Shari Black Velvet: How old were you when you first became aware of animal cruelty and became vegetarian/vegan, and why?
Kevin White: I`ve liked animals and wildlife all my life, which is partly due to my mum’s influence. She has written letters against the sickening Canadian seal slaughter and supported animal rights campaigns via donations since the early 1960s. As far back as I can remember, I`ve strongly opposed hunting, vivisection and various other animal cruelty and I supported groups such as IFAW, Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, World Wildlife Fund and League Against Cruel Sports. But perhaps strangely, it never occurred to me that if I really cared about animals, I should leave them off my plate! It wasn`t until many years later when I started to attend animal rights demonstrations, that I realised the full extent of the atrocities which I was responsible for by continuing to eat meat. Veganism followed about a year later.
SBV: How did you first get into campaigning?
KW: During the mid 1990s, I watched many TV news broadcasts about the massive live exports demos at ports round the country. Then in September 1997, I saw a small advert in my local paper which read "Are you against live exports?" The ad urged residents to attend a national march and rally in Redditch. It turned out that one of the biggest live exporters in the country was based in Redditch, his name was Stephen Wood. My mum and I attended the rally in Redditch Town Centre and then marched to Wood`s farm with several hundred others. After that we became regulars in the campaign to stop live exports from Redditch, attending the weekly Thursday evening and occasional Sunday demos. Stephen Wood eventually stopped exporting live animals.
SBV: When was Midlands Vegan Campaigns actually born, and why?
KW: MVC was formed in August 2007 shortly after the death of the `vegan visionary` Neil Lea, who lived in Wolverhampton. Despite being born with Spina Bifida and suffering from various other serious illnesses, Neil devoted nearly 20 years of his life to campaigning for animals and veganism. Neil was a key organiser in the AR and vegan campaigning movements, responsible for numerous successful campaigns, initiatives and websites. He inspired many people to get more active, including myself. He once suggested that campaigners in the West Midlands should set up a vegan campaigning group to co-ordinate free vegan food fairs. Various people in the region had been organising such events for several years, but when Neil died, I proposed that we join forces and form the group that Neil envisioned. Midlands Vegan Campaigns was born!
SBV: You organise a lot of events. How much hard work goes into organising an event such as a vegan fayre and how much time does it take?
KW: Food fairs & festivals come in all shapes and sizes and the work/time required to organise them varies accordingly. Many of us in MVC already had years of experience, so we aimed at big events from the start. For our first two food fairs in Birmingham and Lichfield we started to organise at least three months before the day. Finding a suitable venue was a key factor. We needed somewhere with a large hall, separate talk room and kitchen and the venue had to be in a busy shopping/town centre location. We sought sponsorship from various organisations and food donations from many companies. We created a list of dozens of vegan dishes which the good cooks amongst us were happy to make. Our event leaflets and posters were distributed and displayed throughout the areas. We booked approx 12 stalls for each event, including local/national groups and companies, which helped to cover the event costs. A programme of talks and cookery demos was drawn up. We appealed for volunteers to come forward to help on the big day. We sent out press releases to the local papers and radio stations, resulting in some excellent coverage. Both events were alot of hard work, but each attracted between 500 and 600 people, over 50% of them meat eaters, so all the hard work paid off!
SBV: Which event that you’ve organised has been the most successful?
That`s a tricky question to answer! Our two biggest events were the West Midlands Vegan Festival in 2008 and Veggie Pride in May this year. Both were extremely successful, but for different reasons. The festival in Wolverhampton was packed out from start to finish. There were nearly 60 stalls, most of whom were busy all day and the various caterers sold out. There were a dozen talks & cookery demos, most of which were well attended, some by up to 40 people. In total, 1,200 people came to the festival. Veggie Pride in Birmingham was a hugely memorable occasion for all who attended. Not only was this the first Veggie Pride in the UK, it was also the first time that a free veggie festival has been staged in such a busy outdoor location and the event also boasted the first ever carnival parade which celebrated veggie/vegan lifestyles. The decision to hold the event in a busy city centre square paid off as the general public stumbled upon & enjoyed the event in their hundreds, and of course crowds of veggies & vegans flocked from round the country. Despite some really heavy, sporadic rain throughout the day, there was a great atmosphere, dozens wore costumes on the parade & danced to the beat of the samba band, caterers sold out and the stage entertainment rocked! Roll on next year!
SBV: What are some of your fave vegan meals?
KW: I`m not into cooking and don`t eat out much, so my favourite meals will sound pretty boring! I love stir fry with tofu, mushrooms, peppers etc - it`s great on toast. I like pasta with tinned tomatoes, sausages and cabbage. For lunch, I often have things like humous & cabbage sandwiches, with a samosa and raw carrot to dip into the humous pot! I used to hate cabbage but now I`m vegan I love it and eat as much as possible! When I go out, I often have a delicious curry. Vegans here in Redditch can now enjoy scrumptious curry at home too, thanks to a small company called Taskers Tasty Takeaways that offer a wide range of curries for the freezer.
