One of the hardest working activists on behalf of the animals, legendary journalist and author Jane Velez-Mitchell was known for her indefatigable pursuit of justice from when she hosted her own current affairs show on the HLN network from 2008 until 2014. Now through her #JaneUnChained digital news network, Velez-Mitchell and nearly 70 worldwide contributors promote veganism and animal rights every day through their savvy use of social media, particularly Facebook Live, and through this, JaneUnchained chalks up millions of video views each year, exposing the public to activists, activism, entrepreneurs and more who are working to build a more compassionate world.
It was only a matter of time before Velez-Mitchell spun off her popular daily lunchtime Facebook Live cooking videos into a pioneering series for Amazon Prime called New Day New Chef, which will also be airing on Public Television stations in the spring. With the first season of eight episodes available and a second season of nine episodes currently in production, Velez-Mitchell and a celebrity co-host, like basketball legend John Salley, host a panel of taste-testers and chefs as they show how to create easy, affordable and delicious vegan dishes. With recipes spanning the globe and Velez-Mitchell’s infectious enthusiasm, New Day New Chef promises to make inroads to a public that is becoming more and more hungry for plant-based food. I am proud to feature Jane Velez-Mitchell as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.
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?
My mother was born on Vieques, a beautiful island that is part of the Puerto Rican commonwealth. When she was a young girl, she had a pig who was a friend and companion. She didn’t realize the animal was destined to be slaughtered for food. When that happened, she fainted and woke up disillusioned with the adults around her and determined to shun meat from then on. She moved to New York City at twelve and formed a successful dance troupe. I grew up in Midtown Manhattan, across from Carnegie Hall. My Irish-American dad was a Mad Men-style advertising executive. Upon marrying my mother, he — with rare exceptions — also shunned meat. We were not vegetarian but we kind of thought we were. However, we ate fish, eggs and cheese.
I grew up, graduated from NYU, became a journalist, and gradually started learning about the horrors of industrialized animal agriculture. Working as a news anchor at KCAL-TV, based on the Paramount lot in L.A., I interviewed Howard Lyman, the fourth-generation cattle rancher who turned vegan. After the interview, he and his publicist approached me and said, “We hear you’re a vegetarian. Do you eat dairy?” Since he had just explained the cruelties of dairy, I hung my head and said, “yes.” “Liquid meat,” they replied, pointing a finger at my nose. I went vegan at that moment, more than 20 years ago. I’ve never looked back since. About a month into my vegan journey, somebody accidentally sprinkled parmesan cheese on my salad. I spat it out. It tasted awful to me. It takes about a month for one’s taste buds to adjust.
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?
They could have shown me the movie Earthlings. Of all the films, this is the one that seems to have turned more people vegan than any other piece of media. Had I stumbled upon a Cube of Truth and glimpsed the factory farming videos that these activists display on their monitors, I believe I would have also gone vegan on the spot. Finally, had a friend taken me to a pig, cow or chicken vigil, organized by The Save Movement, I am convinced I would have gone vegan immediately. These are incredible vehicles for exposing the truth of modern-day animal agriculture and are changing hearts and minds every day.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
There are 7.8 billion humans on the planet, way too many to just talk to people one on one. We must use social media to get the word out and be creative and engaging! That’s why I founded JaneUnChained.com, a non-profit, social media news network for animal rights and the vegan lifestyle. We now have about 70 volunteer citizen journalists going live on the JaneUnChained Facebook page, showing people the joys of VegFests and vegan dishes. We do a cooking show called LunchBreakLIVE that profiles a different vegan chef every day at 12:30pm Pacific. It’s a lot of fun. This was the inspiration for New Day New Chef, a TV series that takes vegan cooking to the next level, thanks to our amazing director and Executive Producer Eamonn McCrystal. Shot on a Los Angeles sound stage, with the highest production values and the best vegan chefs around, we showcase the versatility of plant-based cooking! We have so much fun and even do a blender dance every time we turn on that noisy, but essential, machine! It’s free for Amazon Prime members. Check it out on Prime Video. And, it’s also coming soon to Public Television Stations across the nation.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
