Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Freya Dinshah and the American Vegan Society for carrying the vegan message to the American public for more than 40 years.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Freya Dinshah (FD).
VIP: We noticed that you live on Dinshah Lane. There must be an interesting story behind the naming of the street. Would you be kind enough to tell us how it came about?
FD: The street was named for my father-in-law, Dinshah P. Ghadiali. He moved to Malaga, New Jersey in 1924 and is also honored for service to the community with a dedication plaque at the fire hall. He was known by his first name, Dinshah, which his sons later adopted as their last name. Dinshah means King of Duty (Din=duty, Shah=king). Dinshah, a Parsee, came to the U.S. in 1911 from Bombay, India, after spending a period of time in Europe. He was a scientist and inventor. His life mission was health education utilizing a system of color therapy that he pioneered. He advocated a vegetarian diet. He was praised by many, and vilified as a quack by others.
VIP: You have been involved with the American Vegan Society since its inception. What events led to the founding of the organization? What role did you and your husband play in the organization?
FD: I wasn't involved from the very beginning, but soon after. My husband H. Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society (AVS) in early1960. I arrived in the States, from England, to join him and the society in midsummer of that year. Jay was 26, I was 18.
Jay was raised as a lacto-vegetarian. In 1956 an influential book, Why Kill for Food? by Geoffrey L. Rudd, was published by the Vegetarian Society (Manchester, England). Jay imported copies, which he sold by placing classified ads. From reading literature published by The Vegan Society in England, Jay perceived the error in drinking cow's milk and wearing leather. Jay became vegan in 1957.
He was president and treasurer of AVS and edited the magazine, Ahimsa, from 1960 to 2000. In the 1960s and 1970s Jay traveled extensively, in the U.S., Canada, and around the world, rousing audiences to the plight of food animals and the complicity in using by-products of slaughter. My position with AVS until Jay's death in 2000 was corporate secretary and assistant editor. I accompanied Jay on some of the early trips in this country and Europe before the children were born.
To help people in their efforts to adopt a vegan lifestyle, we have held meetings, gave cooking classes (my focus), presented fashion shows, gave house guests an experience in vegan living, wrote and edited books, and organized conventions in various states across the U.S. We sell books and videos, covering many aspects of vegan living, retail and wholesale. The number of titles we carry has grown from a handful to hundreds over the years!
VIP: The word AHIMSA appears in vegan literature and has been an important part of your organization. Can you tell our readers about the origin of AHIMSA and what it means for us today?
FD: AHIMSA is a Sanskrit term meaning non-killing, non-injuring, non-harming. It is compassion in action and has a very positive effect and influence. We do not want to cause pain by our actions and in our relationship with others. It takes discipline to make the right choices. However, AHIMSA is not self-denial, as some may think, but affirmative action benefiting all we care for. It is the principle of kindness, helpfulness, and of loving our neighbor, taught in world religions, and extended to all creatures. It is Reverence for Life.
VIP: What are the goals of the organization?
FD: The goal of the American Vegan Society is to advocate the principles of veganism (ethical, moral, and/or religious abstinence from all animal products, etc.) and the doctrine of AHIMSA (non-slaughter, non-violence), which Jay defined in the anagram:
To that end we teach the value of eating plant foods for optimal sustenance, and demonstrate the variety of vegan fare. But vegan practice isn't just diet, it extends to the commodities we use and our attitudes towards others. We choose soaps made with vegetable oil not lard. To avoid leather, shoes are made of fabric and synthetic materials. We are motivated to make positive ethical choices to end the holocaust of animal suffering. Vegan practice promotes a more equitable sharing of the earth's resources so people the world over may have enough to eat, and so that a mantle of vegetation can be preserved to maintain habitat for creatures of land, sea, and air.
VIP: What achievements of the American Vegan Society give you the most pride?
FD: AVS has awakened people's sense of right and wrong. We have not shifted our beliefs to gain popular support. We are a voice for the animals who cannot speak and need to be heard. In a ripple effect, the people we have influenced have in turn influenced others; we are very proud of them. Every time someone tells us of the benefits they have experienced by following the vegan path we are gratified. Many have lost a fear of illness they once had now that they have learned to take better care of themselves. Most importantly their consciences are alive and functioning.
VIP: How does one become a member of the American Vegan Society? What does membership involve? What are some of the benefits?
