MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

 

Justifiably or not, vegans have often been accused of being pushy, overly zealous or simply assholes. Vegans may tend to be very passionate about what they stand for, but the phrase “friendly vegan” is hardly an oxymoron. In fact, there is good cause to look at it as something that we all should strive for if we want to effectively spread the message of vegan living. Return guests, Toni Okamoto and Michelle Cehn share some of their work in this space with Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen. Through The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, these two rockstar vegan ladies are bringing vegans and omnivores alike through a shared message and a shared passion for good food. After all, good food is good food, right? Wouldn’t it be a much better to make it a rallying point for vegan lifestyle rather than have this constant urge to shame those who are not yet up for it?

Listen to the podcast here:

Friendly Vegan: An Amicable Way To Spread The Message Of Veganism With Toni Okamoto And Michelle Cehn

I want to start this episode by bringing up the topic of popular misconceptions. One of the most prevalent and powerful misconceptions around vegans that have persisted over the past years, the vegan lifestyle and plant-based diet have gained a lot of momentum in the mainstream. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that vegans are assholes I have probably $1,000. I’ve heard this from many people over the years. It’s usually under the auspices of meeting someone and then they find out that I’m vegan or that I’ve been a vegan chef or involved in the vegan community. They’re like, “You’re not an asshole. I thought you would be an asshole.”

I want to lead off this episode by discussing this misconception in particular because it is something that still persists to this day. A lot of random people that I will meet in conversation at parties and gatherings being introduced to someone, it’s some version of, “I thought you would be an asshole. I thought you would be a zealot with some religious fervor trying to convert me. I thought that you would be a dismissive snide smarmy person with your attitude and your beliefs.” I want to start this because it leaves a lot of room for us to kick this off in a conversation of why do we think that stereotype persists with such power? What can we do to turn that around? How can we create a more positive, open, friendly vibe around the idea of what it means to be vegan? This also is the most guests we’ve ever had on an episode with Toni and Michelle, and of course, Whitney.

Don’t forget we had Jachym.

We did and Natasha, you’re right. I am a vegan asshole.

We thought we were special.

You guys are special. You are the second pair that we’ve had on the show if I recall, but I’m also worried that I’m forgetting somebody else.

We’re going to be getting hate mail now, Whitney.

This is what happens when you’ve done a lot of episodes as Toni and Michelle can relate to. On a little side note, how many episodes of your podcast have you released? 

Are we at 30-something now, Toni?

It’s somewhere around there.

MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

Friendly Vegan: The biggest way to make impact happen is by being friendly, being kind, and having conversations that are in a nonjudgmental space and tone.

 

It’s interesting because you have such a different format. Jason and I don’t have seasons. We’ve been releasing three episodes a week for almost a year. We’re up to 130 something, but you have had your podcast for much longer than us. It’s funny how time doesn’t necessarily impact how many episodes you’ve done. That’s this whole side note. Back to Jason’s question. 

We bow down to you. We cannot believe three episodes per week.

It’s a lot but once we got into the rhythm of it, it’s how we do things. You get used to it. 

As a side note too, if this is your first time on this show dear audience, welcome to this episode with Toni and Michelle. We’re going to dive into a lot, however long we ride this roller coaster. Having a great team is instrumental. You both have had your individual brands and you have some collaboration we’re going to discuss over this episode, but I don’t want to lose sight of the original question, which is the stereotype of judgmental, pushy, assholes, zealot vegans. In both of your work and the work you’re doing together and Whitney, for you too, let’s all discuss this. I’m curious why you think this stereotype continues to persist with such fervor and what can we do to dispel this? How do we dispel this myth of vegans are assholes or zealots?

I’m happy to share my own experience. I felt the fieriest passion and it happened twice. One was when I first learned about animal suffering, which had never crossed my path before. I never considered it. If I had, I didn’t care. I just continued living my life. Once I learned about what was happening in the animals for food industries, I felt heartbroken and I wanted a change to happen fast. The second time it happened, I was working directly with farmed animals at a farm animal sanctuary. I got to visit all different types of farms, family farms, factory farms, and I saw what was happening to animals at all types of farms. It brought this intensity where animals were suffering and I needed change to happen immediately. For a lot of animal activists, I think that’s where that passion comes from. You know that there’s immense suffering happening and you want to make the world a better place for animals.

I have changed dramatically over the past decade or more for a few reasons. I want to maintain my relationships with my family and friends. I also realized that I am not going to win hearts and minds by being rude or mean. We talked about this in our last episode. Being kind is one of the best ways to reach people. I feel strongly now that that is how we can spread the message of vegan living, by being kind and offering delicious food, modeling what a normal person who happens to be vegan is like. I feel grateful to have found Michelle and have connected with her, and align in how we present this information.

It’s interesting because Jason, you say, “How to dispel the myth that vegans are zealots?” At some point, we have to come to grips with the fact that this is no longer sadly a myth. Sometimes when you become extremely passionate about something, we can lose touch with being kind, even though that’s how this all started. For anyone who goes vegan, there’s usually an element of kindness that’s very much ingrained in that choice. You want to be kind to animals, to the world and to your body. It’s a decision usually rooted in kindness, but as you see a world around you moving at a fast pace in opposite directions of kindness, it can be hard to live in that world.

Especially when you’re newly stepping into a vegan or plant-based lifestyle, as you try and navigate the new things that you’re learning and implement change in the ways that you’re personally able to do, but also help inspire change in those around you. You encounter a lot of frustrations that can sometimes lead to being not so nice, kind and a little judgmental of people around you. That is something that many people who are vegan can relate to at some point in their journey having felt that way.

I know when I first went vegan, I was passionate and I still am but I didn’t know how to handle all of these issues I was learning about it. Do I go to protests? Do I work at a nonprofit organization? Do I share this information and all these undercover and footage on Facebook and with everyone I know? How do I handle and come to grips with what’s happening in the world in a productive way? It’s taken a decade, plus Toni and I have both been vegan for many years. Over that time, my attitude and approach have changed as I realized that what is impactful is not what I first thought, which is, “Just spread the awareness however you possibly can.” Instead, everyone is on their own journey on this planet Earth. We all have different life experiences. We all have different food journeys, whatever. The biggest way I’ve seen impact happen is by being friendly, being kind, having conversations that are in a nonjudgmental space and tone, sharing, delicious food, and finding comradery with people who are different than myself.

This also leads me to something that is interesting and you brought this up in the introduction to your book, The Friendly Vegan Cookbook. In your intro, you said that choosing vegan doesn’t mean self-denial. In fact, it’s quite the opposite because it means a whole new world of plant-powered ingredients opening up to you. This is something that many of us who advocate for the vegan lifestyle talk about, but I love this idea of self-denial because a lot of people struggle with this. Self-denial is an interesting thing. First of all, I’m curious about what is your definition of self-denial? In this case, to me, it means I’m not allowing myself to have something that I want. Is that how you define it in this context or in general?

That’s spot on and a lot of times when people decide, “I’m going to go vegan.” Their first thought is everything they’re going to have to give up and not have in their life that they were used to. Once you are a little bit into this journey and looking backward, you realize, “That was a sacrificial way to look about things, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” This is a basic example, but the glass is half empty or the glass is half full. Except for in this case, if you’re going to start eating plant-based, the glass is not half empty. The glass is overflowing.

