Q&A: Alicia Silverstone Wants You…To Stop Eating Meat
Alicia Silverstone doesn't require much introducing. If you don't recognize that pouting punim, you've likely been living under a rock since, oh, about 1993. Fourteen years ago she rocked our worlds with debut appearances in a few highly memorable Aerosmith … Read More
Alicia Silverstone doesn't require much introducing. If you don't recognize that pouting punim, you've likely been living under a rock since, oh, about 1993. Fourteen years ago she rocked our worlds with debut appearances in a few highly memorable Aerosmith videos, and later she won our hearts with roles in films like Clueless and Blast from the Past. With her talents for both serious acting and comedy, Alicia has continued to perform and produce, but there's much more to her than what you see on screen. A vegan and outspoken activist for animal rights, she's been known to lend her name (and hot bod) to PETA campaigns, recently appearing in a controversial PSA directed by acclaimed director Dave Meyers. We asked her to tell us about her Jewish upbringing, path to veganism, and favorite recipes. Here's what she had to say.
I've read that you went from a meat and potatoes diet to a vegan diet overnight. What were the biggest stumbling blocks that you faced in making such an abrupt change? What were the hardest foods and items to give up, and how did you deal with those challenges? It kind of happened overnight. I had tried to go vegetarian before. Once, when I was 8, again at 11. I would try without any guidance or inspiration. My brother would make animal noises of the animal I was eating and I thought, "I have to go vegetarian!" But I was so young and it didn't stick then. It wasn't until I was 21 that I really started to understand the puzzle of the whole thing. I realized that if I wanted animal cruelty to end, it would have to start here. I never went back after that. Before then, I was on a meat and donuts diet! Other than the first couple of weeks, I don't think there really were many stumbling blocks. It was just learning to adjust. For instance, buying potato chips. Most of them are vegan, but you have to read everything to know for sure. It was learning what ingredients actually count as vegan….having to think "does this have dairy in it, or gelatin from cow bones" that was most difficult. I found the experience to be really exciting. I was so passionate about what I was doing. It was a fun adventure for me. The hardest food to give up was definitely Brie cheese. It's funny because it doesn't appeal to me at all now. It was also hard to realize you can't just go into any shoe store and buy any kind of shoe you like….that is until Stella McCartney started making the most sexy, awesome vegetarian shoes. It's much easier now! I may see something that I want and I immediately get such a visual of the animal and the production involved. For instance, because I knew how cheese was made and the suffering involved in the process, it became instinct to no longer want it. Yes, sometimes I really want to eat some cheese, and sometimes my desire overtakes me and I have a bite. It makes me feel guilty and sad because it truly wasn't worth it. It tasted great for a second but then it makes you gain weight and break out and fart the next day. It makes me feel icky and phlegmy in my throat. Most of the time I am able to say no because of the visual I get of the animal suffering, but sometimes I am weak. Ultimately I believe the more effort you put forth to be a vegan, the better, but if you don't try at all, that is what sucks. It's not all or nothing. You do the best you can, make as many awesome veggie choices as possible. If you slip, don't fall off, just get back on. No one is perfect all the time, but hey….let's try to be! I came to the conclusion that for most everything in the meat world, there is an alternative that is just as yummy. It is not a sacrifice for me. I think vegan cookies and desserts are just as good, if not better than regular desserts. I could go to a bakery, or just drive down the street to a vegan bakery! I don't feel like I am ever missing out on anything. I know it's not all the same…for instance, vegan cheese is not as good as regular cheese, but the nachos at Real Food Daily with the cashew cheese are so insane: It is even better than Brie, or at least on the same level! The same goes for rice krispie treats, you can make amazing brown rice krispie treats. Both are equally tasty. One option causes suffering and torture and hurts your body, and the other doesn't. That's just how it works.
