Shari Black Velvet: What does your job as Head of Information Services mostly entail and how long have you worked at The Vegan Society?
Rosamund Raha: I’ve worked at The Vegan Society for nearly four years. My job has changed over time as the Information Department has grown but mostly I coordinate the work of two Information Officers, one PR/Media Officer and one Education Officer. I am also responsible for making sure that our information output is of the highest quality. I do this in consultation with Information Consultants and experts. I also edit The Vegan magazine.
SBV: What is the main role of The Vegan Society in general?
RR: We aim at raising the profile of veganism with a strong emphasis on reaching, informing and inspiring non-vegans. We also aim at increasing knowledge of sound vegan nutrition and agriculture, supporting vegans in vulnerable situations and influencing policy-makers and organizations such as The Soil Association and Friends of the Earth.
SBV: When did you become vegan and what was it that urged you to do so?
RR: I’ve been vegan for about seven years, but for many years before that I was ‘nearly vegan'. For me it is always about the animals. I believe that farming animals is exploitative. Taking milk and eggs from farmed animals is theft especially as this can be done only by separating babies from their mothers.
SBV: The Vegan Society was founded in 1944. Obviously you weren’t around then, but how’s veganism grown since then? How have you found the expansion of veganism in the last 5, 10 or 20 years?
RR: There is a wider range of vegan food products in the shops these days and so it is much easier to be vegan than it used to be. There are also many more companies that sell really good quality non-leather shoes and boots. Most people know what the word vegan means, whereas they often didn’t 30 or 40 years ago.
SBV: The Vegan Society produces a quarterly magazine which is one of the most captivating magazines put out by an organization. It caters to everyone from young people to older citizens with some fun articles as well as more serious pieces. Does it take a lot of time to put that together and who came up with the concept of what articles and pieces to include in the mag?
RR: It used to take about 50% of my time to put the magazine together but I can’t spare that much time now that the Information Department has expanded and so I spend 15-20% of my time on the magazine. I’ve managed to get faster at it by being organized. I commission some articles and some are sent to me by people who want me to consider what they have written for publication. Other items are written in-house by me or by colleagues (both staff and Trustees).
SBV: The Vegan Society also has an online store which sells everything from books and supplements to vegan condoms. One of the best items, which I found a godsend when I first became vegan, was the Animal Free Shopper, which lists vegan products (food, drink, body-care, household products etc.) on sale in the UK. Is it hard work keeping up with every item and, although buying in vegan stores would obviously be best, which supermarkets would you say currently have the best range of vegan products?
RR: My colleague Verity does a lot of the work on the Animal Free Shopper and she does find that it takes a fair bit of time. I also get involved by organizing a timetable for the work and checking content but Verity does most of the hard graft. The best supermarkets for vegans are probably the Co-op and Sainsbury’s. Both shops label their own-brand products that are vegan. Occasionally they miss one and we have to remind them to label it.
SBV: When did The Vegan Society’s trademark ‘Vegan’ logo come into operation and how beneficial is it for a vegan product to carry the logo?
RR: It started in 1990 and is considered by many people to be the gold standard when it comes to veganism. The Trademark is a great way to let vegans know that a product is vegan and it helps to build confidence in that product.
SBV: Who are some of your favourite famous vegans and why?
RR: Benjamin Zephaniah since he is a Patron of The Vegan Society and always willing to give time to us. I think that Joaquin Phoenix, Jenny Seagrove and Martin Shaw are great vegan actors. But mostly I love vegan philosophers such as Gary Francione and Tom Regan.
SBV: What would your advice be to someone who is interested in becoming vegan?
RR: I would recommend that they start by taking The Vegan Pledge which we run. It means that you get a mentor to talk to and you can ask them questions. I would advise that they contact The Vegan Society and we can send them an Information pack which includes our Plant Based Nutrition booklet so they can make sure that they eat a healthy vegan diet. We can also send recipes. I would recommend that they join The Vegan Society since receiving a magazine quarterly can help you to feel part of a vegan community and of course you get to support our work.
SBV: Some people are worried about a lack of protein by becoming vegan or even vegetarian. Other people think they need things such as milk to keep bones and teeth strong and stay healthy. I know you’ve got this information and more on your website, but can you explain those two here, since they are popular misconceptions?
RR: As long as you have some grains such as wheat or rice plus several portions of protein-rich foods each week such as beans, lentils, soya milk, green leafy vegetables and peas you will be getting enough protein. Most adults can get enough protein simply by eating oats and potatoes. Of course a protein-rich food each day is ideal and children need more protein than adults. It is important to have a good calcium intake and vegans can get calcium from things such as fortified soya milk, green leafy vegetables and calcium-set tofu. If you are not getting at least 500 milligrams of calcium each day from these foods then you may need to use a calcium supplement. These are cheap and we can give you details about them if you contact The Vegan Society office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SBV: The Vegan Society can often be found at various vegan and cruelty-free events such as the West Midlands Vegan Festival, Veggie Pride and various food fairs. How has public feedback and interest been at these events? How do you enjoy these events?
RR: We sponsor most of these events and I love them. Feedback is generally very good and we’ve had a lot of people sign up to The Vegan Pledge after chatting to us at our stall.
SBV: What have been some of the highlights of The Vegan Society’s existence?
RR: Coining the word ‘vegan’ in 1944 has to be one. Raising the profile of veganism is another but mostly it is small things such as helping people to become vegan and stay vegan and making sure that vegans are well informed about healthy vegan diets. We have a reputation for high-quality well-researched information.
SBV: Do you have any plans to expand The Vegan Society in any way?
RR: Our Council of Trustees makes these strategic decisions in consultation with our Chief Executive and other staff but I think that they do have some ideas up their sleeve. Watch this space…
Visit www.vegansociety.com for more info.