This is an edited excerpt from an interview with Marisa Miller Wolfson.
At July’s Animal Rights National Conference in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of catching a sneak peek of the documentary Vegucated. The film is described as “Super Size Me in reverse.” It follows the journey of three meat-loving, I’m-not-sure-what-veganism-really-is New Yorkers who attempt to go vegan for six weeks. Filmmaker (and vegan) Marisa Miller Wolfson put an ad out on Craigslist for volunteers for her project, and after some entertaining interviews, Brian, a “bacon-loving bachelor who eats out all the time;” Tesla, “the college student who avoids vegetables and bans beans;” and Ellen, “the single mom who prefers comedy to cooking” were chosen as the film’s subjects. Wolfson shows them the ropes of being vegan and illustrates why people are vegan. We watch their struggles, joys and final decision: will they continue on the vegan path?
Unlike many documentaries about veganism or animal rights, this film is fun, light and leaves you feeling motivated and inspired — but not on the verge of tears.
This isn’t the first time Marisa has helped people test the waters of vegan life. In addition to working as the outreach director for Kind Green Planet, she runs Vegan at Heart, a free email coaching program for people who are “vegan at heart, but not necessarily in practice.” I was lucky enough to chat with Marisa about Vegucated, her own vegan journeys and her undying love of kale. Here is the Vegucated trailer, followed by my interview.
Kayla Coleman: How did you come up with the idea for Vegucated?
Marisa Miller Wolfson: I used to do grassroots screenings of other award-winning documentaries all over the country, and I had a sense of what worked with audiences and what didn’t work so well with audiences. When I saw Super Size Me in 2004, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to see the reverse of that? Now that we know what not to do, wouldn’t it be great to see what we should be eating, and also cover some of the ethical aspects of food production — specifically animal production — that were not covered in Super Size Me?’ Even though I care about the health aspects and am certainly healthier and more health conscious now that I am vegan, my heart is really with the environmental and animal part of it. I wanted a nice film that people could really enjoy and engage with that covered these topics.
KC: When you first introduced Tesla, Ellen and Brian to the journey that is veganism, do you think they were motivated by health, environmental or animal welfare reasons?
MMW: Initially I would say that they were all motivated more by the health reasons. I think that’s why they did the project, because they did all express in their interviews that they want to look good, they want to lose weight, they want to feel healthier.
Ellen in particular as a single mother, a doctor…what really resonated for her throughout the process was the health stuff. And she was just blown away by what she learned. But Brian and Tesla also connected to the animal side of things, the environmental…even the human rights aspects of slaughterhouse workers and so on.
KC: In Vegucated, you focus on three people who are not vegan. Did they know anything about being vegan?
MMW: They started from zero. They had totally unrealistic stereotypes of vegan. Brian really thought they were kind of crazy. And Ellen thought they were these über crunch-y type people that were really healthy beyond recognition, that are so pure and wonderful. And we’re not! Tesla really had no vegetarian friends and family, so she was starting from square one. They were all started from square one!
KC: What was your own “vegucation” like?
MMW: I saw a documentary and went vegetarian, and three months later I read a pamphlet and went vegan. I do remember a mix of feelings. I was struggling, not knowing exactly what to eat, what to make for potlucks and parties…but also feeling excited by this whole new world of foods. I’d never even been to a health food store. I thought it was all patchouli and vitamins. And then when I went in there, it smelled really good and it felt really great, and I thought ‘Man, this whole world’s opening up!’ And of course it didn’t hurt that I lost 15 pounds after about four months. And I swear it was all cheese.
KC: Brian, Tesla and Ellen struggle a bit with resisting non-vegan temptations — like when Ellen goes to a (non-vegan) bakery and when Tesla said she felt like she had nothing to order at restaurants. Do you have any foods that you were — or are — tempted by?
MMW: That’s a really good question. I really missed cheese pizza — an oily, greasy, stretchy, rubbery cheese pizza. And then Daiya [a vegan cheese] came out and that was the end of that, and I said “Praise Cheesus!” I mean, every once in a while I’ll think that bacon smells good, and then I’ll remember that it’s the charred flesh of a sentient, intelligent animal and I’ll be grossed out. Like Brian says in the film, it’s amazing how adaptable our bodies are. When people have these fears, ‘Oh, I’m going to miss this or that,’ they might, but it’s going to be short-lived. People often just crave salt and fat and creaminess, and you can get salt and fat and creaminess from other things.
KC: What do you hope people will take away from the movie?
MMW: I think the lowest bar I set is that people will leave thinking that vegans aren’t crazy and that veganism is not an extremism, that it’s not that hard. So [people who watch the film] won’t be scratching their heads and thinking, ‘Oh geez, how could I ever do that?’ because they will have just seen people do that.
On the larger scale, I’d say I want people [people who watch the film] to think more seriously about going in a more plant-based direction. I certainly don’t think it’s all-or-nothing, go vegan or die. I think for a society — for our society — to survive these environmental challenges, these health crisis, we need to absolutely go in a more plant-based direction.
KC: Here’s a fun one: What are your top 5 favorite vegan foods?
MMW: Well, I have a sweet tooth…I do love the Salted Caramel ice cream at Stogo in New York City. That is amazing as is the Cake Batter soft serve at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. Those are tied. I love the Seitan Piccata at Candle 79. The pho at Land Cafe is really amazing… I don’t remember what I ate but two of the best meals of my life have not been at vegan restaurants. One was at an inn in England and one was at a bed and breakfast in the Birkshires. It was amazing because they don’t rely on meat and dairy substitutions, they just had a lot of fun with vegetables and fruits and grains. My husband and I were really blown away. The Bigger Mac at Madeliene Bistro in L.A. was amazing…and I love the All Hail Kale salad from Veggie Grill. I could live off of that.
[Ed. note: Stogo, Lula's Sweet Apothecary, Candle 79 and Land Cafe are in New York City. Madeline Bistro and The Veggie Grill are in Los Angeles.]
KC: What would you say to anyone out there trying to go vegetarian or vegan?
MMW: I would say: Enjoy the adventure. Because you’re going to try a lot of things. You’re not going to love everything, but keep trying new things. And if you don’t like something prepared this way, try preparing it another way and you might discover you like it. Tesla discovered she didn’t like tofu egg salad but she liked [tofu] prepared another way. You’ll discover a whole world of foods and you will grow to love them and crave them.
What I would say the biggest, most important thing to do is to connect with other vegetarians and vegans, because you’re not alone. There are millions of us here. It’s just a matter of plugging in online and plugging in to the community in your region. It will have a huge pay off and you’ll enter into this whole other dimension of beauty and joy that comes with living out your values. And it feels fantastic once you take that step to say, ‘I’m making a difference for animals and the planet and my health every single day, three times a day.’
Here are some ways that you can see the amazing film Veguated:
- There is one last sneak peek screening of Vegucated in Portland, Oregon on August 25;
- Sign up on getvegucated.com to be notified if the film is being screened in your area this fall;
- Buy the film through getvegucated.com or pre-order it through Vegucated‘s Kickstarter page.
In 2012, Marisa and the Vegucated team will be launching a community screening and house party potluck screening, where people will be encouraged to organize screenings of the film in their yoga studio, school, church, or other local, public arena, or even their own homes. They’ll share recipes to help people who sign up for vegan potlucks. Sign up to participate in these screenings so you’ll be contacted when the program is launched.
Click here to lean more about the Vegucated film.
Click here to contribute to the Vegucated Kickstarter and help them show the film to a wider audience.
Tell us: Have you seen Vegucated? Would you like to? Have you ever considered going vegetarian or vegan, but don’t know where to start?
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