SBV: A lot of non-vegans don’t know how much great vegan food is available. Although you say you don’t eat out often, are there any places you recommend that they visit to get an insight into what food is available?
KW: Most non-vegans more than likely eat lots of vegan food all the time without actually realising! Vegan food is now widely available in supermarkets and health food shops stock an ever increasing range. If you like the taste of meat, you should visit the freezer cabinets as they`re usually full of cheatin` and fake meat such as Fry`s Burgers & Polony, Linda McCartney sausages & Redwoods huge range of meat slices, chunks, fish fingers etc. Vegan groups across the country regularly stage free food fairs and festivals where you can sample a wide variety of vegan food for free. Search the web for your nearest event/group. You can find out more about vegan food online via www.animalfreeshopper.com , www.veganfood.org.uk and www.cookingforvegans.co.uk
SBV: What are some vegan items you have that non-vegans might be surprised to know exist?
KW: Trainers that are made without leather, animal based glues and other animal products from www.vegetarian-shoes.co.uk, delicious non-dairy ice cream available in various flavours from www.swedishglace.com which you can buy in most supermarkets & health food shops, Vegetarian Britain - a guide to over 400 restaurants, 300 wholefood shops and a further 100 hotels, hostels and guesthouses, scrumptious white chocolate bars which are not only vegan but also organic, from www.seriouslyorganic.co.uk and available in most health food shops. A little book called the Animal Free Shopper is a comprehensive guide to many thousands of vegan products, including food, cosmetics, clothes etc. Available from www.vegansociety.com
SBV: Can you give Save A Scream five good reasons a meat-eater should cut down on meat or become vegetarian/vegan?
RW: 1) One person can save as many as 11,000 animals in their lifetime, simply by going veggie or vegan. If you care about animals, changing your diet is the easiest way to stop their suffering. 2) Veggies and vegans are usually healthier and live longer than meat eaters and suffer less from many diseases such as strokes, cancer and heart disease. 3) The best way for any individual to protect the planet and its wildlife is to stop eating animals, which will immediately help to reduce climate change, deforestation, pollution etc. 4) People in the developing world starve next to fields of food destined for export as animal fodder. Going veggie/vegan saves humans as well as animals. 5) If you like the taste of meat, there are now dozens of companies making literally hundreds of varieties of fake meat. Every time I stage a free food stall, I meet many people who tell me they can`t tell the difference!
SBV: Besides Midlands Vegan Campaigns you also founded Redditch Vegetarians & Vegans and have been involved in the Campaign for Eco-Veg*nism as well as standing as a Green Party candidate, and you basically devote your whole life to animal rights. How do you feel about your life as it is and is there anything else you’d like to do that you haven’t yet?
KW: Campaigning is my life and as long as I`m doing something which I feel is an effective use of my time then I`m happy. There are so many good causes, so many campaign groups that need help and I would love to support them all. I very often find myself juggling numerous tasks for assorted campaigns, but they say that variety is the spice of life! Neil Lea once told me that if I wanted to be really effective for animal rights, I would have to concentrate my efforts rather than sharing my time between AR and environmental campaigns. Up to a point I think he was right, but when it comes to veggie/vegan campaigning, the issues are inseparable and there are clearly huge benefits in drawing attention to the environmental impact of meat/dairy at a time when more and more people care about the future of our planet. I have many ideas for effective campaign strategies, some of which I`m currently working on and others are for the moment just aspirations. I won`t say what these are because they`ll sound silly but let’s just say that I want to take my compassionate, green message out onto the streets in a way that has never been done before!
SBV: How do you see the future for animals? Do you think things will get better, more vegan food will become available, less animals will be tortured etc?
KW: Enormous progress has been made for veganism over recent years. Veganism is now where vegetarianism was about 20 years ago. Some estimates suggest there are up to 1 million vegans in the UK, so most people will know a vegan and consequently, accept that we`re not an alien species! More and more products are being labelled as vegan all the time. The environmental and health benefits of veggie/veganism are becoming far more widely known thanks to regular newspaper and magazine articles, and up to half the UK population are now choosing to cut down on meat & eat more healthy, eco-friendly (veggie/vegan) options. At the end of the day, it doesn`t matter why people change their diet, every person who ditches animal products is saving animals and stopping their suffering, whether that`s their reason or not! The number of some animals killed for meat in the UK is already decreasing and this trend looks set to continue. We can all speed up progress to a more animal friendly world - help spread the word about the benefits of living free of animal products. Get involved with your local group, it`s great fun and so rewarding!
SBV: If someone lives in the Midlands and is interested in knowing more about Midlands Vegan Campaigns or becoming involved in some of the MVC activities, what should they do?
KW: MVC welcomes support from anyone who wants to help save animals and change the world for the better. If you would like to volunteer your time in any way, or simply find out more about what we do, take a look at our website www.veganmidlands.org.uk Come and meet us and have a fantastic day out at the West Midlands Vegan Festival in Wolverhampton on Sat 24 October 2009. See www.midlandsveganfestival.org.uk for details.