Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Joseph Connelly and Colleen Holland for their work in establishing VegNews, a successful national vegan newspaper that reaches over 100,000 readers each month. Through their efforts they are achieving their goal to "further the ethical vegetarian movement through unity while promoting plant-based and compassionate goods and services."
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers of Colleen Holland (CH) and Joseph Connelly (JC).
VIP: What events led to the beginnings of VegNews?
JC: In December 1995 Dr. Neal Barnard gave a talk in Syracuse, NY where I was living. Although there was no vegetarian society in Syracuse at the time, Dr. Barnard's talk was well received and well attended. During the question and answer session at the end of his lecture, someone asked if there was any local group or organization where people could turn for similar information after he left town.
One month later, in January 1996, I founded the Syracuse Area Vegetarian Education Society, and with it, a quarterly newsletter, The SAVES Paper. At the time there were more than a half-dozen local, independent veg groups in Upstate New York. Within nine or ten months of leading a group and producing a newsletter, I began to see the inefficiency, due to overlap of efforts and limited resources, within all of these organizations.
One example was newsletters. Most of the groups produced their own bimonthly or quarterly newsletter. Anyone who has ever put out a newsletter, even a small, eight- or 16-page effort, knows that it is not an easy task. Too much effort was being input for too little output -- much like turning grain into flesh.
CH: By the end of 1996 Joe had an idea: Maybe these organizations could produce one regional newsletter. The western half of Upstate New York is known as the Finger Lakes Region. Joe ran his idea by Gene Bauston (last month's 24 Carrot Award winner!) of Farm Sanctuary, which is also located in the Finger Lakes. Gene even thought of a name for the project: FLAVORS, or Finger Lakes Area Vegetarian Organizations. Gene and Joe brainstormed for the next few years about whether to do a newsletter or a regional calendar. For one reason or another, FLAVORS never got off the ground.
JC: But good ideas do not die. The thought of producing a community-type periodical focusing on all things veg remained. In 1999 I met Colleen, and shortly thereafter visited California, where she was living. At the time Colleen was on the board of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society and active in the SF vegetarian scene. Her professional background was in marketing, and she had a wealth of experience with graphic design and event planning.
The talent and experience needed to get VegNews launched was in place. I moved to California in December 1999, and on July 1, 2000 VegNews debuted.
VIP: What goals did you have when you initiated the publication? Have those goals changed? We're curious about the Vegan News Network. Could you tell us about the organization?
CH: After Joe moved to California, he transformed SAVES (the organization) into The Vegan News Network and The SAVES Paper into VegNews. So when we speak about goals, it is important to look at them in the larger context of the organization, of which VegNews is the initial project.
JC: The goals of VNN have remained consistent since the beginning: To further the ethical vegetarian movement through unity while promoting plant-based and compassionate goods and services. VegNews does this by promoting what other organizations are doing through its Society Page program, where any organization, small or large, can use VegNews as their group's newsletter. We also promote any and all vegetarian events in one of our two free calendar sections and through sponsoring events throughout North America. Whether through articles, product reviews, or advertisements, promoting Vegan products and Vegan-owned companies fulfills a third facet of our mission. The goal is to encourage vegans and vegetarians to support companies with values that align with their own.
CH: A second project of VNN was the highly successful Bay Area Veg Fair held in Santa Clara, CA in February 2002. This first-time event attracted over 4,000 people to a free food festival held at a modern convention center in the heart of Silicon Valley. The goals of the organizers were the same as VNN's, and it was this dedication to the mission of furthering and promoting Veganism that made the Bay Area Veg Fair a stellar event.
VIP: What is the current circulation? What kind of growth has the publication experienced?
CH: We print 40,000 copies of each monthly issue and have a readership of over 100,000. VegNews has experienced phenomenal growth during its first two years, and we expect this to continue as more and more people discover the publication and vegetarianism!
VIP: How much of your time is devoted to the publication of VegNews?
JC: It seems like 25 hours a day, eight days a week! We both work full-time on the project. A lot of our time is spent in our home office, but we also do a lot of traveling to promote the paper.
VIP: How much of your time is spent at trade shows to publicize VegNews?
JC: We attend at least one trade show a month to promote VegNews whether it is a one-day food festival or a weeklong conference. Fall always seems to be a busy season; between September 7 and October 26 this year we will have a presence at nine events. Already this year we have been to Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles; Seattle (twice), Vancouver, British Columbia; and Washington, DC, in addition to our own fair in Santa Clara, California.
