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As SFoodie's resident vegan blogger and Vegansaurus founding editor, Laura Hooper Beck's upbeat, ell-oh-ell prose is underpinned with a political fervency bordering on rage. I was a little nervous about our dinner meeting, remembering dreary meals with preachy militants in college. We met at the vegetarian wine bar Encuentro in Oakland, for a shared feast of pesto chickpea flatbread; a faux-cheese plate with macadamia, smoked pecan, and sundried tomato "cheeses"; and a vegan Reuben made with tempeh. Everything was surprisingly tasty (Laura loves to mock wide-eyed converts like me: "Hey, this vegan food doesn't taste like cardboard!") and our conversation was sharp, funny, political, and winning. So much for preconceived notions.
Jesse: When did you make the decision to go vegan?
Laura: It probably would have happened sooner if it wasn't for my freshman roommate at NYU. She's one of those obnoxious zealots who are like, "Yeah, you can't keep your eggs or cheese in our shared fridge." She ate these gross peanut chews like, 24/7, and she was always having nasty sex on the top bunk. I was interested in joining the campus animal rights group but my roommate was a member so there was no way I'd go.
Did you learn from her mistakes?
Definitely. I don't try to preach or shove my choices down other people's throats. At the same time, I've found a lot of people are very curious. My omni (omnivorous) friends are amazing. When they have a dinner party, they usually want to create a dialog, to learn more about my lifestyle and the vegan things they can cook.
Do you ever encounter resistance?
Oh my god yes. As soon as some people find out I'm vegan, they make it their mission to find some logical flaw in my choices. It's like baiting me is some kind of party game: "You realize vegans are like totally privileged, right? Why don't you go try to feed people in Africa or something?" Yeah, good point dude.
Don't get mad, but how would you counter people who say vegans are privileged?
I'm very aware of how lucky I am to be a white American living in the Bay Area. But that's all the more reason to live as ethically as I can. Do I advocate veganism in a third-world country where food choices are severely limited? Not at all. But I have the freedom and ability to make a politically conscious lifestyle choice, so I do.
Do you ever slip up?
Well it's not like I'll find myself eating a pork chop and be like, "Whoops!" but I still fuck up in smaller ways. Like the other day I had a chocolate bar that wasn't fair trade or sometimes I'll use commercial sugar that is bone-char processed. We can only strive for our best and it's not always going to be perfect. And sometimes the choices can be complicated.
What do you mean?
Like, is it better to buy organic produce that comes from Argentina or stuff that's locally sourced but non-organic? Is local honey an acceptable vegan diet option? Is it okay to wear leather, if it's something you bought before you went vegan? My friends have very different opinions about these things. It's not like there is a vegan rulebook and if you do the wrong thing, you're kicked out of the club.
Your writing has a lot of anger in it, but you seem so nice.
Ha, I get that a lot from people who have just met me. I'm a pretty nice person, but I also see a lot of problems in the world. Writing is where I channel all the anger that builds up in me every day, when I listen to NPR or read websites and hear about injustice and hypocrisy. It's a great outlet for me, so I can be more well-adjusted in everyday life.
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