Being kind is one of the best ways to reach people. It is how we can spread the message of vegan living. Click To Tweet

Anyone you talk to who steps into eating a plant-based lifestyle, you’ll hear almost always, it’s an explosion of infinity, new foods, plants and ethnic cuisines that they’d never even explored or tried before. There’s so much out there that you get to explore when you’re shifting to this way of eating. It’s unnecessarily cruel and harmful to ourselves when we look at it as a lack, or if we talk to ourselves in a way that says, “You can’t eat this anymore.” You’re choosing not to eat that anymore but look at all of the amazing things that you can eat or that you choose to eat.

This gets into the psychology, the subject of self-denial or this idea of deprivation. That’s the word that I hear a lot, “I’m afraid I’m going to be deprived of the things that I want.” Psychologically speaking, it’s fascinating to me because when we think about being deprived of the things we want, it brings up emotions of lack and desire. Perhaps we are in a moment where we want something comforting. The fear of, “If I give this thing up that’s emotionally comforting, what am I going to substitute in those moments of comfort?”

From a psychological perspective, this idea of lack, denial or deprivation is super key because fear or the idea that something is going to be worse than it is or something is going to be bad holds people back. It’s not just from making a switch to a vegan lifestyle, perhaps it’s people taking better care of their health, whatever changes people want to make in their life. This is maybe more of a macro spiritual tilt to the conversation. I’ve noticed for myself that I will anticipate a situation being bad or a conversation I need to have with a loved one or making a lifestyle change or a diet change like we’re discussing.

I’m curious if the three of you feel this way. Many times when you commit to something and you say, “I’m going to do it,” the majority of the time for me or the reality of what I experience is nowhere close to the fear, panic or whatever I’m imagining in my mind for it to be. It’s like I had all this worry about the situation and then I finally do the thing. I’m like, “This was easier and better than I thought it would be. Why was I worried in the first place?” It feels like that plays into this lifestyle change too. People are concerned and fearful. I’ve noticed when people do it and they start to make the transition, they are like, “This is great. This is easier than I thought it would be.”

I was going to say that when I’m working with people on Plant-Based on a Budget, I try to share my own experience that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing jump. For me, it wasn’t that all or nothing jump. It took me many years of gradual change to fully become a vegan, to embrace the vegan lifestyle, and to know that I wanted that for my forever. I was graceful and kind to myself when I made mistakes on accident or on purpose. I also encourage people to do what’s best for themselves when I’m discussing plant-based eating with them. It doesn’t have to be, “Today, you eat a standard American diet. Tomorrow, your whole food-based vegan.” If we can look at it as setting up ourselves for success for forever, then it isn’t about denial. It’s about embracing change.

One of the other things that we’re thinking about is the unsustainability of living in lack and deprivation. That’s almost never sustainable. It’s why I try not to use the word plant-based diet because in essence, a diet is usually tied in your mind to lack and to holding yourself back from eating what you want to eat. That’s not what this is about at all. It shouldn’t be. We advocate the opposite of approach of abundance and exploring this world of abundance, and choosing things that are aligned with foods you love, with your existing values of compassion and kindness, and with the way that you want our world to be well into the future.

It is unsustainable to live in a mindset of lack for a long period of time or lifestyle. It’s interesting when you think about some people who decide they want to go vegan. They think about this last meal, the final meal. I don’t know if you have heard people talk about them before, but they’re like, “I’m going to go vegan on this date. Oftentimes, it’s January 1st and so on December 31st, I’m going to pack in all the meat, dairy, the KFC, whatever that I can into this last meal.” It’s like saying goodbye and that you’re going to have to resist eating those foods forever.

I agree with Toni. While everyone can have a different approach that works best for them for evolving into a different style of eating, I didn’t exactly do it overnight. I did it over a couple of weeks. It was a gradual shift into acclimating my taste buds to loving the plant-based foods. I was able to then do it in a way where I never felt the lack. As you start to do it, you start to feel the excitement of the things you may be thought, “I don’t know if I’m going to eat these types of things again.” You’re like, “It’s a vegan cheese sandwich. It’s a vegan pumpkin pie.” It’s everything. Now, you can find vegan. It comes with excitement that you’ll soon find once you step in that direction.

I don’t know if it’s going to be controversial or not, but Toni, you said something about it being a forever choice. One thing that I’ve been noticing on the periphery because I don’t necessarily want to be involved in the drama of all of what I’m about to bring up. There are people who are content creators, YouTubers, entrepreneurs, like all of us are putting out specific content with veganism, whether that be recipes and nutrition or beauty and fashion.

An interesting number and some super popular ones have said they’re no longer vegan. Over the past few years, it seems there have been a potentially increasing number of “high-profile” vegans or YouTubers or content creators being like, “Everyone, I am not a vegan anymore.” It’s been interesting to observe them “coming out” with that, but then also the reaction and the response that specific people have to them. That jogged me, Toni, you saying about it being a forever thing, but what if it’s not a forever thing? How do we respond or how do you all respond when you see a popular content creator or YouTuber who’s like, “I am not a vegan anymore?” What’s your initial response to that? How do you feel about that?

MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

The Friendly Vegan Cookbook: 100 Essential Recipes to Share with Vegans and Omnivores Alike

I don’t respond. That’s their business. I am going to be over here doing my own thing. I feel like putting more negative energy in the world is not how I want to spend my time. There are many tough things happening. If I can channel my energy into eliminating suffering elsewhere, then that’s how I choose to spend my time. I hope to see people be kinder to others online even when they disagree or they don’t respect what someone has done or said. I don’t think we should go low. When they go low, we go high. I feel strongly about that. I read this book called, Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. He is a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles who does work in gang member rehabilitation.

He talks about when we look at how we treat people, we see that if someone has done something bad and we shame them, we give them no reason to ever want to come back and be on your side or be the person that you believe they can be. When you instead show them kindness and compassion and give them reasons to want to continue doing what they were doing, then there is a high chance that they will make that change again. I believe that. I talk to people all the time who for whatever reason stopped being plant-based. They traveled. They had a work potluck and everything was free. They loaded up on carnitas or nachos and now they feel like, “I am not a vegan anymore.” Instead of saying, “You piece of crap person,” I say, “That’s okay. You could choose plant-based tomorrow.” Give them some reason to want to continue by being friendly, kind and compassionate. I feel like that will go further than shaming.

I can’t agree more. I also think it’s not just about veganism. This is something that’s an issue on many topics. The older I get and the more I learn not to take things personally and step back and maybe question like, “Why is somebody saying something? What have they been taught in their life?” One of the best benefits to a book like yours and to the work that each of you is doing on your social media platforms is it does come across as friendly. It’s setting that example and perhaps opening up some eyes to people to realize that you don’t have to be an asshole vegan. You don’t have to be angry and resentful all the time. You could be compassionate, patient, loving and understanding to other people.

This could have a ripple effect across your entire relationship with somebody. If you’re willing to accept somebody for who they are, where they’re at, and forgive them if they’re asking for forgiveness for mistakes or just be there for them. One of the most valuable things that we can do for people is to simply listen to them. We don’t need to give them feedback and advice and share our opinions all the time. If somebody comes to you and says, “I ate this nonvegan thing at a potluck,” you don’t need to even say anything.

Maybe they feel better telling you that for whatever reason, and maybe waiting for them to ask you for advice or something, if that’s what they’re looking for, and then taking that approach of, “It’s okay. If you’d like, you can continue plant-based tomorrow. You can start over again. Think of it as hitting the pause button.” To me, that approach to friendships or any relationship because this could be with any loved one in your life, family members, romantic partners, children, having that understanding response to somebody is such a great gift.

