Why vegan?! Q&A with an expert and teacher: Lorena Mucke.

Ok. So…as you can see… it’s been a while since I last wrote an actual “blog” post. Most of the thoughts and stories I’ve written on the site have been related to my eco trips, cruelty-free fashion and vegan food but not so much on the little details that help us deal with our day to day life. Vegan or vegetarian life, that is! ;)  Thus, in order to catch up on not posting helpful things for a while, I decided to interview a person who- even though I haven’t gotten the chance to meet in person yet- has taught me plenty through her social media. She is a zoologist and humane educator with a graduate degree in Ecology and Sustainable Development, and runs the Ethical Choices Program in Atlanta, GA. This is a non-profit project that aims at empowering high-school and college students to make thoughtful and responsible lifestyle decisions. Every year she gives about 200 presentations reaching thousands of students and inspiring them to make lifestyle changes physically, spiritually, psychologically, socially and culturally. She’s been doing this for the past 10 years now. How admirable is that?! So yes, I’m incredibly happy and proud to share this interview I did with Lorena Mucke. I hope you guys enjoy it and find it as useful as I did. xoxo


Vegalicious Q&A with

Lorena Mucke

What inspired you to teach school/college kids and the world about the importance of a vegan diet?

It was the tremendous lack of awareness about the reality of the animal agriculture industry and their lack of compassion for animals, their lack of integrity toward consumers and their total disregard for the environment. 

I realized that teens are a group that is very vulnerable. They are trying to make sense of their surroundings, they want to belong, to be accepted and they actually want to change to world. Teens are very compassionate! Sadly, it’s society that teaches them to harden their hearts.

What are the reactions you get after your presentations?

Humane education is effective in planting seeds of compassion and mindfulness. Change usually happens gradually and as a humane educator I need to be mindful of this.  Pressuring people, judging people and criticizing them doesn’t work.

I encourage teens and teachers not to give up. I encourage them to believe in who they truly are and offer them tools that can help them make mindful choices and be agents of change. They learn they cannot be perfect, but they also learn that they can do their best to the best of their abilities considering their individual circumstances.

Many of these teens are not familiar at all with the term “vegan”, and are completely unaware of the inherent cruelty of the animal agriculture industry. By far, the great majority of these teens have no idea that it’s possible to live a healthy, joyful, normal life without eating animals. But they learn it’s possible. They learn that they can reduce massive cruelty, help restore the environment and be healthier. They are exposed to a reality they didn’t know it existed and they get to ask any question they want about animal agriculture and its relationship to health, the environment and our own humanity. These teens are treated with respect and their feelings are validated. They are not judged or criticized for their choices, but they are encouraged to develop their sense of compassion, justice, stewardship and integrity.

These last 10 years we’ve seen the transformation of many of these teens and their teachers. Many of these students and teachers have gone vegetarian or vegan, and in turn have influenced their families, friends and even their communities. 

I’d like to note that after giving thousands of presentations, and visiting dozens and dozens of schools (showing what people would view as graphic and controversial material) I’m invited back year after year. Only one school in these 10 years of activism has asked me not to come back. It think this shows that people want to know and are tired of being lied to. The need is great and the time is prime.

How long ago did you go vegan? And why?

Ten years ago, I went vegan after learning some of the most obscure and egregious cruelty of the egg and dairy industries, such as the grinding up of male chicks, the fact that cows are pregnant year after year, and that their babies are taken away from them causing tremendous grief to them and their mothers.

Did you first go vegetarian or vegan? Do you feel that going vegetarian first makes it easier to transition later on to a vegan diet?

Like many people, I went vegetarian first. I had enrolled as an Animal Science major at Texas A&M University and during my freshman year I came face to face to with the brutality of the animal agriculture industry. I witnessed animals being mutilated (dehorned, castrated, etc.) and also slaughtered. I realized then that I didn’t want to support such injustice and exploitation and went vegetarian. I also changed majors and graduated as a Zoologist.

I must say that that first year in college was one of the most disturbing times of my life, but nonetheless I’m deeply grateful for that time because it re-awakened my compassion and helped me align my innermost values with my food choices.

In my experience most people transition first to a vegetarian diet and then to a vegan. It seems that most of us first realize the obvious: animals don’t want to die and we don’t want them to die unnecessarily. Eggs and dairy seem harmless because it’s the general belief that cows and hens don’t need to die to produce eggs and milk. However, after people take meat off their plates, it’s easier to recognize that it’s just not the killing, but also the relentless exploitation that violates the human-animal bond, that violates our sense of justice and even our own humanity. Besides, dairy cows and egg-laying hens never retire. They also end up being killed very young. Going vegan is the ultimate, deepest embracing of our true nature of peace.

