MGU 111 | Plant-Based Budget

 

The common misconception about healthy eating is that it is, in itself, an expensive undertaking. In a world where we’re all struggling to make ends meet, having to spend more than necessary is the furthest thing anyone wants to do. However, healthy eating as expensive can be far from the truth. In fact, you can stay healthy on a budget and save some money. In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen talk to Toni Okamoto about vegan couponing that helps you with financial security as well as relieve food stress. Toni is the founder of Plant-Based on a Budget, a popular website and meal plan that shows you how to save dough by eating veggies. Through this conversation, she talks about how she manages to help others live and eat healthily without worrying about their COVID-19 budget, especially as we are in survival mode. Touching on the prevailing judgment and harassment on social media about our food choices, Toni, Jason, and Whitney then discuss the vegan infighting going on. They dive deep into food privilege, social media bullying, and money shame. Join in on this honest conversation where they talk more about our health and finances, and, most of all, remind us to have compassion for how others live.

Listen to the podcast here:

Eating Healthily And Thrive With Plant-Based On A Budget With Toni Okamoto

The last time I had the pleasure of hanging out with Toni was back in November of 2019, which feels like years ago at this point. We were both speaking at the Remedy Food Event at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington. Toni, I had the great pleasure of not only sharing the stage with you and watching your beautiful presentation but also emceeing the 24-karat Culinary Cooking Competition. You did such an amazing job. It was my first time emceeing. I felt more like a referee, honestly. I remember how wonderful your food was and how composed you were under pressure. Props to you under all of that pressure and all those eyeballs on you. You pulled out some incredible recipes that afternoon.

I loved that competition and I had never done anything like that. If anyone knows Chef AJ, it was pretty intimidating because her personality is so much different than mine. She was getting the crowd fired up and had a big personality while I’m introverted. You say I was composed. Mostly I was shy and nervous, but it ended up being fun and exciting. As my dad always says, “You don’t have to be the loudest talker in the room to win.” We ended up winning that competition and everyone had a good time.

It seems like it was incredibly long ago. Since then, we have been in a global situation, not in the US, of so much uncertainty and economic instability and people trying to save money and feed their families and do the best they can. Toni, my first introduction to you, and I’m sure Whitney feels the same, was getting introduced to your work about how to eat plant-based and eat healthily and thrive, but also saving money and doing it on a budget. I’m curious in this time period since we saw one another, how your work in the world and teaching people and instructing them on how to save money while eating plant-based. Has there been a lot more attention on your work, given the fact that we’re all in this massive period of economic uncertainty? What’s been showing up for you? What comments and emails have you been getting and what attention has your work been getting through throughout this period specifically?

It’s been an interesting time. Many people who are reading have been thrown for a loop. I was getting ready to go on the second half of my book tour for my book Plant-Based on a Budget, then COVID happened and I thought, “How am I going to sell books? How am I going to reach people?” I was doing a media tour and that’s how I rely on people finding Plant-Based on a Budget. With that not happening, we had to totally go into a new game plan. I did virtual new segments from my kitchen, and it was such a funky time. The new stations were also having the same learning curve where I couldn’t see them. One time, some TV station turned around their computer monitor to look at a TV so that I could watch them and talk to them through the computer monitor and the TV.

I got access to a lot of people that I wouldn’t have heard from otherwise. People were stressing out. They had gotten laid off and wanted to feed their family healthy food, but we’re now in a position of not having any money and not having their children being fed breakfast and lunch through school. I focused a lot on getting families to eat healthy together. Also, on basic cooking. I learned through hearing from a lot of people that they had been relying on fast food and more convenient foods like frozen or canned. This was their first time exploring rice, beans and lentils. They were asking simple questions like, “How do I cook rice?” It sounds funny to people who have been cooking for a long time, but the truth is that the majority of people are not exposed to basic cooking skills until much later in life, if at all. That’s where I’ve been focusing my time. I’ve done a lot of Instagram Live and a lot of virtual events. I’m trying to navigate this as best as anyone else. It’s such an interesting time. I do feel for people who are in financial hardship right now because it’s stressful to want to stay healthy, but then financial stress is a whole different beast.

What are some of the things that you start people with? You mentioned cooking rice or cooking beans and things like that. When you get emails and DMs from people, what’s a ground zero for them? Is it learning to cook grains, sauté veggies? I’m asking you because I’m trying to get back into that beginner’s mindset as well. For the three of us, Whitney, Toni and myself, we’ve all been cooking for ourselves and so passionate about the culinary arts and nutrition for so long. That beginner’s mindset, Toni, getting back to that for a second. What’s ground zero for most people to teach them? Is it literally boiling water? Is it chopping vegetables? Is it learning how to use a chef’s knife for the first time? What does that look like?

It’s learning how to grocery shop first and learning what ingredients pair with other ingredients, what is going to be the most nutrient-dense for the smallest amount of money and stocking your pantry and refrigerator with healthy inexpensive foods. That’s the hardest part. When I originally started Plant-Based on A Budget way back when, I had all these recipes on the website, but they weren’t cohesive. They weren’t helpful to people who only had $50 or $40 to spend on a week’s worth of food because they would try to make two recipes that didn’t pair well together. They had to buy all these ingredients. Even though they were inexpensive, it still didn’t stretch. Two meals wouldn’t stretch for the whole seven days.

I took the feedback I was receiving and created a meal plan that had a printable grocery shopping list, photos and a step by step of how to cook the rice, how to cook the beans from scratch. I made it very simple based on the feedback I was receiving because it is so challenging to not only transition away from foods that you may have once loved but then to have no experience. I remember going plant-based myself. I had never had kale. I had never even heard of quinoa. I thought that black beans and brown rice were for fancy people. It seemed so foreign to me. I’ve never heard of a butternut squash and it can be an overwhelming process without that guidance. It started with learning ingredients.

Set yourself up for success forever, not in the immediate time. Click To Tweet

This is such an interesting thing because the times are changing so much. From what I’m hearing, Toni, it’s so insightful to learn more about what other people are going through. That’s one of the ongoing lessons that we have from COVID. If we’re open to it and if we’re paying attention, we can see how many people around the world have completely different experiences from us. Whether that’s where we live, how we were raised, or our education. Money is always such an interesting subject matter and food. It’s interesting too because I did a similar book project back in 2014 when I did my eBook Healthy Organic Vegan on a Budget and studying the food system and learning different ways to save money was so interesting. Getting that peek into that world of the facts around how some people don’t have access in the way that I have had access to food.

That can be literal access. It depends on where you live in the world and how much money you’re making, or how much money your family makes. When you put in this situation of COVID and how people’s jobs are compromised or health is compromised, it adds in this whole new level of stress that was already there. I almost feel you could write a whole book on plant-based on a budget during uncertain times, Toni, if you haven’t done anything like that yet. It’s super interesting, even if it’s a PDF or something because I’m sure you’re learning so much about how to support people during tough times.