This is such a good question that is incredibly important to dive a little bit deeper into, especially we’re in a politically heated time, we’re in a world heated time, we’re in a pandemic. People are following on one side or the other and of all different sides of the equation. A lot of times when you feel like you don’t know what to do about something, you feel like, “I need to speak up.” If you see someone doing something you disagree with or that feels harmful, instead of looking at what you can do, personally. Many people are choosing to exercise their voice online and criticizing others, and feeling like that is their form of activism.

I imagine for those listening and it’s nothing to feel shameful about because the underlying sentiment is good. You’re trying to do something good and remind someone that they are maybe acting in a way that’s not aligned with the benefit of our world. I would encourage you to think about how damaging that can be for anyone looking in the vegan space. That’s a clear example of that. If you look at a celebrity who went vegan and was vegan for many years, and then at one point decides not to be anymore. The internet, which is what happens, blows up at them and calls them a terrible person, “I can’t believe you would do this.”

The people who are not vegan and maybe have been looking up to this person or just looking in are seeing this onslaught of hate coming to someone because they ended up going in a different direction than the direction they were going. How scary would that be? If I was someone considering, “Maybe I want to try this vegan thing,” but then I saw what happened when someone went vegan and then went backward. It’s not only the pressure on yourself too, “I don’t know if I can stick with this or if I will want to. I feel bad going then back.” The whole world is now putting pressure on you. If you become someone who takes a step in this direction and then steps back, then you’re getting judgment from the world and the internet publicly. It makes it such a scary word to embrace personally, especially if you’re new and not to the point where Toni, I know you feel you want to be vegan forever.

If you’re not to that point, and you’re trying to explore, see how this feels with your body and your mental state, that’s a scary place to step into. That’s damaging. It makes me shy away from the word even because I don’t want someone who wants to take a step in a positive direction towards choosing kind food choices, to feel that pressure. Potentially, if they slip up or accidentally eat something or choose to eat something not vegan, then it could cause them trauma. I would hate that. I don’t wish that upon anybody. I hope that we can all come back to be kind. You never know what someone’s going through. You never know the whole full story of someone’s choices. Ultimately, we’re all entitled to make our own choices. Whether that’s aligned with what I believe is right and what you believe is right, each person has autonomy over their own body and what they put in it. The best thing that we can do is lead by positive example.

That’s such a good point, Michelle. I’m glad that you brought up the political side of it too because I was thinking how I feel uncomfortable talking about who I support in the election, who I plan to vote for. It is a scary territory when you reveal what you’re doing and what you believe in because of the state of the internet. We’ve talked about this with Toni when we did our episode with her. One of the big parts of that episode we did with you, Toni, that affected other people and impacted them is talking about kindness and how there can be so much cruelty online.

We also talked about this a bit when we are discussing the documentary, The Social Dilemma. We’ve talked about that in a few episodes and how the internet can feel like a scary place. It can feel vulnerable, confusing and unsafe. We’ve known for many years that trolls or angry people feel like they can hide behind their keyboards and say whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy and it is tricky. These conversations can be challenging in person as well. Similar to politics, there’s often this rule when you go to a social gathering to just don’t discuss politics.

Living in lack and deprivation is unsustainable. Vegan living should be about abundance. Click To Tweet

It then becomes tricky because what if you’re passionate about these things and you feel like it’s important to discuss, and you want to have a compassionate discussion with somebody without being judgmental. The same thing can happen with being vegan. I’m curious for the three of you, I’m sure at some point you have perhaps considered not saying that you’re vegan simply so that you don’t have to get into those heated discussions, maybe I’m wrong. If any of you have never been in that place like me, I try not to bring it up that much because I don’t like getting into those confrontations. That feels emotionally unsafe for me. Has that changed for you over the years? Jason, I don’t even know if you’ve talked about this much aside from not wanting to lead with your veganism in terms of your career per se. Personally, I’m interested in how you navigate some of these social situations online and offline.

It’s been brought up a couple of times that I said vegan forever and that is true for me. I would like to clarify that I do not believe in perfection. I believe in messing up a lot or that life is a series of mess-ups. I feel bad about how I eat. There are times where I’m way too comfortable and everything is vegan and I’ll eat something and not check the ingredients. I don’t beat myself up for those types of things. While I do consider myself in it for the long haul, I do not believe in perfection. I have picked cheese off of my food if the server brought something out with cheese on it. I’m not a perfectionist at all. I wanted to clarify that because that’s important. To answer your question, Whitney, I am in a world of nonvegans.

All of my closest friends minus Michelle and my husband, they eat everything or vegetarians. My family are not vegetarians. I’m surrounded by nonvegetarians and I’m a swing dancer. When we’re not in a pandemic I love swing dancing and I meet different people. It is not something that I bring upfront. It does come up because it’s my job. I have a website called Plant-Based on a Budget so it’s a giveaway. I try to be a regular friendly person who shares something in common with another friendly person. When it’s time to get to know each other a little bit deeper, that’s when it comes up. By that time, especially with swing dancing, we’ve already shared a physical connection. We’ve danced together. We’ve pulled off to the side and start chatting. We’ve built this rapport and mutual respect. When it comes up, I believe the defensive shield that could have come up is already down from the person I’m talking to because they realized that I’m a nice, friendly and safe person to talk to.

There’s a comic out there and I forget how exactly it goes, but it’s like when you’re a vegan, you automatically know who all the vegans are at the party. The first thing they say is, “I’m Michelle, I’m a vegan.” They announced themselves wearing a vegan sweatshirt, hoodie, pin and bumper stickers on their car. I can relate to that because I was wearing a vegan sweatshirt and I have a sticker on my car. I have evolved so much over the years where I realize that being that person where that’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth as a significant part of your identity makes it less accessible for the person that you’re talking to.

The approach to be yourself first who happens to be vegan can work wonders. My husband who has also been vegan for a few years often says, “I’m vegan but I hate vegans.” He falls into that boat. He thinks vegans are assholes. If you’re someone who all you’re doing is talking about being vegan and casting judgments or whatever, no one wants to hang around that. I’ve shifted my behavior in that a lot. I’ve realized that I’m Michelle and I have a lot of things about me. I happened to be vegan because I’m trying to make choices that are kind and aligned with health, the environment, the world and animals.

The word vegan isn’t what defines me. That’s just a tool to help describe trying to be a person who is kind. I’m curious, Jason, to hear your perspective on, do you say you’re vegan right away at parties and thoughts about that, and how that’s evolved over the years too. It is interesting. It seems like when people first go vegan, that’s the first part of their identity that attaches strong. It can take a more chilled out friendly approach over time.

First of all, when you said your husband is like, “I’m vegan but I hate vegans,” I have to laugh not because I hate vegans, but I don’t lead with it anymore. I started to see that over the years, there were interesting benefits that leading with that allowed me to connect with people. There was always the other side of the coin or the other side of the blade. Especially as social media has been growing out of this Wild West infancy period, there are a lot of people I know and I did this too. When I was growing my Twitter or my Instagram following in the early days, I would look for people who had #Vegan in their profile.

