Below are my answers to a journalist from Iceland. I made a few small edits (because I am such a poor writer) but otherwise the information is as I shared with her. I was told by others that her article was good and close to what I wrote. Icelandic is so hard for me to understand that I couldn't glean a single detail from the finished piece. The images below are the ones she chose for the article.
Regarding Iceland, all I can say is go!!! I'm still in awe and it has been 3 months. Also, I don't have enough words to thank my hosts. They made the trip 1000% better and there was no way it could have been a bad visit... Iceland is just too beautiful to not walk away impressed.
I gave one talk while there at a great collective called Andrými. They focus on community, respect, and inclusivity. The space is right in the center of Reykjavik and couldn't be easier to get to, so when you are there, check their calendar of events and drop by. I was really honored when the night's organizer told me it was the first time he saw the house was full before an event started. (Iceland is not as bad as Israel but it is generally known that they don't begin things on schedule.)
Here is the finished article: http://www.dv.is/matur/2018/11/1/baendur-og-feministar-fa-hugljomun-vid-forum-ekki-beint-fra-thvi-ad-skrida-ad-hlaupa/?fbclid=IwAR1OlOaE2FvpONF-JVxiq7WNMRd4JAxWangJSz7nnBUL-6yN46Z-gkr4tqg
Thank you to Lilja Katrín Gunnarsdóttir for contacting me and publishing it.
First things first – tell me about your self and your background. Who is Jamey Ellis?
Can you tell me about the moment or time in your life when you decided to become vegan? Why veganism?
What is holistic veganism?
Why are you coming to Iceland?
I saw that you only want to stay with vegans while you are here. Why is that?
Have you done any research on veganism in Iceland?
Do you think veganism is the future?
Vegans, at least in Iceland, are usually marginalized so to speak and have to take a lot of „shit“ because of the decision to become vegan. What is your personal experience with becoming vegan? Why do you think that „meat eaters“ sometimes go out of their way to criticize vegans and the choices in veganism? Why can‘t we all just get along?
What is your goal for the Iceland trip? Will you get some time to experience the country?
What would you say to people that are in doubt about veganism but want to give it a try?
What would you say to carnivores that refuse to take in the vegan message?
Q1) First things first – tell me about your self and your background. Who is Jamey Ellis?
A) This is the toughest question. Who am I? Foremost, I am a normal person from my background, the product of a white male, middle class upbringing in the United States. At the same time, my adult life has veered off from that of most of my childhood peers but not too profoundly, or so I believe. I’ve done things like live in several countries, travel parts of the world by bicycle, lived off grid, and worn many hats along the way (do you know this metaphor?).
My greatest deviation, perhaps the only one of real significance, was deciding to make non-violence the philosophy behind my actions. This has led me to choose a life of service. Since 2008 I have given all my time and efforts as a gift (seva) and not part of an exchange system. I help, where I can, when I can, the best I can. This is why I give talks about holistic veganism and the thinking behind it. It is one of the ways I can contribute to the world.
I trust in humans more than I trust in the systems currently governing us. In 2008 when banks collapsed and people lost homes, those same banks then awarded millions in bonuses to their leaders (paid in tax dollars that year), and yet they didn’t house the people they foreclosed on. So who helped them, the newly homeless? Friends and family did. This is true in every economic collapse, natural disaster, and, to some degree, in times of war. I’m not trying to build ‘karma credit’ for when I need help. I am trying to live my values and those values tell me to support each other and the non-human world.
This is a glimpse at who I am. My background is such: I went to university, and like most Americans, the cost was too much, so I had to work as much or more than I studied. During this time I became a professional nanny, looking to have less stressful work in this hectic time of life. This became a career, rather than my degree, and led to many great opportunities. Eventually I found myself in NYC, where my heart always was, and enjoyed a very comfortable life. My childhood dream of being a travel never went away so eventually I left to bicycle around the world, volunteering as I went. This was in 2008.
After six months of travel, I found myself in Sadhana Forest, India. Little did I know that I would spend the majority of the next decade living and helping here. It fit me perfectly and helped develop my compassion and overall thinking. I continued the work by helping to found Sadhana Forest Haiti. Going back and forth between the two (though primarily in India) I learned about myself in ways that could not have happened if I had stayed in New York. My roles were many over the years, much as a project director, and lastly as the manager of the cow sanctuary we started in 2016.
