This week’s Everyday Vegan Changemaker, Daniel Turbert, is based in North Carolina, where he runs The Sentience Project, which utilizes his photography and videography talents to showcase animals at sanctuaries and uses the power of storytelling to break down barriers to compassion. I am really honored to featured Daniel today.
1. To start, we’d love to know how long you’ve been vegan.
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 was around 8 or 9 years old, and still remember the moment vividly. Nothing extraordinary, just a family dinner, with chicken and vegetables. We had “wings” that night. I really hope my mother doesn’t read this… I remember watching her put a chicken wing into her mouth and pull out just the bone. Something she was pretty proud of, and it stems from her mother and the Great Depression era, to eat everything, which is admirable, and this “talent” is apparently a byproduct of that. So I tried to do the same as my mother, and fell short, and saw the innards of the chicken wing sitting on my plate and had a really hard time processing it all. As a kid, during that phase, I wasn’t thrilled with eating animals. Shortly after the wing incident, I pitched the idea of becoming a vegetarian to my parents. They seemed fine with it, except for one exception, I would have to prepare all my own meals. Too daunting for my 9-year-old self. Fast-forward through my childhood, teenage years, and early adult years, I pivoted towards eating meat because it was the cultural norm and it made life seem easier, so I became determined to like it somehow, and for many years, I did.
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?
I was looking for ways to shed some weight after my daughter was born. I indulged in all the cravings with my pregnant partner, as we both enjoyed late night snacking. A friend told me about a fast that I could consider, and after a bit of research, I decided to give it a try and began preparing myself for what would turn out to be a very transformative 10 days without food. A few days into the fast, I was ready to call it quits. The cravings were front and center. I could think only about eating fast-food burgers, something I didn’t eat much of, because I veered from foods I thought were “unhealthy.” I kept going and around the 6th or 7th day, the cravings came back, but this time around, it was for fresh broccoli — I could hear the crackling sounds of biting into fresh, crisp broccoli when I shut my eyes. It was intense, and the final days of the fast gave me enough momentum to give up all animal products on the spot.
4. What were your biggest challenges or obstacles to going vegan and how did you overcome them?
Family, no doubt about it. Family is tough for many, just getting along can be enough, but mix in this new vegan thing, and it elevates drama to a whole new level of family fun. I took to social media, because at the time, and just coming off a fast, I didn’t have any friends who were vegan. It was just me on the island, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only weird one out there who ate salads at a family BBQ. I found social media to be a fantastic outlet, and Vegan Street, was actually one of the very first platforms on social media I came across and began following!
5. What is the world like as a vegan today compared to when you first went vegan?
As an activist, I feel like things never move as fast as I want them to, but the reality is, since I have been vegan, a whole lot has changed, especially on the food scene, and that’s a direct correlation to consumer demand, and it’s a phenomenal trajectory. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon either. There are so many reasons to choose plant-based alternatives, and we’re seeing some really cool plant based foods going mainstream.
6. Please tell us your “why vegan” elevator pitch.
Why not? I’m always up for having conversations with people about eating animals. For me, the health and environmental aspects of being vegan can be quite a positive thing, but looking back at that moment with the chicken wing, made me realize at a young age that my food had been a “someone” not a “something” and it kinda terrified me so much that I buried any notion that food could have sentience. The idea of humane meat is such an easy concept for us to buy into, because we want to believe we are doing the right thing, but the reality is, we are not. My elevator pitch is focused on sentience, with patience, and maintaining an open dialogue, and remembering that I used to stand over there too.
7. What is your favorite thing about being vegan?
Other vegans. It’s a crowd full of passionate people who enjoy spending time together doing projects, activism, art, trips, social events, all for good causes. I love meeting new vegans and working with ones I know to help advocate for the animals. When we can get along and collaborate, good things happen.
8. If you could tell someone some simple advice for shifting away from eating animals, what would it be?
I like a gentle approach when it comes to advice. I think most people like to come to their own conclusions, so my advice is often different depending on who I am talking with, but no matter the advice, I believe that we must be encouraging with the message. Chances are, they won’t give up eating animals in the next hour. It’s a tough road for most, it goes against the grain, and the roots of our cultures, or just about every culture. The advice I often give is through my photography, showing images of animals living at sanctuaries, telling their stories, following other activists, and documenting the ways we use and exploit animals. I believe that we all have a strength to help with giving advice, whether it be a simple conversation, planting seeds, to various forms of activism, to visuals in art, photography, film, to writing, and storytelling, to taking someone shopping and showing them that “vegan” food isn’t expensive after all. There’s a form of advice we can all give to someone that will resonate with them.
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 recently, I had the pleasure to film at Cows Come Home Sanctuary in TN. The sanctuary is now home to almost 50 cows, but it’s the founders’ story that is really remarkable. They started out as multi-generational cattle farmers, and had a huge change of heart after seeing how intelligent the cows were, and witnessing the grief and sorrow of the cows responding to the tragedies of their babies being taken away, or an unexpected death. They watched the cows huddle to the places where these tragedies happened, over and over again and realized there was something more than just a commodity there. The film, by film standards, is “OK” at best. It wasn’t meant for the big screen, but it’s the story that has really hit people hard and so many people have come forward to express their heartfelt appreciation for showing these animals in a way they mostly haven’t viewed them before, and as a result of the story, the film has been well received by a wider audience than I could have imagined.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
Caring, compassionate and kind.
Extra credit: Please let us know your favorite vegan organization.
A Well-Fed World — I love what they are about. Feeding humans, providing advocacy and the tools to create a better and more sustainable food system while helping out animals. It’s simple and brilliant.