Part I: Ruby Roth
Ruby Roth is an artist, designer, and writer living in Los Angeles. A vegan since 2003, she was teaching art in an after-school program when the children’s interest in healthy foods and veganism first inspired her to write her first acclaimed book “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals,” which gained international attention and garnered multiple translations. Roth’s latest book, “Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action” hits stores April 24th, 2012–just in time for Earth Day, though the author notes, “Every day is Earth Day when you’re vegan!” Complementing her degrees in art and American Studies, Roth has researched animal agriculture, health, nutrition, and the benefits of a plant-based diet for nearly a decade. Roth continues to share her special brand of gentle candor as a vegan consultant and speaker.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s May 16, 2012, and in the next hour, we get to talk about my favorite subject, food: and it has so many impacts on our everyday life here on Planet Earth. Food – who would think that every morsel we put in our mouth makes a difference? And it could be a good, positive thing, or a not so good thing. That’s what we talk about here, and what I try and do is offer up lots of interesting information from authors, chefs, doctors, nutritionists, athletes, and just people who are interested in food and its impacts health, environment and the treatment of animals. And I learn a lot here, I hope you do too. There are lots of different ways to look at food. Certainly the most obvious is how does food nourish our bodies, does it nourish our bodies? And there are a lot of issues related to food. Do we have enough food? Do we have too much food? Do we have too little food? And then, of course – how does the food get to our plates? It’s such a fascinating, complicated issue, and I don’t do it enough, but I encourage everyone from time to time, if only on Thanksgiving Day or on other days during the year, think about what you’re eating and where it came from. It’s a long, complicated story, from seed to growing the plant, the people involved in growing and harvesting, the people involved in packaging and transporting, and of course, if you choose to eat animal products, which we don’t really promote on this show, there’s a lot of things that go on there that are not really very pleasant. And they affect the environment. And all life on Earth. Okay, so we’ve got some fun things to talk about today. And my first guest is Ruby Roth. She’s an artist, designer, and writer living in Los Angeles. She’s been vegan since 2003 and was teaching art in an after-school program when the childrens’ interest in veganism and healthy foods inspired her to write her first acclaimed book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, which gained international attention and garnered multiple translations. Well, she’s got a new book – Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action, and it came out last month, just in time for Earth Day. She notes, “Every day is Earth Day when you’re vegan” – I really agree with that. Complementing her degrees in Art and American Studies, Ruby Roth has researched Animal Agriculture, Health Nutrition, and the benefits of a plant-based diet for nearly a decade. She continues to share her special brand of gentle candor as a vegan consultant and speaker. Ruby, welcome to It’s All About Food.
Ruby Roth: Thank you, nice to speak with you again.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this next half hour. I like the way you put it in your bio, “gentle candor.”
Ruby Roth: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s what it’s all about, gentle candor, and you really do that so well.
Ruby Roth: Thank you. It’s really about making this information manageable for a child’s capacity without sugarcoating or avoiding the truth.
Caryn Hartglass: This seems to be such a really difficult issue, so one of the things that I say very often is, “Don’t read your press, weigh it.” And I think you’ve been getting a bit of attention, some of it positive and some of it negative. I watched your interview, what was it, on Fox News, I think –
Ruby Roth: Yes, with the child psychologist?
Caryn Hartglass: How does that – you know, I just want to take a step back here and say this – what do they call a doctor who graduates in the last of his class?
Ruby Roth: What’s that?
Caryn Hartglass: A doctor! You don’t have to be that great of a student, you can be the last in your class, it doesn’t mean you know everything, and then there are some that do quite well and know a lot and yet they’re got these blinders on and don’t want to see the truth. And when I saw that interview with this psychologist who clearly was clueless –
Ruby Roth: Yeah, I’m positive he didn’t even see the book. He was just there to represent.
Caryn Hartglass: Well you looked really, really lovely on that show, by the way.
Ruby Roth: Thank you. It went exactly as I planned.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, one of the things that I liked – where can people see that, by the way?
Ruby Roth: I have links to it on my website, WeDontEatAnimals.com.
Caryn Hartglass: WeDontEatAnimals.com, I definitely recommend checking that out because it is educational and amusing.
Ruby Roth: And I think the most fascinating part of this whole controversy and outrage about the book is that by calling it controversial, or admitting on a national level that what we do to animals is scary – too scary to even talk about with our kids – to me that says that people know, but they want to remain willfully ignorant and impose that ignorance on their children. And I think that the path to a greener future relies on engaging a new generation in learning how to eat healthfully and consciously.