Have people brought this up to you, what their experience has been and does it seem people are interacting with you and sharing about their hardships in a new way? Are they being vulnerable around it or does it feel people are scared to talk about that subject of where they’re at financially? I feel there’s a lot of that happening to it. It almost feels there’s shame involved with money. I don’t want to tell people how bad things are for me, but the trick is when you don’t talk about it, then you don’t get the opportunity for somebody to support you with it.

It is tough. Sometimes you feel within yourself a little bit of shame or embarrassment with being on a tight budget. I talk about this in Plant-Based on a Budget, my book, and something that sticks out to me is what my dad used to tell me when he was totally embarrassing me. Both my parents were totally embarrassing me at the grocery store with coupons and we were holding up the line. My mom had this accordion folder and she’d dig through it and be like, “I’ve got a coupon for that. I have a coupon for that.” It was such an embarrassing thing as a kid. I remember bringing it up. I’m like, “Can you stop?” My dad told me, “Those people behind us don’t pay our bills, so they can wait.”

It’s always stuck with me. What we carry is mostly within ourselves. The people behind you probably don’t even care. They’re probably on their phone. They’re probably thinking about how tough their day at work was. If we can let that self-shame go, it makes the process and the progress much easier. I’ve seen through COVID a few different waves of feelings happen. First, it was survival mode. People were not engaging with my content at all because they were so busy trying to make sure they had supplies at home. They were so uncertain about their jobs and everything else that was going to happen in their lives. As people felt more secure in their homes, they started to learn how to cook their food.

I remember we pitched a TV segment about how you stocked up on beans and now you have 40 cans you don’t know what to do with. That’s where I came in probably a couple of months into COVID, trying to teach people how to use these pantry staples that they purchased in bulk, like the brown rice and canned beans and things like that. There’s something that you said and it reminds me that as vegans, especially when you first start and you’re fired up and passionate, you want everyone to make this lifestyle change with you. You’re not sure why people aren’t doing it as hastily as you feel it should be done. I hear it all the time. People say, “They’re excuses.” Sometimes people have valid concerns and obstacles to overcome. Sharing some compassion and some grace goes a long way. I understand feeling the desire to make a change immediately. I try to think of the long game. I try to think of setting up yourself for success forever, not in the immediate time. That helps me as an activist, but also as a vegan myself.

It is interesting for those of us who have been plant-based for a long time. I certainly felt some insecurity when COVID first started developing in the United States and there was so much panic around food. Going to the grocery store felt so stressful. Thinking about it right now, I had forgotten about this feeling, but I remember for the first couple of months, on March and April 2020, I dreaded going to the grocery store. Part of that was because there was so much confusion around was it even safe to leave your home? Are you putting yourself at risk there? Remember what that was like? I don’t know if this is how much things have changed where you are in Northern California, Toni, but in Los Angeles, it was nuts for at least a month or so. Every time you would try to go to the grocery store, there was this chance that you’d be waiting in line for 30 minutes or more.

You go in there and then the food was so scarce. Some stores, there was plenty of plant-based food. There were all these memes going around about how the vegans were so lucky because nobody wanted our food, but that wasn’t always the case in LA. Being a pretty open-minded city with food and health-focused city, there certainly are a lot of vegans here that would go and buy these things. You go to the grocery store and could barely find tofu anymore. The basics were harder to find at times than some of the more processed foods. It was hard to find beans and rice or flour at certain points. For me, that stress of going to the store. I remember one time going into Whole Foods. I went first thing in the morning. I got into the store. It was the longest line I’ve ever seen in a grocery store in my life. It was at whenever they open.

MGU 111 | Plant-Based Budget

Plant-Based on a Budget: Delicious Vegan Recipes for Under $30 a Week, in Less Than 30 Minutes a Meal

I don’t know if they open at 7:00 or 7:30 maybe. It was super early. The parking lot was overflowing. There was barely anything on the shelves and I’m walking around feeling like I’m in some movie. My main point is that even though I’ve been plant-based for so long, I was forgetting what foods I should eat. I was so overwhelmed. My heart goes out to anyone who is newer to the plant-based way of eating during a time like that where you go to the grocery store and you can barely even think straight because you’re feeling so stressed and scared and everyone around you is stressed and scared.

If you’re trying to save money, I found a lot of that requires planning. There are certain stores that changed their policies and they wouldn’t do certain things because they were stressed out. I don’t know if that’s changed with couponing. I don’t know if they would not take coupons. It even felt weird at times to ask for discounts at certain places or to use a coupon code you had online. My heart would feel bad for the businesses there that are also trying to survive. It’s a long-winded way of saying that this whole system of the way that we eat, which is so important for our survival, became incredibly challenging for everybody, no matter where they’re at financially or dietarily.

I went to the grocery store probably the first week when things were getting to be a little bit more hectic in Sacramento and I was able to get a lot of the necessities. I didn’t know what was about to happen yet. The grocery stores were still calm, but my mother-in-law, she is very much a worrier. She loves to worry and she called me. She was like, “You need to get a hand sanitizer. You need cans of beans. You need it for months. Get water, get all this.” I was like, “I’ll get some beans and I’ll get one hand sanitizer.” Maybe a week later, everything was gone everywhere. I went back to the same store. It was one of those big warehouse stores too.

It’s called WinCo. It’s here in Sacramento. It’s a big, giant warehouse grocery store. The line went all the way around the inside and then out of the door to the outside. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I walked in and walked right back out because at the same time, I was worried about COVID. I was hearing how it could be fatal and I didn’t want to infect my family. There’s that stress. I hadn’t been going to counseling and I called up my counselor and I was like, “This is so much. I don’t know what’s happening with my job. I don’t know what’s happening with food. I don’t know if I should be scared at my house.” It all worked out for me and I’m grateful for that. I also was carrying what could happen for my friends who rely on bars to hire their band or where I swing dance, the venue shutting down completely and not being able to survive the next few months. I was also scared for my friends and it was a lot, plus you can’t find food.

It’s the ultimate fear. I used to love going to the grocery store. Fortunately, for the last couple of months, it feels like things are shifting where it’s easier. It’s rare that there’s a line to get into a grocery store these days, which I’m so grateful for, but still, you go in there and they limit how many people are in the store, which is nice. They have the hand sanitizers and some stores have the arrows on the floor about what path you’re supposed to walk. It’s sad to me what used to bring me so much joy and be this easy thing. Popping into a grocery store quickly to grab something was not something that I was able to do for a while.

It completely shifted my relationship with food. It’s also a good thing for us to experience because not everybody has the privilege of having a good experience around food. For some, it’s literally a matter of life or death and they’re eating to get by. It’s not a matter of like, “I can go into the store. My biggest challenge is figuring out what plant-based meat I’m going to have.” It’s opened my eyes to a lot of the struggles that people have around making decisions or getting access to things.

I’ve had a weird relationship with food my whole life, and it’s not weird in a way that I completely understand. Most of it comes down to I had never been brought up to understand that the food that I was consuming was from more than taste. That meant I didn’t even notice we didn’t have a lot of grocery store options around me all the time, especially when I lived in a smaller town near Sacramento. It’s called Woodland. Near us, we didn’t have a lot of grocery stores. We ate fast food a lot. We relied on Hamburger Helper. It didn’t even register to me until I was much older. That’s what a lot of people experience, not having that access to fresh food and not even knowing about it until they’re experiencing diet-related health issues.