As a strategy, I would start following people, anybody who is vegan. I’m going to follow everybody. I would say a good 80% plus back in the day would follow me back. That’s one way that I started to initially grow my following. The other side of the coin that I noticed when I was leading with that is when I would get introduced to people through a friend, if you’re at a party, a networking event or some gathering, whatever the case may be. They’re like, “This is my friend, Jason. He’s a vegan chef. He had a show on the Cooking Channel, Food Network Canada. He’s got this book out, he did this and he chef for this person.” That’s all they had to say. The majority of the time, the conversation with the new person or the group of new people that would be all they wanted to talk about. To be honest, after years of this, I started to feel resentful.

I started to feel a resentment of my own creation that the resentment was self-directed. I was branding myself and leading with that. I had it on my bio on every single social platform and created a brand with all of it. No one ever wanted to talk to me about my music career or my singing. They didn’t want to talk to me about my obsession with cars and motorcycles, or the fact that I love basketball, how obsessed I am with the color orange and what that means to me., my meditation, yoga or spiritual practice. No one ever wanted to talk about any of that because it was clouded or over shrouded by, “He’s vegan. That must be his whole life.” I have to take responsibility for leading powerfully with that for so long.

The reason that I’m pulling back from that and the reason you don’t even see the word vegan on any of my social profiles now because I want to have different conversations. I still am vegan. It is part of my ethical core, my ethical compass as a person because of the reasons for animal rights, environmental protection, human health, and all of the reasons. People say like, “Vegan for all the reasons.” For me, I want to open up myself to different avenues of creative expression and allowing people to want to have conversations with me about all those other subjects and ones that I can’t even anticipate.

Instead of you sitting down with a new person and however long it is, the whole conversation is like, “What about this recipe? Do you have a recipe for this?” That’s great because then you get an opportunity to educate and inspire. I found that it was always about that. I’m like, “I don’t want to talk about food all the time. It’s getting old.” The long answer is I’m not leading with that anymore. I feel freer to express myself and talk about different subjects. That feels better to my soul, honestly. 

MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

Friendly Vegan: If someone has done something bad and we shame them, we give them no reason to ever want to come back and be on your side.

 

This also brings up something for me that each of us has experienced in one way or another, which is the evolution of veganism over the time that each of us has chosen this lifestyle. For me, that was in 2003. For, Jason, was it in 2000 that you went vegan or earlier?

May of 1998.

It’s funny. I went vegetarian in May 2003 and then vegan sometime in the fall of 2003. Toni and Michelle, I’m curious about, when that transition was for you? More so all the changes that we’ve seen happen. This conversation can be a little cliché. Vegans love to talk about how much veganism has evolved. In the past few years, we’ve seen things shift by leaps and bounds. I’m not that interested in discussing the changes in food, but it’s the changes in attitude.

One thing that each of us has noticed a lot is our careers as vegan content creators. At least when I started Eco-Vegan Gal in 2008, being vegan was part of what made me unique in a way. The community online was small and Michelle and Jason, part of how I met each of you were through the fact that we are vegan content creators. I met Toni through Michelle, but for both Michelle and Jason, YouTube brought us together.

In 2011 or 2012 for me, I was one of the only vegan YouTubers that I knew of. I was in the top 10 or 20 vegan YouTube channels for a long time. All of the sudden, a few years after that, in 2014 or 2015, there were many vegan YouTube channels. Suddenly, I was no longer as relevant. It’s the same thing with blogs and Instagram accounts. There was this whole wave, which was simultaneously exciting. I felt like, who was I? Coming back to this concept of veganism being your identity, I’m like, “If being a vegan content creator is no longer unique or special in the way that it used to be, how do I navigate this world of content creation?” I’m curious how that’s affected if that’s affected you, Michelle, and you as well, Toni because I got to know you more recently than Jason and Michelle.

I can relate to that. Whitney, we started our YouTube channels around the same time. At the time, I was in college, I had just gone vegan and there was no information out there. It was a challenge and there weren’t a lot of resources out there. I started my YouTube channel in order to be a friend to people and a resource to people, an actual face that someone could connect with. If they go vegan in Texas, I was in Ohio at the time or wherever, they didn’t feel alone. I felt needed and that made it feel rewarding to create content. I would always get messages like, “I don’t know any other vegans. Thank you for sharing this simple, terrible recipe because there’s nothing else out there.” At that time, I was filling such a need that I saw.

It’s a lot different now where there are infinity content creators. There are a zillion blogs. Even cookbooks. There are many cookbooks out there that seem to cover almost every possible vegan topic that you can imagine. It has shifted where now if someone wants to go vegan or plant-based, they have no excuses that there’s no information out there. The resources are there. If I get hit by a bus, people can still figure out how to go vegan which is both comforting. It brings up how can I best utilize myself and my creative strengths to be able to help people and help the world. What I have found over time is that while there is a lot out there, people resonate with different things, people and content creators.

I look through my own YouTube feeds and it is flooded with content, but I don’t want to watch most of it. There are a couple of people who I do want to watch and I wish they’d create more. Whitney, I know you don’t create a lot on YouTube anymore but if it was there, I would love watching it because I resonate with the way that you share content and your voice and your thoughtfulness around issues. It’s important for all of you and for anyone reading who creates in any way. It’s not to push aside your want to create things because you feel like it’s already been done or someone else’s doing it. Even if you’re doing something similar to what’s already out there, it’s you, your voice, your perspective, your path, and the way you’ve walked through all of life that’s going to resonate with different people than what the other person’s doing over there.

It’s cool that there are many platforms now. Anyone who has a phone or anything has the ability to engage and to be creating and using exercising their voice, which is also helpful in those who are choosing the form of activism, of commenting on other people what they’re doing wrong. Instead, I’d encourage you to take the tools that are available to you right in your hand if you’re holding your phone, and find your voice. Find what you care about. Think about how you can inspire rather than tearing down and use it. Goodness knows the world can use all of our special, happy, inspiring and friendly gifts that we can share.

When I was starting a blog and I’m way past when you all did yours, I started mine in early 2012. I remember people were like, “There are a lot of vegan blogs out there. How are you going to be special?” All along the way, when I started doing this work full-time, I remember my parents were like, “That’s not a job. You’re taking steps backward in life.” I’ve met resistance the whole way. I’ve had a couple of people cheering for me in my corner. It’s easy to let others and even yourself talk you out of something, “There are too many people. I don’t have the right equipment.” Moving forward and believing in yourself and believing that you have something unique, even if it’s just your weekly meals, that is unique. I don’t believe that it’s a too crowded space. I still believe that there are rooms for other people.

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I have to give a shout out to you, Whitney because I was in a little bit of a crossroads where I was let go from my work. I was thinking about moving back into working for a company. Not a cog in a machine, but that’s how I saw myself. Where can someone else use my skills to help create a kinder world? Whitney, at that exact moment, you had been one of the people to encourage me to at least try doing my own thing and creating what I wanted to create for myself. If you can find it within yourself to give yourself that courage, that’s great.

Even if you are strong-willed and know you want something, it can be hard to do it completely alone. Finding someone who will be in your corner, and that can even be any of us. I’m sure if you reach out on social media to any of us, we can help be that for you maybe. Having someone to encourage you is everything. I have to say, thank you, Whitney. We met up at timeless one day when I was trying to decide what to do with my life. Had we not World of Vegan may not exist. The Plant-Powered People Podcast that Toni and I run may not exist. The Friendly Vegan Cookbook that we wrote definitely wouldn’t exist. The drama of my life videos I’ve made that have reached millions of people and inspired many people to go vegan, all of these things wouldn’t exist because I didn’t have the strong enough belief in myself. Other people lifted me up at that moment and I’m grateful.