FD: Anyone interested can become a member of the American Vegan Society. Some members are practicing vegans already, but many are learning and taking initial steps to change their diet and lifestyle from the prevalent norm of animal abuse. Annual dues are $20, or $10 for students/low income. Members receive American Vegan magazine, can order books and videos, may attend meetings, and may visit or phone our headquarters. In turn, members' support of AVS helps us shine a light of compassion for others to see, and respond to inquiries. See http://www.americanvegan.org for more information.
VIP: We understand that the AVS has annual conventions in different locations around the country. What are some of the activities that occur at these meetings?
FD: Conventions and meetings, whether short or long, are an opportunity for fellowship as well as educational and motivational events. Speakers, good food, and entertainment are the ingredients in a recipe for social change. People are strengthened in their beliefs. For a brief time, they have escaped from a world steeped in the gore of meat eating to a pleasant greener existence. They are inspired with a vision to give the world.
VIP: Your group also publishes a magazine, American Vegan, once called AHIMSA. Could you briefly tell us what a reader would discover in this publication? What was the reason for the magazine's name change?
FD: Our magazine has a variety of articles covering many aspects of vegan life. There are news items, book reviews, nutritional information, menus and recipes, opinion and informational pieces. The format is attractive and easy to read.
We changed the name of the magazine from Ahimsa to American Vegan to broaden our appeal with the general public. The word vegan has now entered the general vocabulary. Our members are still very partial to ahimsa and all it stands for. We retain it in our motto: Ahimsa Lights The Way. However, using the word ahimsa as the magazine name was a barrier to some who thought the society represented an obscure religion or sect; not theirs. AVS is inclusive of people of all faiths and none. We are united in the stand and the personal action we take to stop animal suffering.
VIP: We understand you were involved in both the North American Vegetarian Society and the Natural Hygiene Society. Could you tell us about your role in each of those organizations?
FD: In 1973 vegetarians from several U.S. states and Canada invited the International Vegetarian Union to hold a World Vegetarian Congress in the United States. They founded the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) with the dual purpose of hosting the event and providing a forum for vegetarianism in the region. My husband H. Jay Dinshah was asked to take charge of the effort and became the founding president of NAVS. The American Vegan Society provided start-up facilities and staff for NAVS from 1974 to 1980. In addition to office work and feeding a houseful of young enthusiasts, I was catering director for the annual NAVS Congresses until 1980. That involved developing, testing and batching the vegan recipes used by the college food services that we dealt with; they required recipes for making 100 portions. Subsequently the recipes were published in a quantity catering card file Vegetarian Cooking for 100 that was sold to colleges and other institutions across the U.S.
The Twenty-Third World Vegetarian Congress took place in 1975 at the University of Maine. This watershed event was attended by over 1500 people and was covered by the major TV networks and national newspapers. So many vegetarian leaders of the past and present were there: Helen and Scott Nearing, Richard St. Barbe Baker, Henry Bailey Stephens, Ann Wigmore, Rosalie Hurd, Nellie Shriver, Paul Obis, David Phillips, Drs. Gordon and Barbara Latto, Brian and Margaret Gunn-King, Tom Regan, Marcia Pearson, Peter Burwash, Maureen Koplow, Alex Hershaft, Ann Cottrell Free, Madge Darneille and others, the list goes on and on. The event inspired many people to start a vegetarian group in their area or embark on a particular campaign or effort.
The American Natural Hygiene Society, now renamed the National Health Association, is the oldest nonsectarian national organization in the U.S. teaching vegetarianism as part of its health message. Jay and I were members of a local NH chapter in San Diego, California in the early 1960s. Jay was for a time a member of ANHS' Board of Directors, and in 1983 to 1984 served as office manager and then interim executive director when they moved their headquarters from Connecticut to Florida.
VIP: Have you been a vegetarian all your life? When did you become vegan?
FD: My parents decided to become vegetarian before I was born. My sister and I were raised as ovo-lacto-vegetarians. I became vegan through Jay's influence in a gradual process while we were corresponding in the late 1950s and 1960.
VIP: How do your family and friends react to your veganism? Are your children vegans?
FD: My parents and sister became vegan shortly after I did. They had become friends with Dr. Frey Ellis and his family who lived across the street. Dr. Ellis did research published in The Lancet on the health effects of vegan diets, and on vegans' B12 levels. My sister in England and I in the U.S. brought up our children as vegans, and they still follow the vegan way in the main. My friends thought I was giving up too much when I became vegan, but have always been good at providing vegan foods for me on social occasions at their homes. Some friends tell me that my vegan example has helped them.