That mirrors my experience growing up, Toni, in some interesting ways, and we talk about the intersection of accessibility, food security, food deserts, and privilege. My mom told me that when I was young, she had an aim to make my baby food from scratch as she could. Growing up in the city of Detroit, even when I go back to our old neighborhood, which was on the far west side of Detroit, that neighborhood still, in many ways, a very food insecure part of Detroit. Even to this day, when I go back home and visit once or twice a year, but driving those old streets, I still look around and it’s corner stores and it’s liquor stores. I’m not throwing them under the bus, but Little Caesars pizza and Hungry Howie’s and sub shops. There are not a lot of places to find fresh produce.

Have an open mind that understands how there could be reasons people believe what they believe. Click To Tweet

I remember my mom telling me stories when I was little, that she would make over an hour drive to a suburb called Ann Arbor, Michigan because they had organic food and a little farmer’s market there. Once a week she would go and drive an hour to get this produce to make my baby food. That’s crazy to think about driving an hour outside of your neighborhood just to find that access to food. It’s not that way now, but there still are a lot of those glaring elements of inequality and food insecurity. If you’re in downtown Detroit, as an example, there’s a place called Eastern Market, which to my knowledge, is one of the oldest consistently running farmer’s markets in the US. Whole Foods finally built a location there but that’s one example of a very economically stressed city among many.

You think about Baltimore, about Pittsburgh where food insecurity and people not necessarily even having the means to drive an hour away. My mom had the blessing of having a vehicle to be able to make that trek. You think people that are struggling in poverty, they’re not necessarily going to be willing to take a bus or take public transportation all that way to get healthy foods. One of the biggest things that I want to figure out is how do we get healthy foods, plant-based foods, organic foods, more accessible, available, and affordable to the people that need it to heal their bodies. I’m not sure that I have an answer yet to that. I’m not sure I’m even anywhere close to an answer.

The most unfortunate part of that is it ultimately comes down to the community helping instead of the government. I feel like people who are finding solutions are doing it for their own communities and growing food in vacant parking lots or vacant lots or on the space of ground between the street and the sidewalk. They’re looking for ways to bring healthy food, fresh food into their communities. I appreciate and support that. I wish there were better solutions and that it came from a higher up. People who are experiencing these problems themselves weren’t having to find the solutions to take care of themselves and their communities. It’s a lot of weight to bear when you’re already stressed about being in a tough financial spot.

There’s also the other side of it that is interesting. There’s a lot of shame around eating processed food, especially for anyone who is eating vegan and plant-based. Sometimes I hesitate to use the word plant-based because it’s often associated with a whole foods diet. I know for me, I struggle a lot with this mentality of being afraid to admit that I eat some processed foods. For instance, I went to KFC to try their new Beyond Chicken. I was like, “I’m not going to post about this on social media because I don’t want the whole food, plant-based people to be judging me or shaming me for my decision to eat that.” That mentality is also detrimental because if we put this whole stigma on eating those foods, A, there are people who enjoy eating those foods from time to time. B, if you put shame around it, what about somebody who either doesn’t have access to the fresh produce or is not at that point where they want to eat unprocessed foods?

If you say like, “That’s not good for you,” and you shame them so much, they’re going to feel awful about their food choices when that might be all they know where all they want at this time. From a mental health standpoint, that’s dangerous. There’s so much food shaming that goes on, especially within the vegan world too. There’s so much judgment about what type of vegan food or plant-based food that you eat. I know that’s caused me a great deal of stress over the years. How about you two?

Yes. I will take it a step further and say that there’s a lot of shaming in general and that there’s a lot of courage behind a keyboard that people are having. They’re forgetting the humanity of everyone they’re being mean to on the other side of the screen. It makes me sad. I remember reading our mutual friend Michelle Cehn’s YouTube channel. Michelle has a YouTube channel called World of Vegan. I go and comment on her videos and I support it. I was watching What I Eat in a Day video and she had gotten a haircut and I thought it was very nice. Someone said, “I wish you wouldn’t have gotten a haircut. Now you look like another basic bitch.” Usually, I let it go. People comment mean things to her all the time on her YouTube and I let it go, but that one, I couldn’t. It made me so mad. I wondered, “Who are you to think you can say that to someone? Does your family know that you speak to people in such a disrespectful manner? I’m sure they would not be happy.”

Perhaps or sometimes it is the result of growing up with family members who speak that way and we learn so much from the people around us and what’s acceptable or not. It is an ongoing struggle. For the three of us and many people that we know are close friends like Michelle and so many other content creators out there, it’s tough. Certainly, I’m at a point right now where I don’t even create YouTube videos. Sometimes I can’t handle the number of cruel things that people say. I think about that almost every single day because I am trying to find a way to still find joy and give myself permission to go on and share things.

There were times where I’d feel free about posting an Instagram Story like, “Look what I’m eating.” At a certain point, you can feel so bullied by other people and judged by them that something as simple as me sharing that I went to KFC to try the Beyond Meat Nuggets. I’m afraid to do stuff like that because there’s the fear of being judged as a whole whether somebody says something or not to you or being unfollowed because you don’t align with the way of eating that this person has. It’s tricky.

MGU 111 | Plant-Based Budget

Plant-Based Budget: Remember that deep down inside, people could be good instead of seeing the worst in everybody.

 

Going back to the other side of it, beyond being content creators like we are, I also think that there is so much privilege in saying those things. Food is such a complicated, personal, and sometimes even political thing. We have no idea why somebody is making the decision to eat certain foods and this idea of everybody should eat the healthiest diet possible. As if anybody knows what the healthiest diet is. It’s incredibly relative to each person. This ongoing judgment, I don’t think it helps the movement very much. Going back to what you were saying, Toni, about how there’s this big challenge in the vegan movement of infighting and fighting with the insiders and the outsiders, there’s so much fighting period that it’s ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ mentality. Jason, I’m curious for you to chime in on this too. I know you struggle with this a lot.

I share the general sentiments that the three of us are putting out there from day one that I was putting out content. It’s interesting because I feel within the activist community, we’re talking pre-social media now, even before MySpace. I remember talking to mutual friends of mine back in Detroit area where I grew up about a lot of the infighting within the vegan activist community, the sustainable and eco rights community and the overlap there. I feel what social media has done is it’s created a magnifying glass and the microscope to what is already going on within people’s minds and personalities and hearts. It’s bringing up some wonderful contributions to humanity, but also some painful dark, unhealed trauma.

This is anecdotal evidence. I’m not throwing every single person who is a vegan or plant-based activist under the bus, but I’ve noticed having lived this way and eaten this way for many years now that there’s a lot of trauma in this community. The trauma from perhaps people’s pain, rejection, being physically harmed, knowing a lot of people in the vegan movement. Any of the unhealed trauma or pain that they haven’t worked through gets projected onto others in the form of perfectionism idealism, having a standard in their mind, they’re not fully living up to. Thinking that if I try and be this standard and act the standard, then maybe that will get me to a place of healing.

