There are a lot of frustrating things going on in the news and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. Thankfully there are people like comedian, Jamie Kilstein and writer, Allison Kilkenny, the duo behind the independent media podcast, Citizen Radio. Through their listener-supported, sponsor-free news show, the pair cover unreported news and corporate media news blunders with wit and humor. Jamie and Allison’s new book, #Newsfail, released this week, which is basically a hardcover highlight reel of those news stories that either do not (but should) exist, or completely miss the point on mainstream media. Jamie and Allison took time to chat with FARM about their work and their vegan pride.
Disclaimer: While FARM shares many of their views, particularly regarding veganism and animal rights, the responses by Jamie and Alison to our questions are their own uncensored opinions. Some of the language and political viewpoints might be abrasive to certain readers. Please read on with an open mind and eagerness to laugh!
FARM: Focusing on your book’s vegan chapter [titled “Al Gore Is Fat and We’re All Going to Die: Or, You Can’t Blame Climate Change on Vegans”], I was very impressed with it because, in about 25 pages, you covered a lot of the really important reasons to consider going vegan. A lot of times people just focus on the animal cruelty, which is obviously a huge part of it, but I’m really glad that you both touched on worker’s rights, the environment, and even some of the feminism angle.
Allison: Yeah, we’re assuming that people reading the book would already describe themselves as progressive, so it’s a little bit of a challenge. If you call yourself liberal, if you think you’re left wing, have you embraced veganism? We have a lot of friends who would call themselves progressives, but tweet photos of their bacon at brunch.
Jamie: We pretty much had to lay out as many reasons as possible [to go vegan in the book]. You could go to a climate march hosted by Democracy Now and the spirit of Emma Goldman and you show up with veggie burgers, it’s gonna piss people off. It doesn’t matter how liberal of a room you are in, [veganism is] the thing we found, besides feminism, that divides us the most. So [in the book], we were gentle and we tried to be funny [while still presenting the facts].
FARM: Jamie, you mention in the chapter that you went vegetarian for the animals and then vegan for Allison. With all these reasons to go vegan, what was it exactly that really helped you stick with your convictions, beyond your relationship with a vegan?
Jamie: Yeah, trying to impress a girl is up there! It’s weird that I was definitely that clichéd vegetarian, where I would proudly declare I was vegetarian, but then someone would ask if I was vegan, and I’d be like, “No, those vegans are out of their f***ing minds!” because I didn’t know anything about it! From an animal cruelty point of view, I didn’t know what the animals went through [in the dairy and egg industries]. I thought that if they weren’t being killed for meat, they were at some weird Malibu retreat, getting milked by the gentle hands of a seamstress. I didn’t know! And then selfishly, I thought all I would be eating was salad, and I hated salad. When Allison told me she was vegan, I was actually defensive. But I told her, “When I’m ready to try to eat vegan, I want you to show me the information.” And all it took was one image of a cow with an udder so big [she] couldn’t stand and I was [soon] vegan.
Jamie says once he ate healthier (no more sneaking cheese pizzas at midnight, an experience hilariously recounted in the book), he felt better and hasn’t turned back. Allison initially went vegan for health reasons, after her physician encouraged she remove all dairy from her diet due to allergies. Following the doctor’s suggestion, she did research online, discovered veganism, and dove in. Within a week, she noticed amazing changes from fewer sinus headaches to greater energy.
FARM: After going vegan, how long was it before you found yourselves getting into activism and being a voice for animals?
Allison: I’m really careful about using that word “activist,” because I really respect activists, it’s a hard job and takes a lot of commitment, so I don’t consider myself an activist in that respect.
Instead, the two consider themselves vegan “ambassadors.”
Jamie: We proudly, proudly, proudly call ourselves vegan. We talk about [veganism] a lot on our show and in our book.
Jamie points out that, under the umbrella of activism, it’s important to focus on what you’re good at. “What Allison and I are good at is making very serious, sad issues digestible or funny or approachable,” he said.
Taking that approach has really opened up the hearts and minds of their Citizen Radio listeners.
Jamie: We have gotten, literally, thousands of emails from, not just vegetarians who went vegan, but from people who hated vegans or people who grew up on farms and didn’t know what vegan was, and [after learning about animal agribusiness on the show] have gone on to do the kind of activism you guys [at FARM] do. We’re proud to inspire the next generation of activists.
FARM: Do you find that you already have a decent vegan audience [of Citizen Radio]?
Jamie: What I’m really proud of is that, the listeners who aren’t vegan, aren’t raging assholes about it. We have tons and tons and tons of readers whose vegan anniversary coincides with their anniversary of listening to the show. We get tweets about it every year and it’s awesome. Responses to vegan topics on the show are always positive, with even non-vegans sending emails saying that they have cut back on their meat consumption or are slowly working toward [a vegan diet]. Even when we go really into [veganism / animal rights], we don’t get hate mail. We either have vegans or just really compassionate people listening.
