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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays


Michelle Pokorny was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. She went to a traditional Catholic school, and yet never believed the hype and hoopla surrounding it. Michelle spent the next four years at the University of Illinois, as a designer and writer for the university's student-run publication, The Daily Illini. She graduated with honors in 2004.

Michelle spent the next two years studying writing at Miami Ad School, the world's most awarded advertising portfolio school. She proceeded to circumnavigate the globe in a year, studying and working at world-renowned advertising agencies in Amsterdam, Sydney, and Sao Paulo. She is now planning on moving to California within the next few months to launch her career in entertainment advertising with her creative partner, Alicia Benz.

Alicia Benz is a third generation Floridian who spent her childhood basking in warm sunshine and playing on sandy beaches. After high school, she headed north to graduate with honors from Boston University with a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design. Alicia was then accepted to the most awarded advertising portfolio program in the world, Miami Ad School, and spent the next two years honing her design skills and training with some of the best advertising agencies in the world.

She holds the title of Miss Florida International 2010 and speaks out about green living at events across the country. Alicia is now planning to move to California with her creative partner, Michelle Pokorny, to pursue a career in entertainment advertising.


Eat, Pray, Love Vegan Style:
The AdverBarbie World Tour

By Michelle Pokorny and Alicia Benz


It was a balmy October morning in 2008 when Alicia Benz and Michelle Pokorny, met on the corner of 8th and Alton in the heart of Miami Beach, Florida. The first day of orientation at Miami Ad School (a funky, high energy, post-grad school for creative advertising), was finally here after months of anticipation.

We bonded that fateful sunny day, becoming inseparable, pairing as an art director and copywriter team, becoming collectively known as AdverBarbie. We spent the first year learning the ins and outs of pop culture engineering, building digital know-how, and honing our advertising genius. We also experienced everything the South Beach lifestyle could throw at us. From private yacht parties, to bashes at model's mansions, we were two glitz-crazed girls living the glamorous life, all in the fabulous comfort of the USA.

After a year mastering the art of skipping straight to the front of the V.I.P. line, we had finally hit SoBe socialite status. At the same time, we received the ultimate honor for any Miami Ad School student, winning the prestigious Global Top Dog award. We had successfully managed to balance it all, and were ready to take the advertising industry by storm, assigning two new faces to the term "Blonde Ambition." Enter the AdverBarbie World Tour.

Michelle Pokorny/Alicia Benz Miami Ad School is unique in that it allows students to study abroad in up to four different locations around the world. Once our year in South Beach was up, it was time to pick up shop and move across the ocean to Amsterdam. Little did we know moving to Holland would be just the tip of the iceberg in a massive, life-transforming journey.

They loathed our culture
Amsterdam may be a place of century old buildings sloping gracefully into mysterious canals, but it was actually a place of new awakenings for AdverBarbie. We learned what it's like to be completely loathed by another culture. In other words, the Dutch do not take kindly to Americans. It took many bouts of culture shock, tears, and sometimes all out screaming matches with the locals to hold our own as two girls on a mission to fend for ourselves in the heart of a not so happy-go-lucky European culture.

One afternoon, while visiting Antwerp, Belgium, we decided to have lunch at a quaint café. A large robust, red faced Belgian man took our order for vegetable soup, promising it would be the perfect remedy to warm us up on a cold autumn's day. When the soup arrived, we took one look into the bowls, and saw the biggest hunks of sausage we've ever seen.

    "We're so sorry sir," we said, "But we're vegetarian, and we can't eat the soup because there's a bunch of meat in it."

    "Vell, vust eat avound ze sausage. It von't bite!"

    "Thanks but no thanks. We will just order something else."

    "Avsolutely not. You pay me now, and zen, get out of my café!"

