In an exclusive freewheeling interview with UK-based vegan film actor and co-director of film ‘Food For Thought’, Dan Richardson shares his journey about his journey as a vegan advocate and about his upcoming film ‘Food For Thought’.
When and why did you turn Vegan?
Three years ago, and I wish so much that I had made the change a lot earlier.
How did your life change after turning a vegan? What benefits did you experience?
The benefits have been far reaching and too numerous to list, but I will say this. On top of the obvious benefits such as feeling and being healthier and having more energy and focus, and the less obvious, invisible benefits such as my greatly reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and various other killers, the greatest benefit to me has been the change to my consciousness, to a place of knowing that no animal suffers or is exploited because of the choices I make. That didn’t build up, it wasn’t a cumulative effect of being vegan for a period of time, it came the moment I made the choice to be vegan. It felt wonderful, and it still does.
Many activists are facing criticism from the society and even from their families. Have you faced criticism for being a vegan activist?
I haven’t actually, but I suspect that comes back to what I said about being non-judgemental and non-confrontational in my approach.
How did your vegan activism journey start?
I’ve always been deeply engaged in issues of animal welfare and conservation. In recent years, I’ve become more actively involved, serving as a patron, ambassador or spokesperson for numerous animal charities and causes. As soon as I became vegan, it was a very smooth and obvious addition to include vegan activism as part of my message.
Can you elaborate on your activism activities?
Like many people, I try to advocate for veganism in any way possible, whether that’s in conversation with people, on social media, leading by example and acting as a role model, attending marches related to the vegan movement or whatever else it may be. But for me, I feel animal advocacy in general is my calling, my purpose in life, so I’m always seeking the next thing that I can do, and trying to ensure it has maximum effectiveness and impact.
With that in mind, I’m currently making my own documentary along with my friend and co-director, Giles Alderson. The film is called ‘Food For Thought’ and in it we explore the driving forces behind the huge positive momentum and phenomenal growth we’re experiencing right now with the plant-based movement. We look at the three main reasons people are moving towards veganism – personal health, the environment and of course the moral issue of animal rights and welfare. Our aim is to create a conversational, non-judgemental look at the reality. Not preaching to anyone, just showing it like it is and allowing people to make their own choices, take their own path in their own time. In the end, that’s the only way real, lasting change will happen, it has to be driven from within. So as much as I wish everyone would go vegan right now, we know that we have more chance of changing hearts and minds, and therefore saving animals lives, with this gentler approach.
How much has veganism grown in the UK?
It’s grown enormously and I’m so happy I can say that! The statistics are fantastic but the real-world indications of it are much more interesting. Almost every restaurant now has proper vegan options at the very least, and many have vegan menus. As well as that, we have a huge number of fully vegan restaurants and chains popping up – over 120 in London alone growing rapidly. The wonderful thing about this is that, as with all businesses, they are only responding to demand, so this demonstrates beautifully just how much the demand is growing and how many more people are eating plant-based. There really is no limit to how far this can go now, it’s beyond tipping point.
Where do you see vegan moment after 10 years from now?
I believe we are now in a transformational time. Somewhat through a growing sense of compassion (which I have to believe in for my sanity) but also out of necessity when you consider what we’re doing to our planet and the simple fact that factory faring is the most destructive force in so many ways, I really believe we will see a major shift happen and that meat-eating will rapidly become the minority. Whether that can happen as quickly as the next ten years remains to be seen, but I sincerely hope it can and does.
People say being vegan isn’t enough you need to be an activist. Do you agree with it?
Not really. But that’s partly because by being a vegan you already ARE being an activist. I mean that in the sense that you inadvertently act as a role model and will be planting seeds in the minds of people around you. They could easily be changing their own eating habits because of the example a vegan sets, without the vegan ever realising it. Also it’s very easy to turn people the opposite way, so while I agree with activism, I believe we have to be intelligent about it. Nobody likes to be judged or confronted. If you approach activism like that you can expect negative results. Human nature alone will ensure that.
Since you are into films, how can you use films as a medium to do vegan activism?
‘Food For Thought’, that’s my real life example of exactly how we can use film as a medium for activism. But having said that I do firmly believe that my film must reflect my previous point about EFFECTIVE activism, hence it will be non-confrontational in nature.
Social media has made the world a smaller place. Does that benefit the vegan moment?