Subconsciously that’s what’s going on for a lot of people, but I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of mean hurtful comments, things that were so off the wall and bizarre that made no sense at all. To piggyback on Whitney’s comment about you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t, the only psychological standpoint I can come from is that if a person is in pain and they’re hurting. They are in a bad place psychologically, that’s the only reason I could see someone making a comment like, “Your hair cut makes you look a basic bitch.” One of my favorite comments from all the years ago when I had my TV series, it was like, “His nose is huge.” It’s something about looking like an ogre or some shit. It was like, “What does my nose have to do with anything?” What I’m trying to say to both of you is I try. I’m not always successful. I try to have compassion for someone who feels the need to make those comments because there’s something not psychologically healthy about that person.

I’ll say that you are a lot nicer than I am. That is my goal. What you’re saying is my goal. I’ve had many privileges in my life and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. I do my daily gratitude and I try hard to be a positive person, but my family, the way they communicate, is pretty harsh. My dad, he says it all the time that he’s a sailor, he was a construction worker, in the Navy and a truck driver. My grandfather owned a truck driving company. The language used among those groups of people is pretty harsh. It was common to curse and to be a little bit insensitive. At some point, I had to choose how I wanted to be and how I wanted to communicate with people and to not take on qualities that I didn’t appreciate.

I learned a lot of it from going to elementary school where they tell you, “You can’t talk to people like that. You shouldn’t call people stupid. You shouldn’t say that word.” I went to a normal public school in a neighborhood where many people were first and second-generation Americans. It was diverse but primarily Mexican-American. It could have been from what I’ve seen from my own family. I could have stayed using the same language as some of my family members. There is a lot of trauma that has been in my family and in my own life, but I feel at some point we have to choose to be kind. Sometimes that means looking into a book at the library if you can, or renting one to listen to from the library. That’s how I got access to a lot of new ideas that were different from my very conservative family.

I chose a different path. Some of my family members are very homophobic. Some of my family members are not the way I personally want to be. You have to choose not to be mean. It can be hard, but I believe it can be done. It makes me have a shorter fuse when people are so mean to each other. They’re mean to me all the time. For the most part, I let it roll because it happens so frequently on a daily basis even. You, Jason, have that kind and generous frame of thought that there could be a good reason for it.

I’ve seen the ebbs and flows with Jason and with myself and we’re the first to admit that we’re not always having a balanced perspective on these things and we each get triggered. Wouldn’t you say so, Jason?

You don't often win hearts and minds through being mean to them on the internet. Click To Tweet

I don’t want to paint a false picture, Toni. I’m nowhere near sainthood. This is a practice right now during COVID with all of the political rhetoric, conspiracy theories, medical information, and conflicting medical information. It’s almost every day that I will open Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and without hunting for it. It’s not like I’m looking for conflict. Friends and acquaintances’ feeds will pop up and 70% or 80% of the time, it seems that there’s some shouting match, diatribe or conflict happening in the comment section. What I’m trying to do is to come at this from not only a psychological perspective but a perspective of ego and trauma and what people want.

A lot of people are feeling scared, disempowered and confused, and they don’t have control right now. It’s a pretty natural reaction to life when a person believes that they’re out of control, confused and scared to try and assume some control and certainty in their lives. When I see people bashing each other of like, “You’re pro-Trump, you’re Antifa. No, you’re way too Liberal and the Democrats are ruining that.” It’s more of this binary thinking that we see in the food and nutrition world. It’s like, “The vegans are assholes.” “No, the paleo people are assholes.” “No, you should be keto.” “No, you should be 80-10-10.” It goes back to me to a psychological foundation of people trying to have some control and certainty.

“I’ve found the way. This is the way to be political. This is the way to worship. This is the way to eat. I am right. You’re wrong. I have found the holy grail. Anyone who denies the holy grail is an idiot and I’m going to tell you why.” It’s a lot of ego, but underneath the ego is a lot of fear. I don’t think that people would necessarily admit to that, but that’s my take on it. People are afraid right now. By lashing out and engaging in conflict and trying to make themselves feel right, that’s a way for them to somehow compartmentalize the chaos that’s happening in the world.

I understand what you’re saying. When I think about it in that way, I very much agree with you. What I’m more talking about is when people have petty, mean spirited comments. On my first book, I wore red lipstick on my author photo. In one of the reviews, someone said they were so distracted by me looking like a prostitute that they couldn’t even get the book because it was too much for them. Those kinds of comments are so common. I know female authors who have experienced the same superficial comments that my male friends who are authors have not experienced like what they were wearing in their author photos or how they did their hair or what they chose to wear as makeup. It’s those types of comments that I have little to no tolerance for.

What you’re saying, I do understand, I understand that the world is not black and white and it has taken me a long time to get there. When I was first stepping into activism, especially in the vegan space, I thought meat is murder. We need to all stop this now immediately. If you don’t, I hate you. It was very much black and white. Over time, I’ve begun to understand the real-life obstacles I was mentioning that people face. Their partners aren’t plant-based, their children have specific health needs or food needs and financial stress. There are so many obstacles that I understand how it can be overwhelming. The same goes with a lot of other important matters. Some people haven’t had exposure to different information and they feel so passionately.

As I mentioned, I grew up in a pretty conservative household and I didn’t have a lot of friends who thought differently. I hung out with my family all the time and believed for most of my teenage years until I found punk rock music that I saw things in a certain way that I was brought up to think. It wasn’t until I left my family’s house and got more exposure to new people and to new ideas that it helped me shape the person I am. That’s mostly having an open mind understanding that there could be reasons people believe what they believe. Deep down inside they could be good people instead of seeing the worst in everybody.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that for me, and I’ve learned this through being involved in the vegan space online, you don’t often win hearts and minds through being mean to them on the internet. What I’ve seen work in all different fashions of my life is that through being a kind ambassador for whatever you’re trying to put out there. Over a long period of time and over many respectful conversations, that’s when change is made. It’s not made by calling someone out online and telling them they’re a terrible person. That’s my experience.

In a way, I feel grateful to have experienced these things and know other people that have because my coping mechanism is to step back and reflect on like, “Why am I triggered by this? Why do I feel this way? Going back to what Jason was saying, what could that person have experienced that led them to say those things? Also recognizing that there’s no way for me to know. I’ve tried to approach it from so many different angles, as I’m sure the two of you have. There’s like, “I’m going to let it go and let it roll off my back.” I don’t even know if I’m fully capable of doing that.

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Plant-Based Budget: It’s a lot of extra pressure when it’s no longer only you, and you worry about the people you care deeply about and their families who rely on them to bring home the income.

 

Whether it’s my personality or whether it’s my own wounds, things don’t roll off my back very easily. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to become that type of person and create that armor, as they say, and a thicker skin. It’s like, “I either haven’t figured it out yet, or I’m never going to, and that’s okay.” Being in acceptance of this may never be easy for me. I also like to reflect on what it brings up for me because then I can learn something out of it. At least it wasn’t wasted. The challenging part is that when it gets in your way when it stops you and prevents you, and that’s where I’ve been.

