Interview Series #14: Marisa Miller Wolfson of Kind Green Planet


Hello guys and gals!
 

I hope everyone had a safe, happy, and delicious 4th of July. Mine was filled with Gardein cutlets covered in BBQ sauce, corn on the cob, kale smothered in avocado dressing, fresh watermelon, and lots and lots of pasta salad. The beautiful, sunny weather, sand, and ocean waves of the Jersey shore didn't hurt either!

But it's back to business for this vegan blogger, and that means another interview in my series!

Marisa Miller Wolfson is the kind of lady who will have even the most carnivorous of meat-eaters saying "pass the tofu" before they know it - she's that good. How she got to be so rockin' is why I find her to be such a fascinating interview subject and also why I've been busting at the seams to share her story with you!

I met Marisa back in May at Veggie Prom 2010, where we were both nominated for the enviable honor of being crowned Veggie Prom Queen. When Michael Parish DuDell, our MC for the night (and upcoming KMIV interviewee!), announced Marisa and shared her story with everyone, I was completely blown away. The amount of work Marisa has done in her nine years of activism was beyond  impressive and proof that I was standing next to one of the greatest young activists of my generation. It was absolutely no surprise that she was crowned Queen by the end of the evening; even I - a nominee - was cheering her on to win! Immediately, I wanted to know more - how did she become an activist? When did she turn to veganism? How did she get so fiercely dedicated to this cause? 

After the Prom, I reached out to Marisa to have dinner and discuss more, and let me tell you - after that lovely meal at 'Snice in Manhattan, I became a lifelong Marisa Miller Wolfson fan. Marisa is the real deal - a genuine, kind, and hard-working activist and lover of animals, our environment, and the food that nourishes us.  As you will see in the bio below, Marisa's heart is clearly in this profession, and I can't wait to see where the next nine years take her.

Marisa Miller Wolfson is the outreach director of Kind Green Planet, a non-profit organization that conducts grassroots outreach on healthy, humane, eco-friendly living. She has spoken at more than 60 venues, including climate change summits and conferences, law schools, colleges, churches, the Taking Action for Animals conference in DC, the Walk for Farm Animals in NYC, and the Hoedown at Farm Sanctuary, which honored her with their 2005 Farm Animal Friend Award. She's vice president of the Sustainable Leadership Council of New York and a founding member of the NYC Foodprint Alliance. When she isn't busy coaching veg-curious people through her online program Vegan at Heart, she's busy finishing up her feature-length documentary entitled Vegucated. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, animal law professor/author David Wolfson, one silly cat, and one shy cat. On Saturday mornings you can spot her sniffing flowers and dropping off her compost at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your life that led you to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you? 

Marisa: It was a collection of small moments that got the ball rolling.  A Hindu exhibit got me thinking about karma and inspired me to eat fewer animals. Then a vegetarian friend whom I respected said he thought it was great that I was on that path. I reflected on his simple affirmation for months, and it kept me going. But it took a real jolt to make me stop eating animals altogether. One day after Sunday service at my Unitarian Universalist church, I saw an old Tom Regan documentary called We Are All Noah, which had clergy from various faith traditions talking about our ethical and religious responsibility towards animals. The footage of modern animal agriculture hit me in the gut, and I walked out a vegetarian. I could not reconcile my love for animals and paying someone to kill them for my pleasure. At the screening I had picked up a copy of "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian" and read it three months later when I was flying home to Indiana. By the time I landed, I was vegan. I told my mom the news, and she asked me if I was going to become of those "plastic shoe-wearing radicals." I said, "no." Ha! Eight years later, she's pretty close to being one herself.  

KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? What have been the greatest challenges?  

Marisa: Where to begin with the rewards? Ho boy. Well, I lost 15 lbs. worth of cheese. That felt good. I have more energy, and I eat so much healthier all around. But it's really the sense that I'm practicing non-violence, affirming compassion, and protecting the environment and my health every single time I put something in my mouth that is the greatest reward. It's so easy to feel helpless when we're bombarded with images of cruelty, carelessness, environmental destruction and disease all around us. But now that I'm vegan, I can't say that I'm doing nothing. I'm doing something every single day multiple times a day. 

The biggest challenge for me is knowing that this violence against animals and the destruction wrought by the animal agriculture industry is happening every day on such a gynormous scale, while I'm going to the post office, seeing movies with friends, and living my little life. I feel like I live in this Matrix but only a select group of people sees the ugly reality for what it is. It's easy to feel like you're screaming in a vacuum. But I do my best to stay positive and put the word out in an empowering way through activism that affirms the positive steps that people are taking instead of harping on the negative. It goes back to my friend's positive reinforcement that inspired me to stay on a more compassionate path. 

