10 Questions: Vegan Rock Star with Katrina Fox
Katrina Fox is one of those very bright lights, she makes it impossible for me resist smiling when I see her showing up on my various social media feeds. Let’s just say she’s not afraid of a little sparkle (or even a lot of sparkle) and her joie de vivre clearly shines through. You know how in this age of virtual relationships, there are certain people about whom you think that you would be friends with in person if we didn’t live several hours or even a continent away? Australia-based Katrina Fox is one of those people for me.
As an award-winning journalist, author, PR consultant, media trainer, founder of VeganBusinessMedia.com, host of the Vegan Business Talk podcast (catch my interview here), Katrina certainly is busy but always manages to spread the message of compassionate living in an upbeat, cheerful and very conscious way. I think she’s a masterful communicator and the animals are so very fortunate to have her on their side. In short, she’s just fabulous and I am happy to feature Katrina Fox as this week’s Vegan Rock Star.
1. First of all, 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 come from a working-class family in the UK and grew up just outside south-east London in a council flat. My mum would serve us things like beef burgers and chips for dinner. One day I asked her where beef burgers came from and was horrified to learn they were once a living cow. I always felt close to animals — I adored my cat, Kitty, who I grew up with, and once I made the connection that burgers were made of cows, the roast chicken dinner meant that a bird was killed for my dinner and that fish fingers were once actual living fishes, I went vegetarian although I didn’t know the term at the time.
But it wasn’t until 1996, at the age of 30, that I became vegan, even though I did some animal rights activism in the late 80s — somehow I missed the vegan memo. I was on a coach trip with other activists to a big anti-vivisection demo and a lovely schoolteacher I was sitting next to declined my offer to share my Marmite and cheese sandwich, even though I enthused to her that the cheese was ‘vegetarian’ with ‘no animal rennet’.
She kindly explained the cruelty involved in the dairy industry to me and I was so shocked and also guilty that I didn’t know this already. The next day I ordered my Animal Free Shopper Guide from the UK Vegan Society and was stunned at all the ways we exploit, use and abuse animals for everyday products. I pretty much went vegan overnight.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
Well, I think Kay, the schoolteacher I just mentioned was the perfect advocate of veganism. She was kind, articulate and non-judgmental. I mean, she could have screamed, ‘How dare you bring dairy to an animal rights event!’ or called me names, but she didn’t. To be fair though, if she had, I may well have felt so guilty and ashamed that I would have turned vegan anyway!
I think that because I already loved animals, just seeing an image or video footage or being presented with information about the cruelty to animals would have turned me pretty quickly. But I did appreciate the kind, calm, non-judgmental approach Kay took with me and she’s the kind of activist I aspire to be.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
Honestly, I think a mixture of all the above. Everyone reacts differently and you have no idea what will resonate with an individual. Often it’s a drip-drip effect. I get emails and messages from people saying they’ve followed me on social media for months or even years and they’re now vegan and it’s been a mix of occasional hard-hitting images or videos exposing animal cruelty, as well as humor, inspiration and passion.
I tend to avoid posting too many horrible photos or videos too often, but every now and then I’ll share one, among more mostly positive material. I enjoy a good meme — with a powerful pic and accompanying text. I love your Vegan Street memes, which help to distill information into bite-sized messages that pack a punch.
Over the years my activism has changed. I’ve gone from being chased by riot police, sitting down in roads and screaming outside medical research labs, to focusing more on helping vegan business owners be successful as I believe we need to make vegan products accessible (financially as well as situationally) so it’s easy for people to make the compassionate choice.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Veganism is beneficial to animals, people and planet. There’s no downside. It’s a win all round, even though opponents with vested interests in maintaining the status quo try to claim otherwise. With social media and more independent media sources, people are starting to wake up to the truth and be more open to veganism.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
We’re still dealing with decades of negative stereotyping of the word ‘vegan’ and the myths that vegan food, clothes, etc. are ‘boring’ or ‘bland’ or that it’s an ‘extreme’ way to live. But that is starting to change.
One of the difficulties is the watering down of what ‘vegan’ means. For example I’ve seen the term ‘flexible vegan’. Um, that’s a vegetarian! Or a ‘flexitarian’. And of course the debate about ‘plant-based’ versus ‘vegan’ continues. I think healthy debates about how to spread the vegan message are important.
We’re now in a situation where big businesses are interested in jumping on the plant-based bandwagon and as activists we’ve never been in this position so we’re being presented with ethical dilemmas that we need to figure out. It’s both exciting and challenging!
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Why not? Haha! Mine is something along the lines of ‘It’s a compassionate way of living that aims to do the least harm to and be the most beneficial for animals, people and planet’. Or, if I’m feeling cheeky, I may appropriate the L’Oreal ad and say ‘Because I’m worth it’.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
I like to be able to send people to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has such robust data gathered over more than three decades by medical doctors to counter any health concerns they may have. Organizations such as PETA, Mercy for Animals, Animal Liberation, Animals Australia, Edgar’s Mission and many more have influenced and continue to influence me and provide helpful information and inspiration.
There are so many great vegan and animal rights books out there, covering different aspects. Tom Regan puts the case for animal rights well. Carol Adams makes some excellent points about the links between feminism and animal rights.
Nowadays I avoid as much as possible watching films with footage of cruelty although I do promote them on social media and share information about them with pre-vegans. These days I’m focusing on the positive aspects of veganism. I enjoy Victoria Moran’s work and also Colleen Patrick-Goudreau — they’re both such positive beacons of light. Philip Wollen is another one I admire, along with some of the other amazing vegan business people and investors who are using their power, wealth and access for good and to spread the vegan message to people who may not otherwise listen.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I like to watch good TV dramas! I’m probably supposed to say yoga or meditation, but dammit I like me some Law & Order SVU, Greenleaf, NCIS to name just a few, and several British shows! I also love cat videos, animal rescue videos, some Ted talks and reading. Oh, and I go to a weekly community choir in the city which I absolutely love. It’s for anyone and everyone — you don’t have to be able to sing in tune, which is great because I can’t! We sing lots of fabulous songs including show tunes and my friend Georgia and I make up our own choreography and moves to entertain our fellow choir members!
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
There’s so many but I think I’d say the dairy industry. I still have a niggling sense of outrage and guilt that I didn’t make the connections between feminism and the dairy industry sooner — that I was hoodwinked for so long about the realities. Although I’m a city girl, I feel a particularly connection to cows and knowing what they go through breaks my heart. For many years as a vegetarian I ate a lot of dairy products, with no clue as to what I was supporting. I really want people to realise these products are as cruel as meat and to switch to animal-free ice cream, milk, yoghurt, butter, cheese etc.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
The best thing in the world!