Interviews with Vegan Veterans is an ongoing interview series where I get to pick the brains of long-time vegans and give the world access to the knowledge, wisdom and understanding that they have spent decades accumulating.
This month's interviewee has been vegan about the same length of time most vegans have been alive.
In this interview, the self-proclaimed "grumpy old bastard" shares his vegan-views that some would definitely call "extreme", his experiences growing up in small-town America in the 90's as a skateboarding vegan punk-rocker and the social issues that accompany such an alternative youth.
Let’s start with the basics. Who are you and how long have you been vegan?
My name is Shawn Fosnight, I have been vegan 27 years, 4 months and 29 days as of this writing. I am 46 years old.
Shawn and his dog Sammi - around 1992 - 2 years after going vegan.
My vegan story is this: I was already vegetarian and while laying on my couch with a sprained ankle from a skateboard accident, I saw John Robbins, River Phoenix (RIP), Lisa Bonet and I believe Alex Pacheco on Oprah Winfrey (been trying to track down the episode online). Had my local library get Diet for a New America, read the book, finishing on the way to an animal rights march, after the march I went to Subway and got a veggie sub with no cheese or mayo and been vegan since.
I want to thank my longtime friend Warren for driving us to the March in Washington DC from Ohio, he is also a long time vegan!
So you were on your way to an animal rights march before you were even vegan?
I was already vegetarian. One of my mom’s friends gave me some 70’s Vegetarian Times, so I knew you could be healthy without meat, but, honestly, I had no idea that you could survive without dairy products or eggs.
Back then did you ever think you’d be vegan for this long?
Honestly, I was 19 years old, a senior in high school and all I wanted to do was ride my skateboard, go to hardcore and punk shows and find someone to love. I didn't think too far ahead.
Vegan skateboarding, San Francisco, 2008.
Once I found out how animals were treated it never crossed my mind not to be vegan. Once I commit to something, I stay with it. I will never understand how someone can see what happens to the beings we share the earth with and think it's okay to murder them, humans can be really selfish.
So you went vegan around 1990? Did the hardcore / straight edge scene have anything to do with bringing you closer to veganism do you think?
I got into the punk scene though skateboarding in 1985, I soon discovered hardcore bands like Minor Threat and later Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits. They sang about being vegetarian and punk groups like M.D.C. and Crass also talked about it. The song that most affected me was Meat is Murder, which moved me. Sadly Moz [Morrisey, vocalist for English rock band The Smiths] is a douchebag these days and he can’t seem to not say really terrible things, but that song got through.
The pro-vegan title track from the Smiths second album, Meat is Murder, released in 1985, is the vegan-friendly song that most affected Shawn at that time. Give it a listen and see why.
Would you classify your current diet as anything additional to vegan?
My fiance has a severe gluten allergy, so our household is mostly gluten-free, we have to be really careful when making anything with gluten so as to not poison my love.
What does your usual diet consist of? Anything special?
It honestly depends on the day. Today I ate for breakfast quinoa with mashed up bananas, blackstrap molasses, chia seeds and almond milk. For lunch, I had an apple, kiwi and pesto pasta with vegetables mixed in (corn, green beans, peppers). For dinner, I had lemon tofu / tempeh with broccoli, onion. Drank a bunch of water throughout the course of the day.
It has changed as I have learned about food over time, And I love trying new fruits, vegetables, grains, beans etc.. and just cooking in general. All the new analog meats and cheeses have made being vegan a lot easier.
Sounds like you eat pretty damn healthy. Do you take any supplements?
I take B12 every day, I have been using vegan D3 to see if helps with minor depression, and a spoonful of blackstrap molasses for extra iron. I live in America and work for a living so I can't afford to be going to the doctor... ;)
Why did you turn vegan initially?
Like I said reading Diet for New America opened my eyes to the horrific treatment of animals and I just couldn't close my eyes to that horror. Same reason I am still vegan to this day.
This 1991 documentary is narrated by John Robbins and based on his book of the same name. It features interviews with plant based doctors an scientists Michael Klaper, T. Colin Campbell, and John A. McDougall.