Caryn Hartglass: What I love about this book is that I don’t think it’s necessarily for only children –
Ruby Roth: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: -this is a book for everyone. It is simply just a few more than 20 pages, it’s beautifully illustrated, and you use very little language to convey a lot of difficult things that are going on today, and for anyone to read it and not get it –
Ruby Roth: Thank you. Our motto about the book is “it’s so easy, even adults can understand.”
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Ruby Roth: It’s a really basic introduction to what’s going on and how our choices on a daily basis affect the public realm. And at it’s core, it’s really about democracy, supply and demand, and engaging ourselves in the public realm.
Caryn Hartglass: So a lot of people, they don’t have time and they’re not – well, I think people just don’t want to know, because once they know, then they realize they’re culpable, and then what do they do?
Ruby Roth: Well there’s a lot of fear around veganism for people who are unfamiliar with it or don’t realize that nations of people throughout history have thrived and survived on plant-based diets, so I understand the questions that come up, but at this point in time there are answers to any questions anybody may have.
Caryn Hartglass: You bring up an important word: fear. And the older I get the more I realize how many people are operating or reacting to some amount of fear that they have in their lives. And I want to say it’s really scary. I’m not someone who has a lot of fear but I know more and more people who do, and as a result they just act in very strange ways. And that’s why it’s so important that when a child is young, you need to empower them with information, let them know the truth – because when you find out the truth later, after you’ve been lied to and covered-up to, it really takes away a strong foundation, or makes the foundation shaky.
Ruby Roth: Well, we spend years and years of our youth being indoctrinated with the normalization of eating meat and dairy, so when you tell an adult who’s unfamiliar with veganism and its history that we should abandon the Standard American Diet, that seems unheard of for many people. It’s also important for people to realize that when we talk about veganism, we’re not talking about the Standard American Diet minus meat and dairy, we’re talking about a different pyramid whose nutrients are more dense, more bioavailable, and they come from the harmful side effects that we see meat and dairy causing. We see studies that continue to show the link between consuming animal products and chronic disease, and I think that any teacher in school across America can tell you that their kids are showing signs of lack of nutrition, whether it’s the lack of energy or the inability to concentrate, or temper tantrums, or everyone has ADD now. I think that a transition to a better diet would help everybody across the board.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m sure this drives you nuts because it drives me nuts – I forget where it was but it was some mother’s blog site that was mentioning your book and her concerns with it, and something that you read over and over again: “a vegan diet can be nutritious, but it has to well-planned and the parents have to monitor and make sure the child is eating the right food” – and yet, can we just leave out “vegan” and just say “diet,” because most kids today just eat junk. Why are people saying “well, what about your children” – they’re not vegan and they’re not eating anything nutritious.
Ruby Roth: Right. Well, we are simply changing the repertoire of what we we eat; it’s not any more difficult, it’s not any more scary, and any responsible parent will look into the proper ways to transition and find out what it really means to be a vegan, not just eliminate meat and dairy from the Standard American Diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now, you have a daughter?
Ruby Roth: A stepdaughter, yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And how old is she?
Ruby Roth: She is seven.
Caryn Hartglass: Seven?
Ruby Roth: She was born and raised vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: And what does she think of your latest book?
Ruby Roth: She loves it; she was part of the process and we had a lot of conversations throughout the whole thing. I bounced a lot of ideas off of her and asked her for her questions and her thoughts. It’s completely normalized in our household and she’s very strong in her veganism; I haven’t seen her be swayed by anybody. She’s also, (let me just mention for people who have questions), in the top percentile of growth and mental development.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that’s good to hear, and I’m not surprised to hear it either. Okay, so there’s some really lovely artwork in your book.
Ruby Roth: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s – what do they say, a picture tells a thousand words, things like that – but I’m looking at the one, the page about zoos. So you have a large cell, I guess, what would you call it, it’s kind of with people –
Ruby Roth: An enclosure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, the shadow of the people on top, looking down. Very powerful and yet so simple.
Ruby Roth: The giraffe enclosure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. And now of course you go beyond food here, and simply show in the book how we exploit animals for so many things: racing, hunting, bullfights and rodeos, and the circus is one place – I mean those of us who know and research or just look into what goes on behind the circuses, the ones like Ringling brothers, the ones who have animals and elephants and really treat them so poorly. And then other circuses like Cirque Du Soleil can be just as entertaining, if not more so, when you see the incredible things that humans with free choice can do with their bodies.