Do you miss meat or any other animal products?

Not at all! By choosing not to eat animals or their by-products, I’ve learned that there are so many delicious, healthy and convenient foods that I didn’t know they existed. I explored new cuisines (Thai, Japanese, Ethiopian, Indian, Mexican, Italian, etc.) that offer amazing vegan options. Also, I learned that I could continue eating most of the meals I was already used to eating simply by substituting the animal products for plant-based options, such as vegan cheeses, plant-based milks (soy, almond, coconut, etc.), veggie meats (hamburgers, hot-dogs, chicken, etc.).

I feel that since going vegan I truly have a love relationship with my food.

What was your favorite non-vegan recipe as a child? Have you been able to transform it into a vegan one?

Ñoquis! It’s an Italian dish made with little mashed potato-based dumplings and the sauce generally has chicken or beef. We now make the ñoquis with vegan mashed potatoes (we use soy milk instead of cow’s milk, vegan butter instead of regular butter and egg-replacer instead of eggs). We add the veggie chick’n strips to the sauce, or veggie sausages or veggie crumbles. Yum!!

And chocolate cake… I mean, who can live without chocolate cake??!! I make a killer chocolate cake that all my friends and relatives devour in minutes. Replacing animal products is easier than ever!

Did you feel a big difference (health wise and spiritually) once you went vegan?

Absolutely. I feel healthier than ever. Still, at 44 years of age, and after having 3 children, I still weigh the same as in college, jog regularly, have tons of energy, sleep great and rarely get sick.

Most importantly, embracing a vegan lifestyle has allowed me to align my values with my choices. I feel at peace knowing that I’m alleviating suffering in the world, and that I’m contributing to the healing, restoration and reconciliation on Earth. Going vegan has deepened my belief that we are all connected and that our choices matter. 

Have your blood tests shown any difference?

Yes! My total cholesterol level has dropped to a very healthy 152. My blood pressure is on the lower end, which is great according the cardiologists, and my glucose levels are always on the lower end of the normal range.

Considering that 1 in 3 Americans die of heart disease, 1 in 4 die of cancer, 1 in 3 children are expected to develop diabetes, and 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, I consider my vegan lifestyle a life-saver!

Can you tell us a little about the relationship between dairy (and other animal products) and cancer?

Abundant scientific evidence clearly indicates that dairy is one of the most powerful carcinogens humans regularly consume. Dairy product consumption increases levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1) in the bloodstream. IGF-1 is a potent stimulus for cancer cell growth. High IGF-1 levels are linked to increased risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer, especially.

We sometimes forget that cows are mammals and that therefore they produce milk for their babies, who grow at very rapid rates and have very different nutritional needs. Humans have no need for cow’s milk the same way we have no need for dog’s milk, or giraffe’s milk. Cow’s milk is very different from human breast milk, which is the only milk humans should consume aside from plant-based milks.

What other health diseases can be prevented with a vegan diet?

The most typical chronic diseases modern societies are plagued with can easily be prevented and reversed by a vegan diet. The rates of heart-disease (# 1 killer in the US), cancer (# 2 killer in the US), diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis would plummet if people embraced a balanced vegan diet.

Moreover, many studies have shown that people who adopt a vegan diet tend to see a reduction in anxiety levels and depression. In short, their mood improves and their relationships benefit from it.

What’s your thought on people who are vegans but still wear animal by-products?

I certainly applaud their choice of alleviating much suffering by choosing vegan foods. It’s definitely one of, if not the most, important step at the time of showing compassion due to the hundreds of billions of animals killed for food every year, including, of course, fish. But I also would like to encourage them to look at their other choices just the same way they look at their food choices. Sadly, much of the animal suffering is supported by wearing animal by-products. I think that’s the fundamental difference between embracing a vegan diet and embracing a vegan lifestyle.

What’s your thought on the leather and fur industry?

They leather and fur industries are completely unnecessary and very cruel. Animals are pretty much tortured for their skin. There are so many affordable, good-quality and beautiful garments made of faux fur and faux leather that really there’s no need at all to support such egregious cruelty.

How about palm oil?

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the production of palm oil due to the tremendous environmental devastation it can cause on the habitats destroyed in order to grow these palm trees. Wild animals suffer the most from this.

There are ways to produce palm oil in a sustainable way and people need to do their homework. We live in the era of internet where research takes little time and effort. I encourage people to support those companies that buy their palm oil from sustainable palm tree forests. We cannot be perfect but we can do what we can to the best of our abilities.

What are your favorite cruelty-free make up brands?

I love Earth Science and Alba Botanica. Both are found pretty much everywhere and are affordable for those on a budget.  