Sadly Russell Simmons has admitted to lapses and cheats on being vegan, was really disappointed when I found that out. [Diet for a New America] is profound, John Robbins is an amazing guy, walked away from the Baskin Robbins money because he couldn’t support the unhealthy food and the treatment of animals.
That's commitment to the cause! Russell says it openly in the book… I think he eats fish very rarely. I was disappointed too, but I’m not really sure why. I think even with his level of fame, he’s done more for veganism than most of us. Going on talk shows, writing books etc. I think its weird he chooses to do that, but no ones perfect, are they?
Honestly, I think he may harm more then help if he makes it look like veganism is something you can just do part-time. I am not a big fan of famous vegans, almost everyone I have ever read about seems to do something that just pisses me off. I am a grumpy old bastard, I will be the first to admit :)
Shawn setting the a good example for the next generation: ethical veganism and skateboarding.
Why do you think you stayed vegan for this long while others didn’t?
Some people follow trends or give into societal pressures. Many people are lazy and selfish and put selfishness ahead of the animals. I know I sound harsh, but really when it comes down to it, animals don't need your excuses!
How have your views on veganism changed since you started?
I have far less tolerance for half-ass excuses as to why people are not vegan or no longer vegan, some of the nonsense people use to justify murder is sickening. Otherwise, I still feel the same, humans need to stop using, abusing and murdering animals, period end of the story!
Do you hear any excuses regularly? Which ones annoy you the most?
The excuses that annoy the most are the ones that are just pure laziness and cop-outs. When someone says well I have (insert issue here) and I can’t do it for XYZ reason, having known people with severe issues who still stay vegan makes any excuse seem like nonsense.
A lot of ex-vegans say that they got really sick on a vegan diet, has veganism has ever resulted in you getting sick?
If someone got sick it was not related to veganism, maybe it might be a little harder if they have food allergies, but that still isn't okay to use veganism as an excuse, I have known people with Celiac and other food allergies that found a way to stay vegan and thrive. If there is a will, there is a way!
A more recent photo of Shawn, from 2016, healing hearts through skateboarding and wibbly-wobbly vegan jelly ("jello") on a plate. No eating disorders here thank you very much.
Have you ever had an eating disorder?
Nope, never had an eating disorder, sadly it seems like a lot of sick folks are attracted to the plant-based diet to hide their issues and it gives veganism a bad name. I am working on a t-shirt to address this issue.
People with eating disorders should seek medical treatment and stick to a healthy vegan diet, animals shouldn't have to suffer for them. I don't want to sound like I am picking on people with ED, but it's not fair for them to make animals suffer when they blame being vegan for their health issues.
Have you ever had any thoughts of eating animal products again?
I think for some people they miss certain foods they ate growing up, I grew up really poor and ate a lot of simple foods that were easy to remake vegan, I also had a supportive mom. Anything I ever “craved” non-vegan I have made vegan.
Have you ever had a period of “relapse” into animal eating?
No, I have been vegan since I started, though when I first became vegan I didn't know anyone else so I accidentally ate products I didn't know were non-vegan, people have it so easy now with the internet.
Yeah, back in 1990 it was a different world. There was much less fake meats and cheeses around back then, I imagine it would have been really easy to eat healthy when you first went vegan.
I didn’t have any issues becoming vegan, like I said I grew up poor so my mom made most of our meals, so like if she made chili or spaghetti she would make the whole pot vegan, cook meat on the side, so that I could have as much as I wanted and the family could add meat to theirs if they wanted it. So the transition was easy. I think the analog meats and dairy give people a safety net, something they are used to.
How very nice of her! Is there anything you miss about eating animals?
Nothing at all, I couldn't look an animal in the eye and tell them I was more important than them, it seems selfish and vain to think my life is more important than another being.
Do you equate human life with non-human life? Do they have the same value to you?
Humans are equal in my book, I think we should do everything we can to share the earth without harming other beings.
That is the smile of almost 3 decades living cruelty free. No excuses - just commited, long term veganism for the animals.
Whats the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced with being vegan?