VIP: Is VegNews currently self-sustaining? Was the project difficult to finance at the outset?
CH: While printing and postage costs are extremely high, currently the paper is supported by subscriptions and advertisers -- vegan, of course -- and is thankfully self-sustaining.
JC: We work on a shoestring budget and have the benefit of many wonderful writers, columnists, and volunteers who generously donate their time and services due to their belief in the project. In the future we hope to receive grants and other funding that would support the continued growth of the paper as well as allow us to remunerate our contributors. One of our goals is to help create a financially sustainable veg community in which individuals could combine their passion and livelihood rather than working for a paycheck at an unfulfilling job only to do activist-type work during their "free" time.
CH: We were blessed with support from both of our families, including greatly subsidized housing, which allowed VegNews to get off on the right foot. We recently moved into our own home. Now comes the real test. So, if you have not yet subscribed to VegNews, we would love for you to become a subscriber today!
VIP: What were your occupations before VegNews?
JC: I've been self-employed for most of my working career. For 15 years I was the proprietor of a music memorabilia company. I also owned a small vegan baking company and a companion animal sitting service.
CH: I worked for a marketing agency in San Francisco before leaving to launch VegNews. We also do some property management on the side to bring in a little extra income.
VIP: Joseph, we understand you did quite a bit of traveling in your pre-VegNews days. Can you tell us about your work at that time and how you managed to maintain your vegetarian regimen on the road?
JC: During the years that I owned the music memorabilia business I was on the road constantly. It was during this time that I transitioned from meat-eater to vegan. I used to carry my food in my vehicle, along with a blender, hot plate, and dorm-sized refrigerator. I knew where all the health food stores and veg restaurants were in whatever town I was in. This was in the time when there were far fewer products than there are today, and they couldn't be found in "mainstream" grocery stores.
Looking back now I can see how colorful a story this is, but then I was young and foolish. I'm still foolish. All kidding aside, I was determined to be true to my new lifestyle, and I hope my story can assist others who fear that changing their diet would be too difficult. It's not. Today, it's actually easy, and it is getting easier all the time.
VIP: Tell us about your education. Are you using your education in your current endeavors?
CH: I graduated from UCLA with degrees in Sociology and Asian Studies. I also have a Culinary Arts Degree from the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City. I believe any education is useful in our daily endeavors, even if not in a direct way. My interest in Asian history and culture led to post-graduate travels through Asia. That's when I experienced tremendous personal growth and became vegan.
JC: I have a Liberal Arts degree from the State University of New York and have taken post-graduate courses in several disciplines although most of my education has been self-taught from simply believing in myself and diving into a project. Neither of us has taken any journalism courses!
VIP: What previous experiences did you have in writing for publications?
JC: Prior to The Saves Paper, I wrote book reviews for the North American Vegetarian Society's Vegetarian Voice magazine.
CH: I did a lot of writing and editing at my previous company but never contributed to any publications prior to VegNews.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourselves?
JC: We feel that the projects of the Vegan News Network is our contribution to making the world more compassionate and conscious. We also want to help the many budding vegan companies promote their products and services and to see them thrive. And most importantly, to live fulfilling, balanced, and happy lives.
VIP: Can you tell us about your personal odysseys that brought you to veganism?
CH: I became vegetarian in high school. I couldn't stand the taste and smell of meat and decided to totally eliminate it from my diet. I went through college as a lacto-vegetarian.
One week after graduating from UCLA, I left on a two-year journey through Asia. I taught English in Japan and then traveled all over China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, and India. I lived on a traditional Asian diet and had no dairy during my trip. I befriended an Indian family in Japan who were advocates of alternative medicine. The grandfather had been cured of cancer by juice fasting.
During my free time, I began to read books about non-conventional approaches to health and learned about the problems with dairy products and the political power held by many US organizations. Feeling healthier than ever, having not consumed dairy in months, I decided to become vegan.
Upon my return to the US, a Whole Foods Market had just opened less than a mile from my parent's home. I discovered all of the new milk alternatives and wonderful array of vegan foods. I took some vegan cooking classes and eventually enrolled in the Chef's Training Program at the Natural Gourmet. I also became involved with the San Francisco Vegetarian Society. I have been vegan for eight years.