Shout out to Whitney for helping Michelle make that decision. Michelle then encouraged me when I was in a similar position. I had lost my job. She encouraged me when much all of my other friends who had a conventional job and benefits, and knew my financial situation, how it could not support me long-term trying something new out. Michelle and my husband were the people who were like, “You got to try this. We believe in you. You can do it.” If Whitney hadn’t encouraged Michelle then Michelle wouldn’t have encouraged me. I’m grateful to be in the position I’m in. Thank you both.

I’m humbled to hear that. It’s an important thing as part of this conversation because the other side of our work is the dangers of getting caught up in our metrics. Whether that’s how many followers we have, how many likes or views we get on our content, how old we are, what our gender is, how much money do we make. All of these different things that we use to measure and compare ourselves and determine sometimes even our self-worth. It’s important to hear feedback like that, not just for me but everybody should be hearing something like that.

You don’t have to reach the masses. You could create this whole ripple effect simply by helping one person. That is a message that needs to be discussed more frequently, especially since we’re in this world that places so much emphasis on numbers that you’re making a difference on your own. One of the elements of veganism is that it’s helping animals, the earth and you. Some people feel helpless, but if you can do that change for yourself, not only does that make an impact based on your life, but you might be inspiring a few other people. Those people might go on to inspire others. It’s this pay it forward type of thing. We need to recognize that more frequently. Myself especially because I felt a lot of pressure and disappointment based on metrics. That’s haunted me for many years. I think about that a lot.

We talk about that on the show sometimes, but I wonder how many other people are struggling with this idea of not feeling enough because they don’t feel like they’re doing enough or getting the results that they want. Maybe if they were acknowledged as you acknowledged me, if we acknowledged each other, this is another part of being kind, especially if you’re into words of affirmation like I am. That’s one of my love languages. Simply acknowledging other people can make such a huge difference in boosting somebody’s feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, and encouraging them to keep going.

If you get caught up in all of this mentality of, “I don’t make enough money. I don’t have enough followers. This photo didn’t get enough likes. I’m too old for this,” or whatever else you’re thinking that’s based on some number that we’ve used as a metric for success. If you get caught up in that, it can be incredibly dangerous for your mental health. That simple act of hearing from somebody that you’ve helped them might end up being a good way to diffuse any of those negative feelings that you’re having.

I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to express this. It is fascinating to think about how 99.999% of the time that you’re going to impact someone, even completely changes the course of their life. The ripple effect that has on everyone else like, Whitney, you did for both Toni and I, most often, you never hear about that. I will hear sometimes from people who write. I hired someone, her name is Gina House, and she now works with me on World of Vegan. At one point she had messaged me when I was having a baby. She was like, “I’d love to send you a gift. It’s a thank you for inspiring me to go vegan through your YouTube channel all these years ago.” I was like, “I’ve had no idea I had that impact on you.” It was something that just happened to have her reach out about that.

Most of the time, you never hear that. You never know who you’re impacting. For those who are doing positive and friendly work, for the vast majority, the impact that you’re having on the world around you that you’ll never know about is very positive. It is important to also think about when we are being negative or hurtful to other people that can also have a ripple effect that you also never hear about. You never know what downward spiral you can cause someone to go into. Being conscious of everything that we do that touches someone else impacts them. That becomes a part of their life story. We can’t control how that’s internalized and what that leads. We can control how we act and how we engage with people, the words we say to people, and the things that we share online. By simply sharing positive and inspiring things that can lead to a positive direction is always going to have a positive impact on the world.

One subset of this, I don’t know why it came to me, maybe out of this idea of the means in which we present ourselves to reach people. As we’re talking about the idea of impact which is not treating our creative endeavors as if they exist in a vacuum. Anything that we’re putting out into the world is going to have an energetic ripple effect. Since we’re talking about specifically our work in veganism as activists, content creators and entrepreneurs, one thing that is still controversial is the use of sexuality to promote veganism. I remember back in the ’90s when I was first transitioning from a standard American diet to vegetarian and then vegan, the ads back then from PETA with Pamela Anderson and some other celebrities. That had been a campaign that’s been going on a while of leveraging females to a lesser degree, male sexuality to promote veganism.

The three of you and myself included, we haven’t in our brands or our content has gone to that type of content or strategy to get eyeballs and followers. I’ve talked to acquaintances and colleagues of ours that we may all know who have chosen to do that. They did so because they felt much pressure. They saw other people getting many followers and comments and their vanity metrics going up. That deciding to wear less clothing or wear certain clothing or none at all, or leverage their sexuality to get more attention on veganism has been a strategy that people have employed. I don’t know if I have a specific question other than, have any of you all ever considered that and been like, “If I only wore a crop top or showed my belly or whatever, then I’d get more followers?” Has it never even been a consideration? Ethically or morally, how do you feel about that as a strategy or a tool to grow the attention toward veganism?

MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

Friendly Vegan: Believe that you have something unique to offer, even if it’s just your weekly meals.

 

Similar to what Toni said before, I’m cool with whatever people want to do if it’s not hurting anyone. If that works for you, if it reaches some people, if you’re comfortable using your body in that way, then that’s fine. I’m all for freedom of expression, but I suppose this idea of hurting somebody is complex. One idea is that maybe it helps the animals and the environment, that’s great. What if it hurts somebody’s self-esteem? What if they see a woman with a flat stomach, enlarged breast or a great butt or whatever else it is about her that you’re noticing, and she’s putting this on display? For me, I often feel triggered by that because then I start to feel inadequate. I imagine the same goes for men too.

There are many factors and features of a man’s body that other men I’m sure see, and then think, “I wish I looked like that, and since I don’t look like that, maybe I’m not as desirable.” That’s a tricky thing when it comes to putting yourself out there. On the other hand, if we are constantly censoring ourselves, that’s also detrimental too, it’s a tricky thing. I’ve had to take that responsibility of working on my reactions to those things and not judging other people, but noticing, what is it about this image, this video or whatever it is, that’s triggering an emotion? What’s the root of that emotion? It has nothing to do with the person that’s doing those things. I have seen some advertisements like PETA, for example, has used celebrities to pose and be sexual. Part of me feels like it’s cool because these people are beautiful and we put much value on people’s appearance already. We might as well use it for something that spreading a message that I agree with.

The people Jason mentioned feel pressured into something. If that’s the case, then that makes me feel sad. If it’s the way someone loves to express themselves and empower you, but it’s the pressure part that makes me a little bit uncomfortable. I know that is an easy thing to happen when you spend a large part of your day online. I have never felt compelled to show myself if you look at the Plant-Based on a Budget feed, unless it’s my book cover which I did not want to be on the cover. I rarely make appearances in the feed but I know that is how some people build a brand with their personality and making people feel connected to them, and I choose to do it through food. To answer your question, I don’t personally feel any need and I have not felt any need to show more skin than I do. That’s mostly my personality. I’m introverted, reserved and a little bit conservative about how I show my body. It’s just in line with my personality.

I feel divided on this because, on the one hand, I feel like everyone should feel empowered to use their own personal body however they want. That’s their choice. It breaks my heart that the young kids in the world are growing up, looking at examples of people who are paying massive amounts of money to change their appearance and setting completely unrealistic norms for the way that people look. Especially having a child now, I have an eight-month-old. Knowing that he’s going to grow up in a world where such emphasis is put on what you look like, a world where he’s going to be seeing more filtered faces than unfiltered faces at least now during the pandemic. It scares me a lot to think of how damaging that is going to be on young people growing up, and already is on young people growing up. I feel it myself. I try to not care about appearance.