As I start to get so in my head about it, and this is where the inner critic comes in, sometimes we are triggered by these things because we believe them on some level or we had some emotional or a different form of trauma when we are growing up. These things can feel hard and hurtful. For me, going back to that coping mechanism, it’s like, “The best I can do is work on myself.” I don’t want to reflect back any anger to somebody else because I don’t know why they said those things to me and I’m not going to be able to change them. Coming back to this vegan thing, a lot of vegans are judgmental because it’s coming from a place of deep concern or anger. When you learn the realities of how animals are treated, it’s hard not to get angry about it.

It’s tempting to want to change everybody and then convince anyone. It’s the same with health as well. During COVID, how many people are arguing about whether or not to wear a mask? It’s like, some people see it as a black or white situation. They have a good reason for wearing a mask or not wearing it. It creates a debate because people are coming at it from all these different perspectives and you see how triggered we can get from these scenarios. Each of those are opportunities for me to notice my own reactions. As you were saying, Toni, it’s a choice how we react. Yet it’s not always an easy choice because when we are feeling emotionally charged, it can make it hard to control ourselves.

I want to go back to quickly for both of you, Toni and Whitney, there are a couple of things that I want to touch back on. Toni, you mentioned that you don’t observe male content creators in our space having nearly the same vitriol and hateful comments regarding our appearance. I have to 100% agree with that. I’m curious for both of you, because off the record, having been best friends with Whitney for so long, I know that Whitney’s also had some comments over the years. I’m curious when both of you receive specific about your appearance, how you look your weight, etc., how do you emotionally process those comments and not allow them to consume you or not allow yourself to believe that those things are true about yourself? If you do start believing that they’re true, how do you, proverbially speaking, talk yourself off the ledge and not let that stuff get in your head?

I have a lot of experience now receiving that negative comment. Some of it bothers me more than others. What I have decided to focus on are things I can control. People hate my voice, and I hear it all the time. They tell me about it on my podcast. They tell me on my videos, “I hate your voice. I can’t listen to it. It’s too much.” Even on Michelle’s videos I’m in, some people comment on that. Those things did hurt my feelings at first. I thought, “Should I get voice training? Should I do this?” I was talking to my husband, but boyfriend at the time, and I thought, “All of these people are saying that. Should I try to change my voice?”

Fortunately, I have a strong support system that I rely on and both he and Michelle were like, “No. These people, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Just do you. You’re doing a fantastic job in life. You don’t need to worry about your voice.” That’s important, surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up. There are some others that are superficial that I don’t think that any male content creators would have to deal with. I wore shorts in a video that I was in and in the video, I was walking into a restaurant and people started commenting on my butt. Fortunately, the person who was running the channel deleted all of them. I appreciated that, but those are annoying. I don’t like that, but I didn’t feel I should never shorts again.

I probably would have said something to them. I don’t know what, but it is in my nature to correct that behavior, to be like, “That’s not cool,” or something that. I wish it was not something I had to do. There are different levels of things that hurt and don’t hurt. My hands are another thing that people have commented on about. When I’m doing food videos, they say my hands are very unappetizing. That made me mad. There are different things, hurt and mad. Should I change this? Through all of it, having people like my husband and Michelle and my parents who I can talk these things through with and who lift me up when I’m starting to feel blue has been important in my journey.

It’s tough for me to say. My coping mechanism is to step back and examine it. Sometimes that leads me to a place of not wanting to continue doing what I was doing. I get most triggered by YouTube because YouTube in general, has such a culture of commenting on other people. It makes me sad. The more time I spend off of YouTube, the more I think, “Do I even want to be on that platform anymore?” I felt I had to be there because I had developed such a community in that space. Much of the content has been based on YouTube. Luckily now, it seems to be shifting a lot.

Change is not made by calling someone out online and telling them they're a terrible person. Click To Tweet

Instagram is another big place. I don’t think that people are necessarily as cruel in my experience on Instagram with the work that I’m doing. That doesn’t mean that doesn’t happen. I follow a lot of body positivity accounts and they often post about the cruel comments that they receive, so I know it’s happening and it’s sad. It’s stepping back to reflect on it. It’s also important for us, as Toni is saying, to step outside of our own worlds and viewpoints because it’s very easy as content creators to become so limited in our thinking in some ways. YouTube was such a huge part of my life. Now that it’s becoming less and less a part of my life, I’m slowly looking outside of YouTube, if that makes sense.

It’s not this be all end all platform where I was so consumed with all the time. I felt so much of my career was centered around YouTube. Now, I’m thinking it’s not about YouTube and it never has been. That’s been a way a medium in which for me to reach people, but I’ll be okay if I don’t create videos on YouTube anymore. The same thing is true with Instagram. Many people get fixated on these platforms. Now, I’m seeing this on TikTok where I enjoy TikTok, but I’m also in a place in this moment where I haven’t created much. I’ve barely done anything on Instagram. There are a lot of platforms where I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do in a way that feels good to me, not in a way where I feel I’m constantly setting myself up for feeling my wounds to be picked upon.

If we look at it from a physical standpoint, as a metaphor, if you broke your leg, you can’t rush your leg to heal. You have to give it time to heal. You have to take a break from walking on it. Sometimes we want to get back and run again. Maybe we are a runner and our whole identity is centered around running. If you hurt yourself, it’s in your best interest to step away and allow yourself to heal and then decide what your relationship is to running again. I’m in that place right now where I want to get stronger. I want to feel confident. I want to find joy in these things. I don’t want to continue putting myself in a place where I’ll feel wounded again and again. It’s almost an abusive system in a lot of these ways.

I feel that way a lot about social media. There are a lot of elements of social media that aren’t good for our mental health. We have to be mindful of how we interact with them, because unfortunately we can’t control what people say about us, and it’s frustrating and sad. It’s not about social media, Toni. As you mentioned, you’re experiencing this on probably Amazon and it’s like, “Why do these people feel it’s okay to leave these horrible comments and reviews?” Unfortunately, this is a big issue that we can’t solve on our own as individuals. The only thing that we can do is evaluate our relationship with these platforms. Put our focus and our emphasis, our priority on the people that we know and we trust and we feel emotionally safe with, whether that’s a romantic partner, a good friend, a family member. Those are the people that matter most, not all of these strangers on the internet that we have zero control over and we don’t understand.

Whitney, the stuff you’re saying makes me sad. It makes me sad because you do such good in the world and because people feel free to be negative and to tear you down. It is you, but it’s also other content creators I know who are doing a wonderful service of providing free content on the internet to better people’s lives. It breaks my heart to hear the wounds you’ve experienced and how you feel and that you are taking a break to heal. I hope that anyone reading this will consider what they’re saying to someone online will impact them and also impact the world. I feel the world is worse off when you’re not creating content.

