Vegan Mountain Man


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
– T.S. Eliot

This is sixth interview is with Joseph, my mountaineering friend, who just came back from climbing Mt. Rainer in Washington State. He and a friend both got injured up on the mountain when a boulder as large as a car came trashing down towards them. Luckily, they both made it down alive and Joseph was able to meet with me for this very candid interview. I’m thankful that Joseph survived and wasn’t gravely injured, not only because he’s my friend, but because he’s a human who makes a difference in the world! In my opinion, the world needs more of his kind! 

Tell me about when you decided to go veganI decided to go vegan in 2003 and the reason why I chose to do so was I’d been a lacto-vegetarian for a year before that and I did that predominantly for health reasons. I read Eric Marcus‘s book, “Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating” and that really motivated me to embrace veganism completely. I really wasn’t terribly aware of what the circumstances were on factory farms – how awful of an environment it is. When I became more aware of that, more cognisant, that’s what really motivated me to become a vegan.

For those people who don’t know, what is a lacto-vegetarian? A lacto-vegetarian is similar to a vegetarian. Eating milk, cheese and eggs. I was that from late 2001 to 2002. I think it was in March 2003 when I decided to become completely vegan.  That was after you read the book? Yes, I actually read Eric Marcus’s book,“Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating” and Howard Lyman‘s “Mad Cowboy” – those two in conjunction. Those were the two main reasons. I started following Howard Lyman on Twitter. Yes, he’s a very interesting man. He owned a farm, didn’t he? Yes, I believe in Montana, if I remember correctly and for someone to be in that type of environment and become a vegan proves that anyone can do it. Right!

Lets talk about your work. I work in an office environment. It’s a barter exchange company. I’m the only vegan there. Of course it’s a small business so I think it’s fairly descriptive of the demographics, so maybe 50 people there and I’m the only one who is, so it’s probably fairly representative of society in general. How do they accept that you’re a vegan? Initially with a lot of people they were confused by it. Some people kind of gently mocked it, but these days they really don’t think much about it. I’ve been there for nearly five years, so they realize whatever gentle mocking they offer I take it in the same spirit as intended. It really doesn’t bother me. So no one has decided to go vegan? Well, they are actually more open to eating food that is vegan and I bring things in when we have a potluck. They’ll actually eat it and find that they enjoy it. [Joseph laughs!] Oh, I’m sure they do! Well, thank you. I wouldn’t be so sure about it if I was you. [He adds with his usual modesty and laughs.]

Joseph at the top of Mt. Hood

What about your family? Well, there’s no one in my family that is anywhere vegan. We came from the Midwest. My great grandparents were all farmers and my grandparents were part-time farmers, so a very agrarian background, but there were people in my family that were very open to it. My grandparents, for instance were great! They would try to accommodate me during family get togethers, they would have something for me and if I would prepare something they would try it. I was actually a vegan when I lived in Missouri from 2003 till I left in 2007, so we’d have these get togethers and I’d bring my own food or they’d try to accommodate with something. That’s really nice! What about your parents? They were pretty critical about it, but there comes a point when a person has to make their own decisions and if the parents don’t like it so be it. [Joseph laughs!]

Now do I recall that you initially told me that it was a girlfriend who had inspired you? Yes, maybe inspired is not quite the proper word, but she merely showed me the books. I think it’s fair to say that I became a vegan before she did after I’d read the books. She’d lent me the books and after I’d read them I was really energized and thought they were the catalyst for going vegan and after I became one, she decided to become one later. 

(Another activist at a Circus Demo)

Lets talk about animal activism because I know this is a big part of what you do. I know you do the “Circus Demos” (circus demonstrations). Tell me how you got involved with those. Well, that was one of the nice things about moving to Seattle because there is actually a lot of activism on behalf of animals going on here, so when I moved here in 2007, I was approached by the then president of NARN (Northwest Animal Rights Network) and he invited me to go to some foie gras demos and I basically became involved that way. I was very fortunate moving up here because there is actually an outlet for people who want to do activism because in many places, especially were I grew up, there was no outlet at all – other than doing something on a purely personal level. But to have like minded people is really very nice to have here! It sure is! It’s not very often in the U.S. that you find people of a like mind. Yes, it’s a relief! To say the least!

