Brenda Sanders is a food justice activist who works to bring healthy, affordable and sustainable food choices to low-income communities in Baltimore City. We caught up with her to talk about the plant based lifestyle and why she feels it's the responsibility of vegans to spread the good message.
Please tell us about your journey into veganism.
I was originally introduced to the concept of veganism as a "healthy eating" lifestyle. I ate plant foods exclusively for more than a decade without ever making the connection to animals. When I started learning more and more information about the awful ways that humans are exploiting the other animals on the planet, I realized not participating in the exploitation wasn't enough - I had to try to be a part of the solution - which is how I got into vegan activism.
Why is there the assumption that healthy eating means expensive eating?
People probably think healthy eating is more expensive because - just like any other lifestyle - it can be expensive. But it's important for people to know that healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive. The same way people often have to figure out how to spend less money on clothing, transportation and other essentials, we can also come up with strategies to make healthy, affordable food choices. We have to treat healthy eating like every other positive life decision and find a way to make it work best for us!
You run a series of plant based cooking classes- so what sort of dishes do you create during these sessions?
I have 3 criteria for any dish that I make for my plant-based cooking demo: 1) The dish has to be affordable 2) It has to be culturally relatable and 3) It has to be delicious! My recipes usually include legumes, grains, locally grown vegetables and some kind of sauce or gravy. Some of my favorite dishes to demo are Coconut Curry Chickpeas, Lentils in Thai Peanut Sauce, and Spicy Black Bean Chili. ,
Can you share a few basics of vegan living with us?
Vegan living is about doing the least amount of harm we can possibly do to the beings with whom we share the planet. That includes everyday life decisions like our food choices, the clothes we wear, the entertainment and outdoor activities we engage in, etc. When we begin to look at our daily activities as opportunities to decrease our participation in the suffering of others, we begin to see vegan living as an honor to engage in. I have yet to find a lifestyle that has more potential for individuals to make a positive and lasting impact on the planet.
Why are festivals such positive places for vegans to meet?
Vegan festivals are an awesome combination of vegan education, entertainment and delicious vegan food. These festivals are a safe haven of sorts where vegans can get lots of information and resources, meet other people who see the world the same way we do and be reminded of why we chose this lifestyle in the first place. Did I mention delicious vegan food?
You are involved in so many projects so how do you balance your time between them all?
I basically dedicate all my time to vegan activism. There's so much injustice in this world and at some point I became convinced that I have the ability to single-handedly fix all of it! Seriously though, people often ask me how I manage to juggle so many different projects, events and programs and my answer to that is I don't have a choice but to do it all. The victims of the most heinous forms of injustice are counting on me to do this work.
Your Vegan Living Program lasts for six weeks so why does it take such a long time to learn about the vegan lifestyle?
I love this question, because so few people ask it! The Vegan Living Program has been having such amazing success because we take our time to lay out all the benefits of the vegan lifestyle - from the nutrition benefits to the positive environmental impacts to the obvious benefit to the animals whose bodies are currently being exploited. Exploring a different aspect of veganism each week gives people an opportunity to really absorb and internalize the information and then incorporate it into their daily lives. By graduation day in the week six, the participants in our program are oriented to the new lifestyle and feel that they have the education and support that they need to maintain it.
How important do you feel it is for vegans to promote their lifestyle?
At the risk of expressing an unpopular opinion, I believe that it's our responsibility as vegans to promote the vegan lifestyle. Maybe if animals weren't in such dire need of our help, if animal agriculture wasn't having such catastrophic effect on our planet, if marginalized communities weren't in the midst of a food-related health crisis then maybe we could justify not promoting this lifestyle. As things on the planet stand now, we owe it to ourselves, the other animals on the planet and the Earth itself to do everything we can to promote a lifestyle that can offer real solutions to many of our most pressing issues.
What have been the main benefits of the vegan lifestyle for you?
For me, the main benefits of the vegan lifestyle have been an increased feeling of connectivity to the other beings with whom we share the planet and the desire to do whatever I can to right the wrongs being perpetrated against them right now. I've always been extremely sensitive to the plight of vulnerable and exploited populations and had an intense desire to fight against injustice. Becoming vegan has enabled me to extend my circle of concern outside the boundaries of human injustice and see animals as the marginalized group that they are.
What is next for you?
In addition to continuing my community-based activism, I want to start accepting more of the speaking gigs I'm being offered. If someone had told me five years ago that anyone would be interested in what I have to say, I would have laughed. While it still feels a little strange to be doing interviews and speaking engagements, I seem to have a knack for expressing ideas in a way that people can relate to, so I feel like it's my responsibility to continue to spread the word about veganism as far and wide as possible. I feel so grateful and honored to be doing this work and will continue to do it for as long as it's necessary.
Brenda Sanders will be speaking at the upcoming Vegfest- for more info go to:
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