It’s one of the things that, Whitney, I’ve appreciated your content. For many years before people were even talking about this, you would be like, “I want to be real, authentic, unfiltered. I don’t care if my room is messy or whatever, I’m showing you the real me.” It was at a time where that wasn’t happening. On YouTube, everyone was creating a set to film in. As a semi-perfectionist, I do struggle with wanting to present an example of being real and unfiltered, and setting examples of you don’t need to look any way. We certainly shouldn’t feel like before we answer our phone call on video, we need to first go do our hair. It’s crazy, but that’s the world that we’ve gotten to live in now. I don’t want to cast judgment on anyone, but I feel incredibly grateful, inspired and empowered by people who are taking off the filters, who are showing up in their pajamas with their messy hair, with no makeup, and being themselves. Showing a little glimpse to all of the people watching that it is okay to be a real person in the world. I feel like I’m getting worked up about this because it’s important and it also completely breaks my heart that this is the world that we’re in.

I get worked up about it too. Going in a different direction, Jason, you were asking more about advocating for veganism as well as building your following. What else breaks my heart, Michelle, to piggyback off what you’re saying is seeing the influx or the rise of influencers. For those of us who started long ago, we’ve seen this industry changed so much. Toni and Michelle were saying how oftentimes you’re making your videos to be helpful. Back in the day when we started it, which for me was in 2008, it was something fun to do. I started to connect with people and that was rewarding. Similar to what you’ve both said and to what Jason has expressed before, it feels good when someone says, “You changed my life. I watched your videos and they were helpful.” That gratitude was rewarding. As Michelle also talks about, we started to see how we can make careers out of this.

Jason, you went out the gate with this as your career because you were doing so much work as a chef at that time. It’s like the influencer world built up and it was a big compliment. For me, Michelle, and it sounds like Toni, you as well discovering like, “We can make money from this.” When I was starting out and how getting ads on my blog felt like such a big undertaking in 2009 and 2010. You could monetize your YouTube videos. I remember getting my first check from YouTube and thinking, “This is cool.” You get addicted to that world of like, “How do I optimize this more? How do I get more followers? How am I going to get more views?” That combined with the pressure to look and act a certain way. We’re connecting that with success. This is true in many industries.

One of the gifts, if there is one of the pandemic and COVID is people having this permission to work from home where many industries weren’t allowing that. Now, that’s the norm. That’s a huge pivot because I’ve been advocating for working for yourself and from home for many years. To see that shifting so much, and we don’t even know what’s going to happen, and how many businesses are going to be fully remote in the United States now. I’m sure that’s going to have a massive effect on us. It might be a little bit more socially acceptable to dress in yoga pants or your workout, clothes, your pajamas, whatever it may be versus when I look at my mom and how she used to dress to go to work. Many people still do. They’re dressing in suits. They have special work clothes that they have to wear, their hair and their makeup.

There’s been pressure to look a certain way and present yourself in this idea of, “If you are professional, you have to look this way.” In this world of social media, there is almost a formula or different versions of this formula in terms of, “If you do this, then you’ll get that.” To Michelle, you alluded to how for many years, I haven’t felt comfortable with that. I feel even more uncomfortable watching other people seemingly give up their autonomy and their unique voices, as we’ve been talking about too. They’re trading that for the numbers. They’re saying, “I don’t know if I’ll be accepted as I am. I’m going to put on this filter, wear this makeup, do my hair and buy these clothes. I’m going to edit my photos. I’m going to create the set behind me. I’m going to do all of these things to fake myself into a place of success.”

One thing I often think about and just bringing this up breaks my heart is that we don’t know the ripple effect of that yet. Based on being a content creator for many years, I would say only half of this time about a few years has the word influencer been around. That career path is relatively new. We don’t know the mental health consequences of this world that each of us is in. This obsession with metrics, appearance, and faking ourselves. Let alone, we’re seeing the rise of AI and all this technology. At what point do we stop that fake element of ourselves?

Every single person has the ability to make someone's day better, to share a delicious meal, and to spread positivity. Click To Tweet

The documentary, The Social Dilemma touches upon this too. There is so much data that is being collected on us that we’re slowly being moved into that world of faking everything in order to get some temporary reward. What happens after we get that reward? How much of that reward is fulfilling? What happens to the rest of our lives? What happens when we get older and no longer want to be influencers but we’ve based our self-worth and identity on some fake persona. How do you even break free of that? That is something I’ve been exploring a lot. I don’t want to participate in the way that I have all these years. It’s like the golden handcuffs because you’re constantly rewarded for things that might not resonate with you deep down. Toni, it seems like you want to chime in on this?

You’ve said much that it’s bringing up a lot within me and there are a few things. The truth is if you want to be in this business, which I do believe it is, it’s a business. I run Plant-Based on a Budget as though it is a business. To be successful, you have to think about it more than being an influencer or a blogger, but being a business owner. Unfortunately, you have to consider numbers. You have to consider how you interact with the algorithm. I also believe that we have control over how much we want to participate if at all.

We talked a little bit about this in our last episode, Whitney, about how you’ve gone and looked for different ways to not depend on the algorithm, not to depend on numbers, and to do consulting instead, and to still be part of this space, but in a different way. We all have that choice. If I watched The Social Dilemma and I was moved by it. I no longer scroll on Facebook. I was getting upset all the time. It was harming my mood and my personal life. To avoid that, I no longer scroll. I don’t read anyone’s stuff. If I have something to post for work, I post and I leave. It has improved my mental health. I do believe we all have choices.

The thing you were saying about looking a certain way, I remember when I went to pitch my first book. I went to New York and I met with seven publishing houses. Some of them were top-five. I dressed in what I thought was professional. At the time, I had no money. I couldn’t afford to go buy new clothes. I couldn’t afford to be looking in the way that I thought I should look. I wore this dress that I believed was professional. It was a nice dress. It was one that you’d wear to your office job like form-fitting, high neck, three-quarter sleeves, to your knees. It was cold in New York so I wore some tights, heels and a jacket that did not match, but that’s just the jacket that I had. I went into this publishing house and I remember being looked at. They wanted someone who had this certain look. I believe I could have that look but I didn’t that day. Immediately afterward, my agent told me, “They’re not going to go with you. I can tell.” I realized that you’re look is incredibly important.

If you want to fit into a certain space, there’s a look, a personality and I don’t have that. It did cause me to reflect on what I wanted for myself and I didn’t get an offer from them. In fact, I didn’t get an offer from anybody except the publisher I’m with that Michelle and I are putting out our book with. They’re called BenBella Books. At the time, I felt so much sadness. I remember that day I got the call, it was the bidding day where publishers bid on your book. I was sad and I kept thinking about how I should have dressed better, how I should have worn my hair differently. I got my BenBella offer, which was a nice offer but still, I wanted more. In retrospect, I’m glad and grateful for how it has all happened. I believe that sometimes the look does matter. I’ve embraced not having that look. I don’t have that look. I don’t have that personality and that’s okay with me. I can understand how some people feel the pressure and feel the need to conform because that’s what will get you a book deal. That’s what will get you so far in different spaces, especially with brand ambassadorships and things like that.