For those readers who are not aware, why should someone not go to the circus? Well, the main reason is that: A.The animals that are used in the circus are essentially slaves or they are participating in behavior that is not in any way natural to their way of life. To see an elephant stand on his or her two legs is completely unnatural state for an elephant to be in and for an elephant to behave like that, for an animal to behave in such a way, is if they are abused. The so called “training” of an elephant or any circus animal is extremely barbaric and involves whips, chains, prods, etc. That in and of itself is terrible. It’s unfortunate that these places are viewed as “wholesome family entertainment”. The circus is really an archaic period piece. Right! I couldn’t agree more! It’s amazing they are still around. For me, and it’s been like this before I knew any of these things, I have not wanted to go to the circus. I don’t think I’ve ever been actually. Maybe when I was real little, I’ve been once. I will only go if it involves humans, so like Cirque de Solei, I love, because it’s all humans and it’s amazing to see what they can do. Right, plus you get to listen to the Beatles if you go. Right, I went to that performance when they came to Seattle and the times I’ve gone to Las Vegas I always try to catch one of their shows. Yes, Circus de Solei is marvelous! 

The Zoo

It’s the same reason why I don’t like to go to the zoo, and why I don’t go,  because it’s unnatural for the animals. It’s unfortunate, there’s a lot of lying when it comes to zoos as well. They really try to sell themselves as “caretakers of animals” or “safeguarding” certain animals from extinction and in most cases that is not in any way the truth. They are basically exploiting the animals to make a profit. The more appropriate place for animals that are truly in danger of extinction would be in a sanctuary and not in a zoo. 

Animals in Films

I think it was last year that my eyes got opened up to animals in films. For example, the chimps they have used in many movies. They are manipulated and when we see them smiling, they are in fact not happy. No, that’s not smiling! That is a nervous reaction. I think that most people, it’s not so much they’re ignorant, it’s that they’re not aware and once you encounter these truths and you get it into your brain and understand what truly is happening, then one can’t go on and not acknowledge that these forms of cruelties are happening. 

Right, I think the problem especially with zoos and circuses is that it’s such a connotation with tradition and a sense of family togetherness and family fun. And when those outlets are attacked by activists it really rubs people the wrong way, unfortunately, because they see us as attacking their parenting style and their choices of taking their children to certain events, etc. and it’s really difficult to try to engage in some reasonable type of dialogue with many people in that type of situation. It’s not like you’re holding a sign in front of a restaurant that is serving foie gras. It’s a much more difficult way of being an activist.

Calling all adults too!

Don’t you think that also has to do with that they were used to being taken by their parents, when they were young, to the zoo or the circus (or both)? Oh absolutely! So it brings back happy memories for them and they want to pass those on to their own children. Yes, because when they see someone protesting the zoo or the circus they see it as an attack on their parenting style, their choices and on their parents choices. And now they might also see it as an attack on their children because we are there, which is the furthest from the truth. Basically it’s not about attacking anyone per se, it’s about defending animals who really have no voice of their own.

Despite the difficulty of this type of protesting, like you mentioned, you still keep doing it? There has actually been instances where people have seen the signs and have turned around and gone home. Right, so they really did get the message. I truly think that it’s about planting the seed and hopefully they won’t go the next time. Most people will still go because rarely will they forfeit their ticket, when these people have already paid for something, but at least now doubt has been sown and they’ll think twice about the animals are treated. Definitely!

Joseph on top of Mt. Adams

Can you think of anything else that you want to talk about? Yes, a couple of things. Activism is really imperative for vegans. Not necessarily internet activism, but to actually get out and engage with people in a civil way, engage in discourse. I think that is really the most plausible sense of activism – to really defend animals – not to be in a bubble or sit in an ivory tower and engage on-line and to go out and meet some people who aren’t vegan and show that we are basically like everyone else! We like to have fun! We like to do things that aren’t considered weird. We do normal things like everyone else! It’s just that this particular venue or this particular aspect we are very passionate about animal rights or animals being abused. Secondly, I think there’s a misconception that vegans are inherently unhealthy. I don’t mean to in any way brag, but I just climbed Mt. Rainier and did it on an exclusively vegan diet, so if I can do it anyone can do it! I’m impressed.

How many times have you been climbing? Mt. Rainier only once, but I have also climbed Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker and Mt. Adams. Wauw! And some other lesser mountains. That’s quite impressive! Well, thank you and again, I’m not bragging. I’m just trying to emphasize that a vegan lifestyle is in no way inherently unhealthy. No, it’s like with anything you choose what you’re going to put in your mouth every day. It’s a choice! You certainly could eat unhealthy vegan, but you could also easily eat vegan and have it be extremely healthy. Not all vegans go for the fake meats or processed stuff that is vegan that everyone, vegans and meat eaters, eat. Absolutely, and also fully nutritious. We just have to take our B12 vitamins and be realistic! B12 is something that I take daily and maybe it’s the placebo effect, but I do feel great! I think it’s really the only real “achilles heel”, but because it comes in a supplement it’s really a non issue.

