. He writes without ego, focusing on fostering others’ abilities. If you can learn from a book, this is the one that can teach you.
Raw Magic by Kate Magic
Kate is one smart cookie. Or should I say cupcake? She has a special fondness for desserts, but there is more to this book than fabulous superfood cake recipes. Kate shares some powerful raw vegan knowledge in the first 1/3 of the book – her concepts on the ideal balance of fresh, living foods with superfoods and what superfoods she finds essential and why. I personally don’t consider myself a superfooder nor a chef. But the truth is, I do have superfoods in my life and I do create recipes from scratch all the time – Raw Magic taught me how to make maca yummy in recipes. Raw Magic has a sumptuous color photo on every page, drawing even the reluctant superfooder into her technicolor recipe-gasm world. This book is for anyone who wants the deets on how to work those superfood powders into more than their morning smoothie.
Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness by Robert Cheeke
Did you watch our documentary, The Vegan Fitness: Built Naturally dvd? In the dvd, you meet three thriving vegan athletes, Ironman Champion Brendan Brazier, myself; professional dancer Tonya Kay, and the author of the book I am now shouting out about; natural bodybuilder Robert Cheeke. You should watch the dvd and read the book side by side if you are a vegetarian athlete and more specifically, if your sport is weight lifting or bodybuilding. Robert Cheeke has accomplished much in his bodybuilding career and has done it ALL vegan. His book is filled with black and white competition and training photographs and is brimming with DETAILS on the vegan bodybuilding diet, his specific training workouts, vegan equipment and food resources, and Robert’s unstoppable life in general. What’s really cool about this book is the can-do attitude Robert exudes. My favorite chapter was Turning Your Bodybuilding Success Into A Form of Activism and Outreach, an inspiration to all vegans to nurture their fire and affect the world – how to make sure your public persona is that of a role model others can look up to.
Raw Emotions by Angela Stokes
As a professional dancer, I recommend Raw Emotions to all young dancers. If you are a parent, studio owner or friend whom knows a young dancer, buy this book right now and give it them. And read it first yourself before gifting it away. You don’t have to be a dancer or teenager to experience heightened awareness of your physical image as it relates to diet. I’ve even seen raw vegans develop eating disorders due to overscrutiny of their raw food choices. Angela approaches the subject of emotional responses to diet, choosing nourishing foods and how body image affects outlook on life with compassion and wisdom. She guides the reader through very clear steps towards loving one’s food and body – steps she used herself to change her reality from a self-proclaimed sarcastic, secretly-ashamed woman weighing 300 pounds to the life-loving raw foodist less than half as heavy. It does not matter what you weigh, however. You will take value from this book if you wish to use a healthy diet to nurture an emotionally positive and spiritually sustainable life. A must read for young dancers!
We swam in a swirling sea of smoke from our water hookah at the Bangkok restaurant. Real Egyptians populated the surrounding tables, laughing slightly too loud for the casual atmosphere. He dismissed himself to the bathroom and almost instantaneously an Eastern European woman materialized in his place. “Is he a Japanese American mix?” Suspiciously; “Yes.” “I knew it! That’s the perfect mix. I want to have his babies. They will be so beautiful.”
Yes, he is that pretty. And yes, his babies are indeed beautiful. But I don’t think that is why many Thai people choose to address my travel partner rather than myself – even though it was I whom requested the directions, made the reservation, paid for the meal, almost got ran into. Why would many Thai people address the man when it is clearly the woman whom they are interacting with? Cultural differences.
Culture is the collective soul of a group of people based on climate, environment, religion, art, politics and every single thing that ever happened to their communal family since the begging of time. Culture is complex. And absolutely rich with human-ness. In an age where the machine, where the corporation, where the system sets out to dehumanize and devalue my human experience, culture is where I can find that precious pearl inside the the living being. Even when I do not get looked in eyes or spoken to directly, I wish to protect that culture. At the same time, I sure am thankful to be a woman whom calls Hollywood, CA, USA her home in the year 2010. There is no place I’d personally rather live as a woman alive today.
One of the cultural differences between Thailand and the United States is religion. The grand majority of Thai people practice Buddhism, while the average population in the United States calls themselves some sect of Christian. I am not Christian, personally, and don’t think of myself as living a Christian lifestyle, but visiting a Buddist culture, where the assumed Christian morals are notably absent, really wakes me up to how Christian my life is by default based on culture alone whether I like it or not.