KMIV: You've been in the activist world for almost nine years - what has changed since you first began? 

Marisa: In 2002 saying that you were a farm animal advocate felt like saying you were a clown car salesman. Thankfully, people take farm animal issues more seriously now. If you had told me back then that in eight years the voters of California would pass a law to ban confinement systems AND that reps from the United Nations would advocate a massive shift away from meat and dairy diets to fight climate change, I would have asked you to pass me the crack pipe you were smoking so that I could take a hit. But farm animal protection issues are on the national radar now. And so is plant-based eating.

Also, back in the early 2000s, it seemed like the main activism opportunities were either protesting on the street or organizing events. But since the explosion of the blogosphere and social media outlets, there are many more ways to reach people with information. Creating your own media has also become much more accessible. All you need is a flipcam and iMovie to cobble together a web video that could catch someone's eye and land you in the major media, as was the case with the Worldwide Vegan Cupcake Sale video that my dear friend Jasmin Singer made and helped land us on CNN.com. 

KMIV: I absolutely LOVE your program for vegan newbies - Vegan At Heart. What was the inspiration for that? Where do you hope to see it go in the future? 

Marisa: Thank you! Well, conducting vegan outreach throughout the years, I ran across people who were inspired to adopt a more plant-based diet but felt like going vegan was this big huge scary thing. Many of them also felt alienated by the go-vegan-or-die tone that they often encountered. Vegan at Heart targets that very demographic of people. They tend to be animal lovers, treehuggers, or health nuts who might consider themselves vegan "at heart" but not necessarily in practice. My methodology of sending 30 short informative "missions" came from a completely non-veg-related resource. I subscribe to Flylady, a brilliant website that utilizes the concept of timers, routines, and beating perfectionism to get people past the stumbling blocks that keep them living in chaos. I immediately recognized how some of these concepts could help my demographic.

In the future, I see Vegan at Heart as just one of several resources that can act as a safety net for people and help them to feel inspired to make some changes. I'm hoping to also achieve this with the the documentary I'm making, which is called Vegucated. Vegucated tells the true story of three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers whom I "force" to go vegan for six weeks while witnessing their transformations on tape.


 A trailer for Marisa's upcoming documentary, Vegucated (originally titled Glass Walls). 

I want to integrate Vegan at Heart into another tool on the web that will empower and enable veg-conscious people to connect in person, find mentors and support others in their local communities. There are plenty of websites and resources to connect online but very few in person. In-person contact is invaluable. The vegan forums where people do meet in person can seem daunting to those who don't quite identify as vegan yet. I want to fill that gap. 

KMIV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?  

Marisa: I would say don't get caught up in thoughts that scare you. Don't focus on, "Oh no! I can't ever have my favorite cheese/meat/fish dish ever again!" Just take it one day at a time and have faith that everything will be okay. In time you will find surprising new favorites, and you will not miss things as much as you thought you would. The learning curve will be higher at first but once you get the vegan lay of the land, it will become second nature. Consider it an adventure and do connect with others who've gone through it before you. 

KMIV: Okay -  you're stuck on a deserted island with three vegan food items - what are they? 

Marisa: Onions, because sauteed onions make anything taste good, even bamboo.  Chickpeas because they are a versatile little food, and I'll need protein to hack up bamboo. Then, finally, cake batter softserve ice cream from Lula's Sweet Apothecary because hacking up bamboo is hot work.   

Many thanks to Marisa for doing this interview. To learn more about Marisa's work, please visit www.kindgreenplanet.org. To sign up for the "Vegan at Heart" program, please visit www.veganatheart.com 

Comments

Veg Atalanta said…
I can't wait to see this movie. The trailer was already so powerful.
Anonymous said…
Please do let us know when the movie is out...I'm there. Good trailer, left me completely intrigued.

I guess all the women with "wolf" in their last name are warriors! :)

BTW-it would be interesting to know the reason why your ancestors ended with wolf (german for, er, "wolf") in their last name. Would give your own history as a vegan an interesting narrative twist as far as animal treatment is concerned.
Anonymous said…
Loved the trailer! Thanks for the inspiring interview.
Lindsay said…
Thanks guys! I would be interested in finding out about my name too - that's definitely something to think about! :)
there are always so many awesome resources throughout the interviews you do. This was way awesome.

I go through the whole "go vegan or die" thing too. But nothing's gonna stop me from my process or rush me through it either. This interview just made my resolve stronger to go through it my way and speed :D

God Bless...woohoo!!!
Jazz Siebert said…
OOoo... i really wanna see this documentary!! so cool.