The biggest strength of the vegan movement is the passion, determination and vitality of those who have adopted the plant-based lifestyle. It’s a gift. Those who have made the switch find they are generally healthier, more energetic and, yes, happier. More is coming out about the impact of a healthful, whole food, plant-based diet on our gut biome, which influences our serotonin levels and can improve our mood.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Our biggest hindrance is our need to be right. Even though I went vegan after having a “liquid meat” finger-pointing moment, a lot of people don’t respond to scolding and become defensive. I certainly wasn’t born vegan. One of the reasons I’m so thrilled to be doing New Day New Chef is that it attracts people. It’s an invitation to embrace a fun lifestyle that’s good for us, the planet and the animals. Don’t get me wrong. Protests have their place. But, ultimately, we want people to realize that going plant-based is in their self-interest and proactively seek it out.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Animal agriculture is destroying our planet! It’s the leading cause of habitat destruction, wildlife extinction, human world hunger and human disease. Its impact on climate change is enormous, much greater than the media acknowledges. Instead of waiting for governments and big corporations to do the right thing, there’s something each of us can do to fight climate change: transition to a plant-based diet. If we all did it, we could reforest the massive portions of the earth currently used for cattle grazing. Those reforested trees could immediately begin to absorb carbon and we could start bringing the earth’s temperature back to where it was a couple of hundred years ago. I’d also tell them to watch my documentary, Countdown to Year Zero, also streaming on Amazon Prime Video. And, we have now arrived at the 100th floor.
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?
It’s been shown that documentaries are one of the best ways to lay out the case for a plant-based lifestyle. The Game Changers, Forks over Knives, Cowspiracy, What the Health, Vegucated, A Prayer for Compassion and — yes — Countdown to Year Zero. Those are just some of the eye-opening docs that are a must-watch for independent thinkers. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and its founder Ingrid Newkirk, have laid the path for so many other organizations to follow. While PETA has many attorneys who file numerous, serious lawsuits, they’ve also learned that the best way to get a reluctant media to cover them is to do something clever and unexpected. Social Compassion in Legislation is making enormous strides in California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, passing laws that are then copied around the nation and the world. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has gathered thousands of doctors and other health professionals to prove the benefits of a plant-based diet. Mercy for Animals has done numerous, extraordinary undercover investigations. White Coat Waste has hit home runs in Washington DC, in its battle to end senseless and cruel animal experimentation. Farm Sanctuary sparked the farm animal sanctuary movement, which has allowed people to get to know cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs and goats as the intelligent and sensitive individuals they are. The Save Movement, founded by Anita Krajnc, is taking animal rights to the next level, by creating peaceful vigils at hundreds of slaughterhouses around the world, giving thirsty, slaughter-bound animals water and a loving touch before they are killed.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I don’t often feel burnout. Perhaps it was those thirty-eight years in mainstream media, filled with long days and short deadlines. I worked in Ft. Myers, Florida, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York, L.A., and back to New York. Everything else seems relaxing after that. Also, it’s so fantastic to be my own assignment editor, getting to do the stories I pick! Being sad doesn’t help animals and it doesn’t inspire people to join us. So…as long as I do something every day — preferably many things — to reduce animal suffering, I give myself permission to enjoy my life. Every morning, when I walk with Cabo, Foxy and Rico, my three little rescue dogs, I feel grateful to be living in sunny L.A.. Also, in April, I will be 25 years sober, one day at a time. So, that’s something for which I’m always grateful. As for fun, what could be more fun than a VegFest? I’m on the board of Vegfest LA, coming up on May 3rd. That will be a blast!
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
There are many terrible cruelties in laboratories, zoos, aquariums, rodeos and racetracks, that must be exposed and stopped. But, the biggest number of animals are being abused and killed for food. This is the pivotal issue. It’s the make-or-break challenge for us and the entire world. We must evolve as a species beyond this false notion of life as a zero-sum game, that for me to live, someone else must die. We can all live in a world of abundance, with plenty of food for everyone, if we just eliminated the most inefficient food source: animals. We must transition to a plant-based society and do it soon. The clock is ticking.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
Living the most joyous life possible!