For example, anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics to a god, animal or object) is a valuable scientific practice that would earn a researcher dishonorable discharge from the scientific community in any Christian country. Even the scientific community does not recognize how religious they are, protecting the belief that man has dominion over other animals and therefore can kill, eat and experiment on them on the basis that they “have no feelings” while having never allowed research to be published that proved or disproved the consideration. Seems quite religious and not scientific at all.
In Thailand, however, the Buddhist religion generally embraces the emotional capacity of all beings, allowing an empathetic consideration for all life forms to be utlized in their sciences, culture and every day practices. I can see this cultural difference daily by the way people with little to eat share food with stray dogs and cats, rather than impounding them. In fact, it is considered exceptional karma to give care to other beings in need, including animals that are not pets. Vegetarianism is commonplace in Thai culture. Some Buddhist temples provide free vegetarian meals daily to the community. Chiang Mai, a city with a population of only 150,000 hosts a whopping 41 vegetarian restaurants.
One of which is the Free Bird Cafe. This Non Governmental Organization offers vegetarian/vegan Western and Thai food, a second hand clothing store, clean refillable drinking water source and an arts and crafts shop. 100% of all profit benefits the Thai Freedom House, a language and arts community center for indigenous tribe and Burmese refugee families in Northern Thailand. Talk about something that must be understood from the native culture’s perspective to understand it at all … culture is complicated. But food can be and often is our passageway in.
Free Bird Cafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand vegan dish Thai Freedom House refugee and indigenous students
“Tonya Kay’s a vegan,” my girlfriend says to her farm-town mother on the telephone.
“What is that?” comes back her mother’s innocent reply.
“Someone who can’t eat meat, milk or eggs,” my friend explains.
“Is she seeing a doctor for that?”
Oh, bless the small-town folk who haven’t yet heard the word vegan! I wanted to shout out loud after my girlfriend told me this story, “Actually, I’m not seeing a doctor for that—and that’sthe point!” But that’s not the point of this particular blog entry. The point is that the most common definition of vegan remains someone who doesn’t consume meat, milk or eggs. I have been a vegan for 15 years and, even in my opinion, that is still the basic requirement before claiming the title.
But consciousness accelerates one’s education and choices are made based on this continued information gathering. Where individuals go with their veganism after figuring out the diet part is completely up to them. Many vegans forsake leather, circuses, zoos and pets. Others support green living, organic foods and environmentalism. Still others become shelter volunteers, animal rescuers, anti-vivisectionists or political activists. I am a bit of them all: I own leather-free weightlifting gloves. I won’t have pets. I shop local, eat organic and do volunteer work with abused animals.
But even inside all of this care and consciousness, I am a hypocrite. I end up confined to contradictions as a vegan because the movie-theatre film contains gelatin. The crayons contain tallow. The antifreeze contains glycerin. And jeeze, as I’ve written about before, the leather-free gloves are made of purely synthetic materials. If you want to look far enough, the manufacture of the plastic used to make my leather-free shoes pollutes enough groundwater and breathing air that I am slowly killing an entire eco-system—all its animals, foliage and humans included, rather than the one cow for its skin. How can vegans win?
I was wine tasting recently and in deep discussion about this particular vineyard’s exceptional commitment to organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming. The conversation rolled and was filled with detail as to what green practices went into my wine, which I appreciated very much. When I asked what animal products went into my wine, however, the winemaker’s entire demeanor changed. Instead of just answering my question, he ranted about vegans and how hypocritical they are. I wondered if some jerk-vegan ruined it for me by getting all up in arms and judgmental on him before my arrival.
I wish vegans wouldn’t ruin my work by being jerks. Because I didn’t want the conversation to end with this winemaker. I just wanted to know what animal products were used in my wine. Luckily, he opened up to me after he got his rant out and did give some valuable information. In the end, it is my opinion that all vegans are different and draw the lifestyle line in varying places. We just want the opportunity to make our personal choices. Information gives me the opportunity to continue living life based on conscious choices.
Besides a huge schism in communication and available information between winemakers and vegans, what I have learned about animal products in wine is that where most vegans are concerned, they are added during the fining process. Wines generally go through a standard filtering and then fining process where in the former, fermentation sediment and large particles are filtered out and then in the latter, a fining agent, such as isinglass, egg whites, casein, gelatin, bentonite clay, activated charcoal or plastic are used to clarify the wine, basically removing its haze and creating a visibly clear glass of wine.
