An interview with Yunuén Ávila, CAA Volunteer and Explore Veg Mentor Program Coordinator
What drew you personally to veganism?
I started choosing to be vegetarian (without really knowing that that was even “a thing”) when I was a baby. My mom said that I would spit out meat or feed it to my pets. I would also cry when I was forced to eat meat. As a young teen, I made my mom a promise, “When I turn 18, I’m becoming a real vegetarian and you can’t stop me.” My mom was offended and worried at the time, since the Hispanic/Latino culture relies heavily on meat consumption—you’re either “poor” or something is wrong with you if you chose to abstain from it.
I was a proud Lacto-Ovo vegetarian until I stumbled on the dark side of YouTube: videos of animal cruelty, animal testing, the dairy industry, and more. I remember I was sobbing in pain, feeling anger at the abusers, and feeling anger at my own hypocrisy.
“How is it that I say that I “love” animals, but I pay these monsters to torture and kill these living and sentient beings?!”
I remember setting my laptop on the kitchen floor and in rage, I went into my kitchen cupboards and threw everything out on the floor. I did the same in the bathroom. I sobbed on the floor as I read the labels on the canned goods and toiletries to see if they had any animal ingredients or if they’d been tested on animals. That day in May, seven years ago, was my true “AHA” moment. I had become a vegan for the animals.
Seven years ago, veganism wasn’t as popular as it is now and I relied heavily on social media pages that encouraged the vegan lifestyle. Although I had found myself, I still didn’t feel like I “belonged” anywhere. I was an outcast to the “meat-eaters” and an outcast to the judgmental vegan community I had found on social media. I struggled with veganism for a while until I stumbled across Compassionate Action for Animals (CAA). They received me with open arms and with them, I felt I had found my home and community. THIS is what veganism is all about: it’s about COMPASSION—compassion towards our animal friends and towards ALL people, no matter what stage in their veg-journey they’re on. I began being active with CAA and volunteering as much as I could. They offered veg-activism training and I wasn’t hesitant to attend. I’ve been volunteering at CAA for four years now and the only thing I regret is not being a vegan and a CAA volunteer sooner.
All in all, it’s never too late to have that “aha” moment. If you’re reading this, this might be the time to spark that change in your life and be the one whom our animal friends thank for letting them live their lives to the fullest.
How do you explain your vegan lifestyle to folks if and when they ask about it?
Veganism is not only about avoiding the consumption of animals or abstaining from wearing anything that derived from animals or that has been tested on animals. It’s a moral and mental awakening of the horrific suffering these living and sentient beings have to endure on their short-“lived” lives. It’s about making a conscious decision to not participate in the abuse. It’s also about perspective. If one frowns upon the other side of the world for consuming who we view as pets in this country, then why is it okay to consume farmed animals? If I stopped drinking my mother’s breast milk at a young age, then why is it viewed as normal to consume milk at an adult age, especially milk that doesn’t belong to us in the first place? Supply and demand. The more one demands plant-based food, the less suffering there will be. Take the leap with me.
What is your favorite dish to share with veg and non-veg folks?
My husband’s, Sanchez Brown, “famous” authentic, vegan tacos and my “famous” vegan spinach and cheeze lasagne. (P.S. If you want to try Sanchez’s tacos, they’re exclusive to CAA volunteer appreciation events. Sign up to volunteer today!)
Besides volunteering with CAA, what are you up to these days?
I advocate for workers (union activism) and for the voiceless. In my spare time, my husband and I like to throw parties, make tons of vegan dishes to share, and then show them off to our non-veg friends to try so they can get a taste of the beauty of veganism.
Looking to make a change in your life? You can find free veg resources on our website and sign up for the Explore Veg Mentor Program. To get involved with CAA, visit our volunteers page to let us know what you’re interested in getting involved with. All are welcome!
Twin Cities VegWeek 2019 is Sunday, April 7 through Saturday, April 13!
At the heart of your VegWeek experience is the Twin Cities VegPledge. It’s YOUR chance to try out more plant-based eating and become a better animal advocate!
Get started with a pledge to go either vegetarian or vegan for the week of April 7. If you’re already vegan, pledge to get at least five friends to take the VegPledge.
Suzy Sorensen is a Twin Cities-based Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who is passionate about plant-based eating! She has a Certificate of Training in Vegetarian Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and opened Move2Veg Nutrition Counseling in 2009 to support those interested in plant-based eating. For more information, visit move2veg.com.
This month, the first part of her new four-part nutrition series, Growing Up Vegan, will be published on our blog. The series will explore ideas for supported eating during the four main stages of development. Read on to learn how Suzy’s passions for veganism and nutrition intersect.
What drew you personally to veganism?
A vegetarian friend invited me along to a PETA seminar here in the Cities (nearly 20 years ago). That first opened my eyes to what happens to animals and the choices I can make to reduce suffering. That’s where I connected with CAA! My “aha moment” was very shortly after that. We were visiting friends in Florida and happened to be there for
What drew you to your practice (and study of) nutrition?
I have a degree in education and taught science for 7 years. I was looking for a change and took a career development class. I shadowed a dietitian, took an intro to nutrition class, and it was love at first sight! I realized that food is powerful medicine, much more than just “fuel for the machine.” Food plays a critical role in health and disease. I still consider myself a teacher, but with a new subject matter—nutrition! Later, when I became vegan for compassionate reasons, I was driven to learn about plant-based nutrition to take care of myself and my family. It didn’t take long to realize that there was a lot of misinformation out there among my friends and my patients! That’s what prompted me to start Move2Veg, there is a need for accurate, evidence-based, individualized nutrition information. With that, we can be our best plant-based selves!
What are three tips you would emphasize to a friend transitioning to a plant-based diet?
