30 years ago, Ann and Peter met at a bar on an auspicious Friday the 13th in 1983 and married a few short months later on Peter's 25th birthday. Both were serving in the Army in the Monterey, Ca. area. And neither were vegan. Over the years as they learned more about the plight of animals they became vegetarian and then went vegan in 1994. During that year, in order to spread the word about the horrors of animals and their 'by-products' used as food ; as entertainment and research subjects , they joined the then 18 year-old Vegetarian Society of Colorado ( VSC ) in 1993 and tabled at events and festivals with educational materials. Peter became its director in 2009 and VSC got a name update in 2013...it is now Vegan Life Colorado ( VLC ). Their website includes a Local Adventures button that has an active calendar of activism opportunities and vegan restaurant outings. There are also recipes to explore, videos and a dining guide. Have I mentioned that this couple also runs the "A Vegan Life" Meetup ? Started in 2009, it is now 1,094 people strong ! When do they sleep ?!
Peter also became Denver Vegfest's director ( started by Dan Hanley of The Gay Vegans in 2008) in 2009, then founded Vegfest Colorado with its cool mountain/carrot logo to reflect a more statewide feeling in 2011 and has been guiding it ever since. The current Vegfest is held in Golden and is already slated for July 5th and 6th in 2014 ! Check the Vegfest website now and then to get updates as the program develops. I can't wait to see who will be speaking. This year James McWilliams gave a thought-provoking talk and slideshow and the Vegan Black Metal Chef brought his unique style and fun recipes. And I got an 'Only Kale Can Save Us Now' T-shirt from Herbivore Clothing. Love their designs and mission....wish they could open a store around here.
Below is an interview Ann and I conducted via the computer. Peter has given us an amazing auto-biographical story of his own. Very moving and unabashedly honest. Be sure to have a tissue handy.
Oh, and they still celebrate every Friday the 13th that comes along :)
I see from your profile on A Vegan Life Meet-up that you came to veganism for health , and stayed for the animals. I love that ! I think many people, once they get their foot in the vegan door, for what ever reason, seem to be more open to the bigger vegan message. Do you see that very often ?
Yes, I see it all the time. People tend to have a hard time with social stigma to showing caring for animals. That's something I remember from childhood. Of course it's much better now. When someone moves to a plant-based diet, they usually identify as vegan, even if they change was exclusively for health. Once they make that move and others know they have, it's easier to look into the animal issues and discuss them, because, as you said, their foot is in the door so try might as well open it up more.
From the Vegan Life Colorado Facebook page I see that you are very active in the animal rights community... leading demonstrations against animals in circuses and anti-fur rallies and others. Are you ever worried about public backlash ? What sort of feedback do you, if ever, receive at circus demos ?
I was a little nervous when I started. I don't think it was so much fear of backlash,as fear of what others might think of me. As I kept going, it got easier and I was less nervous. It took some practice. Anyone can get comfortable with it. I had some thoughts that helped a lot. I realized that it doesn't matter what people think of me, because I am doing someone to help someone else, and that is good. If I were helping people or doing something related to religion, no one would dare say anything insulting. People who are able to yell insulting things from a passing car, aren't people whose opinions I'm concerned with. I realized that people sometimes get mad and yell at me for my driving, but I don't stop driving, and that isn't nearly as important as trying to end animal suffering at the hand of our fellow humans. I realized that it isn't about me and my comfort, it's about the animals not having any comfort or being able to get out of their uncomfortable, miserable, and painful situations on their own. They are sentenced to what is basically prison and death for committing no crime, but simply because they are at our mercy and can't resist our power over them. That is just simply wrong and lacking humanity. There is nothing anyone can do or say to me that will come anywhere near what they suffer.
It has been my experience that most people are either quiet and ignore us, or they are polite whether they agree or not. I refuse to let a small number of immature people upset me. That's what they want so they won't get that from me. I am there for the animals and I am determined to win for them. For me, winning is staying calm, not allowing a few mean people rattle me (which is what they want), and having at least one person get the animal suffering because I am/we are there. All of the time, more than one person gets it. If no one is there to help people think about the issue of the animals suffering, they would have little reason to think about it. We don't have to be mean and/or argue with about it. Not to sound at all arrogant, but we are right. If you ask anyone if it's ok to hurt animals, they would say no. They just don't always make the connection in every situation. We are there to help them make the connection, if they are open to it. I ignore those who aren't open. They only distract from the ones who are and that is a waste of time and energy. I hope all of this makes sense. I have given all of this a lot of thought over the years, so it's always rolling around in my head. I don't usually write or say it all at once.
It makes a whole lot of sense, Ann. Thank you for being so articulate and honest about such difficult a difficult subject.
What is the most rewarding work for the animals that you do ?
Everything where I have a chance to connect with other people; tabling at festivals, leafletting at campuses or on the street, protesting specific events (rodeo, fur, circus, etc), showing videos, hosting potlucks, helping with VegFest, all of it. I have had many jobs in my life. I was in the Army for 2 years as well. I loved that. People talk about finding their life's work. I wanted children, and I had them. Since my first was born, I sometimes wondered what I would do when they grew up. I wasn't looking forward to having an empty nest, but I knew it would happen. Now that they are grown (I actually started when they were young, but stepped it up when they became independent), activism for animals has become my life's work. I feel fortunate and joyful to have discovered veganism and animal rights activism. I couldn't imagine doing anything else, even for pay.
I have attended two VegFests so far, and have a really enjoyed the speakers ( Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, James Mc Williams, were a few ) , the range of exhibitors, and of course the fabulous food. Anything lined up yet for next year's Vegfest ?
Thank you for attending and supporting VegFest Colorado! We are tossing around some considerations for speakers for 2014, but we haven't invited any of them yet. It would be premature to name anyone at this point. There are so many wonderful speakers out there, and we want to try to mix it up each year. We have been so fortunate to have the speakers we have had the past 3 years. Each year we can hardly wait to settle on a lineup, and this year is no different. VegFest is so rewarding. My husband of 30 years, Peter, is the director of Vegan life Colorado and VegFest Colorado, and he does most of the planning, web work, set up, contacting speakers, and so on. This is a man who use to give me a hard time about going to the community potlucks with our family, when we started 20 years ago. And protesting (which he also does these days) was out of the question! These days, I am loving watching him create this VegFest event every year, knowing where he came from. I am so proud of him and his willingness to do the work VegFest requires. He is my hero.
What do you think is the most important thing people can to reduce animal suffering in our community ?
Talk about it, research it, accept that it happens, realize that we don't have to participate in it, see lessening animals suffering as a path to a kinder world for all of us, etc.
Anything else you would like to add ?
The most important thing I have learned is, I can't force people to go vegan and stop doing other things that cause animal suffering. I can only live by example, offer information to people who are open to it, and be kind. The most important thing humans can do for our world, is go vegan for compassion. It will benefit not only the animals, but also our health, our environment, our relationships with our fellow humans, and our general well being. That isn't my opinion. I have seen it and lived it, so I know it's the truth. We can't stop accidents, but we can stop participating in causing intentional harm. It's the easiest and best (besides having my beautiful children) thing I have done in my life.
One of the most wonderful things about coming to this lifestyle/community are all of the beautiful, caring, kind people we have in our lives that we might not have met otherwise. There are certainly unsavory people who identify as vegan and/or animal rights activists, but that is true of every community. Our dearest friends came with this life we have chosen. We are beyond fortunate!
Ann also recommends these websites :
Animal Action Network
Stop Circus Suffering.com
A Vegan Life Meetup
Vegans Eat What?
JL Goes Vegan
Thank you for all the work you do for the animals, Ann and Peter !