That’s very sweet on a personal level. I appreciate that and I feel the same way about others. It makes me think who else out there is experiencing what I’m experiencing and who else hasn’t found how they can interact in the world in a safe way. You see this too on social media where people start operating out of a place of that armor. They’re putting on a mask to try to prove their worthiness or prove that they’re strong. They’re like, “I’m not going to let the haters get me down.” Maybe this is because I have this perspective on life, but a lot of times I see that that’s a cry for help and that they’re trying to convince themselves that it doesn’t hurt. There’s a big mentality in life and in different cultures, especially in American culture. You’ve got to be tough and you can’t let the haters get you down. What about the emotional side of it?

There’s been a lot coming out about the importance of not stigmatizing mental health. We’re fortunate that it’s becoming more of a topic that people are discussing. They’re opening up about their hardships, their anxiety, depression and all of the different bullying. Now, we have so much awareness around how other people are being treated. Yet, we still have such a long way to go. Racism is being put in our face. Many of us are having to acknowledge ways in which either we’ve been racist or we’ve not been anti-racist. That’s something I’ve had to examine.

We continuously have to do this work and realize, as you’re saying, Toni, that we have to take responsibility for our actions and how they affect other people because they do have a ripple effect. Maybe somebody thinks that they can comment about your lipstick and move on with their life. That comment could sit with you for years. Who knows, maybe every time you put on lipstick now, you’re thinking about that comment. I’ve certainly had comments like that where they are always there in the back of my mind, “I don’t want somebody to say these things to me again. Let me not do that thing.”

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Plant-Based Budget: Vegans are so compassionate towards animals and the planet, but we have to remember to be compassionate to other human beings too.

 

Suddenly you have this long list of things not to do or things not to say. You end up in a position feeling like, “What can I say? What can I do?” It becomes incredibly challenging to operate when you’re so afraid of all those types of mean things. It’s a self-protection thing. You don’t want to get hurt. A lot of people are moving around the world trying not to get hurt. That limits our ability to deeply connect with one another and share our true selves.

In some ways, I have talked to people and also in my own mind made this a parallel between a high school and social media. I feel like a lot of the dynamics in terms of how people communicate and the hierarchy and the fact that we have followers, comments, metrics and all of these things that social media on a level of psychology and physiology works well because we’ve been trained. Not all of us, but anybody who’s had a typical educational experience in middle school or high school can relate to a lot of the bullying, the mean comments, the hierarchies, the popular kids and the metrics in which popularity or success was measured.

It’s interesting for me to look at the micro of relationships and comments and these very painful things on social media. There was already, in some cases, an archetype in place for this type of social interaction. From an anthropological perspective, I think about that sometimes of, “How much were we trained to already have this structure present in our lives?” To me, I often feel that social media is it’s a glorified high school popularity contest all over again.

I haven’t dug into this a lot because I too am fascinated by that, Jason, and it’s something that’s been going on throughout human history. For better or for worse, it’s part of our survival to have tribal mentalities and to exclude people and to judge people on things. Even judging somebody based on how they look is a survival mechanism, it’s like, “You don’t look me, so I don’t know if I can trust you. You don’t act me, so I don’t know if I agree with you, or “Something that you’re doing is challenging my viewpoint. That makes me feel insecure. When I feel insecure, I don’t feel safe.” A lot of this is basic and some of it is also programming.

It feels there are our societal tropes or structures or ways of conditioning that I see transposed onto social media that have already been within us. It was the bullying comment, the negativity, and the tendency to have certain people try and pick you apart for innocuous things that make no sense. We talked about lipstick or your butt or your hair or your nose. A lot of the things we brought up, it’s the tyranny of the majority. It’s like, “I’m in the powerful group and I have the privilege and the power. It’s almost like I can say these things and do these things to you. I have the privilege of not caring how it’s going to affect your life.

It’s like there are no consequences.

Those particular people are used to having no consequences for their actions.

As someone who feels very deeply, it also hurts me to see those comments, not only on my friends like Michelle’s pages, but even when I’m skimming through my Instagram feed or Facebook and those types of conversations that you mentioned, Jason, that is more political. It sits with me when I read people’s messages who are straight-up mean-spirited. I feel like the connection that you’re making, Whitney, between mental health and social media, is so real. There are times when I need to get off of social media, which is hard as a content creator because if this is your job and you take a break, the algorithm is unforgiving. It can mess up how your content is seen. If you’re gone for a month or even a week, it can make it so that your content isn’t seen as frequently as if you’re posting often.

The world is worse off when you're not creating content. Click To Tweet

I’ve had some time where I felt uninspired and I’m fortunate at Plant-Based on a Budget to have some help. I have someone named Alfonso and Bea who I can’t imagine being without. They are able to pick up the slack, but there are still things I need to do. I’m reading those, even though I feel my emotional and mental capacity is full. How do you guys deal with that? That’s something I struggle with when I’m overloaded with feelings. I don’t have a lot of space to take time off from my job.

I’ve been gradually pivoting into not being dependent on social media in that direct way. Granted, there are so many offshoots of our work that we can pivot to. For me, I’ve been doing social media consulting and teaching. I love doing that. I love supporting others with that. That way, I’m not as dependent on working with a sponsor or selling my products or services. That gives me a lot of freedom for developing something that may have a different path. I’ve been loving Pinterest and Pinterest is a phenomenal way to bring traffic to your website. If you have a product or service, it’s great for that. I’ve been sponsored on Pinterest before and that feels like a kind and peaceful community.

It was like, “Can I pivot into a place online that feels better, that feels more authentic to me or feels kinder or I feel more empowered?” The other thing that I’ve been doing, Toni, similar to what you were talking about and I mentioned as well is nourishing my relationships with people that I know are supportive of me. Social media in a way, over the years for each of us, we’ve experienced this. It’s been so numbers-based and so much about how many people follow you or comment, like, or share and all of those different things. The more that I’ve studied social media, I realize that a lot of that is set in place to benefit the social media platform. It’s not necessarily to benefit us. It gives me chills talking about it because I’ve seen people do some drastic things in order to grow their numbers.

It comes out of this place of your numbers can equate to making more money, feeling more financially stable and successful, all of these things that matter to us. At the end of the day, money is important to us because that’s what we use to buy food and pay for our shelter and those basic things that we need. Many people use money to validate themselves through their purchases and getting a nice car or a nice house or nice watch, and nice clothing. They’re rewarded on social media for showing those things. The cycle continues. If you don’t pay attention to it, that can be incredibly damaging to your mental health. That subject matter comes up a lot on this show. For me, paying attention to that and noticing how I felt, and then looking for ways that I can step outside of that system and not feel so controlled by it. Tuning back into the people that I know care.

I’m working on a new program of mine inspired by this very subject matter. It’s called Beyond Measure. The inspiration for my program is based on the fact that our self-worth and compassion and all the things about us have been benefited more by less focus on the external, more focused on the internal and seeing ourselves for who we are and not how we think other people perceive us. Many people are struggling with self-esteem, even if they’re not unsafe not basing their careers on social media. Lots of people that are on Facebook, using it on a personal level, they’re affected. They fall into the comparison trap. They can be bullied. As Jason was saying, they can end up in these arguments online about their different perspectives.