Pay for soup that we didn't even take one bite of, and then kick us out? I don't think so! We demanded to speak to the manager, and, of course, he was the manager. The man grew even redder and started waving his butcher knife at us, while cursing in Flemish. We protested back just as loud, furious for being taken advantage of. It was only until he came from around the other side of the counter, knife still in hand, that we decided it was time to hightail it out of there. That taught us never to order vegetable soup unless we were 100% sure there was no mystery meat involved.

We learned many lessons in Europe, and many of them much more positive! We put American ways aside, and took the Euro approach to daily living. Driving to work? Unnecessary. Amsterdam has twice as many bikes as people. We commuted via bike among hundreds of fast, unforgiving Dutch cyclists on a daily basis. And guess what? It's not that bad! It's actually enjoyable to burn off steam after a busy day at work. Instead of being trapped in a car, we were breathing fresh air. We were flying through cobblestone streets lined with the aromas of bakeries, charming antique shops, experiencing all the sights and sounds this age-old culture had to offer. Not to mention, we saved tons of money on transport, gas, and parking.

Michelle Pokorny/Alicia Benz Another foreign concept Adverbarbie was introduced to: reusing your grocery bags. The Dutch charge an extra 20-EURO cents (aka 50 USD cents) per plastic grocery bag. At first this seemed like an act against freedom, but turns out, they are totally correct. Bags can be used 10 times before they break, and at that point, might as well just buy cute reusable canvas bags and never deal with it again. It was a great habit to incorporate into our lives.

Living in moderation was the key
After a whole lot of kicking and screaming to change our American ways, something totally unexpected occurred. We actually emerged from Europe with new perspectives on our own culture, on our journey to becoming independent women. Turns out, we eat, drink, and stress ourselves out way too often in the United States. We adapted the European value of "living in moderation." Small refrigerators mean using less energy. Buying at mom n' pop shops means supporting the local industry and cutting shipping costs. For the first time ever we took a close look in the mirror and realized that we weren't happy with the childish way we had previously been living our lives. It was time to start respecting our bodies, be mindful of our surroundings, help our planet, and grow up.

A fresh urgency was running through our veins, and a vision of positive change. It was like winning Karma points from mother earth. It brought hope that others would see the new us and start making similar proactive choices for their lives. It had been three whole months of Euro-shock, and our next destination was on the horizon: Sydney, Australia.

After the lengthiest plane ride of our lives, and experiencing something too close to LOST for comfort, we landed in Australia. Slightly red eyed and disoriented, we started our new life down under.

Not many Americans actually make it all the way to Australia, so the Aussies had plenty of questions for us, like "Does everyone act really gluttonous and eat mile high apple pie while driving SUVs?" and "Have you ever met a movie star?" or "Why do you all work so hard and stress yourselves sick?" Oh, it was going to be a fun three months explaining all the idiosyncrasies of our homeland over and over again!

    When we first arrived at work, the girls at the office came up to us and asked,"Would you gals be keen for some boxing in the arvos (Australian for afternoons) afta work?"

    Our reply: "Huh? Sorry, not used to the Aussie slang."

    "You know, a bit of boot camp with a train-a, round the corn-a in the dog park."

    "Boot camp? Sounds awful!"

    "No, no, everyone at the agency does it; it's all in good sport."

Who knew boot camp could actually be a fun hobby? Seriously, everyone trains to be in peak physical condition, all year round. Thanks to the ladies at the agency, by the time we left, we were boxing like a pair of kangaroos and felt fitter than ever!

Everyone recycles
While resembling the US upon first impression, Australia is essentially completely different. From an eco stance, they are 10 years ahead. Everyone recycles, composts, and uses energy efficient everything. People were abhorred that we didn't bring a chic reusable coffee cup to the café to get our daily caffeine fix. Even the dumpiest grocery store boasts an organic store-brand line of products. Aussies take public transportation or bike whenever possible, even if they own a car. Also, fitness and personal health is top priority: and universal healthcare insures that everyone gets fair care from their doctor. Not a single Australian dreads the yearly check up for fear of pricy medical bills.