I feel a little bit differently. A lot of what that gets you is superficial anyway. Toni, you got an amazing book deal with a publisher that ended up being the best for you. I’m grateful we’re working with them now. Paying attention to the numbers and conforming to a standard may get you some forms of success. What is the definition of success? Is it the numbers? I’m sure you can hit that. Is it getting with us a certain publisher? Sure. If your definition of success like it is for me is making a positive impact on the world, reaching people or being a positive inspiration that’s going to help people rather than hurting them. Had you conformed yourself to those standards of how you present yourself, you could have been doing the opposite.

It comes down to what you define success as. The problem is a lot of people are defining success by the numbers and by these other superficial things rather than, can you make someone’s day better? Can you help someone live longer? Can you prevent suffering and help make this world kinder? You don’t need to look in any certain way. You don’t need to get any types of numbers or likes on a post in order to do that. Every single person has the ability to make someone’s day better, to share a delicious meal, and to spread positivity. My hope is that people can start looking at success differently and have it be less about the metrics and more about true impact on the world.

At the end of the day, when we’re all at the end if we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to look back on our lives, it’s not about how many likes we got on Instagram as someone was scrolling and liking to hope that you see them to like them back or something. It’s about those conversations that people have had. Those messages that people who have read this. You inspired or empowered them to be more themselves, that’s what matters at the end of the day.

I don’t agree with you there. That’s nice and it’s a sweet sentiment, but what pays the bills at the end of the day is higher numbers, book deals and things like that. If you want to reach more people, you have to have more money. I started with nothing and have built a strong business. I do have a business mind. When I think about these things, it does come from my vision, my goals for the future, the future of Plant-Based on a Budget, and the people I hope to reach some point. I love making people smile. If that is something that happens, that’s fantastic. I also want to have a team that is paid comfortably or paid well and who is happy with their job. That means I have to bring in X amount of money and do all of these things, which working a job isn’t always super fun. I disagree that it’s not the point of it. The point is to make people happy, which I hope to do. While you’re making people happy that there are sometimes things that you don’t have to do and that is life.

I will say from my personal experience, it has been fascinating. The things that I’ve created over the past years, where I had zero expectations for it. Toni and I, one time were like, “Let’s create these nice meal plans.” I remember driving to Cambridge to create them in the car with my mom who’s driving us. We were sitting in the backseat and she’s like, “Girls, how many people do you hope this to reach? How much money do you want to make from it?” I was like, “I haven’t thought about numbers. If five people get this meal plan and it helps them eat healthier on a budget, I will be fulfilled. That will make my day.” It ended up reaching thousands of people and being one of my most successful endeavors ever. It started off like, “How can I help people and with no expectations of how it will perform?” Again and again, I’ve seen efforts like that of mine. Those have been the most impactful things that I’ve done that have ended up paying the bills, but they never intended them to be that.

On the flip side, I have also done initiatives where I created a course where I spend a year trying to create this whole thing that I thought, “This is what’s going to pay the bills,” and it didn’t. When you put much effort and energy into creating something for the purpose of paying the bills and being successful, when it doesn’t, it is extremely deflating. When you’re creating things for the purpose of just creating them, because you think they should exist in the world, even if they don’t do well, you’re okay. You can move on to the next project.

MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

Friendly Vegan: Simply sharing positive and inspiring things that can lead to a positive direction is always going to have a positive impact on the world.

 

I’m in a fortunate position to have been lucky several times. I do think there’s not one of us is right and one of us is wrong. There is a balance in all of it and finding a way to make it not all about the numbers while you might have to look at that. I know you do that well, Toni. It is not all about the numbers for you. It’s about helping people. Finding a way to balance it all so that things can be fulfilling and not have you look at the end of your life and think, “I took my clothes off, I put it on the internet, and now I have a million followers. I’m getting all the likes and I’m the definition of success.” I can’t imagine that feels good at the end of the day.

Also, Michelle, I would like to say that although you may have some luck, you have worked hard even on the projects that you didn’t work for one whole year. You worked hard on them and put in a lot of care. I think it’s more than luck.

I don’t know anyone who works harder than me. I love creating for the sense of creating. I’ll say it’s unfortunate that we’re in a position where the creative minds are now tied to, as Whitney said, the golden handcuffs in order to pay the bills and achieve optimal success, however you identify that. It can have you sacrificing just creating for the sake of creating what you think should exist in the world. That philosophy holds a lot of beautiful things back that could help the world and will never be because instead, we’re focusing on things that are a little bit more superficial.

This is the exact question at the top of many things that I wrestle with the inside of my soul. There’s gravity to even saying that, but the way you phrase that, Michelle, and the way this conversation has taken a turn. This is one of the biggest challenges that I wrestle with on a continual basis. If you look at this from an entrepreneurial perspective and you’re looking at engagement, metric, conversions, click-through, sales, all those things, which is important to Toni’s point of, if you’re doing this to make a living, having a business mind and looking at this analytically and looking at it from a perspective of tracking trends, tracking analytics, you are looking where the numbers go in terms of your conversions, your sales, all of those things are important.

One thing that I started to get confused and frustrated by was this push and pull between giving the people what they want, and how do you know what people want? They respond to you through comments or emails or more specifically, in business since they convert. They buy your product, your books and your courses. If I’m selling well, then I must be giving people what they want because the numbers are reflecting that. This is a funny example, and there are many more examples. I started to notice that when I would post a short recipe video clip or image and a recipe like a professionally shot recipe image, and writing out the recipe. Even maybe try and funneling them to a website to download one of my eBooks, it would get a certain number of likes, comments, shares, whatever. I would then randomly post a photo of my French bulldog or a photo of me, a beautiful woman, or a photo of my cats. Those photos and videos would start to get an exponential amount of more likes than my recipe or the content that I’m trying to monetize.

I don’t make necessarily a direct living by posting pictures of my French bulldog or my cats unless it’s a sponsorship deal. My point is this is an eternal conflict for me of, do I give the people what they want? If a picture of my bulldog and my cats are getting 2,000 likes and a recipe is getting 400 likes, clearly you want the bulldog and the cats. Why should I keep putting all the effort into doing photoshoots, videos, creating all these recipes if metrically, they’re not getting as much conversion or engagement? It starts to become this question of, how much of it is giving the people what they want such as hopefully, converting to sales to support your business versus you being completely autonomous creatively and doing whatever the hell you want? I don’t know that I gave any answer other than I’m echoing this conflict to you all because it’s something that I continue to struggle with. It’s hard. I wrestle with it all the time.

Another thing that we have to consider is we’re not in control over all of this as we think that we are. It’s a little bit ignorant to assume. The algorithm is a real thing and it’s constantly changing. This is explored in The Social Dilemma documentary. One of the feelings I got from that is simply that there’s much happening behind the scenes. They have that visual at one point of being puppet masters over us as content creators, as well as our audiences. Maybe the algorithm, Jason is showing more people your cat photos or dog photos, or photos of you with women and not your food. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your audience or your community likes that thing more than something else, which is what we’ve been trained to believe.

It may simply be what they’re seeing. I was messaging with one of my most active, loyal, long-term community members, which is a phrase I prefer over followers. This woman is a big “fan” of mine, which is a word I don’t love. She’s very involved and passionate about the work that I do. She had not seen any of my Instagram content. I thought to myself, “If she is not seeing this, how many people aren’t seeing it? Who are they showing this to?” When we look at what Toni was saying about not going on social media as much anymore, especially if you see these documentaries or read the articles or watch YouTube videos about these things. YouTube is a great example.