There are very few wineries that commit to producing all of their wines without animal-based fining agents; one is Frey. Rather, vintners generally make decisions during the winemaking process as to what a particular wine requires at the moment. So this year’s merlot may get the bentonite, while last season’s got casein. This is why you will find specific vintages as well as varietals in this Vegan Wine Guide.
That being said, we are lucky as vegans that none of the fining agents are left in the wine. After they are used to remove impurities, they themselves are expunged—and so never imbibed by the consumer. Thus, vegans can rest assured that they are in line with the true definition of vegan—someone who doesn’t consume meat, milk or eggs—when drinking any wine because dietarily, all wine is vegan.
If you are concerned about the vegetarian lifestyle (not just diet), you can choose wines fined with egg whites and casein (but not isinglass or gelatin), as those two fining agents do not involve the killing of animals. If you are concerned about the use of animal products throughout the winemaking process, you can increase your chances of remaining true to your vegan lifestyle by choosing a kosher wine. The Vegetarian Journal reports: “The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations stated that all of their kosher-certified American-made wines do not currently use either gelatin, isinglass or egg whites. They cannot vouch for the status of the international kosher wines.” And the vegan lifestyler can also choose white wines, which “require” less fining; none in many cases.
I, myself, am a fan of completely unfined wines, when I can find them. They look hazy, it is true, but I consider that the true color of the wine. Their nose is more powerful and they age better, too, when compared to excessively fined wines, whose desirable aroma and tannins (beneficial to the aging process) are stripped. Unfined wines also tend to form wine diamonds—what I call fairy crystals—in the wine, which are really special to me. These gorgeous crystals, composed of potassium bitartrate (also known as cream of tartar), are formed as a result of a natural chemical reaction during fermentation. They are tasteless and inert, but simply beautiful to see—looking like black diamonds underneath the cork in red wines or floating like crystallized tear drops in a glass of white. It is a shame when these wine diamonds are filtered out. They are the most special, visual part of a natural wine. And I hope that unfined/unfiltered wines become widely popular because this, to me, is the true revelation of what a wine can be.
I want to thank all winemakers who make fining-agent information available, without judgment, to interested wine enthusiasts. And I want to ask vegans, as they question vintners about their use of animal products in the fining process, to remember that this is information freely given to aid consumers on their eco-conscious journeys. Stay cool and don’t ruin it for the rest of us who are already cool! And remember, all wines are vegan (contain no animal products).
If we start delving into the production methods of our wine, it is important to put the fining-agents discussion in perspective. Biodynamics uses cow horns, after all, as integral to its natural farming process; it sees plastic replacements as neither natural nor spiritually beneficial. Also, certified organic farming allows animal reductions in its fertilizers for both wine and food. And the tires of every wine transport truck—even your own car tires—contain animal reductions.
The best we can do is to inquire, stay educated and make conscious decisions based on that education. It’s true that standing for something creates the possibility for hypocrisy in our lives. But I’d rather take a stand and risk being a hypocrite than to stop trying to improve myself and the world.
Unedited footage from the Lelek film interview on how raw foods changed my already-vegan life:
And she comes out of nowhere with this … this artwork titled VEGAN PRINCESS. The title alone owns my heart, but more so, the dedication and understanding the artist, Emerald Tokyo, has for my ideals. Emerald Tokyo cares to capture more than simply her subjects’ look, but that thing that makes them unique in the world as well. She looks for the person in the human. And when she sent me this, I felt like she had been paying attention. I can see through her art that she understands something about me that I wish everyone whom met me walked away understanding.
Emerald Tokyo is a comic artist, graphic design student and officially the “colorist with the most potential” in my book. She can use Photoshop to do things that water, sunshine, oil and spandex do in real life. Color, by the way, is one of my favorite things in the world – I am quite stimulated by color! And now that I have been paying such close attention to comic art, I know that color is the magick spell whispered over the sleeping beauty of line drawings, waking them from their rest to live a potent life. Emerald Angel is a female artist whom enjoys drawing female heroines – something else I appreciate. I hope to see Emerald Tokyo’s talent utilized everywhere in the coming years. Thank you, from the VEGAN PRINCESS!