JC: I was influenced by a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals mailing that listed "10 Things You Can Do To Help Animals." One item on the list was "Go vegetarian." My initial thought was "What's that got to do with helping animals?" My cat soon provided the answer, and I was veg shortly thereafter. So it can be said that VegNews was partially influenced by a piece of "junk" mail!
VIP: What organizations do you belong to and support?
JC: Other than leading VNN, we are members of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society. Personally or through VegNews, we support many local and grassroots organizations. In the most recent issue of VegNews we spotlighted five up-and-coming organizations: AmeriCAD, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals, Students Animal Rights Alliance, and Viva!USA. We also try to support organizations around the country with discounted or in-trade advertisements for events they are coordinating.
VIP: How do your family and friends react to you being vegan?
JC: Both of our families are very accepting, though jokes are still made. Since Colleen loves to cook, everyone has enjoyed a fair share of her vegan cuisine.
CH: My brother is now about 90 percent vegan, and my other two other siblings are extremely health conscious and watch their meat and dairy consumption. Thanksgiving is now vegan except for a small turkey left in the kitchen which two or three family members serve to themselves before sitting down.
JC: Most of our friends are vegetarians and vegans. When dining with non-veg friends or family, we choose a restaurant that can accommodate everyone. As we live in such a veg-friendly area, this never presents a problem.
VIP: What individual or individuals has had the most profound influence on your lives?
CH: Actually, Joe and Dog have had the most impact on my life. I was vegetarian and then vegan for many years, motivated mostly by politics, the state of the environment, and health. It was Joe and Dog who have brought out my love for animals and burning desire to eliminate their suffering. I am now totally driven by promoting the ethical treatment of animals.
VIP: What do you predict for the vegan movement in the next ten years? What do you see as your role in that movement?
JC: The movement will continue to grow as the issues of the poor treatment of animals, unhealthy and contaminated foods, environmental destruction, and many others become more open and discussed in public. Just recently (July 2002) these issues have received a cover story in Time, significant coverage in the New York Times, and segments on national newscasts. The tide is changing slowly but significantly. Young people ages 10 to 20 know the issues and are becoming veg; this was not true as recently as 15 years ago.
CH: Over the next ten years we see Veganism becoming more accepted, just as vegetarian diets have become in recent years. There will be fast-food veg restaurants in every city, and all of the major cow-burger chains will have at least one veggie burger on their menus. More people will discover and support organic foods. And as is already happening in the LA-area, major veg and animal rights conferences will "discover" the West Coast.
VIP: What brought the two of you together?
JC: We met at a conference, NAVS's annual Summerfest. Certainly both of us being Vegan was very important, as neither of us would want to be with a non-veg partner.
CH: My involvement with the SFVS and Joe's role with SAVES also played a significant role in our partnership and the birth of VegNews.
VIP: What activities do you enjoy in your leisure time?
CH: I like to walk, practice yoga, cook, dine at vegetarian restaurants, and salsa dance. I also love to travel to developing countries and watch foreign films.
JC: I enjoy writing, jogging, reading, traveling, gardening, watching movies, and an occasional baseball or hockey game.
VIP: Do you have any companion animals?
JC: When I was growing up, my family had dogs who I always seemed to bond with more so than my siblings. After college I was living on my own and a friend brought me a kitten that she had found at a garage sale. Because I thought I was a dog person, I named that kitten Dog. Forgive me, I was young.
That was September 1984. Dog has been my constant companion ever since. At the moment she is lying on my desk, as she does daily, checking to make sure I don't do or say the wrong thing. She supervises all aspects of VegNews. Last week we celebrated her 18th birthday.
Dog was my first companion after the canines of my youth. She has outlived six other cats, two rabbits, and a dog. She has truly had nine lives. In much the same way as Eddie Lama, the subject of the documentary The Witness, I too was transformed by a kitten.
Dog is the most intelligent and perceptive individual I have ever been around. There is not a thing she doesn't understand, and she can always explain what she is thinking. She can communicate better than most people who speak a recognizable language. My exposure to her deep intelligence completely changed my life. Shortly after she came to me, I started volunteering at an animal shelter. One thing led to another and the path toward veganism and VegNews began.
While I have read Gandhi, Schweitzer and many others, and worked alongside most of the leaders in the contemporary veg and AR movements, the one person who has had the most profound influence on my life, because she was so able to bridge the gap between humans and non-humans, is a cat named Dog.
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