10 Questions: Everyday Vegan Changemaker with Nicole Miller

So Nicole Miller — Nicki to those of us in the know — is a Chicago-born, San Diego-dwelling nature goddess and she loves the animals, the planet and herself. Yeah, that’s right! She also just kind of embodies the Everyday Vegan Changemaker to me. Nicki is an inspiring yoga teacher and licensed massage therapist who posts all kinds of great pics with her sweet pitty Kiki as they explore trails and she spreads the vegan message of compassionate living, wrapped up with more than a little self-love. I appreciate Nicki’s advocacy because she helps people get closer to veganism through being supportive, helpful, friendly and welcoming, rather than shaming. (Who’da thunk???) Please check out her website if you’re ever in Southern California and looking for a fab massage (she is trained in many modalities of massage) or other bodywork. (You can check out some glowing testimonials for Nicole Miller Massage if you need any convincing.) You can also find her on Facebook and stalk her pupper on Instagram. I am happy to feature Nicole Miller as this week’s Everyday Vegan Changemaker. She’s fab!

1. To start, we’d love to know how long you’ve been vegan.

I have been vegan since Dec. of 2015, so just over 3½ years. I do not have an actual veganniversary so I just party by eating like I’m celebrating all year long.

2. We’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I became vegan after 3 years of being vegetarian. It was a natural but long coming change. I had taken on a much healthier way of life when turning 30, lost 30lbs and decided meat was no longer a source of health for me, but a hindrance. Working out felt so much better as an herbivore, so the initial (meatless) transition wasn’t exactly planned but totally welcomed. It became permanent. I attempted vegetarianism in my early 20s but just became more of a carbitarian, so I ditched that plan soon after.

3. What was the catalyst (or were the catalysts) that made you go vegan? Was it a film? An experience? Someone else’s influence? A book? Was it overnight or did it take a while?

Continued good health was my catalyst. I was starting to look and feel younger than in my earlier years. I had adopted a pup and realized the difference in my thinking, it was off. I watched a lot of documentaries and Vegucated stood out. I was also embarking on a much deeper understanding of myself and others. I had many vegan friends who helped me see the lifestyle was very much the same as my own. Potlucks was what decided it for me, I realized I am in fact a fabulous cook and vegan cooking is delicious fun!

4. What were your biggest challenges or obstacles to going vegan and how did you overcome them?

My only ‘challenge’ was replacing eggs. I was not so much a cheese person but eggs were in my daily diet due to an active work and lifestyle. I had a hard time feeling full enough, or eating too much at times. It took a friend’s suggestion to ‘eat as much as you usually eat’ for me to balance that out. I learned a lot about my body living this lifestyle and I find that awesome. My other challenge is other vegans. I have connected with some absolutely amazing individuals, but level 5000 vegans can create much disdain for veganism and I find it exhausting arguing minuscule points with my peers. I’m a sensitive being and just don’t see the logic in knowing someone is rooting for your win, but continue to seek imperfections in another’s execution of veganism. I would think that energy could be more helpful elsewhere. Many people in my life are curious and open-minded, and perhaps sometimes ill-informed but never insulting in the ways some fellow vegans have been personally. Maybe I’m biased and expect more. I am, and I do, considering the frequent use of the word ‘compassion’ and it’s lack thereof in the vegan community. I often don’t feel welcome, but that’s okay. I overcome this by minding my own path in this lifestyle and continuing to inspire those around me. In under 4 years I’ve convinced a lot of devout meat-lovers to try less animal products in their lives by simply leading by example. This is important to me. Not arguing.

5. What is the world like as a vegan today compared to when you first went vegan?

It was not long ago when I was not vegan, but one might think so considering the monumental change in vegan offerings everywhere. These options have paved a way for omnivores mentioned above, and have created a mainstream interest that is undeniable. I took a road trip from Chicago to southern California in 2017 and found little options to work with outside of major cities. Fast food is nearly everywhere, but vegan fast food was not. Though many will argue it’s not the healthiest choice, having Impossible Whopper and Beyond Burger offered at more establishments makes this a really exciting time to be alive. When I went vegan, there were options but many at specialty restaurants. Having mainstream options is fantastic for everyone.

6. Please tell us your “why vegan” elevator pitch.

I’m vegan because of my health, the animals and the planet. It’s really hard to pick just one aspect as to why I’m vegan, because they all affect each other. This is why I think many vegetarians end up vegan, once your eyes are opened there’s no reliving life as you did before. I came to veganism as an eco-green, health-loving individual but would never pit those two against the lives that are lost daily. A lot of things are in flux in our society right now, this is one inevitability that we can no longer ignore. When you consider all three reasons one might be vegan, all three of those considerations are in serious crisis at the moment in some form. Further ignoring any of these three has fatal results we’ve already witnessed. This is my responsibility.

7. What is your favorite thing about being vegan?

My favorite thing about being vegan is connecting with other vegans, just being on that same wavelength with another, so much can evolve. My other favorite thing is the food. Being a comfort food lover, I’m constantly amazed and in awe at the creations I see and get to eat, there is true talent in vegan cooking.

8. If you could tell someone some simple advice for shifting away from eating animals, what would it be?

This is controversial advice but I say do a little each day until you’re fully plant based. I stressed about having down blankets and leather boots but lived in frozen Chicago and had little funds to completely consciously revamp my life. I tried going vegan before officially staying with it, and that was because my first attempt was all focused on only being a perfect vegan. If I ate cheese, I was really hard on myself, this is unhealthy and 100% unsustainable. I made a healthier relationship with my body* within my going vegan and urge everyone to have compassion with themselves on the process. I didn’t have anyone but myself to feed during my transition but understand others have children, families, etc. with diet restrictions and all kinds of challenges. Be easy on yourself, keep a food journal and join vegan groups for support. Go to vegan fests and meetups. Be aware that the end result is sustaining a lifestyle that serves millions so maybe your transition takes longer than others. Maybe you go cold turkey. Don’t let others’ expectations (in veganism or otherwise) of you overshadow your own. If you’re doing anything to limit your animal consumption you’re doing great.

9. Can you tell us about a time that you think you had a positive influence on someone considering your vegan or compassionate living message? What do you think made it effective?

Just this morning I had a message from a co-instructor from my Yoga Teacher Training course, she tagged me in a pic she posted with a vegan Philly Cheesesteak and thanked me for my help with her transition. I couldn’t take any credit but it warmed my heart. Besides this teacher, I was the only vegan in the course which can confuse any person openly practicing ‘ahimsa’ which means ‘do no harm’. Moments like these is what makes veganism for me. I do try to educate but I don’t preach, so hearing that I had even a small influence in someone’s choice to avoid cruelty is so touching. This is my activism. I honestly believe that living your* best path is best for all, simply leading by example is what’s gotten my burly sports-loving brother to like Beyond Sausages, so this is my stock method.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”

10. To me, being vegan is living in congruence with other beings, the earth and our bodies the best way we know how. To know better and do nothing does exactly that for everything and everyone…nothing. This is a responsibility we all have to care and educate those that are not aware so that we may all continue to enjoy this place we call home.

Extra credit: Please let us know your favorite vegan organization.

Farm Animal Refuge! [Nicole is currently obsessed with Josh.]

Marla Rose is a Chicago-area writer and co-founder of VeganStreet.com and VeganStreetMedia.com.