Early this spring (2018) I left to begin the next phase of my life. I now focus on speaking and writing about holistic veganism. I’d like to find a new home country too. The hardest portion of this is continuing to live by gift economy. This was easy when I was part of a non-profit community. It would probably be easy now if I worked with another person and registered the talks as a non-profit. But I am going at this alone for now, and living and working on donations is only maintaining me now because of the help of a few generous people. I do believe that eventually I will receive enough to live by and one day again to be part of a community, but for now it is an experiment. I believe in gift economy and myself so I won’t change my thinking very easily.
Q2) Can you tell me about the moment or time in your life when you decided to become vegan? Why veganism?
A) I first learned of veganism in high school. Right away I accepted the truth that it was the same cow you eat, drink, wear, wash your hair with, and exploit for numerous other things. This fact told me I would never be vegetarian but perhaps one day I’d go vegan. I saw what would be a lack of integrity within myself if I chose only veg but I couldn’t go the distance at the time, so I made no changes. Speed ahead a few years and I read the book ‘Diet For A New America’ by John Robbins. ‘Over night’ I went vegan… sort of. That first year had a lot of sneaking in a few things here and there but the desire to have integrity with my actions brought that to an end… sort of. What I am implying is that I eventually accepted that there is no end to being an aware consumer and that the journey will last my entire life. I am what people would call vegan and have been for 16 years. I am regularly expanding what that means to me, hence holistic veganism.
So to answer why, this is easy. I thought of myself as an environmentalist but at that time it was more in heart than in action. After reading that book, I had no choice if I wanted to honor the idea of environmentalism but to go vegan. For any reason I could find to eat meat or exploit animals, there were 100+ not to, maybe 1000+. It isn’t a black and white topic but the scales tip so far in the direction of veganism that combined with the opportunities I had in my life allowing me to make the shift, I was left with only one choice.
Q3) What is holistic veganism?
A) Holistic veganism is the phrasing I use to describe the broad scope that veganism can have. I’ve explored the subject extensively and found that none of the current descriptors on veganism cover what I see as the potential of the thinking. I’m happy to say that I am not alone in this, but a holistic approach rarely is a main topic when people speak about anything, not just veganism. So what am I getting at?
I think of holistic veganism as a crossroads of all of our social and environmental concerns (intersectionality), with our relationship towards each other (inter-being), and a sustainable ideology called non-violence (ahimsa). It involves self-care, child rearing, aware consumerism, review of our current economic systems, communication, and much more. When I speak or write, the main goal is that people walk away intent on having more integrity with their beliefs and that they see how a non-violent approach benefits them.
Veganism, Holistic Veganism, whatever you want to call it (the name doesn’t matter) will likely become a tool for that personal integrity. Our food is our biggest impact on the planet and our minds and bodies. Food and its production are the biggest use of labor, land, water, oil, and money. It has the largest impact on humans, non-human animals, and planetary health. It is the only activism one can partake in from birth to death, consciously or unconsciously. So it comes as a logical conclusion, or a spiritual conclusion for those that think in such terms, once one has exposure to the information.
Q4) Why are you coming to Iceland?
A) I am coming to Iceland for several reasons. It is on my short list of countries to see before I kick the bucket. The northern lights are on a similar list. I’m looking for a potential new home country and I thought to visit in November to have a taste of what winter is like there. Everyone knows Iceland is perfect in the summer but to love it in winter is the real test. Lastly, the flight cost as much as going directly to the U.S. so while not environmentally wonderful to take two flights, I seized the opportunity.
Q5) I saw that you only want to stay with vegans while you are here. Why is that?
A) In all of my travels, all over the world, I never before sought out to only stay with vegans. This time I did to see if I felt a difference in my experience and to get to know the community quicker. I’ll only be there for 17 days. Since the trip is to also consider moving there then why not choose a key demographic of people that would likely become part of my social circle.
Q6) Have you done any research on veganism in Iceland?
A) I’ve not done much research on veganism in Iceland. Staying with vegan hosts and giving a talk or two would be my experiential research. Since it is a country with one of the highest qualities of life, that tells me it might be a rather accepting group of people, so even if veganism is very small there, I don’t think I would be as much an outsider as I would in certain other locations. It is an assumption but one I am comfortable making. Time will tell.
Q7) Do you think veganism is the future?
