Name: Amy Webster
Occupation: Community Education Coordinator
How long have you been vegan? April of this year was 10 years!
Why did you choose to be vegan?
My compassion for animals started early but I attribute my determination to speak up on their behalf to the tragic story about my first dog companion. When I was a kid my family had a dog named Jeffy who was not allowed in the house. Jeffy was chained in our backyard 24/7 and I don’t remember Jeffy ever being off that chain. After Jeffy bit a neighbor kid so badly he was sent to the hospital for multiple wounds, Jeffy was taken by animal control and euthanized. I remember that day clearly, as the attack happened during my younger brother’s birthday party while we all watched in horror. Naive to the true cause behind the chained dog’s aggression, I blamed the injured kid for being the reason my dog was taken. Thankfully my family has evolved and we are all compassionate dog guardians today, but Jeffy has always stayed with me. I don’t have any photos of Jeffy or fun memories with him at the park. He never got to snuggle with us under the covers on stormy nights or play fetch on sunny days. He deserved so much better and I think I knew that even as a kid. I believe that’s where my drive to help animals started, with sweet Jeffy.
From there I grew as an animal advocate, always the girl who loved animals. I became a vegetarian when I was 19 on a challenge to try it for a week (and never looked back!). While my veganism is the accomplishment I’m most proud of, I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me 13 years as a vegetarian before finally going vegan. I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do, but it took working for PETA and seeing what happens to cows for our dairy products, to open my eyes.
As my bond with animals continued to strengthen, my voice defending them became louder.
When I first went vegan, like many others, my biggest challenge was giving up cheese. Now that I haven’t had animal cheese for over 10 years it seems strange to think that I ever craved it so badly. Cheese is addictive and so prevalent in our society that as an American Vegetarian my diet was 90% cheese.
These days, as an experienced and confident vegan, my biggest challenge is dealing with others around me. The food part is easy. So is avoiding animal products and entertainment. Being vegan is as much a part of my life as having two hands is. But—handling the misguided masses whose reactions range from curious questions to disrespectful teasing and ignorant confrontations is exhausting and at times disheartening. As much as we’d like to, most vegans don’t live in a bubble or in a commune filled with kind, like-minded peace promoters. Even in Seattle—one of the most progressive cities in America—we are painfully reminded of animal cruelty by way of unapologetic associates eating animal flesh at our table, leather shoes worn by otherwise compassionate friends, the baffling celebration of animals imprisoned in zoos, cheap hamburger ads (seemingly everywhere!), and predictable wild-animal-killed-by-authorities-after-hiker/boater/camper/surfer-strays-too-close-and-is-bitten news. It’s a lot to handle when your eyes are open to the suffering.
So glad you asked, it was getting a bit grim there. There are many rewards for being vegan! For me, the biggest reward comes from within. At the end of the day, I know I am making a difference for animals. Just in eating exclusively vegan I spare about 200 animals a year from unimaginable pain and suffering. Additionally, my ethically-minded consumerism spares countless animals from misery in testing laboratories, performance training, egg production, slaughterhouses, puppy mills, dairy factories, and skin and fur production. That feels really good. Knowing that makes me happy, fills my spirit, and drives me.
Being vegan has also led me to try many delicious diverse and ethnically varied foods. As a kid my blue-collar-Midwest upbringing kept my plate limited to a pretty dull repetition of the same gravy-covered, nutrient-deficient meals. As a vegan, I am continuously trying new flavors and expanding my favorite dishes. I’ve become a creative cook, and not just because I need food to survive, but because I get real joy from crafting new cuisines with a growing assortment of fresh ingredients and spices. I love to eat (a little too much sometimes) and have fun trying new things (but still hate cooked carrots).
Oh and I can’t forget the cancer. When I was diagnosed a year and a half ago with stage 3 breast cancer, I was told by two different doctors that if it weren’t for my vegan diet, my cancer would have been worse. You can read my blog (www.rainydayvegan.com) to follow my progression through cancer treatment as a vegan.
Are you involved in AR, vegan outreach, etc.?
Yes, I’ve been active in helping animals in many capacities for more than 20 years. I remember attending my first animal rights meeting in Toledo, Ohio. When I left, I felt exhilarated and inspired! Even though we were a small group, it was somewhat of a spiritual experience to talk openly with others who saw what our society does to animals and agreed that not only is it not okay and worked tirelessly to stop it. From then on, I’ve been an active advocate of animals by bringing awareness of their suffering to others any way I can. Animal activism is my primary hobby and my proudest attribute.
In my tenure as an activist I’ve worked in several animal-saving jobs and volunteered with many animal-helping organizations—wildlife rehabilitation centers, veterinary clinics, PETA, ASPCA, vegan advocacy groups, and animal shelters. I’ve attended thousands (give or take) of protests and have been arrested twice for civil disobedience, chaining myself to others in remonstration of the fur industry and sales.
Today my voice is also heard through my work with a local animal welfare organization that annually helps thousands of dogs, cats, and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest through foster care, sheltering, spay/neuter, adoption, community education (my job!), and rehabilitation.
I continually strive to do more for animals. When it seems overwhelming, I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by an amazing community of vegan activists who get it. My closest friends are those fighting along next to me one day, and commiserating with me over vegan mac and cheese the next. I gain strength from my fellow activist comrades and couldn’t do what I do without them.
Advice for new vegans:
Remember that you are the only person that decides what you eat, wear, allow, and spend money on. It may seem daunting to remember to read labels and ask about ingredients. You’ll make mistakes, we all have. But embracing a vegan lifestyle is the most satisfying and important decision you’ll make. Every bite you take, shoe you wear, pillow you sleep on, and performance you attend that doesn’t support animal suffering, is an exercise in your strength. You are going to love being vegan!
The planet is suffering and she needs us all to help. With each choice we make, we all hold the power to make the world better. This may sound cliché (we’re all friends here, right?), but, go vegan!
Thanks for the touching stories and motivating ideas, Amy, and for all you do for the animals!