Our latest #gunasgirl, Miss. Miyoko Schiner, is a vegan after our own hearts. From her publications (The Homemade Vegan Pantry, Random House 2015, Artisan Vegan Cheese, Book Publishing 2012, and more), hosting global vegan tours (Vegan Travel Club), artisan vegan cheese company (Miyoko’s Kitchen) and ever expanding Rancho Compasion, a farmed animal sanctuary (!), she’s certainly an animal lover on the go. Miyoko took some time to speak about maintaining her schedule, the rite of passage into veganism and spending time in non-cruelty free regions.
What inspired you to become a vegetarian at such a young age and then eventually vegan?
It was a school camping trip in 7th grade where I was put in a group with a couple of friends who were vegetarian (their parents were hippies). I ate millet for the first time and felt sorry that vegetarians had to eat such tasteless food. But when I got home and my mom put pork chops in front of me, I suddenly felt repulsed. I saw animal flesh for what it was, and pushed my plate away. I never looked back. I never had second thoughts. Years later, in my mid-twenties, I went vegan for health reasons, largely because I realized I was probably allergic to dairy. The ethical reasons came later.
We love that you’ve spent time living in Japan. Was it challenging to embrace veganism in this part of the world? What is the cultural attitude towards an animal free diet?
People generally reacted with shock when I told them I didn’t eat animal products. It’s funny, because Japan actually has a long history of veganism due to having been a Buddhist country for centuries when the consumption of animal products was forbidden. But today, meat and dairy have become part and parcel of Japan, and Western diseases are on the rise. However, the Japanese, obsessed with health, are turning now to veganism, and Tokyo alone boasts 200 vegan cafes and restaurants. Mostly, it’s health and beauty that has influenced people, but there is a burgeoning ethical vegan movement there as well. I gave a talk there a few years ago and people were shocked to learn about factory farming — they had no idea and were alarmed to learn. So I think there will be greater consciousness going forward, although they are indeed behind other countries in terms of awareness of animal rights.
When did you start writing for Vegan publications and eventually your own cookbooks?
That’s fantastic! As of today. You’ve had publications, participated in global vegan tours and started an artisan vegan cheese company. Tell us about a typical day on (multi) job for you.
Ah. I start my day bright and early, and first take care of emails while sipping a soy cappucino. By 7 am, I am down at the barn feeding the animals (cows, goats, pigs, chickens, etc.) and shoveling manure. If I have time, I take the goats and dogs on a quick hike or run. Then it’s off to Miyoko’s Kitchen , where I wear many hats (we’re still a start-up). There’s often travel involved as well, including making headquarter calls to major retailers, or giving a talk at an event. Weekends are also busy with either travel or activities for Rancho Compasion, my farmed animal sanctuary. Yes, it’s go-go-go right now, but I feel I have a limited amount of time to get the message out and work done about veganism. We have to convince the world that veganism is the best option for the planet, the animals, and us, and we only have so many years before we succeed or fail. So I feel that I, along with many other people, have a job to do, and this keeps me going each day.
That’s a good point, as the opportunity to change our world won’t last forever. Given you have so many endeavors, what’s your key to staying successful in the vegan community? What advice would you give to others striving to participate?
I love this question, because one of my passions is to help and inspire others to do as much as they can in the vegan community! Everyone has a role to play, whether it’s just being the friendly neighbor baking delicious treats for potlucks or launching your own brand of vegan products. Communicating passion and mission are key — we aren’t just making products, we are providing solutions to help people transition to a vegan lifestyle. Vegans need to think of themselves as having solutions for a better world, not as those who judge others and simply point out what’s wrong. We already know what’s wrong — now let’s concentrate on providing solutions for everyone.
Do you incorporate veganism into your fashion choices as well? If so, what are some of the best animal friendly brands?
I am SO happy that we have so many vegan options in fashion today! In the old days, we had Payless, and that was about it. Now, I am making up for lost time doing too much shopping! (mostly online) I love Gunas, of course (I’ve had three Gunas bags, including Cougar, Naomi, and a very early one ), as well as Matt & Nat, Angela Roi, and others. My shoe collection is growing rapidly, too, embracing styles from Bhava NY and Novacas, to practical and comfortable vegan selections from Betabrand and even Vibram Five Fingers (especially when standing all day at a trade show, even though everyone comments on my toe shoes).
You have become something of a vegan guru in Italy and Japan. Where are the best regional vegan go-to’s for the traveling #gunasgirl?
I love Italy to the core. And the core of Italy is in the more remote South where life seems to go on as they have for centuries. It’s much easier to eat there as well, since so much of the everyday diet, known as la cucina povera or peasant food, is plant-based, featuring lots of legumes, grains, and vegetables. In Japan, Kyoto has a long history of vegan cooking in Buddhist temples, and you can have the most amazing, multi-course “shojin-ryori” (planned for several hours). There are also lots of trendy vegan restaurants cropping up.
When did you come across GUNAS and what is your favorite piece in the collection?
It was a few years ago, I think at a fundraiser. There was a beautiful bag that had been donated. I didn’t win it that night, but I did go online and buy a backpack right away.
Describe yourself in three words.
Passionate, innovative, hard working.
Ten years from now, where do you envision the vegan community will be? What do you hope to have accomplished?
Bigger and tighter-knit than ever. There IS a vegan revolution happening, and I hope we’ll work out the differences within the movement as we unite to create a more compassionate world that embraces people from all walks of life. We need to move beyond judging, and help people who are really struggling to make positive changes in their lives for whatever reason — perhaps the lack of availability of vegan foods where they live, or figuring out how to make a livelihood shift (especially if they are tied to animals but want to get out). Looking from the outside, some of these struggles seem artificial, and vegans are often quick to judge — but for many non-vegans, the struggles are real, and we vegans should instead focus on helping to make it easier for people to transition to a compassionate lifestyle.
Tell us more about your farm sanctuary, Rancho Compasion. How did you come to found this organization and how do you keep it maintained?
This is definitely a labor of love that has given me so much! It started about two years ago when my family and I moved to the countryside in Marin County. We rescued a couple of goats, and from then on, more animals came from various places. After we had 5 goats, a sheep, 3 pigs, and 20 chickens, we realized we needed help. So we put the word out, and wonderful folks showed up to volunteer in various capacities. We then became a 501.c.3 non-profit, and have added many more wonderful individuals to the mix, including cows, ducks, more pigs, and more chickens. We rescue animals from slaughter, school hatching projects, hoarding situations, and more. The animals get lots of love and attention, and have acres of beautiful land to roam. We are currently staffed by volunteers only, but would like to be able to hire a full time program director and animal caretaker next year.
What are some of your favorite vegan events to attend around the world?
Not a fair question — there are so many! Many sanctuaries host events around Thanksgiving, and those are some of my favorites. It’s hard to choose between VegFests as well, because they all so great, but Portland, Toronto, and Veganmania come to mind as being fabulous. Summeriest is definitely a blast — a summer camp for vegan adults — and I get a chance to relax a bit as well and hang out with friends I rarely see. I do have to admit, however, Vegano Italiano , the tour I’m leading this year for the third year in a row, is one of the best — a week-long excursion filled with feasting and friending (okay, so that’s not a word). Food and friends — that’s a hard combination to beat.
Miyoko is living proof that any form of animal activism is possible if you put your mind to it. In addition to her actions, we love that Miyoko encourages the idea of viewing veganism as a worldwide solution, rather than a way to ridicule what’s wrong. With such a progressive and business savvy mind frame, it’s no wonder Miyoko is a growing success. We hoped you loved learning about this #GUNASGIRL as much as we did!