Although healthy and fit, from a sociological standpoint, Australia is 10 years behind. Racism was common in Australian attitudes towards their native inhabitants, the Aboriginals. We were surprised by the amount of tension between the two groups. It is often so severe that it results in violent rioting. I guess it goes to show you that no country is perfect.

They also aren't advanced in the vegetarian department either. We only met one other girl who was living meat free. "Sausage Sizzles" (aka BBQs) are massively popular. Ever heard the phrase "Put another shrimp on the Barbie?" They even grill at the office during lunch hour on the community BBQ. At the largest, most popular grocery, there was only a tiny shelf devoted to pricey meat substitutes; and it was nothing compared to the options available in the US. Even so, Australia does have stricter rules and regulations for the farming industry, so the meat isn't jacked up on hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.

Sydney is where we were able to put the eco-friendly way of life we adopted in Europe, into real action. Not only were we recycling, composting, and using all organic foods and beauty products, but we started using green household cleaning products as well. Our modest apartment became the poster child for green living. And honestly, it was an effortless transition. Living green can be so easy, not to mention economical! All you have to do is make that first step.

Michelle Pokorny/Alicia Benz Experiencing the opposite side of the Earth was top priority, so we made sure we incorporated some worthy travel locations as well. We dove the Great Barrier Reef, and were awestruck by the natural underwater paradise that thrived mere inches below the surface. We journeyed to the farthest possible location from the States: New Zealand. Sheep outnumber people five to one in NZ, and with the absence of an ozone layer (thanks to pollution from Asia), it is also the brightest place on Earth. The trees are so green, radiating with life, they appear almost neon in photos. Australia gave us a great foundation and vision for living a green and healthy lifestyle as well as a deep respect for the magnificence of earth's natural wonders.

We brought our " A Game" to Brazil
Where to next? We were getting notably confident with our traveling and cultural integration skills so we decided to put our new found aptitude to the test and experience living in a third world country. Say hello to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the largest city in all of South America, with a population of 30 million people. Brazil generated great interest in our globe trotting aspirations. It is a member of the intriguing BRIC's (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the noted grouping of up-and-coming global economies and emerging super powers. We landed another top creative internship at a major global ad agency, and we were ready to bring our "A Game."

Not surprisingly, we had another huge bout of culture shock upon arrival. Everyone was gawking at us as if they had never seen blonde white girls in their lives. You can only imagine the excitement the Brazilian boys at the office had when they heard that two matching "Gringa Barbies" were coming! We now know why celebrities are always complaining about being famous. It's actually very unsettling and slightly embarrassing. There was also a huge language barrier; even knowing a combined mix of Spanish and English couldn't help us in Sao Paulo where Portuguese is the dominant language.

Eventually, we found ourselves living the day-to-day lifestyle of full-fledged Paulistanos. But it wasn't without major tweaks, and a big scoop of Brazilian influence from our eager new friends at the office, that we would survive in this world where we were clearly outsiders.

Brazilian butts are not genetic
All right, first things first. What's the deal with those infamous Brazilian booties? Well we are happy to report, that after joining the most exclusive health club in Sao Paulo, we've found out their little secret. Ladies, the Brazilian butt is NOT genetic. Brazilian women spend more time working out their bum than women in any other country. Just like the US is obsessed with achieving rock hard abs, Brazil is obsessed with a tight, elevated backside. They have a whole slew of wrap around, strap on weights that you affix to your ankles, and then pump, pump, pump away for 30 minutes or more.

Boy does it show! Not only does it look incredible to have jeans dangling off, but the metabolism rev from having all that extra muscle is amazing. Big glute muscles are the equivalent of strapping on a jet-pack that burns calories like no tomorrow. What a great little tactic we discovered and are immediately incorporating!

Second, as far as sustenance goes, it was carbohydrate central. Cheap baked goods, fried, and processed foods dominate the local diet. Not to mention, there are little to no organic food options. