Kindness is King: Interview with Philip Wollen

Philip Wollen is an amazing man. In his mid-thirties, with the world at his fingertips and the vice president of Citibank, he “gave it all away” and dedicated his life to helping animals and humans. Now, he runs the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, a group dedicated to animal rights and social justice across the globe, supporting over 400 organizations and running the “Kindness House” which you’ll read about below. But Philip was thrust into the AR community’s spotlight with his powerful speech at a debate a few months ago in his native country of Australia. At a Wheeler Centre debate entitled “Animals Should Be Off The Menu” Mr. Wollen argued strongly for the affirmative, with one of the most moving, dire speeches of animal rights I’ve ever heard. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me so we can learn more about this inspirational man.

Again, thank you for your time. I’d like to start by asking what your overall reaction was to the outcome of the Wheeler Centre debate. The audience was indeed moved by your team’s arguments, from 65% to 73.6%. Was this a success, in your eyes?

I was confident in my facts, ethics, and values. But I have learned that going into a debate one can never be confident of the vote. The animal industrial complex, a term I use to describe the industries that exploit powerless animals, is very powerful and well-resourced. The audience came from the Food, Wine and Restaurant industry, which massively dominates the food industry. They actually promoted the debate. In fact, the high profile TV chef speaking against us stated that they had done a survey of the audience before the debate, and proudly claimed that 78% of the attendees were meat eaters. What was gratifying was that after the debate  our “anti-meat” vote went up, the undecided vote went down, and the meat industry vote went down too, losing the debate by a “whopping margin” (to quote the adjudicator). They only got 19% of the vote! What is most rewarding is the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from ordinary people around the world.

It is not for me to claim the success or otherwise. But judging by the fact that over 100,000 people have seen it, and the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition, I guess many people thought it was a success.

Myself included, the AR community around the world has embraced your powerful ten minute speech at the debate, which seems to touch on almost all of the issues regarding using animals for food. Was this a speech you felt particularly proud of, and did you expect the reaction in social media that it received?

Thank you. I was deeply humbled by the positive public response I received in the media. Oddly enough, I prefer to have a low profile. I like to be invisible. In fact, Rupert Murdoch’s press described me as reclusive. So, I was quite overwhelmed by the quantity of mail I received. And I am embarrassed to tell you, I did not have a Facebook account until 3 weeks ago. I still don’t have a twitter account! Social media has been a foreign land to me.

How long have you called yourself a vegan? What does the term mean to you?

I have been vegan for around ten years, and vegetarian for much longer. I used to be a meat eater, for which I am profoundly ashamed. But now that I am vegan I can look in the mirror with a clear conscience. I have observed that our detractors have hijacked the word “vegan” and use it as a sneering term of abuse. In fact, I covered the issue of hijacked language in a lecture in India. In my opinion, the most beautiful word ever written, in any country, in any language, at any time, came from India, from the Upanishads, 5,000 years ago. “Ahimsa. …non-violence to any living being”. I love this word and I want it to become a truly global phenomenon.

So I don’t see myself simply as vegan, Australian, male, or whatever arbitrary label others put on me. I am “Ahimsan”. An overarching noun which best captures most of my beliefs. I reject violence, not just in what I eat and wear. But I also (try to) do so in what I say, and what I think. We may be American, Indian, Australian, German, English, or Palestinian. We may be Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain or Jew (or no religion at all). But if we are to live a truly authentic life we can easily share common ground – without sacrificing our other beliefs. That beautiful meeting place is “Ahimsa”. Because it describes our character. Period. It says we oppose violence in everything we do.

I casually mentioned this term in conversation with the remarkable Member of Parliament, Mrs Maneka Gandhi. She remarked. “Well, one day the world will see Ahimsans as educated, enlightened and elegant people”.

Many vegans and animal rights activists in the United States may not be familiar with your organization, the Kindness Trust. Would you give an overview of what it is?

I was a merchant banker. And in my travels around the world I saw unimaginable violence, cruelty and brutality to human and non-human animals. It shocked me to the core. I decided on my 40th birthday to give away everything I owned with warm hands, and to die broke. I have to admit, so far I am right on budget! So I have supported 400-500 projects in some 40 countries. Basically focussed on our “five fingers” – children, animals, the environment, the terminally ill and aspiring youth. Schools, orphanages, shelters, clinics, sanctuaries, biogas plants, disaster recovery, animal birth control programs, humanitarian films, the arts, water wells, vegan food mobile restaurants, “kindness farms”, ambulances, oncology work, road trauma victims, that sort of thing. Basically working in countries where prevailing cost and need structures enable me to get maximum value (or leverage) on the funds available. Bang for my buck, if you like.

Describe “The Kindness House” and it how it integrates into your outreach and advocacy.

Kindness House is one of our more unusual projects, started as an “experiment” actually. It is an incubator for ambitious NGOs who “punch above their weight” and we hope they will change the world for the better. We started Kindness House 8 years ago. It is a large (nearly 40,000 square feet) commercial and retail building in a high profile, vibrant, main street, close to the Parliament and in the middle of a thriving retail precinct. It is surrounded by many of Melbourne’s finest vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

We provide fully serviced offices to around 300 incredible smart and dedicated young people, working for around 40 NGOs. The building has all the facilities any office could want – air conditioning, heating, communications, high speed internet, boardrooms, training rooms, kitchens, meditation rooms, movie theatre, elevator, cleaning contractors, security patrols, state of the art fire safety systems, bike rooms, and mail facilities. 75% of the groups pay nothing at all. We cover all the costs of running the campus. All they need to do it work hard for their chosen causes. And they do.

We have two amusing clauses in our leases. One, if you eat animals in my building, I kick you out. And two, if you have a dog, and you DON’T bring him to the office, we kick you out.

We have some wonderful groups on the Kindness Campus including Greenpeace, Wilderness Society, Lawyers for Animals, Sea Shepherd, Beyond Zero Emissions, Australian Wildlife Protection Council, Artists for Kids, Wildlife Victoria, Peace Brigades, Very Edible gardens, Animal Active, Vegetarian Victoria, Seven Women, Horse Racing Kills, Oscars Law, the National Multicultural Broadcasting Council, Australian Orangutan Project, to name some of them. The “incubation” strategy is to bring in small NGOs, provide them with proper professional office facilities, help them grow with advice, and funding, and when they have reached a size big enough to be self-sustaining, let them move to commercial buildings, while we bring in the next fledgling NGO. So far it has worked very well.

In the US, we have a small, but dedicated AR community, and a growing number of vegans (over 7 million as of 2011). Do you feel like Australia’s level of “kindness,” and compassion towards animals, is growing at a similar rate?

Australia tends to mirror the US in many ways. There is lots of excellent work being done in the US – so Australia is benefitting greatly from the work of Colin Campbell, Neal Barnard, and John McDougall etc. Regarding veganism in Australia, I have to say, Australia is a bit like a curate’s egg. Good in parts! Melbourne is undoubtedly the vegan capital of Australia. Fitzroy is the heart, and Kindness House is slap bang in the centre of Fitzroy. Other cities have vegan groups too, and they are growing too. However, I suspect the growth rate of veganism is smaller than the growth rate of animal consumption. India and China are the major drivers of this dangerous equation.

At the Wheeler debate, you said, quite coherently, “I’ll cut you some slack – I’ll let you eat all the animals already sitting in the factory farms, just stop producing anymore, okay?” This mirrors the dilemma that many countries have of dog and cat populations, one of over-population, and a need to “turn off the machine.” Do you feel passionate about this issue, one of dog and cat breeding?

I am frequently asked simplistic questions accusingly “what would you do with the millions of animals in factory farms today? Would you build sanctuaries for them? And how would you fund it?” So to obliterate their vapid straw man question I say bluntly “I’ll cut you some slack – I’ll let you eat all the animals already sitting in the factory farms, just stop producing anymore. Okay. Now are you happy?” It usually shuts them up because they are not expecting such a check-mate reply.

And yes, the dog and cat population is a serious problem. I support a large number of animal birth control projects (ABC) which involves Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release (CNVR). For example, dogs are caught in the streets of India by dog catchers and brought to the shelters in the trucks. They are spayed, natured and vaccinated against rabies and given a general health check. A couple of days later they are released on the same street corner on which they were caught. It is now an unassailable fact that killing dogs does not solve the problem. Dogs from neighbouring areas migrate into the newly vacant areas, or the breeding rates increase to match the carrying capacity of the territory. So releasing the neutered dog to the same area solves that problem. Of course, it has also been a boon in the fight against rabies, which used to be quite prevalent in countries like India, but thanks to the work of many NGOs, the practice of ABC CNVR has become well established, and rabies has been reduced considerably.

You have a unique history as being quite involved in the financial industry for many years. What did you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and does it intersect with your idea of spreading kindness?

I understood their motives. The egregious greed we see nowadays in the financial services sector is nothing short of disgraceful. They have privatised their profits and socialized their losses. I saw the movement as a cry from the small end of town to the big end. The clear message is that there is something systemically rotten in the corporate governance regime in most major economies. Of course, one can debate the methods used by the movement in some places, but when the powerless are muzzled, they will respond in ways that disrupt the easy flow of commerce. Smart business people will be listening intently to the message. Business does not need to be red fang and claw capitalism. Creating long term shareholder value is not simply pushing up revenues, driving down costs, concocting dodgy creative accounting, and increasing price/earnings per share multiples. It is about developing long term respectful relationships with all the direct stakeholders. And that includes staff, customers, suppliers, the community, and government. The indirect stakeholders, of course, include the environment and the non-human animals who are rarely on the radar.

How did you get involved with Sea Shepherd? Does their brand of direct action stand aside from some of the more peaceful forms of animal rights activism?

Eight years ago Sea Shepherd’s (only) ship, the Farley Mowatt, arrived in Melbourne.  I attended a small lecture at the university and was struck by the sincerity and courage of the young crew. I discovered how financially impoverished they were! I saw that Japanese killing whales in the South Ocean whale sanctuary of Antarctica (under the so called guise of “research”) was indefensible under any circumstances. So I got up on the stage and made the captain, what was at the time, a significant financial grant. I also donated free furnished offices to establish Sea Shepherd Headquarters in Australia for their campaigns in this hemisphere. So Sea Shepherd has been in my building ever since. And I am very happy to say, has grown rapidly. They now have 4 ships, a couple of helicopters and local chapters springing up all over Australia and around the world. I am always perplexed when people question Sea Shepherd’s “direct” action. It seems a tautology. What is “indirect” action? I wonder what any of us would do if we saw a kitten or a puppy being beaten to death in the street. Indirect action? We know that it is cruel, and also against the law. Well, whaling in the whale sanctuary is cruel, and it is in breach of many international laws and treaties. Indeed, the Federal Court in Australia has unequivocally said so. And Sea Shepherd has never hurt anybody in its campaigns. I guess in life we sometimes need to take sides.

I frequently have dinner on the Sea Shepherd ships with their respective captains and crews. The food is vegan. The conversation is polite, gentle, compassionate and respectful. They are peace-loving, gracious people. But they are not passive. Like all of us, they do not avert their gaze when violence is inflicted on powerless, endangered animals. They too take sides. They are enforcing laws that should be enforced by governments. If you want Sea Shepherd to stop, the solution is easy. Get all governments to behave ethically – enforce international law.

You support many groups via the Kindness Trust, from PETA to Animals Asia, and many human animal social justice groups. After dealing with so many activists, what is the key to effective activism, in your mind?

This is a hard one, and many activists have it to a greater or lesser extent. Single mindedness, attention to detail, intelligence, integrity and commitment to the “ahimsa” philosophy, relentlessness, and the ability to listen, and to communicate effectively, the ability to work with activists from other disciplines. After all forest campaigners have the same ultimate goal as animal rights campaigners for livestock. And most of all, perspective! They should realize that we have already won the battle in the marketplace of ideas. Nobody can seriously dispute the vegan facts. Industry fights back because they are motivated not by reason, but by ritual. I quoted Upton Sinclair in my rebuttal during the debate “It is impossible to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it”. Even the quiet and reserved Peter Singer, laughed and applauded! Our challenge is to fight both the ignorant and the deliberately obtuse.  There is a wonderful saying in Swahili “It is impossible to wake up a man who is only pretending to be asleep”.

Again, thank you for your time, and feel free to add anything we did not cover:

The world is crying out for only two things. Leadership. And the truth. We know the truth. Now let’s get some real leaders.

Our animal cousins have survived millions of years of evolution on this planet. They have earned the right to share it with us in peace. They have waited long enough. As I said in the debate. “The brutes and the bullies have been Goliath. But David is coming.”

Please watch the entire debate featuring Philip Wollen here, and be sure to check out the Kindness Trust’s website. Photos from Philip Wollen.

The Joy of Activism

Recently, Lauren Stroyeck of PETA was kind enough to feature me in their series, “PETA Volunteer Spotlight” where she interviewed me about why I’m vegan, how I got into activism, and so forth. Here are my thoughts on the effectiveness of the crazy demonstrations:

[W]henever PETA gets flak for their “sexism,” it’s always sexist in nature! People assume they only want half-naked girls in the demonstrations, when the two I’ve participated in and hundreds that countless other men have participated in speak otherwise. Not only that, but all of the women I’ve done these demonstrations with have been strong, courageous individuals who were fully committed to ending animal exploitation. We weren’t being exploited: We are using the fact that skin, nudity, or anything “taboo” draws attention. Attention to what, you might ask? That fact that animals are being bred, tortured, and killed, simply for their skin, including up to 3 million mink alone in the U.S. each year. Millions of animals die every year, simply for what the public believes to be “fashion.” That’s an injustice and one worth drawing attention to, in my opinion.

As for the effectiveness of the sexy/naked demonstrations, I’ve had the most random encounters with supporters at demonstrations. People you wouldn’t expect come up to say “Good job” or go to a vegan potluck that my friends at the Louisville Vegetarian Club put on. People make the decision to go vegan in a day, a week, or sometimes years, but seeing a radical visual will often make them think. I am not under the delusion that they are “shocked” into veganism immediately, but it often takes the planting of an idea—and PETA is quite good at this—to blossom into a full-on belief later in life.

Secondly, I have a much more food-centric piece over at The Paper, just in time for early spring in here in Louisville, entitled “In Search Of…A Perfect Vegan Meal.” I was able to weave both my tale of food activism along with some of the best vegan-friendly joints in Louisville:

Finding the perfect vegan meal in a town like Louisville is a task that could take me a long, long time. It’s not because of the environment – in fact, you may be surprised to learn Louisville is a pretty rad town for vegans – but because of what a vegan meal means. When a vegan sets off to find the perfect meal – one without cruelty to animals, seasoned just right, with the perfect company, and at the perfect time – there’s a lot involved. You see, vegans love food. We really do. And not in a “I can only eat ten things so I better love ‘em” kind-of way, but because we associate food with change.

I sincerely appreciate Lauren and PETA, as well as Matt, Stephanie, and everyone at The Paper, giving me the opportunity to share my views like this. I hope they make for a fun read, and also inspire others to become passionate about something.

Photo: busy.pochi

Into the Light: Audio Interview with the Uncle Maddio’s Team

Oh how times flies; over a month ago I was fortunate enough to sit down with the team behind Louisville’s newest pizza joint, Uncle Maddio’s, and talk with them for almost an hour about food, culture, and what they mean by “coming into the light.” I got a lot more than I bargained for, as I was mainly curious about their decision to use vegan Daiya cheese and other healthy options. Turns out that founder Matt Andrews (also of Moe’s Southwestern Grill fame) always planned to, as it “just made sense.” He told me that any brand launching in 2010 shouldn’t leave anyone out. “Why would ignore a significant demographic of people that want to eat healthier?” he said, also in reference to the gluten-free/whole-wheat options.

As I spoke with Matt (who’s childhood nickname was “Maddio”), Chef Alex – the brains behind the dough and recipes – and Aaron Simpson, the local franchisee owner, it became clear that Maddio’s is more than a pizza joint. For them, it’s a way to influence people, to “serve in a culture of love, not fear” and to “bring people from the darkness into the light.” Sound religious? Alex cautioned me it’s not: “it’s about a relationship…” he said, “a relationship with passion, and compassion.” Still, references to god and Jesus were there, and as a non-believer it was a little weird, I won’t lie. But I’ll let you decide your take on that for yourself.

They care deeply about the food, and it shows – the pizza is damn good – and as vegans can get hooked up, it’s definitely the jam as far as pizza places on Bardstown Road go. Matt told me that as  “neighborhood pizza joint,” they can only call it that if they source ingredients locally, which they plan to do with ingredients that “make sense.” You can hear all our lengthy discussion about this and more below. A few notes  if you wish to skip around:

(these times are approximate)

0 – 11 min: The culture of Uncle Maddio’s (Matt, Alex)
11 – 22 min: The food, the idea of restaurant, being the “Chipotle of pizza” (Matt)
22 – 26 min: Buying into the franchise (Aaron), appealing to a wide demographic (Matt)
26 – 32 min: More on the culture, being “all-welcoming” (Matt)
32 – 39 min: The spiritual component, relationship vs. religious (Alex)
39 –  end: Local food sourcing and ingredients (Matt)


Uncle Maddio’s Interview by The Nail That Sticks Up

Ramsi’s Farm On The World

To people in Louisville, Ramsi’s Café on the World is synonymous with a lot of things: the Highlands, Bardstown Rd, amazing food, vegan options, and diversity. You’ll typically see a diverse range of people eating there, hired there, and the food, of course, is from all corners of the globe. My friends and I eat there frequently for the plethora of vegan options, and it’s my first recommendation when new vegans visit Louisville.

A few months ago, a friend who works there gave me a tip that the owner, Ramsi Kamar, had something big planned. Bigger than an expanded restaurant, bigger than vegan focaccia bread with tofu-feta cheese, bigger than a Highland staple that has sustained the food cuisine in Louisville for years. In fact, Ramsi has had this in the works for over ten years, and he hasn’t even bragged about it. In 2013, Ramsi will be opening a USDA-certified organic farm in Jefferson County. Not organic produce, not organic milk or organic flowers, an organic farm. Every single thing on the property, from the fertilizer to the fruit trees to the animal feed, will be organic. When I asked Ramsi why he decided to take on such an ambitious product, his answer was simple: “because it’s the right thing to do.”

The farm, Raising Hope Farm (where “hope” is actually an acronym for Healthy Organic Produce for Everyone), is around 15 acres, and tucked in among other agricultural and residential properties off Spotswood Lane, in Fisherville, Kentucky. This puts it right on the edge of Jefferson County, which Ramsi and his consultant Patrick Piuma hope will make it the first certified organic farm in the county. Piuma, an urban designer who works at the University of Louisville, has been working side by side with Ramsi and his crew to design and build the farm. There’s no shortage of ambition when it comes to what’s in store for the farm, as they leave no acre unused:

Fruit and nut plants will be concentrated along the east section of the site with an estimated total of about 100 trees of varying types including apple, pear, peach and cherry to name a few. Research is currently being done to determine which trees will be most effective and productive on the site.

That’s just one excerpt from the planning document – other sites include a vast flower garden, an herb garden, a 20,000 square foot greenhouse, aquaponic operations, livestock (chicken and goats) and honey bees (which, while I must frown at as a vegan, at least this is a small, organic farm, and not a CAFO), a learning garden for educational initiatives with the community, and a giant event space to offer Slow Food dinners and foster the community nature of the farm.

Ramsi plans to have infrastructure on the farm to support live-in programs, and told me he also wants to work with groups like the Kentucky Refugee Ministries to bring farmers and their families from war-torn countries like Darfur to Fisherville, giving them a place to work and live as they transition to a new life.

I grew up [in Jerusalem] fantasizing about having olive trees. When I came to America and bought my first house…you have a piece of land, you can now grow stuff to eat. I [bought] a Bradford pear, cherry trees, [then] I did realize they’re not fruiting; they’ve been genetically modified. I waited three or four years before I [realized that]. Our property [the farm] has a creek, and land. That was nirvana for me.

Ramsi stressed me to several times the importance of organic certification, the most important of which, to him, is education. A community garden and workshops to demonstrate the organic ways are both part of his vision. Ramsi consults with the University of Kentucky, as well as the USDA directly and had nothing but positive things to say:

Even if you did not want to farm, once you talk to these people [the USDA]…you want them to be your best friends for life. They really care about what they do. They’re very educated. If you’re a surgeon, you don’t graduate with a degree and start; it’s continued education. And that’s the cool thing about the USDA Certified Organic: it’s continued education. With farming, it’s mandatory education every day.

TNTSU: Organic is important because of not only what it means for the earth, but what it gives back, then?

Ramsi: Organic translates into education. Organic is science. Medicine is science. The earth is science. The worms are science.

Will the organic food sourcing change your prices at the restaurant?

When we opened the restaurant and defined success as being able to attract 100% of the population. Just like we mark vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, we’re going to mark organic, and hopefully we’ll have 50% of our menu marked organic. So we could still continue to cater to people with low-income…but I hope to God in two years I only eat what I grow.

So the aim for you is sustainability? What is the drive?

What is our drive? Excellence. It is not money. You will never make money at this. But it’s the right way to live.

I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to organics. I’m going to die on my hands and knees playing with the worms, and doing that stuff. I love it.

This is an interesting shift because to me, to the community, your focus is this amazing restaurant.

People [are my focus]. The restaurant is really about…I get high walking in the dining room and seeing the diversity of people we attract. No other restaurant and claim that. That’s by design; it’s not something that just happened.

Are you going to promote the restaurant as connected to the farm with this ultra-local connection?

That’s another thing that I never really subscribed to…[putting] a big sign on my door saying, “we buy local.”

…It has to be legit: if you want to do a good job, you do it because you believe in it, not because it would sell more stuff. I’m not trying to link the farm and the restaurant together, because I do not want to promote the restaurant based on this.

You don’t want to promote this as a farm-to-table type thing?

That’s not my drive for what I’m trying to do. I’m doing this because I believe in it.

Big thanks to Ramsi Kamar and his wife Rhona for their time and information. Photos are from Ramsi himself and Patrick Piuma.

Interview With Will Travel For Vegan Food, Part 2

In Part 1 of the interview I talked with Kristin Lajeunesse about her goals and dreams, as well as creating a mobile lifestyle. In Part 2, we talk about the actual project of Will Travel For Vegan Food on Kickstarter, and her partner for the trip, Ethan Dussault, discusses how he came to the project. Again, there’s still a few days left to help them out, so head over to their Kickstarter page to pledge – any amount helps!

TNTSU: Why was there hesitation in using Kickstarter as a funding source in the first place?

Kristin:  I think my hesitation going in was thinking, “people will just assume that I’m going on this big vacation” and that they’re supporting this vacation sort of a trip. And it really wasn’t that way at all but I was worried that it would be interpreted that way – that people would think it was a waste of time and that people wouldn’t want to support it that way.

[Then] before I knew it I was getting donations in through the Paypal button on the website before even starting on the Kickstarter project, and then when I posted the idea to the blog, I got some comments and a lot support from people who said “just go for it,” etc.

Why use a 30 day time limit instead of the default 60 (as most Kickstarter projects do)?

Kristin: I wanted to feel like there was a tangible time limit, and felt like 30 days is reasonable. [Sixty] would draw it out too much. [I didn’t want] people to just say “oh I’ll go back to it” or “I’ll donate later.” I wanted them to feel like there was a little more pressure to get it done sooner rather than later.

Ethan, I know you’re involved in music and the recording industry, but how did you get involved in this trip?

Ethan: I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life working in a recording studio in Boston. I don’t plan on giving up that job, but taking a break is not such a bad thing. Basically Kristin saw a post I had made on a Facebook page for a local vegan event and she messaged me and we became friends and the timing was right so the invite was extended.

Are you planning on doing the entire trip together?

Ethan: We’re kind of jumping and seeing what happens. There’s no…trying to put any heavy expectations on anything. Just diving in and see what happens. I don’t like to try to predict anything. I’m trying not to set any expectations in any direction.

You’re vegan as well, right?

Ethan: Yes. Have been since 2005.

After going to that Vida Vegan Con last month, I really appreciate the activism and positivity of the vegan community. Vegans will think your project is awesome, of course, but I wonder if there will be mixed responses to “we’re on a road trip to visit every vegan restaurant in the country.”

Ethan: Well, there’s going be detractors [like] “well, you’re in this gas guzzling van…you’re talking about being environmental…” [but] at the same time, we don’t have a heating bill. Our footprint will probably be smaller than an average homestead, I’m sure in the end we could do a calculation that could show that. We’ll also be purchasing carbon credits and at some point upgrading our ride to something truly energy progressive.

Ultimately the goal of this trip is to create a tighter community. The community is already tight, but I think when they start to put faces to restaurants, boutiques and sanctuaries and there’s this one place you can go and see this web of people all involved in the same thing, it just will bring strength to the lifestyle.

