Kayla Knopp: Professional research assistant & lab coordinator for a cognitive neuroscience lab at DU.
- Age: 24
- Born in: Denver, CO
- Raised in: Lakewood, CO
- Currently lives in: Lakewood, CO
Jill Harrigan: Thank you very much for agreeing to an interview. Let’s get started. What brought you to Denver?
Kayla Knopp: I'm a proud Denver native!
KK: I've been vegetarian for about 4 years, and vegan for about a year and a half.
JH: Why did you go vegetarian?
KK: I am someone's Vegan Outreach success story! I was walking on campus at UCD, and someone from VO handed me a pamphlet. One look at those pictures, and I was done with meat. I talked to my boyfriend about it, and we decided to give being vegetarian a try -- we haven't looked back since!
JH: Why did you go vegan?
KK: I am the sort of person who believes that we are compelled to act in accordance with our ethical values. As I became more active in the animal rights movement, read more books, understood more of the philosophy, and -- most importantly -- became more familiar with the opposition arguments, I just felt that in order to be ethically consistent, I had to go vegan. It didn't even feel like a choice; it felt like the only thing I could do.
JH: Did you find it difficult to be vegetarian?
KK: Not particularly. I had great support from my boyfriend, and we made the transition slowly and naturally. First we stopped buying meat at the grocery store, then we stopped eating it at restaurants, and soon we didn't have any in our house at all. Eventually, it got to the point where we just didn't want to eat meat at all anymore.
JH: Do you find it difficult to be vegan?
KK: Again, not particularly. There are such amazing vegan substitutes for everything I'd otherwise miss -- almond milk, coconut milk ice cream, Daiya cheese, Earth Balance ... I could go on and on. I'm also an enthusiastic cook, and cooking vegan makes for really interesting culinary challenges, as well as making me look outside my comfort zone for ingredients that used to be unfamiliar but are now among my favorites (kale, beets, quinoa, tempeh, flax, adzuki beans, anything made from coconuts ...).
JH: Do you ever have non-veg cravings? If so, how do you fulfill them?
KK: Sometimes I get cravings for non-vegan junk food. I've just learned how to make my favorite candies and baked goods myself, vegan and usually better than store-bought.
JH: Do you have a favorite veg recipe?
KK: Ha! Like I could pick only one. Isa Chandra Moskowitz is my hero, and I'd have to say that the Chickpea Cutlets, Braised Seitan with Kale, and Spicy Tempeh Pasta with Broccoli Rabe are my faves from Veganomicon. Full disclosure though, I've never followed a recipe to the letter in my life.
JH: Would you like to share a recipe with us?
KK: My Baked Mac un-Cheese is pretty fantastic, I have to say. It's on my blog, http://followmsleading.blogspot.com/2010/12/baked-mac-un-cheese.html.
JH: Do you come across people who think it's weird that you're veg? If so, what is your response to them?
KK: Does any vegan not have that experience? I'm fairly opinionated and confrontational, so I actually love the opportunity to have conversations with people who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the concept, or even who vehemently disagree with it. I always try to smile and be friendly, but to be firm in my stance and straightforward about the evidence -- I try to speak softly but carry a big arsenal of facts.
JH: Do you hang out with non-vegans/vegetarians?
KK: Sure, some of my best friends are non-vegans. They like to poke fun at me because I've always been the one to be opinionated and to rebel against norms, but they love eating my vegan cooking! While they're not ready to become vegan themselves, they are certainly open to the concept, and interested in at least exploring vegan food and a cruelty-free lifestyle.
JH: What is your favorite veg friendly candy?
KK: Surf Sweets gummy candies are my absolute favorite if I'm looking for something sweet to splurge on. But mostly, I've replaced candy with sweetened dried fruit -- mango is the best!
JH: What are some misconceptions about veg lifestyle that you do not agree with?
KK: That we're all overly-sentimental hippies. Sure, I do have a visceral emotional response to images or even the idea of animals being harmed; but that's not all that being vegan is about. I'm a scientist and researcher by profession, and overall, I'm a logical and analytical person. Being vegan is the only logical conclusion to reach, regardless of whether you're coming from a foundation of empathy, or environmentalism, or humanitarianism, or medicine, or economics, or social justice ...
JH: What's your favorite veg friendly book?
KK: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a phenomenal story, and although it's not the primary focus of the novel, it exposes the horrors of animal slavery in circuses in a very meaningful and memorable way. That's why I was so disappointed to hear that they were using real trained elephants in the film -- talk about missing the point!