It can go both ways. Social media is an extremely powerful and dangerous thing. In the right hands it has the potential to solve all of the world’s problems, to unite everyone in a common goal to make the world a better, kinder, more compassionate place. What a wonderful thing that would be, and make no mistake, social media does give us that power. Sadly though, it’s not exclusively in the right hands. Social media has given a platform to EVERYONE, and not everyone has positive intentions, not everyone cares. Most people are apathetic and don’t engage with the issues, choosing instead to use social media to argue, show off, complain, derive validation and reassurance. It has become a breeding ground for narcissism and self-centeredness. Activists try to do good of course, but until the masses see more value in social media as a tool for creating a better tomorrow, it’ll just continue to ensure people are focused on essentially meaningless trivia, rather than what truly matters. I hope that will change but a conscious shift is required in order for that to happen.
What do you think is needed to boost the awareness levels and persuade people go vegan?
It’s a combination of everything, and gladly, given the enormous growth we’re seeing these days, continuing with everything we’re already doing. I realise this might sound a little bit contradictory to what I was saying before in terms of non-confrontational activism, and I stand by that, but I also accept that there’s a place for most forms of activism for the simple reason that different people will be inspired by different things. That’s human nature, and it means there’s a place for protest marches, a place for direct action, there’s a place for lobbying governments for legislative change, for social media awareness campaigns, for films at one end of the spectrum like ‘Earthlings’ and at the other end like my film, ‘Food For Thought’. Ultimately, I believe the key to the mass shift I think we’re edging towards right now will come from legislation imposed by government. In exactly the same way as some governments have already announced the end date for petrol and diesel cars, after which time ALL vehicles will need to be electric. Until something is imposed in that way, many people will sadly remain absolutely disconnected from the damage their dietary choices are making, but as we know, factory farming contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector combined, so that damage is very real and some day soon I see governments having no option but to enforce change, and that can’t come a moment too soon.
Companies like McDonalds and KFC are coming out with vegan alternatives. What do you think about it? Is it a victory for the vegan moment and should we support it?
I think it’s fantastic and I’m excited to see more and more of this kind of thing. I realise that some vegans feel the companies like the ones you mention should not be supported at all because of their meat consumption and reportedly poor welfare standards, and I do totally get their stance on that. But in the end it’s got to be all about what is most effective, what makes the most significant change, and as much as I wish everyone would just be overwhelmed by a wave of inspired compassion and go vegan of their own accord, that just isn’t going to happen, and that’s why I’m very happy to see the big chains introducing vegan options because that WILL start to penetrate into the consciousness of the masses where we, the vegan activists, no matter how much we want to, are unable to reach.
Many big companies have stopped doing animal testing. We can see that the vegan moment is growing, but it’s taking time. How many years do you think it will take for the world go vegan?
My answer to that question is changing as fast as the landscape of this movement is changing. Several years ago it would have been near impossible to imagine the world that is now our reality – where veganism has evolved from marginalised to mainstream. Who could have foreseen that even as recently as just a few years ago? It’s so encouraging and it really feels like right now there is no limit to where this could go, especially when you consider the impact of the younger generations who clearly seem to be placing greater priority on compassion, spiritual well-being, personal and environmental health – all the key driving forces behind the vegan phenomenon. So dare I say it, but I’d like to think we will see veganism and plant-based living become the majority in my lifetime. I’m about to turn 48, so whatever that means.
Any message you want to give to non-vegans? And also for vegans, if they can start with awareness campaigns or be an activist?
To non-vegans: Take a step, give it a try. There is nothing but benefits to be had across the board and the alternatives available now are so delicious and growing in number every day. We had a group of non-vegans try the vegan lifestyle for 30 days for our documentary. Without any suggestion or pressure from us, 90% of participants stayed vegan after the month was over. This was due to the immense benefits those people felt.
To vegans wishing to advocate the cause: Please go for it, fly the flag, we need all the help we can get! Follow your heart and what resonates most deeply for you, whether it’s for health, the environment or for the animals, your passion will shine through and it will impact upon people in the most beautiful way. Just keep in mind that we get much better responses when we’re non-confrontational and non-judgemental in our approach. Everyone’s on their own path and in my very humble opinion and experience, the most powerful way to influence others is to live your truth as a vegan and let them see how well it serves you.