Welcome to the Supporter Spotlight post for April! In these monthly blog posts, we take a moment to shine a spotlight on our members, whose hard work and generosity truly enable the work of Vegan Outreach. This month’s Spotlight is particularly exciting, as we celebrate someone who has been vegan for 25 years! Congratulations to Babs McDonald. Let’s get to know her, shall we?
Tell us about yourself, Babs.
I have been a U.S. Forest Service employee for 23 years. I co-write and co-edit a science education journal called Natural Inquirer, which is free in hard copy and on the Web. (Check it out!) I live in Athens, Georgia on 14 mostly wooded acres with my vegan husband (Ken Cordell) and nine rescued dogs. Ken does a lot of innovative vegetable and wildflower gardening. We work to make our land a refuge for wildlife. I’ve been hyperactive all of my life, so I am an avid exerciser. My two favorite things to do are hiking in Scotland and long distance, open-water swimming (in warmer climates than Scotland!).
Share with us the story of your “vegan journey.”
I had been mostly vegetarian since my second year in college, and became a committed vegetarian after my stepsons left home in the mid-1980s. I was becoming more aware of the broad scope of animal cruelty, primarily through PETA and local activism. I organized a PETA Animal Rights 101 workshop in March 1990. In the weeks previous to the workshop, my forever dog Weber, then 14, declined rapidly.
Everything coalesced on March 17, 1990. Weber passed away early that morning. The workshop that day was tough for me, but being surrounded by 100 like-minded people (and four PETA employees) helped me through. That day, in memory of Weber, I vowed to do as little harm to animals as possible. Going vegan, obviously, was the largest part of that vow.
How has being vegan changed in the last 25 years?
I started a Ph.D. program in Adult Learning in 1994. For my research, I chose to study how people learned to become vegan. Through personal interviews, I learned that many vegans struggled as they chose a vegan lifestyle. I learned about vegans who had their marriages break up, lost jobs, and whose family members became distant or rejected them. In the mid and late-1990s, some people viewed veganism as a cult. At best, some people were suspicious of vegans. I’ve seen a cultural shift in the last 25 years.
Today, vegans may still be left off of dinner invitation lists, but I sense an unspoken respect for vegans, and an acknowledgement of veganism’s health and environmental benefits. For the most part in my experience, however, most people still don’t want to be confronted with the abhorrent cruelty involved in their meat and dairy-based choices. Vegan food options are much better today than 25 years ago.
What advice do you have for people who want to go and stay vegan?
The most challenging question from my perspective is how does one stay vegan? I believe the following self-knowledge helps to make a sustained vegan lifestyle possible, and perhaps even easy:
- an undeniable recognition that one is complicit in animal cruelty and environmental degradation every time they consume an animal product or by-product,
- a spiritual understanding that suffering is an unwanted experience of all living beings, and
- the sense of empowerment that comes with knowing that personal choice is possible and powerful: that one can live well without harming or taking the life of other living beings.
I tell people that being vegan is great for my heart — it gives me great joy. My research taught me that you never know what information people will connect with that will lead them to a vegan decision. Maybe even more important, you never know when that information will become relevant. Some of my vegan participants went vegan five or more years after their initial introduction to institutionalized animal cruelty. Vegan Outreach does a fantastic job of providing information that might lead to a vegan choice.
How did you first get involved with Vegan Outreach?
I learned about Vegan Outreach while doing my dissertation research. Jack Norris was one of my dissertation participants. I’ve always had the deepest respect for Vegan Outreach’s intelligent and successful approach to teaching others about veganism.
You’ve supported VO since 1997! What inspires this?
Vegan Outreach has a well-developed and proven model for success in getting the word out about veganism to people mostly likely to choose a vegan lifestyle. Some of these people may become vegan 1, 5, or 10 years from now based on Vegan Outreach’s efforts today. The most effective way for each individual to reduce animal cruelty, decrease the impact of climate change, improve environmental health, and support his or her own health is to choose a vegan lifestyle. I like putting my support where it will have the greatest impact for animal well-being and for our planet.
Finally, share with us your absolute favorite meal.
Over time, I find myself drawn to less-processed and minimally-cooked foods. My favorite meal at home is tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn on the cob straight from the garden. I can eat corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes all summer without tiring of them. I am interested to learn if other long-term vegans experience this increasing preference for minimally-cooked and unprocessed foods. Of course, it’s fun to eat the occasional vegan hotdog! Vegan meat substitutes make it easier to be a part of social events, and that’s a great thing.
Thank you, Babs, and congratulations on 25 years of being vegan!
Join Babs in supporting the work of Vegan Outreach by signing up for a monthly donation today.
And for help transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet, check out our Mentor Program.