Allison: My favorite emails are the ones that come from kids that are scared to come out to their parents as vegans, and it turns out the parents are super wonderful and supportive, they get a vegan cookbook and make dinner together. And we’ve gotten a lot of those!
FARM: Focusing back on your book now, “Newsfail,” and how it’s all about “fails in the news,” let’s talk about news fails related to animal rights. It seems like nearly every day, there’s a “fail” in the news surrounding animal issues, whether it’s pro-SeaWorld/circuses/zoos, the myths surrounding “humane meat,” climate change, etc. What do you think is the most notable “news fail” regarding animal rights just in the last year?
Allison: I think climate change is the biggest one, just because it effects everyone on Earth, but I think the Ag-Gag laws are a really, really big story. There are all these First Amendment activists who get outraged, and rightfully so, when police break up protests, you need permits for protests at every level, but [Ag-Gag laws] are a huge First Amendment [threat]. This should outrage not just animal rights activist, but also First Amendment proponents.
Jamie agrees that climate change isn’t getting enough (or the right) attention in the news, pointing out the United Nation’s declaration that factory farming is the leading cause of climate change. He says that many panels will take the time to talk about carpooling and using less electricity, but if someone suggests going vegetarian, it’s treated like a joke.
Jamie: The fact that we won’t even humor in the news the one thing that will [make a difference] is the biggest #newsfail. If someone does interview someone who is vegan, they treat them like some underground mole person that emerged to just spout 9/11 conspiracies and take away your cheeseburgers.
FARM: Let’s say someone who is not vegan and has been pretty unaware of these things, they read your book and the vegan chapter and they’re all fired up, ready to go vegan, but then they don’t know what to do next. What do you recommend they do first?
Jamie: The first thing you’ve gotta do is act selfishly. And what I mean by that is, you need to go online, go to the bookstore, look at the restaurants you like, and find as much vegan food as you can that you like. I think a lot of people go after veganism as a “diet,” and diets don’t work. People cave, they go off the wagon. Don’t think of it as “you have to eat less.” I think this is better than a cookbook: just Google vegan versions of foods you already like.
Allison agrees that, if you have access to the internet, researching and trying new recipes is vital, as well as learning how to cook. She suggests getting down a basic pasta or stir-fry recipe that can be tweaked to use whatever ingredients you like and whatever ingredients you have on hand.
Jamie says they always do a vegan episode on Citizen Radio around Thanksgiving as a way to support “the baby [new] vegans who are going home to their families and have to watch their father fist a turkey.” This show always results in hundreds of “the sweetest emails,” thanking Jamie and Allison for their tips and support. The main tip is always: bring something vegan to share and make it awesome.
Jamie acknowledges that it can be a “radical shift” to go vegan after being raised with animal-based foods for so long, but focusing on all the many foods you can eat, and never seeing it as a sacrifice, can make a huge difference in sticking to veganism. Research, read, arm yourself with recipes & restaurants you like, etc. “so you don’t wind up in the middle of the supermarket having a panic attack like I did,” Jamie jokes.
Jamie also suggests that new vegans should do their research so they know and remember why they’re going vegan. “You see what’s happening to the animals and the workers and the environment, and then you can just own [your veganism] and be proud of it,” Jamie says. “It’s so hard to make a tangible difference in the world because the media is all owned by asshole corporations, the Democrats are becoming Republicans, the Republicans are insane, that sometimes you feel really helpless and worthless as an activist, but [going vegan] is actually a tangible difference you can make. You can look at the little faces of the animals that you’re helping. That pushes me through!”
What are some of Jamie and Allison’s favorite vegan things? They dished in a Live Vegan Lightning Round!
FARM: Favorite vegan restaurant.
Jamie & Allison: Vegetarian Dumpling House and all the Blossom locations in NYC
FARM: Favorite vegan celebrity.
J&A: Rise Against! and Peter Dinklage
FARM: Go-to vegan meal to make at home
J&A: Jamie’s Pizza Pasta
FARM: Favorite vegan junk food
J&A: Mozzarella sticks from Champ’s in Brooklyn; all nachos & cake
FARM: Favorite green vegetable
FARM: Tofu, tempeh, or seitan?
J&A: Tempeh for Allison & tofu for Jamie
FARM: Favorite vegan cookbook or blog
J&A: Choosing Raw
FARM: Favorite animal rights book
J&A: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and #Newsfail
FARM: Favorite vegan/AR message t-shirt
J&A: Eat Kale Not Cow
Want to win a copy of Jamie and Allison’s new book, Newsfail? Comment below with why YOU Live Vegan and one lucky winner will be announced on Friday, October 17th at 12pm Eastern! Be sure to comment with contact info.