JH: How about your favorite veg-friendly film?
KK: Can't say I can think of anything in particular ... although Olivia Wilde is vegan in real life, and I'll see anything with her in it.
JH: Do you feel that there are a lot of veg friendly restaurants in Denver? WhIch one is your favorite?
KK: Probably not compared to a really veg-friendly city like Portland or San Francisco, but we definitely have a good number of options here. Besides City O City and WaterCourse (both of which, of course, I adore), I am crazy for The Rebellion's vegan pizza.
JH: Do you feel the need to add a veg meat to every meal?
KK: I used to, but not at all anymore. I really love tofu, tempeh and seitan, so I eat them a lot simply out of preference. But I'm also totally satisfied with a meal full of yummy veggies, beans and grains.
JH: Many people wonder why vegetarians eat meat substitutes when they are so against eating meat. Do you have an opinion on this?
KK: Do I ever! I'll direct you to my blog post over on Plants & Animals for this one: http://www.plantsanimals.org/2011/02/friend-or-faux/
JH: Why do you think that so many 'animal lovers' eat meat? Where is the disconnect between loving a cute dog, and then eating an adorable pig or cow?
KK: Two things: ignorance and comfort. It's too easy to be totally ignorant of how pigs and cows are treated, and how similar our "food" animals are to our "pet" animals. People are also very much creatures of habit, and we fear the unfamiliar. People get very uncomfortable when you ask them to question the status quo, because it creates a cognitive dissonance between what they know how to do and what they know they should do. It's much easier to simply ignore the truth.
JH: Are you active in any veg organizations?
KK: I'm really grateful and excited to be a part of Plants & Animals Denver -- we are steadily gaining momentum, and I feel fortunate that I'm able to organize events like the bake sales we ran at Auraria last week with the support of a really committed group of young activists. It's a great group of people to be with.
JH: How far does your vegan lifestyle take you? For example, do you protest against fur dealers? Do you eat honey? Do you wear leather?
KK: I live the vegan lifestyle to the fullest extent I'm capable, including doing activism like Chomp and our recent Plants & Animals bake sales. I try to use the resources I have, like the mini-soapboxes provided by Facebook and Twitter, to shake people up a little bit and to draw their attention to the fact that what they think they know is wrong: that we're being lied to by corrupt government agencies that are supposed to protect us, and being used as pawns in the financial plans of giant agricultural corporations. I try to show people that remaining ignorant and following the status quo is a choice, one which has serious negative consequences. I do still have some leather in my closet from my pre-vegan days, simply because I feel it's more unethical to waste it and purchase something new than it is to wear it out; however, I do not buy any non-vegan products anymore. I do not eat honey or buy products with beeswax. (Speaking of, if anyone knows of a good vegan mascara that does not contain beeswax, let me know!)
JH: How do you feel about the stigma that is attached to vegetarians? i.e. they hate people and love animals. How do you break through this stereotype to show people it's not true?
KK: First and foremost, I try to live my life as a happy, joyful, loving member of my community. In addition, once you look at the evidence, it's pretty clear that a vegan lifestyle is in the best interest of people in addition to the animals it saves, so to me it's a no-brainer.
JH: Have you ever been in a heated debate about being vegetarian? What was the outcome?
KK: I've been in both formal and informal debates about vegetarianism. While there aren't ever "winners" or "losers" in real life, I always end up feeling like I got my point across. In my experience, you rarely see an immediate capitulation from someone who disagrees -- but your words and ideas do make their way into their minds, and can continue to affect them long after the conversation is over.
JH: Have you ever been someone's inspiration to go vegetarian? If so, can you tell us about it?
KK: Actually my boyfriend's grandpa recently told me that he was aspiring to go vegetarian because of a rather off-handed comment that I'd made. Someone had asked me whether I used only vegan cosmetics, and I basically answered that since it was totally unnecessary for me to harm another creature for my personal use, I saw no reason to choose to do so anyway just for the sake of convenience or vanity. Grandpa later told me that that had really changed the way he thought about his diet and lifestyle choices: If you don't have to hurt something, why would you choose to?
JH: Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about going vegetarian?
KK: Make the change gradually, and forgive yourself slip-ups -- no one wakes up one day and never eats an animal product ever again. I also recommend reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, Thrive and/or Thrive Fitness by Brendan Brazier, or any of those Vegetarian Starter Kit booklets -- they really are super helpful!