Any advises on how to make everyday cruelty-free shopping easier and faster?

It’s easier than ever to buy cruelty-free products. Many sites provide useful lists, such as www.leapingbunny.org. I simply encourage people to ask their vegan friends for recommendations or go on-line. Most vegans are more than eager to share!

What’s your favorite clothing brand? Why?

There are many great vegan clothing brands but I truthfully don’t have a favorite one. I believe in encouraging companies to move toward cruelty-free and eco-friendly products by buying those products they carry even though other products they carry might not be cruelty-free or eco-friendly. I believe our message as consumers is very powerful. Much like going to a mainstream non-vegan restaurant and buying their vegan option. It’s this trend that pushes companies to shift their focus from animal products to vegan products.

Are your kids vegan too? Since when?

Yes! We have 3 amazing kids: Christopher who is 14, and Sydney and Leah who are 7 years-old. They have embraced a vegan lifestyle very naturally and lovingly.

Christopher was raised vegetarian and went vegan on his own at the age of 8, and the twins have been vegan since conception. J

Did you find it easy to teach your kids about compassionate values?

Very. Kids have an innate sense of compassion and justice that we only need to encourage. They love animals and don’t want to see them hurting or suffering. My kids view cows or chickens the same way they view dogs or cats. Being vegan is their true nature. 

What was the cutest and most memorable action your kids have taken towards animals?

Christopher has been at champion at leafletting with veg literature! After all, who’d refuse a booklet from a cute child? All my kids have participated at protests in behalf of animals, such as against keeping dolphins and whales in captivity.

However, I have to say there are two memorable instances that are very present in my memory. Christopher was about 10 years-old when he and I watched the documentary “Peaceable Kingdom”. Even though the documentary was age-appropriate and wasn’t very graphic, there were some scenes that showed factory farming practices. Christopher that night went to bed and told me that when he closed his eyes he could still hear the animals’ “voices” (he didn’t use the word sounds), which made me realize he saw an animal as someone, and not something. He then said everyone should watch that documentary, “especially grandma”, because then everyone would be vegan.

The second instance is when I was getting ready to go to a school to give presentations and our then 4 year-old twins asked me once again what I was going to teach the students. So I casually answered, “I’m going to teach them not to eat animals”. That instant they looked puzzled, they paused to think and asked: “You mean animals? Like the ones who walk? The ones with legs?” So I said, “Yes. Cows, pigs, chickens and fish. Most people still eat them.” Leah looked very surprised and asked: “So people eat “real” animals???!!!” Who eats “real” animals??!!” I answered: Many of our friends… your aunts and uncles, your grandpa and grandmothers, etc. It was then that they realized for the first time the sad reality in the world they lived. I guess that until then, their innocent and compassionate minds couldn’t phantom the idea that people could eat the flesh of the animals they loved so much.

From then on, when offered any food, people tell me they ask “Does this have animals in it?” Again, I realized that for them, animals are not commodities or products. An animal is someone, not something.

Do you believe a vegan diet and an eco-friendly mindset go hand in hand?

Absolutely. Some people’s passion is the environment and to others might be animals. But sooner or later, one realizes that both issues are deeply interconnected.

How does a vegan diet help heal our world?

The benefits of a vegan diet are truly innumerable. Veganism transcends every boundary and affects every aspect of our lives, and life on this planet. It affects our health, the animals raised for food, wild animals and their habitats, the air we breathe, the soil where food is grown and the water we drink, the workers who are also abused by the egg, dairy and meat industries, our attitudes toward others and even the way we think.

Veganism affects us in a positive way physiologically, culturally, psychologically, spiritually, culturally, environmentally and ethically.

When we embrace a compassionate diet, which is what a vegan diet is, we recognize that compassion has no limits. We embark on a journey of compassion and action, of enlightenment and alignment of our values with our choices; a journey that is beautiful at times and painful at others, but nonetheless always fulfilling, always rewarding and always healing. A vegan diet is what we eat when we want to make the world a better place.

What books would you recommend for vegans and those transitioning to a vegan diet?

There are so many out there! But a few of my favorite books are:

  • The Food Revolution - by John Robbins

  • Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, And Wear Cows - by Dr. Melanie Joy

  • The World Peace Diet – by Dr. Will Tuttle

What documentaries?

We are so fortunate to have documentaries coming out every year! My recommendations:

  • Forks Over Knives

  • Vegucated

  • Cowpiracy

Any other thought or advice for our WTS readers?

Always strive to be kind. Kindness permeates everything if we allow ourselves to open our minds and hearts to our true nature. We thrive on a vegan diet. The world heals when we adopt a vegan diet. After all, we have a physiology of peace.