VIP: After spending your early years in England, have you noticed differences in veganism in the U.K. compared to the U.S.? Have you noticed any changes in society's reaction to veganism in recent years?
FD: In both countries the vegan eating patterns are adaptations of the national food culture with the substitution of bean and lentil dishes, nuts and seeds for eggs and meat; soy, rice, and nut milks for cow milk. I remember nut roasts, a savory mix of whole grain bread crumbs, ground nuts, onion, herbs, as the preferred main dish for special occasions in England, and beans-on-toast the quick option for a meal at any time of day. Savory pies and green peas are popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the U.S. veggie burgers, grilled tofu, and lima beans or succotash, limas and corn, are enjoyed at casual and more formal meals. Ethnic dishes such as curries, hummus and pilafs have entered both countries as our world becomes more cosmopolitan. Far from being restricted, vegans have an ever-expanding menu from which to select!
The public's reaction to veganism has changed greatly over the years. Now a well-balanced vegan diet is recognized as health promoting, whereas being vegan used to be viewed as nutritionally risky. Of course, now as then, the welfare of vegans depends on sensible eating habits. We believe in eating a wide variety of wholesome foods: vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, which are the basic ingredients from which delicious meals are made. Eating enough calories of the right foods and avoiding junk foods is key to good nutrition.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
FD: I am proud of my children, Daniel 36 and Anne 33. They are compassionate people, and hard workers. Both put in volunteer time with AVS. Daniel likes his job as an EMT in Medical Transport. Anne coaches men's and women's crew at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
FD: I have found that some goals made public do not see the light of day; they evaporate. Therefore, I am very cautious about saying in advance what I want to do. On the other hand, it can be very helpful on occasion to declare your intentions, as in the case of making resolutions. If, for instance, I tell other people that I am going to eat only uncooked food for a week. Reneging on that promise to myself becomes difficult, and I am strengthened in my resolve.
I am and will continue to make new friends, especially young friends, and to treasure old friendships. I am learning to take advantage of modern communications while at the same time understanding that others do not.
VIP: What organizations do you belong to and support?
FD: Of course I am focused on AVS and we exchange publications and news with other kindred organizations.
I have joined a Toastmasters group to develop my public speaking skills. I am active with the Vegetarian Society of South Jersey and its Vegetarian Neighbors group that meets in this area. We have a local food-buying coop. I am a member of the Beaver Defenders and enjoy visiting Unexpected Wildlife Refuge, which is nearby.
VIP: What leisure activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
FD: I like gardening, reading, and sports such as swimming, and tennis.
VIP: We noticed that you are the author of a few cookbooks. In your busy schedule do you have many opportunities to cook? What are some of your favorite dishes?
FD: Most of my cooking is quick and easy. I prefer to cook from scratch rather than eat packaged foods as a matter of personal taste and to economize. Besides I'm used to self-catering! Even so, I recognize and welcome the wonderful vegan convenience foods that have helped many busy people make a switch in eating habits. We regularly use commercial soymilks and frozen veggie burgers.
I have a good repertoire of soups and stews, and I like to make whole grain breads with my breadmaker. Baked potatoes or steamed rice, with salad, beans or tofu, and green and yellow vegetables are common fare. We enjoy desserts when we have time to make them. Banana ice cream is an old favorite that we've been making since I arrived in the U.S. in 1960. The family likes my pecan pie, apple spice cake, carob cake, fruit jell and cookies. My cookbook, The Vegan Kitchen, has been kept in print through several editions since 1965.
VIP: Would you care to hazard a prediction of where the veganism movement is heading in the next 10 years?
FD: Growing. Pushed by personal and world problems and economic forces, and pulled by its promise, more people will see that veganism offers a way forward. I see a lot of talent and dedication in young vegans who are spreading the message.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
FD: The short answer is Jay. The long answer would make this already long interview much too long, but can be found amongst the books AVS handles.
VIP: Do you share your life with any companion animals?
FD: No, not at the present time.
VIP: Have we overlooked anything that you would like to share with our readers?
FD: I think I've said enough for now! I am grateful to have had this opportunity to talk to you. Thank you for the award. I love carrots! Also, I must commend your website.
For more information about the American Vegan Society, see their website at http://www.americanvegan.org