Ruby Roth: Exactly. I think when we give kids information they need to make educated choices, then they choose wisely. I think if any kid knows what their participation in the zoo or circus really means, then they would be happy to go see a show where we know the creatures love to perform like people in Cirque Du Soleil.
Caryn Hartglass: I think you’re really breaking some ground with your book.
Ruby Roth: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: And I’m wondering – outside of the vegan community, what kind of feedback have you gotten?
Ruby Roth: It’s been interesting because I’ve heard form a broad range of people: from military men to militant vegans and moms, and people all around the world from all different countries; and it’s a range of responses from really intense hate mail to meat eaters who saw the Fox interview and just were ashamed by Fox’s presentation, people who are intrigued by the conversation and have thought a little about cutting down on meat and dairy, but something I said has sparked interest. So, I’m thrilled that there’s a conversation happening, whether there’s opposition or support. When I was a little kid, I don’t think the word vegan was in existence in my community, and now, a relatively short time later, we know enough about it to argue.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Ruby Roth: So I think that’s a big step, that people are aware of the word and we’re planting seeds.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I remember the books as I read as a child and I’m sure that many children are still reading similar books; on the whole, I think that childrens’ books have gotten a lot more creative and a lot better at sharing some really important messages, but we still have that notion that Old McDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-o, and all the animals are out there grazing – and we take care of them and it’s like a family affair and they give us milk and eggs, though I don’t remember much about the story of slaughtering them and eating them later, but –
Ruby Roth: That’s a very powerful image, in, I think, all of America’s mind: the cow, the happy farmer, the happy field – and when we question that, you only need to scratch the surface of that to find the corruption and destruction that we’re inflicting, not only on animals, but on the environment and the land on which we raise these animals, and how our choices affect people across the world. We’re raising 65 billion animals around the world every year and feeding them grain instead of the one billion people in the world who are starving. So there’s a lot to learn in all of these issues, to replace this idyllic idea we have with the truth.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, now I remember talking to Sandra Steingraber, who writes about environmental issues. She talked about how she likes to explain what’s going on with the environment to her children, the good things and the bad things, and then she explains what she’s doing to help make a difference. She said that rather than scaring the children, knowing that there are problems in the world, she was actually empowering them, letting them know there are adults out there who are working towards handling the problem, and that when the children get older they can do their part to help solve the problem.
Ruby Roth: Exactly, and that’s a point that has been left out on my TV appearance, that every page on this book has a positive affirmation about action that we can take, and that is the reason that children are not afraid of this book and it’s not scary for them, because the most important lesson is that we don’t have to fear anything that we have the power to change. And I believe that we don’t have to wait to grow older to exert that power. My book is about things anybody and everybody can do on a daily basis – from our food to our clothing, to the way we spend our dollars, and what we choose as entertainment.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen. There are a lot of kids that are living in fear – and that word fear again comes up – because they grow up and they still have this fear, and it affects them in so many negative ways as adults. It’s so important to empower kids to know that yeah, life is challenging, there’s gonna be problems, but you are going to be a part of the solution, so go out and do it.
Ruby Roth: Exactly. And by avoiding the truth, or sugarcoating it, I think we’re actually hindering what our children are capable of, and hindering our own progression for a greener and more sustainable society.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. And another aggravating thing – you said, or I read that this book came out around Earth Day, April 22, (which happens to be my birthday, something to celebrate), it always frustrates me on Earth Day, because we see all these recommendations, especially toward kids, to have something to engage children; and the projects that are recommended on websites and in schools, the things that they recommend aren’t bad, but they really aren’t the most important issues.
Ruby Roth: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I see so many books that tell kids and have positive messages like “you can change the world” and “you can be anything you want to be” but even with a lot of these green programs, they’re leaving out food and a plant-based diet, or a least moving toward a plant-based diet, and by leaving that out, we are leaving out the most far-reaching, impactful thing that any one person can do. Because by making vegan choices, we can reach every industry and every corner of the Earth. That’s a lot more effective than talking about turning off light switches and flipping off the faucet while we brush.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. The thing that I’m kind of harping on these days is the powerful impact of marketing and advertising on what we choose to eat; our eating trends definitely reflect the advertising trends, and it’s criminal that over 11 billion dollars is going into food and beverage and restaurant and junk food advertising and two orders of magnitude less goes into healthy food.
Ruby Roth: 75% of government subsidies go to meat and dairy, while less than half a percent go to fruits and vegetables, so when people talk about my book as being brainwashing and propaganda, we need to look at who’s really in charge and who’s propagating a given doctrine about what we eat.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. People talk about where we want to tax sodas and take junk food out of schools, and people say “we need free choice and we should be able to decide,” and yet they have no idea how subtly they have been manipulated to want foods that are not healthy for them.