It’s a huge issue right now. As I’ve been developing Beyond Measure, I found a lot of pieces through it because I started by connecting with the people in my community that I feel emotionally safe with. I know they appreciate me for who I am and not for any of those external things. It’s been a beautiful practice because instead of trying to make it about my numbers, it’s like, “How can I construct the perfect Instagram posts that get me this amount of likes and this amount of likes is going to convert to this amount of clicks?” Doing all of that numbers based math, which I find truly exhausting and depleting, but doing the outreach to individual people and connecting with them is so much more rewarding. It’s similar to this idea that many of us know as entrepreneurs, or if you’re creating online at all, you’ve probably heard of Kevin Kelly’s philosophy of 1,000 True Fans.

It only takes a small group of 1,000 people for you to find some financial stability and find some success. Yet, if you look at that number 1,000, on social media, that’s considered nothing. “That’s all you have? Only 1,000 people follow you? How could you possibly make money off of that?” It’s because we don’t value those 1,000 people. We don’t even value 100 people. If you had 100 people in a room, that’s a lot of people. Social media has skewed us so much where we stop thinking about the individuals and we look at the mass and we become obsessed with these numbers. The long answer is my way of handling these days is to pay more attention to the individuals and be grateful for them and feel connected to them. As a result, it puts me less in those situations where I’m interacting with cruel people because I know that those people don’t even want to be part of those deeper connections with me. At least not at this point.

My approach has been relandscaping my priorities in life to a large degree, which I’m still in the process of. In the past few years, I’ve experienced some pretty challenging health issues in terms of prioritizing too much content creation, doing a TV series, and writing cookbooks. It’s all output at the expense of minding not only my physical health in some regards but definitely my mental health. For me, it’s been acknowledging the ruthlessness of the algorithm that the machine wants to get fed, whether that’s me, Toni, Whitney, or the reader, the machine wants to be fed. The machine makes money off of what we put into it. I got to a point where if I wasn’t taking good care of my mind and my body and not getting into that state of burnout, burnout is a hard place to be in. To me, dealing with depression and anxiety and suicidal ideation, a lot of the other layers of my mental health, I realized that I was ignoring my own needs to feed the machine.

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“I’ve got to put out a YouTube video four times a week. I’ve got to make this TV series happen. I’ve got to write this book.” I don’t know that any human being is necessarily built for that output over a long period of time without nourishing themselves. When I say it was a priority shift that I’m still going through, it’s that I know that if I’m not okay mentally and physically and I’m not giving myself downtime and time to rest and time to get off of social media, I will burn myself out at some point. Whatever money, sponsorships, opportunity, fame or popularity comes from it, I can’t enjoy it or leverage it as a tool if I’m lying in bed burnt to a crisp like an old piece of toast. It’s been a reprioritization for me of taking good care of myself and not ignoring those things that need to be dealt with. If the algorithm gets fucked for a little while, then so be it. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

I understand where you’re coming from. The part that I struggle with is that at some point I got a team and it no longer became only about me, but also about if I take a break, what’s going to happen to the people who depend on the financial stability of unfortunately what comes from those numbers or the algorithm. It leaves me in a hard space. There have been times where I said, “Everybody take the week off,” and I’ll take it on myself so that I make sure that they’re also taken care of. It’s a lot of extra pressure when it’s no longer only you and you worry about the people you care deeply about and their families who rely on them to bring home the income.

I imagine what it’s like to be a parent when your life is no longer about you. I’ve been there too. Both Jason and I have had teams. At this point, the two of us are a team together. I suppose there’s a little bit of that dynamic there at play with us with this show. If one of us doesn’t feel recording, we have to do it anyways because we’ve committed to it. We have to be consistent with the show, but luckily the show brings us so much joy and it has felt like a very peaceful process. We’ve received one negative review on iTunes and it wasn’t that bad. We’re blessed with that so far, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to face that negativity in the future. I certainly have felt that way too, Toni, when I was working with an amazing assistant.

How I looked at it is it’s like, “She is here because I need her support. How can I use that support to focus on what I need?” We were talking to a guest who’s saying, “If you’re feeling tense about something, that’s a great opportunity to delegate it.” Can you delegate something that you don’t want to do that doesn’t bring you joy, that isn’t your skillset? When you delegate it, is that going to result in the income that you want or whatever else you need at that time? Going back to what Jason is saying, stripping away the unnecessary. How much of this do we need to do or how much of this is what we’ve been led to believe that we need to do? I’ve found that even though I’ve stepped away a lot from some of these social media platforms, it hasn’t had as big of an impact on my career or income as I thought. Part of that is because that ability to pivot, like, “This doesn’t feel good. How can I pivot this into something else?”

The more I’ve stepped away from being so dependent on the numbers, I have realized that the numbers didn’t give me that much. I was chasing them for so long, but at what cost? Jason taught me this phrase that you pay with your purse or you pay with your person. Is it worth making all this money and supporting a team if your mental health is not doing well? It’s like what Jason said, being burnt to a crisp. I’d rather minimize it. I know it’s not always that simple, but I guess it’s that ongoing process. For you Toni or anyone reading, it’s that constant evaluation. Does this feel good? Is this serving me in the way that I need to? Maybe right now, I can’t make that decision to jump ship, but maybe in six months I can, and maybe we can start making that pivot. However long it takes, but eventually I’ll get there. At least knowing that something that’s in sight can be helpful while also continuing to support the people that are relying on you.

For the most part, I love what I do. I love social media. I’ve had the pleasure of working for animals and to support the vegan cause, movement, and community for my whole career. I feel privileged to be able to say that. I am happier than I am sad. I hope that anyone reading or anyone I know will always be considerate of how they communicate with people on Instagram pages or Amazon reviews. You can be constructive. I don’t mind constructive feedback. The delivery is what’s important and to not feel so entitled that everything has to be catered around your specific needs. To tie into what you were saying, Whitney, about how you were afraid to post the chicken nuggets from KFC. Not everything Whitney creates is going to be tailored specifically to you.

If you don’t like what she’s posting, keep scrolling. You don’t have to take the time out to tell her that she’s eating terribly and she’s a bad person and all of that. I’m hoping that a lot of our stress can be relieved by other people being compassionate and spreading compassion has for me always been a pretty positive thing. I build better connections. I make better friends and through that have been a happier person in general. That’s more of my concern. When I deal with stress, it’s often because I get down by how often I’m criticized on the internet.

I love what you’re saying about compassion too. That’s the big message here. Even coming back to the beginning of the conversation about food, each of us has different relationships with food and money. It’s wonderful to learn not only new ways to save money and eat well but having compassion for what somebody else is going through and try not to judge them so much. It’s tempting when you learn a way of eating that you think works for you. When you go vegan and you decide to stop eating animals, some of us find that very simple. For me, I literally went vegetarian overnight. It took me a little bit longer to transition to veganism, but it felt easy. When I started a career centered around veganism, I’ve met a lot of different people over the years, as I know Jason and Toni have as well. Everybody has a different relationship.