If I go on YouTube, it is incredibly rare. I used to spend a ton of time on there and creating and watching content. Now, the only reason I go to YouTube is to find a specific video every once in a while. My big point is that it’s challenging because there’s much at play with all this work that we’re doing. We’ve been trained to think of it in one way, but everything is changing frequently that we can’t even base our ideas of what it takes to be successful anymore off of practices that worked a few months ago because the world is changing. The social media platforms are changing. We’re changing as a result of all of these things.

That can be incredibly frustrating, which leads me back to agreeing with Michelle’s point where I personally at this stage of my career, and this also may change. Just because that’s how I feel now doesn’t mean that’s how I’ll always feel. I’m with you, Michelle, on much preferring to find a way to be balanced, to bring it in Toni’s perspective as well. I’m a numbers person. I love studying these things. I’ve loved studying strategies. I do that for clients. I do that for myself, but at the end of the day, I don’t feel good trying to fit myself in a box just to get certain results. That doesn’t work for me. I’m not willing to do that, but I used to be willing to do it. I tried everything. My heart goes out to the story you shared, Toni. I’m grateful that you did because I have this whole vision of you going around and having these meetings.

I’ve been in my own version of that where I saw the formulas of what you should wear and when? How things should look? I constantly was trying to shape myself and the way that I presented it in my work in order to get certain results. Going back to Jason and Michelle’s point as well as we are summarizing it all, it doesn’t always work. I got exhausted and burnt out by that. I’m like, “Why am I doing things that I don’t want to do to get results that I might not even get? It’s not worth it for me.” I’d rather post whatever I feel like and maybe it will work out. To tie up my comment before we have to tie up the whole episode, sadly. We could talk for hours about all of this, but we’re going to be wrapping.

MGU 141 | Friendly Vegan

Friendly Vegan: It’s unfortunate that we’re in a position where creative minds are now tied to golden handcuffs in order to pay the bills and achieve optimal success.

 

I’ve noticed this a lot on TikTok which is incredibly interesting because it’s the baby of the social media world right now, but also one of the biggest success stories that any of us have seen in a while if ever. I’m fascinated by the seemingly super strong desire that a lot of TikTok creators have to be viral. They say it often like, “I hope this video goes viral.” The comments will be like, “Why hasn’t this video gone viral yet?” There’s this obsession on that platform with going viral because it’s common on there. It’s easy compared to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to get a ton of views on your content. What’s interesting about that platform though, what we’re seeing on there is controlled by the algorithm. Every once in a while, I am shown on what they call the For You page on TikTok which is the discover organics section of it.

Every once in awhile, I see a video that has barely received any views or any likes. Sometimes I’ll go and look at the content that people I know are putting out. They are doing great things that you would think would work, that are fitting into that formula and it’s not working on there. It leads me back to this idea and the same thing with Instagram. You could spend all of this time trying to create viral content, trying to create the content that you think people want. They may never see it. Either the algorithm might not pick it up for whatever reason, despite you using the right hashtag, description, the right filters, the right song, and all these other factors. It brings me back to that heartbreaking feeling of how many people’s lives are being based on this hope that if they do the right steps, they will get these certain results.

I wonder how much that’s going to affect our long-term mental health. It’s a tricky thing it’s complicated and we all have our different views on this. I’m grateful for Michelle and Toni coming on to talk about this and bringing it full circle to the big focus of each of yours and being friendly. We need to be friendly with other people just as much as we’re friendly with ourselves. Each of us is figuring out what that means. That does mean something different to each person. I am grateful for each of you to have such a positive, passionate and educated viewpoint on all this. You’ve been doing this work for so long. You’re educated as vegans and content creators. You’re eloquent and happy. I loved looking through your book.

Everything in there makes me drool and I wish I didn’t have to make any of it. I wish that each of you could make me the food, but you’ve thought of so much in there. It’s unbelievable. I also am grateful that we veered off of the topic of your cookbook to talk about some of these deeper things that have affected each of our lives. Thank you for that. I hope we get to do this again. We got to do it with Toni twice. Michelle, we might have to have you on a second time or both of you on again. 

Thank you for having us. It’s weird how I didn’t even know how passionately I was feeling. As we were talking about things, I could feel them burning inside me like, “Either yes or I don’t want to do that or you’re right, that is bothering me.” I appreciate how you bring those feelings up within me.

I feel similarly. It’s nice to be in a space where we can talk freely, openly and also push each other more deeply with all of you who I feel like we all have walked a semi-similar path over the past decade, which is cool. I know we’ve touched on a lot of heavy things which can feel a little bit overwhelming and a little bit negative, but it’s important to leave things looking positive. From scrolling way back to the beginning, where we were talking about the word vegan and all the heaviness that carries with it. Each of us has the ability to claim that word in whatever way we want. We can walk through the world as friendly, happy and outgoing vegans. It’s important to do that. It’s the same thing with the internet.

We can model the type of internet we want to exist by how we use it and what we share on it. Any ways that we can take our being and how we walk through the world, instead of responding to what exists now, I am trying to be conscientious. This is something I’m going to try and be better at about doing what I want to exist rather than reacting to the chaos around me. I feel like that’s going to take a big weight off of the exhaustion that I feel sometimes opening my computer even, when there is much going on. I’m leaving this feeling empowered to embrace a more positive direction in all of these things. Thank you, all three of you.

You said reaction, and then it reminded me of my reaction to you, Michelle, and I feel a little bit self-conscious about how I disagreed with you. I did want to say, sorry for that, but also that I love being a content creator. I know we shared a lot of more personal feelings about that but I love it. I especially love the connections I make with people. While I do care about business and I studied business in school and I value that part, what keeps me in this is not making money because I don’t do a lot of that. It is the connections I make with people like Whitney, Jason, Michelle, and all of the people who reach out to me. I wanted to clarify that too.

I love the depth and the emotion and authenticity that we explored in this episode. Kudos to you Toni and Michelle for your gorgeous, beautiful and radiant new cookbook. Your beautiful faces are beaming off the cover of The Friendly Vegan Cookbook. It’s 100 essential recipes to share with vegans and omnivores alike. That is the key. One of the biggest things is to sit down at a table where people are eating and enjoying food in different ways and coming together to share a meal as one of the greatest joys in life. Kudos and congratulations to both of you for sharing this gorgeous creative piece of art with the world. We will share it with as many people as possible to get them enjoying your delicious recipes.

For links to The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, to follow up with Michelle and Toni’s work online, we will have links to all of their social media handles and their individual websites along with links to buy this book at our website, which is Wellevatr.com. It will take you to this episode, our previous episode with Toni back from August of 2020, and we’re closing on hundreds of episodes for you to enjoy. If you’re a first time or a long time community member, thank you for your support of this show. Huge props to you, Toni and Michelle. We adore you. We can’t wait to see you in person again, hopefully soon. We will catch you again soon with another episode of the show. Thanks for reading.

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About Toni Okamoto

MGU 141 | Friendly VeganTONI 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 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 in Sacramento, CA.

You can find Toni on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

About Michelle Cehn

MGU 141 | Friendly VeganMichelle is on a mission to empower fellow earthlings to make kind choices and enjoy the many benefits of plant-based living.

That’s exactly why she founded World of Vegan. It’s why she publish content daily on Instagram and weekly on YouTube. She also host the Plant-Powered People Podcast, wrote The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, and filmed the 7 Days Documentary series, created the Plant Based on a Budget Meal Plans and The Dairy Detox.

With high hopes to help make happy, healthy, compassionate choices that will benefit our planet, our animal friends, and our fellow humans!

 

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