Ruby Roth: Oh yeah, as soon as you scratch the surface, it’s not even subtle.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s true.
Ruby Roth: It’s not even calculated, organized partnerships between our government, the Department of Education, the USDA, pharmaceutical companies, big agriculture – I mean, if people knew the degree of collusion, then the outrage would be directed at the industries and not a children’s book about alternative choices.
Caryn Hartglass: And what about – I know a lot of parents struggle about what their children eat, and it gets harder as they get older – well, your stepdaughter is seven; how is she as an eater?
Ruby Roth: Oh, she’s great. We’re on a plant-based diet of a lot of raw foods and superfoods and her health is just off the charts. But I think that a lot of parents, meat-eaters and whoever, would wish that their kids would eat more fruits and vegetables, and I think that by looking into a plant-based diet and by giving kids the information they need to make educated choices, there’s a much likelier chance that a child will start eating healthier and be interested if they understand why – if they understand “okay, we’re not going to eat junk food, here’s the reasons why, and these are the better choices.” So there was a meat-eating mother who said her child is “picky enough” and if they were to come in contact with my book in school, it would just drive her over the top. And my answer was that coming into contact with the idea of veganism might help help child eat better, might have a positive influence on getting this kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, one of the problems – it’s a big problem – is that the parents themselves are not good eaters; they’ve been totally marketed and influenced. Many people don’t know where their kitchens are, they don’t know how to make healthy food, they’re kind of overwhelmed in their schedules with work and taking care of their kids, and they want what they think is convenient, even though they don’t realize that preparing simple foods can be easier and more convenient. And so, sometimes kids come home and say, I want to eat these foods, and the parents are overwhelmed because they don’t know what to do.
Ruby Roth: Right, and that’s an honest fear, I understand that, if a kid comes home saying they want to eat healthier and the parent just doesn’t know what to make, that can be overwhelming, but the change doesn’t have to come overnight, and the transition, when we focus on all that can be gained from veganism and a plant-based lifestyle, from health to the environment, to out politics, the transition is really joyful and not overwhelming.
Caryn Hartglass: Have you had an opportunity to turn around a really angry person and have them see your side?
Ruby Roth: You know, I don’t really engage the hate mail that comes through, because I think it’s coming from such a different place, and over email I just can’t deal with it, but if someone has serious inquiries and really wants to know, and has an interest and questions, then of course; I think most people just need the facts, and need to be turned on to something they can witness with their own eyes to be able to understand where I’m coming from.
Caryn Hartglass: Where do people find your book? Because some people find it and discover that it’s not what they expected it to be.
Ruby Roth: It’s everywhere where books are sold, internationally; it’s in many libraries as well, so people can request their librarian to bring it in as well, if they don’t want to commit.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well I would love to see it in all schools and all libraries, and I think it should be required reading for all adults.
Ruby Roth: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re welcome. Do you have any plans for another book after this one?
Ruby Roth: I do have more plans, I have more ideas brewing, so people should stay tuned.
Caryn Hartglass: So there’s more loving stuff out there that’s gonna piss people off.
Ruby Roth: Yeah, I plan on lots of it.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s amazing is just the crazy ironic contrast, especially during that program on Fox News. But if they see you and hear your gentle voice and look at you and see how lovely you are; you just want to spread the love and people’s blood is boiling; it’s just the most comical, crazy contrast.
Ruby Roth: It is. And I hope that most people realize that when they’re talking to a passionate vegan, what they might call self-righteousness is actually just an urgency we feel to take care of everybody and look at the world being of all people, including the people we’re talking to, so I wish everybody that I talk to the best, and just to find the joy in spreading my message.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so what’s the website again, so people can find more about you and your books?
Ruby Roth: It’s WeDontEatAnimals.com, and from there they can get to my Facebook and Twitter and my blog, where we write about all kinds of stuff, from politics to food to animals, so it’s a good resource for anybody.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you so much for talking to me, thank you for writing this book, and thank you for being a strong warrior – I don’t know that warrior is the right word –
Ruby Roth: I like it.
Caryn Hartglass: A peaceful warrior spreading such an important message. Love, Vegan Is Love, read the book. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Ruby Roth: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass and please visit ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com if you’re wondering how to do this crazy vegan thing, there’s lots of information there for you. We will be right back, and we’re going to be talking about white bread with Aaron Bobrow-Strain. Stay with us.
Transcribed by Sarah Brown, 1/23/2013