Sometimes it’s not as simple as transitioning from dairy-based cheese to plant-based cheese. Some people don’t like plant-based cheese and it’s easy for us to say, “This tastes amazing. It’s such a simple swap.” It’s not always that easy. There’s that whole factor of the money. Somebody said this to me. They’re like, “I can’t believe this costs so much.” What was it? I feel it might’ve been a vegan cheese. They were talking about how much it costs. I was like, “That’s pretty reasonable.” They’re like, “You think that because you’re used to seeing that price point because you’ve been vegan for so long.” The same thing is true with organic. I’ve been eating an organic diet and also a bit of the lifestyle for a long time. I’m used to seeing organic prices, but for some people seeing raspberries for $2.99 and organic raspberries for $4.99, that’s a huge jump for them.

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They’re not used to that price point or maybe they simply do not have that extra money to justify it. Having that compassion for all the different ways that people eat in their relationships with money and their access to certain things is such an important thing too. A lot of these comments come down to simply recognizing that people are different than us and that’s okay. I keep thinking about that comment you received about your lipstick, Toni. I’m trying to understand why did that person say that to you, but maybe they have been shamed about that and they’re projecting their own shame about red lipstick onto you. They have been raised or treated a certain way or maybe they’re super sensitive to anything that looks like it might be sexual or whatever. Who knows what’s going on for them?

They don’t know how else to communicate those things, but hopefully, other people can learn to step back and say, “It’s okay that she’s choosing to wear that red lipstick,” or maybe not even notice it. The more that we can practice having compassion and not knowing why other people are making decisions or trying to pressure them to change or see life through our viewpoint, that to me is my big hope for the world and something that I would love to see. This conversation is reminding me or giving me inspiration for spreading that message more. Each of us being vegan, compassion seems to be at the core, but we’ve certainly seen a lot of vegans not be compassionate to one another. They’re so compassionate towards animals and the planet, but we have to remember to be compassionate to other human beings. Know that everybody is at a different path with their journey for a lot of different reasons that we might not understand.

It’s important, Whitney, reflecting the compassionate angle back of what we’re discussing is I’ve had a lot of comments in my life since I’ve been choosing this lifestyle of people who are not vegan. They’re saying some version to me of like, “When I found out you were vegan, I thought you were going to be an asshole.” It was like, “That’s a mentality that has been inculcated in certain people of our society that they somehow associate veganism with being an asshole.” I know that that sticks in my mind, in my subconscious and my conscious mind a lot of how can I hopefully create a different association for this person. How can I show up with acceptance and compassion and being nonjudgmental and being a kind human being who also happens to have chosen a vegan lifestyle?

Maybe rewrite that narrative because it’s been shocking to me how much I’ve received a version of that comment in my life. It’s like, “It’s no wonder there’s so much negativity from non-vegans toward vegans and then so much negativity within the vegan community.” My point is that I want to bring more compassion and understanding and equanimity into the movement. I certainly don’t want that archetype or that assumption of if you’re vegan, you’re an asshole to continue. It’s sad.

It’s funny that you bring that up because my whole life is revolving around this project that Michelle and I are working on. It’s a new book called The Friendly Vegan Cookbook. It’s one that we wished we had when we were very angry vegans. The whole premise is about how it’s okay to be friendly. It’s preferred to be friendly and you can keep the same friends. You can keep the same family, of course, but still, embrace and love your family and still share vegan food with them. I don’t know where this connection between being more militant and veganism became popular. I remember being part of the PETA’s college campus team, and that was the approach. After years and years of doing this type of work, I’ve realized that being friendly is the way to go. I love that you two model that as well. It makes me happy to know you, guys.

We’re grateful to know you too. I was trying to remember the first time I met you, Toni. Do you remember when that was?

Probably at an Expo West?

That was the last time I saw you.

I had a vivid memory of you. I can’t believe I didn’t even talk about this yet. In 2011, you spoke at the Berkeley Vegan Earth Day. That was my first introduction to you.

That was a lovely event. I’ve got fond memories of that and my time up north.

Time flies too. I can’t believe that was in 2011.

It has been a journey for each of us and it’s so lovely to be connected with people after all of these years. It’s crazy to think how much shifts. One of the best parts of being a content creator is all of these amazing people that I meet and that we meet. That’s a huge source of joy for me with this show. Having people like you on the show, Toni, to talk so openly and vulnerably about these things. I’m grateful that you opened up your heart and shared your experiences. We covered a lot of ground and there’s so much more to cover, and I wish we were doing it in person, but someday we will do that again. I want to extend my gratitude for the work that you’re doing. I was checking out your book with Michelle and that looks amazing. That comes out in October. Is that right?

Yes, that’s right.

I love the cover. It made me feel happy looking at it. I can’t wait. Maybe we’ll have both of you on the show to talk about it when that comes out. October will be here before we know it.

We’d love that, Michelle, especially. She’s the one who introduced me to your show. She was like, “You have to listen to it.” I got hooked and we appreciate the style that you have, how it’s conversational and friendly. As someone who hasn’t hung out with you a lot, I have a sense of your personality. That’s so cool for the people listening to the show to hear you being yourselves. It’s not an interview and it’s not you’re here to talk about X, Y, Z, but it’s you guys being yourselves.

That means a lot, Toni, to receive that and appreciate you lending your presence and getting so vulnerable and open with us and all the subject we discussed.

I’m curious, Toni. I tried to find it. We’ve been trying to do less on Amazon as an option for people that don’t want to support Amazon. I didn’t find your book on the site that we’ve been using. The affiliate program that we’re part of is called Indigo books. It’s a Canadian company. I didn’t see your books on there. Are there other platforms that your books are on? Do you have a preference, one that you love to promote more or is Amazon the main for you?

We have FriendlyVeganCookbook.com and that is where people can find all of the places they can purchase our books. Michelle designed this and Indigo is on there. It’s in Indie Bound, Bookshop, and Barnes & Noble. There are a few options in case somebody does not like Amazon.

Dear reader, thank you for being with us again on the show. Toni, I don’t know if you felt uncomfortable at any point. It’s never our intention to force people to feel uncomfortable, but I feel like the vulnerability and the depth was special. I appreciate you going to those places with us.

Thanks for having me. I feel like it’s good to talk about this. It’s not something that’s exposed often in our community and it’s so overlooked as people can hear it causes a lot of pain. To dig deeper and to process those feelings with you has been meaningful to me. Thank you!

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About Toni Okamoto

MGU 111 | Plant-Based BudgetToni Okamoto is the founder of Plant-Based on a Budget, the popular website, and meal plan that shows you how to save dough by eating veggies. She’s also the author of the Plant-Based on a Budget Cookbook, The Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker Cookbook, and the co-host of The Plant-Powered People Podcast. Okamoto’s work has been profiled by NBC News, Parade Magazine, and she’s a regular presence on local and national morning shows across the country, where she teaches viewers how to break their meat habit without breaking their budget. She was also featured in the popular documentary What the Health. When she’s not cooking up a plant-based storm, she’s spending time with her husband and their rescued dog in Sacramento, CA.

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