What kind of an effect has your veganism had on your family? Has anyone close to you followed in your footsteps? Yes, it's really awesome. It is the most amazing thing for me when people go vegan or make an attempt to go vegan. Most of my family is vegetarian. I have a lot of meat-eating friends, and a lot of vegan friends, and some that are trying to make changes. I love to see people get excited and inspired. There is nothing more thrilling than when people stop eating meat and suddenly feel so much better. It makes my whole year and it happens all the time! I am very grateful for that. I often find that omnivores are defensive when faced with my veganism, asking questions to bait me in argument, and just generally writing me off as a crazy hippie. You've taken a very vocal stance, discussing your lifestyle in the press and appearing in PETA campaigns. Why do you think so many non-veg*ans are up-at-arms about veg*anism, and how do you deal with that personally and publicly? The best way I have found to deal with situations like these is to be as informed as possible. I try to have all the information I can so I can answer any question calmly and happily. This way, they can't frame you as a crazy hippie. I do have a lot of hippie in me, but also some rock 'n' roll and also some lady. We are all mixes of all sorts of things. I like that. By focusing on being the best example of health, eating your greens and seaweeds, beans and whole grains (on a side note, macrobiotics is very helpful for becoming superwoman or man) you can lure people in with your radiant gorgeous self. I try to focus on myself and be the healthiest and happiest possible. People come to me wondering how they can be as happy or not as constipated or have better skin, the list goes on…by being my healthiest, I am promoting my lifestyle and this makes people more interested in the subject. The truth is hard for people to look at sometimes. If we treat those people who are asking baiting questions with grace and intelligence, they may think twice later on and maybe they'll even try some vegan cookies!
PETA often takes their message to the extreme, staging protests and using tactics that can alienate people, rather than gently bringing them into the fold. How and why did you choose to align yourself with them? I work with PETA on campaigns where I feel I can be instrumental in creating change. I think that no matter what they do, they are trying to end the suffering of animals. I am not familiar with any specific PETA campaign that was inappropriate. I imagine that whatever they do is for the purpose of drawing attention to the issue. Unfortunately, the press isn't interested in just the facts. PETA needs a little something to get their attention. I know that you were raised in a Jewish household. What Jewish traditions have you held onto as an adult? How do you celebrate and maintain your Jewish identity? Vegan challah? Latkes made with egg replacer? What does being Jewish mean to you? I remember going to Temple as a little girl and singing prayers. I love the sense of community that comes from singing prayers together. It's a really neat thing. I get the same feeling when I chant in yoga. A lot of my spirituality has transferred into yoga and vegetarianism. Trying to make the world a better place every day is also part of my spiritual living. I do not regularly attend a specific temple but I do dabble in them. I'm searching and seeing what it might add to my life. I don't feel that I need to have a regular Temple right now, but I am very open and interested and continue to investigate. I am looking for what this experience will add to my life. I do not want it to be something I feel I have to do or should do. I get spiritual fulfillment from yoga, meditation, and writing in my journal. When I do those things, I feel closest to the Earth and to God. I love that I am Jewish. I loved growing up in a Jewish community. I thought it was really neat, but it doesn't define me. My heart and spirit define me. My dedication to non-violence and being the best person I can be in this world define me. Judaism talks about all this, but I don't look to Judaism to find those things. I find them in myself, in spiritual teachers and yoga and vegetarianism. It is not the most important thing in my life, but I am very proud to be Jewish and am interested in seeing what else it might have to offer me in my adulthood. Do you cook? What are your favorite cookbooks? Favorite cuisines and dishes? Yes, I do cook, but not nearly as much as I would like! My favorite cookbooks are the Real Food Daily Cookbook and the Candle Café Cookbook. I love making Rice Krispie treats. I have an amazing vegan Peanut Butter Rice Krispie treat recipe. I also love this vegan Tostada recipe with tofu cream, and a cabbage and leek recipe. Are there any tools, ingredients, or recipes that are essential staples in your kitchen? A good quality miso, from a natural foods store is absolute essential. I have miso soup almost every day for breakfast. It is a natural antibiotic and it is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Umeboshi plums and Umeboshi plum vinegar are other must haves. The plums are excellent if you've had anything acidic, or anything that has made you feel a little funny. They are like a magic tool, incredibly healing. You can make an Ume Sho Bancha tea with them. Make a hot cup of Kukicha tea. Put a quarter of an Umeboshi plum in it and a few drops of Shoyu and let it simmer together. This is a great healthy drink. Also the Umeboshi vinegar is delicious, I use it all the time in recipes. I also like to have a good quality Shoyu sauce, Earth Balance Butter, and Vegenaise instead of mayonnaise for sure. Other tasty items that are also great transitional items are the tempeh bacon strips…and all the great "ice cream" options. I think some of the best ones are the vanilla bars dipped in chocolate with nuts that Rice Dream makes and the Soy Delicious ice creams. They have so many flavors!