|Photography by Melissa Schwartz, Schwartz Studios for vGirls|vGuys Project|
Recently, Melissa Schwartz of Schwartzstudios interviewed me for her vGirls|vGuys project to bring attention to our Vegan / Animal Rights movement. She's by far one of the most talented photographers in West LA area, and also happens to be as passionate about our Vegan, Plant-based Lifestyle as me! There will be more from the photoshoot to come. Below is the interview which gives a little insight into my passion and what drives me to share my experiences with everyone I meet. I don't subscribe to diet fads, nor do I like to put labels on my lifestyle. The simple fact is: I care about my body, I care about animals, I care about humanity, and I care about the Earth; therefore I consume only nutrients from plant-based sources which do not harm or endanger our fellow earthlings.
vGirl: Karinna Zarate
SS: What made you go vegan and why?
KZ: Throughout my childhood, I always loved little creatures; from bugs to pigs, flying birds to crawling sea creatures. I was absolutely mystified by the intricacies of animal features, their personalities, and behaviors. I felt very connected spiritually to animal friends. I was raised in a loving, close-knit, and supportive family and was taught compassion and kindness from a young age. I fostered and adopted rescued animals, I advocated against puppy mills and irresponsible breeders throughout college, I even wrote essays on the horrific pet food industry; but I didn't question my diet until I had my own children. In 2007, when my twin daughters were newborn, I started to develop a rash on my arms and legs out of no where. I had been drinking what seemed like gallons of whole "organic" milk postpartum. Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong and it wasn't until I stopped drinking the milk that I realized there was something very toxic in that substance. I gave up milk products after all my research into the terrible conditions cows have to go through and the sadness of the veal industry. In the next few days, fate would lead me to the film: "I am an Animal," the story of Ingrid Newkirk of PeTA. The very moment the movie was over, in tears, I went to my kitchen and got rid of everything that was not plant-based. I made a PROMISE that night to myself and my 3 children lying asleep, safe in their rooms, that I would never ever consume, wear, use, or purchase any product that contributes to the suffering of sentient creatures. Those images of the poor little animals suffering the fear and pain of death, the videos (taken undercover because NO ONE wants you to see the TRUTH) changed my life forever.
In order to make a positive change in your life, you have to really feel it deep inside. You need to see the truth and not hide from it. Throughout the years, I have become so used to the attacks on my lifestyle, style choices, my vehement convictions, my diet -- but there is nothing that will ever make me go back or accept the suffering of animals as a way of life. I want all my friends and acquaintances to see that it is not only possible to be 100% plant-built, it is the optimal way of life for our bodies, for our health and longevity, and for the energy of the world to end the hatred and violence and evolve to a more peaceful state.
SS: Has it been difficult for you? If yes what was difficult and did it get easier?
KZ: After I made the decision to go Vegan overnight, my true strength shined through -- the only thing that was difficult was that I had to do quite a bit of research and dig back into my nutrition texts from college. I realized that I had animal products or by-products at every single meal. You definitely have to shift your entire mindset. I had to first define pure veganism, then identify every ingredient in a food product to make sure it had no meat, egg, fish, honey, gelatin, casein, milk, whey, etc. Once I found my favorite brands of certified vegan foods, this became easier. I also found that cooking for my family was easier now, as the most important ingredients come from the Farmer's Market or Produce Aisle in the store! I didn't use too many processed vegan foods -- just good wholesome legumes, nuts, grains, greens, and fruits. Another challenging aspect is the criticism you receive; for some reason,some people instantly get defensive when you say you're vegan, as if taking my lifestyle choice as an attack on theirs. I refuse to allow ignorance on the subject to create a divide between my non-vegan friends and I. I have always been great at bringing people together from all walks of life and I plan to continue to do that in a kind, compassionate way. Finding new foods has definitely gotten easier! There are so many amazing products out there. I think it is sad when a person gives up and goes back to eating and wearing animals. There is no reason to go back on our natural evolution.
SS: What are some animal rights related things that you participate in?
KZ: I am very active in my community and I continue to support charities and organizations that advocate the proper treatment of animals. I have a very wide scope and reach in the way I view the impact of Veganism--from the individual to the environment of the entire planet. I believe that the support of healthy plant-based eating, engaging people looking to lose weight, being involved with healthcare agencies in the communities impacted by diabetes and obesity, and the support of local farms as opposed to distant factory farms -- will all help to stop the inhumane treatment of animals. I've planned events for several charities, animal healthcare drives, and I strongly advocate fostering and rescuing animals. I was fortunate to be involved in a large scale event which took place at Seth MacFarlane's home in Hollywood Hills which benefitted his mother's foundation: Perry's Place/Heavenly Pets. I am always looking for new events to be a part of! I organize events for Food Day, and PCRM. I regularly attend tradeshows and seminars to discover specialty food products that are all vegan and therefore contributing to our animal rights movement. I only support companies that are green, sustainable, environmentally friendly and never test on animals.
SS: What are your favorite animal rights organizations?
KZ: First of all, the organization that made me go vegan: PeTA!!! I also really love Mercy for Animals for their hard work, research, undercover operations, and informative articles. The ASPCA is a great organization helping link foster parents to animal companions and ensuring animals are not needlessly euthanized for lack of space or funding. There are so many to mention! I'm very involved in the scientific side of the animal rights movement which doesn't focus so much on the animal suffering aspect, but the positive benefits of eliminating animal products from our diets and lifestyles as well as the environmental toll of the animal products industries. Notably, two organizations: PCRM.org - Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Non-GMO project.
SS: What would you say to somebody who is considering going vegan?
KZ: Going Vegan will literally change your life. Your improved skin complexion, your shinier hair, your brighter smile, your inner glow -- those are just the selfish ways you will benefit. You will be around longer and healthier with your kids, your grandkids, your spouse and loved ones! Do not be discouraged if you try and find it too challenging. Just go fully vegan and never go back. Doctors even may tell you, you need the Proteins or Omega-3's or Iron or Vitamin B-12 in meat products, but do not allow that to stop you. There are plant-based sources of all of those nutrients and there is no reason to give up on yourself!
SS: Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind about someone saving an animal? Or relating to an animal in a unique way?
KZ: I have so many beautiful memories of animals that it is hard to believe I wasn't vegan all my life. I've always had a strong connection to animals and I considered my first child to be my little Chihuahua Chiquita. She brightened my life for 8 years. I remember saving crabs on the beaches of Mexico as a child, wondering why people would fish just to throw them back in the water, injured. I remember crying once when a friend of mine ran over a little squirrel in the road while i was a passenger in the car. I remember seeing my little "nephew" Majik as a baby puppy outside a store one day 12 years ago. I couldn't allow the woman to give him away to just anyone. So, since my parents wouldn't let me keep another doggie, I gave him to my sister Karime and her newlywed husband. Majik is still in the family today and he has had a loving amazing life! Animals have always been a part of my life and I truly hope that the work that I do in this world will help to save as many animals as possible before I'm gone