I have gone without food or only had access to junk food on long trips across the U$A riding Grayhound, when I first moved out of my parents home I lived off couscous for a week in between paychecks, had to pay rent. I have also made many a meal out of white rice and beans with stolen taco bell hot sauce packs!
"I'd rather starve than support the murder of animals!"
Have you ever been bullied or made fun of because of your veganism?
People have cracked many jokes, friends, family, strangers etc. Depending on who the people were I either told them to knock it off or ignored them. Some I have tried to educate.
I have also gotten into fist fights with guys who thought vegans were weak, I am not tough but I am dumb enough to take a punch and fight back :)
Haha. This is not my style but I love it. Did one of these fights ever turn out worse than you expected?
I broke a dudes ribs once in a mosh pit fight, he hurt a friend of mine and when I got in his face he suckered punched me, so I kicked him in the ribs twice, he was one of the tough guys who called me and my friends "vegan / straight edge faggots" (his word not mine).
From that point, everyone in his skinhead crew wanted to fight me, and I almost got jumped by about 6 of them outside of a local restaurant, luckily I had a head start to my car and got away, this fight was a big reason why I left my home area.
Haha damn, I think that’s the first story I’ve heard where being vegan caused someone to move. Do you think your veganism has ever affected any of your friendships?
I have a lot of non-vegan friends, it makes me sad they still eat animals, but I don't give up on them as people even if I disagree with their terrible choice.
I have friends who suffer from preventable diseases and refuse to quit eating animals to heal themselves. I just have to keep being a good example and hope they save themselves before it's too late. I have lost friendships over being vegan, but it's their loss, not mine :)
Would you have any advice for newer vegans who have trouble maintaining relationships with non-vegans? Did you ever “go through this phase” or was it never a problem for you?
Honestly, I drifted away from some of my friends at first, and when we reconnected later they respected the fact that I stuck with being vegan. Some even had become vegetarian or vegan.
For new vegans, do what feels right, if someone is making you feel like crap maybe they’re not really your friend, or not a good friend, and distance or ending the friendship is the right thing to do.
Would you classify yourself as a militant vegan?
I would say I am a militant vegan, I don't accept excuses people use not to be vegan, I believe the world shouldn't have a choice to murder animals. I think the murder of non-human animals is the same as the human animal. I think the day will come when veganism is the norm and eating animals will be looked at how people look at cannibalism now.
I agree. The science is on our side, the ethical argument is rock solid, the environmental side of things is getting more exposure all the time, indistinguishable fake meats are on the horizon… it’s only a matter of time I think.
I agree, I see a Star Trek-like future, where everything will be vegan but look and taste however we want it. :)
Sounds good to me! Do you partake in any form of animal activism?
I use to do a lot of protests, benefit shows (punk rock and hardcore). I also was a co-owner of an all-vegan store in Sacramento called Never Felt Better, my ex-wife financed it and I had most of the ideas.
I want to start getting back involved in activism, especially trying to reach macho-men who think you have to harm animals to be healthy and tough.
I would also like to do vegan activism that counteracts the negative activists that hide their racism, sexism, homophobia etc.. behind veganism, the vegan movement should do everything it can to reach all people and expose bigots who harm the movement!
You've mention bigots a couple times… Is there anyone in particular you would like to call out?
Naw, I don't want to give them free press. They know who they are and hopefully, other vegans will think twice before supporting them, it doesn't matter if their YouTube talks get thousands of views, we shouldn't support oppression :)
Wise answer. If you could say one thing to yourself when you first went vegan, what would it be?
Thank you for having the courage to stand up for the animals!
Do you have any other advice for newer vegans or anyone thinking about making the transition?
Advice for vegans: hold bigots accountable, don't allow them to tarnish veganism!
Non-vegans wanting to become vegan: stop making excuses and just do it, if a 19-year-old kid from small-town Ohio can become vegan in 1990, anyone can with the support of a worldwide community and the internet at your fingertips! The animals are being murdered every moment of every day and they don't need excuses, they need allies!
Couldn’t agree more. Well said.