Talk about the mixing you’ll be doing for people who pledge certain amounts. What styles have you worked with?

Ethan: I’ve done across the board. I’ve done country rock, I’ve done electronica records, I’ve done hardcore, punk, metal records. Indie rock – anywhere from like shoe gaze to heavy indie like Fugazi, Girls Against Boys-style. I love music, so I’m pretty open to working in any genre and making it happen.

It was the first passion that I followed. It has been very fulfilling. I’m going to hopefully be able to maintain this professional life but also follow another passion of mine and that’s activism and veganism and the whole gamut, you know? I don’t want it to be a lopsided experience, so hopefully I’ll be able to do everything.

[Besides that] there’s definitely a link to veganism and underground rock, lots of bands with messages, a lot of those people have vegans in the band, or they’re all vegan. The reason I’m able to do it so cheaply is that I’m not paying a studio because I’m going to have this mobile set-up. And no overheard except for the cost of gear and my time. It’s a cheap way for bands to finish their album, and continue to stay on message.

It sounds like both of you guys are going to be working hard while still trying to manage the travel and food aspect of the trip.

Kristin: Part of the beauty of the trip is that while there is kind of this soft end date, we’re really just going to go with the flow [like] if there’s a place that we need to hunker down in for a little longer in order to get work done. Or we happen to stumble on to a place we really like a lot we might spend more time there.

We have some plans in place in order to have access to the internet, wherever we are, and because we will be working on the road, part of the priority is to make sure we do have internet and can get our work done. That will come before seeking out the next vegan restaurant. We’ll always be headed to the next one of course, and that will be the over-arching goal. But we’re not going to say “okay, we have one week to get from here to there no matter what.”

Obviously the East and West coasts are bustling with all-vegan places, but what about some of the less dense spots, like Montana, or Idaho?

Kristin: One of my life goals is to visit every state in the country. Even if some place doesn’t have a 100% vegan restaurant, we’ll probably wander out there [as] there might some fun touristy thing, or a park to drive through, so we’ll be hitting up every state – at least that’s the plan. It actually makes it a little easier, because we’ll be spending a lot more time on the West coast and East coast, where there’s a lot more vegan restaurants, and that way we don’t have to worry so much about making our way through the middle of the country where there might be fewer places. We’ll just stop in, hang-out, do touristy stuff and then keep going, and we won’t have to stress about wanting to spend more time elsewhere.

What about Hawaii and Alaska?

Kristin: We’re still planning on going there! I know there are some vegan restaurants in Hawaii. Until I know I’m headed in that direction I’m not going to spend too much time investigating yet.

I can vouch for Louisville’s vegan scene – even if you’re here for a day you can do more than just the food truck (Morels) – we have vegan cupcakes for instance, but I bet there are some cities out there that have like one little thing, you know, and that might be it. That will be interesting.

Kristin: There are other elements to the trip too: we’ll be interviewing vegan business owners, and going to meet-ups and volunteering at farm sanctuaries and doing other humanitarian work. So the trip is not being restricted to only writing and reviewing restaurants, it’s really going to incorporate a lot of different things. This is a complete kind of lifestyle change where we are moving everything including how we’re doing our work and where we’re living to a vehicle essentially. So we want to take advantage of that and focus on a lot more than just the restaurants.

Once you hit the road, that’s pretty much it – your whole life is gonna be contained in that van, right?

Ethan: The idea is to be able to bring our bikes so that when we “land: in cities we use [less] gas and ride around to all the restaurants. So we’re going to have to put a bike rack on there. The inside – we’re going to empty it out and build a little sink area and a bed with storage, maybe a closet and some shelves. A typical camper van-type conversion. [We’ll] just do it from scratch and just have a blast doing it.

I wish you the best of luck, and I can’t wait to read a consistent voice ( reviewing all the wonderful vegan restaurants out there. Anything else you want to add?

Ethan: Something that people like to joke about “oh, you guys are just going on a vacation” and I guess I want to make it clear that it’s not a vacation. It’s going be some pretty heavy work, and we’re taking it pretty seriously. We do have a goal of building a hub of information and networking and basically showing the world that you can do things like stand up for what you believe in and have a professional life at the same time.