Have you felt healthier overall since going vegan? Absolutely! Certainly on a physical level but also on an emotional and psychic level, I suppose you could say in a sense that this lifestyle is conducive to non-violence. That last part appeals to me, as a practicing Buddhist, which is all about non-violence. But I have also felt this sense of clarity since going vegan that I haven’t felt before. It wasn’t like I was eating a ton of meat when I did eat meat, but I have felt way more “clear” and find that my memory is working better. This also has to do with that I’ve been working on cutting my sugar addiction. It’s funny you should mention that because one can technically be vegan on a rotten diet, so it’s really not about that per se it’s about having a really nutritious vegan diet.

No Fad Diet

What do you think the main thing that someone starting out as a vegan should know? I think the main thing is to be cognisant that it’s really a lifestyle choice in a sense that it’s not a fad, it’s not something that a person should do just because someone in Hollywood does it or someone who is a health guru recommends it. It’s more of a choice to live a life of non-violence. That’s the first aspect. The second aspect to keep in mind is that, compared to when I went vegan, is that switching to a vegan diet is so much simpler these days. A Daiya cheese is so well done that there’s really nothing to miss! No, we just had two burgers with cheese…so called cheese…and I feel as filled now as when I was eating a “real” burger. I don’t feel and haven’t felt that I’ve been missing something. That’s true! There’s really nothing to give up! There’s everything to gain. 

I think a lot of people feel it’s a restrictive diet, when in fact it’s an abundant diet! Absolutely! Even someone like me, who has absolutely no culinary skills can be quite successful when it comes to that and I actually do well. [We laugh!] Well, same here! I’ve written this before, I actually didn’t like to cook much before and now I love it. I came to realize that I really enjoy cooking, but it was handling the meat – whatever animal I was cooking – that I didn’t like. Handling it, smelling it, feeling it…just looking at it. I don’t know why, it just wasn’t connecting. Absolutely, that’s the problem most people have. I don’t know if anyone who is born, even into a vegan household, it’s all a question of becoming more aware and making those connections. For me it was about taking off the blinders. Absolutely! The scales fall off the eyes. Not to belabor the point, but I feel in a way, I’m not a religious person but I felt in a way a moment of “On the road to Damascus” when I did become vegan because I really felt I was seeing the light. (For Christians this means to find the holy gospels and eternal life!) It was almost like someone had flipped a switch! 

A Pair of Joyful Vegans

I have definitely felt more of an inner joy since going plant-based vegan. I Love love being a vegan! I feel such joy from having made this decision. It’s been almost nine months now. I wrote in my bio that I feel like I’ve fallen in love! I completely concur. In a way it’s very comparable to a religious experience because I think a lot of people who haven’t become vegan don’t really understand it or what we’re all about they see it as “cult like”. It’s difficult to walk that balance road, if you will, not being too zealous and putting people off, but at the same time letting them know that it is such a wonderful way of life and marvelous lifestyle. I think that is perhaps the best way of spreading the word is being joyful and spreading the good. I was reading someone else’s blog and she wrote that the best way to convince people to go vegan is to bring baked goods to work and to make delicious vegan food for friends and family. To use another religious metaphor, it’s always much more gratifying to see people who are actually living their beliefs instead of just talking about them. I think when people, in any type of background or belief system, if they have any kind of self-righteousness that is the worst approach to have. It puts people off, but to live it and to show what kind of joyous way of life it can be that is much more a witness to the benefits than to merely just talking about it or have a judgmental approach. 

Any final words? I think it is worth mentioning that there are animal sanctuaries around here and to support them, whether it is voluntary or monetary. That is actually vital, so it’s really very important that the vegan community around here or the community, not necessarily vegan, give practical and moral support to the sanctuaries. 

Thank you so much, Joseph! You’re inspiring! Keep leading people up that mountain, showing them that it is possible to live a more compassionate and caring lifestyle in harmony with the animals and nature! 



About urbanveganchic

I'm an urban chic woman, who is passionate about educating others about the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet, cancer prevention & survival, as well as art & life. I love adventures and travel. As an artist and a teacher, I care deeply about healthy living, being a conscious steward of our planet, and being kind & respectful towards animals. Learning about a vegan plant-based diet has been like discovering a new country and falling in love with it, so if I sound like I'm enamored you now know why! As a world traveler, I truly wish I had discovered this beautiful new country twenty years ago! Better late than never, as they say, cause there's no going back now! Born and raised in Scandinavia. Proud owner of a tripod cat & a foxy little pup. Speak four languages...some better than others. Working on the fifth one. We are all either part of the problem or the solution! Health & Happiness to you! ~UrbanVeganChic

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