A) Do I think veganism is the future? I think the future has two potentials. We continue to stratify wealth and access to food, medicine, and education, to the disparity of all but a few people and to the detriment of all life on this planet, or we socially evolve.
To me social evolution will mean something along the lines of holistic veganism but probably something much better. It is a very mathematical topic and despite the number of variables, a few parts of the equation are so important that we won’t have a choice. For example, we have one planet. No round two if number one fails. It is already failing so the fire is lit, metaphorically and literally. We have almost all the research complete to put out the fire and it begins with meeting the basic needs of humans (which we can do if extreme profit takes a back seat) so that those humans don’t need or want to do harmful things to each other and the planet.
Veganism is a humanitarian cause. If the base definition is to eliminate the unnecessary suffering of animals then that obviously includes the human animal as well. Otherwise, to exclude the human animal, veganism would be reverse speciesism. I think of veganism as a synonym of kindness and I think of kindness as synonym of sustainability.
Q8) Vegans, at least in Iceland, are usually marginalized so to speak and have to take a lot of „shit“ because of the decision to become vegan. What is your personal experience with becoming vegan? Why do you think that „meat eaters“ sometimes go out of their way to criticize vegans and the choices in veganism? Why can‘t we all just get along?
A) I don’t think vegans take much more flack than meat eaters. Both sides are driven by their culture and often the actions of all are driven by fears. A few things would help both parties. The first is a greater sense of humility and seeing one’s self as the other, no better or worse. We teach a lot of nonsense in schools and not enough broad, critical thinking with a focus on reasoning, so it is no surprise that we grow up thinking in the same straight lines we were placed into in school and work. Since that is the case, it takes considerable effort and opportunity to think and behave differently, and this stays true even after most people go vegan.
This is where holistic veganism maybe comes in. Currently veganism is a one or two topic experience when first introduced to a person. That makes sense but just as there are disciplines within the sciences, so can be true for veganism, and we can begin to see its relationship to most, if not all, human experiences. Apply all the sciences and you begin to understand the world. You can be a biologist, a chemist, or geologist, but your skills will be profoundly limited if you don’t have a relational understanding of the other sciences. Apply all the aspects of holistic veganism and you begin to see the full potential. You can still be a specialist and be an animal rights advocate, a feminist, or an environmentalist, and each one of those specialties will benefit from a foundation in the other realms of care. We are all connected (inter-being) and so are our concerns (intersectionality).
Q9) What is your goal for the Iceland trip? Will you get some time to experience the country?
A) I think questions 4 and 5 answer this question.
Q10) What would you say to people that are in doubt about veganism but want to give it a try?
A) I often suggest people new to the topic to find a foundation that motivates them and supports them. I ask if they were passionate or even just interested to address racism, feminism, capitalism, health, animal welfare, environmentalism, or any number of things, prior to going vegan. A common example I get is a person thinking of himself or herself as feminist but never seeing the connection. So I say go home and look up ‘feminism and veganism’ or ‘racism and veganism’ and so forth. Go with what you know, or what you want to know, because then your mind and heart are open to what you will learn.
*A side note. The two groups most often having an ‘ah-ha’ moment during or after a talk are farmers and feminists.
Also, I remind them that they are doing their best, that is all they can do, it is a biological fact, and that it is ok. And each time your brain and heart disagree with an action you took, that is you learning to do differently. Learning takes time. We don’t go from crawling to running. This is generally no different at any stage in life. You will get there.
Q11) What would you say to carnivores that refuse to take in the vegan message?
A) The best student is one that asks a question, right? If you can lead someone into an actual dialogue, then you are having a conversation, not a battle of wills. (Side note, a battle of wills is an arm of patriarchy and this is one of the failing systems we need to evolve past.) If you force yourself upon them, you’ll attract those that probably would have come along at some point anyhow (this is what most direct action does). The goal isn’t to preach to the choir, is it? So see the other as equal, open yourself to them, and talk without judgment. Don’t talk about them. People are intimidated by too much responsibility so blame and shame, or something you say that can be interoperated as such, keeps the gap open. Yes, we are all individually responsible but society is too. Let a person see the problem and steer them to their own realization that they can contribute to change by being personally responsible.
Oh and never talk about it over a meal, even a vegan meal. Ask the person to speak to you, if they are still interested, when the eating time is over. No exceptions to this. This way you show them you respect them and they show you they are actually interested to talk.