1) It does not have to be complicated or difficult to move to a plant-based diet. There aren’t “rules” or a “right way” to do it. We each need to do what works best for us to reach our goal.
2) Make connections, you aren’t alone! Go to pot lucks, dine outs, other social events, connect with a mentor, meet with a plant-based dietitian! We can learn from and be inspired by others.
3) Forgive yourself—learning something new takes time and practice, there will be moments where it doesn’t go quite as planned but tomorrow is another day.
Do you have a favorite food trend
Easy, plant-based! The research shows more people than ever are giving it a try! Specific food trend? SO many new vegan cheeses, I’m always curious to check them out. L
Do you see a shift happening in public perceptions of nutrition?
Absolutely! I work in
To read more from Suzy, follow her new four-part nutrition series, Growing Up Vegan, released monthly on our blog starting March 6.
Are you thinking of stepping into plant-based eating? Or are you already plant-based and want to provide support to someone looking to make a similar change?
Look no further, because CAA just launched a brand new program geared toward supporting veg and veg-curious individuals on their plant-based journey. Meet the Explore Veg Mentor Program!
The Explore Veg Mentor Program was designed to help individuals reach their plant-based goals, whether it be adding a few more veg meals into their week or going full-on veg. We all know it’s easier to reach your goal with someone rooting for you in your corner!
How does it work?
We pair mentees looking to make a plant-based change in their life with a mentor who has already gone through the process of learning about and living the lifestyle choices they’re contemplating.
Each pairing lasts three months, during which time the mentor and mentee team aim to be in touch with each other at least every two weeks and participate in at least one CAA event (this could be a potluck, dine-out, or another event). We encourage teams to do things such as share recipes, eat together, go grocery shopping together, and share blogs, videos, or books with each other.
For more information on the Explore Veg Mentor Program, visit our program page. To start your application, we’ll ask you to fill out a brief questionnaire and will be in touch with you about further steps within two weeks. We’re currently accepting applications for mentors and mentees.
You can also attend our January Potluck: Starting Out Plant-Based, where we’ll share tasty vegan food and meet volunteer program coordinators Yunuén Ávila and Sanchez Brown on Saturday, January 12 from 12:00pm – 1:30pm.
What does the Bible teach about compassion? Why aren’t more Christians vegan or vegetarian? But didn’t Jesus eat fish? And what about the idea that God gave us dominion over the animals, according to the Bible?
These controversial questions are addressed in the most recent episode of Exploring Veg. Our Executive Director Unny Nambudiripad speaks with two Christian animal advocates: Kathy Dunn, an animal activist and blogger, and Ruth Soresnson-Prokosch, a pastor at a Lutheran church. They share how they speak up for animals using the Christian teachings. We hope this podcast will be inspiring not only to those who are Christian, but also to those who want to learn more about how to respond when others use their understanding of their faith as justification for eating animals.
Our executive director Unny Nambudiripad recently sat down with vegan bodybuilder Ryan Nelson to talk about how he succeeds as an athlete on a vegan diet. Ryan answers the burning question of where he gets his protein and also shares why he went vegan and how he trains as a bodybuilder.
This interview provides good inspiration not only for athletes curious about how to thrive on a plant-based diet but also for anyone who is thinking of making the shift to more compassionate eating.
I sat down with a few CAA volunteers recently, and we talked candidly about our experiences dating as vegans or vegetarians. Our diverse crew included E.G. Nelson, Lynne McMullen, Laura Van Zandt, and Chris Luhman. The conversation covered some of the common questions that come up for someone who lives as vegan or vegetarian and is trying to date in a world that is not always so veg-friendly.
- Do you only date other vegans or vegetarians?
- What are the challenges that can arise when dating omnivores and how can you handle those challenges?
- How important is it to be able to share not only food but also a vegan ethic with your partner?
Our conversation included some funny stories about past dating situations, and we were ultimately in agreement on what makes a relationship (or even just a first date!) work, regardless of the dietary preferences.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, romance might be on your mind. If it is, we hope that this podcast provides you with a feeling that you are not alone and gives you ideas for how to approach dating in 2015 with renewed hope and inspiration.
Thinking about moving towards a plant-based diet as a New Year’s resolution? Take these tips from vegan registered dietician Kristina DeMuth on how to make the transition in a healthy, lasting way.
In conversation with CAA executive director Unny Nambudiripad, Kristina answers your key questions:
- How do I go vegan and meet all of my nutrient needs?
- What are some resources, both online and local, that can help me stay on this path?
- What are some challenges that I might encounter and how can I overcome them?
Along with basic information on healthy plant-based eating, this podcast offers inspiring insights on how to move forward with your resolution to go vegan in the new year.
Compassionate Action for Animals has launched a campaign to bring Meatless Monday program to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Since Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon recently made a Meatless Monday proclamation for the city of Minneapolis, we thought he would be a great person to talk to about why Meatless Monday is important. Listen to the podcast to learn how this local politician is promoting plant-based eating in our community.
For more updates on our Meatless Monday campaign, visit the Facebook page, I Need Meatless Monday at University of Minnesota TC.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, the holidays can be a challenging time. From the probing questions at the dinner table to the snarky quips about why you won’t eat the turkey, we find ourselves facing a number of uncomfortable situations. We want to enjoy the holiday with our friends and family, but how can we relax when the centerpiece on the table is the bodily remains of a once living, vibrant animal? What do we say? How do we respond? And, perhaps most importantly, what can we eat?
These questions are addressed on this month’s episode of Exploring Veg. For this discussion, CAA Executive Director Unny Nambudiripad is joined by CAA Outreach Coordinator Grace Van Susteren and two CAA volunteers and students at the University of Minnesota, Priyanka Ketkar and Tyler Tracy.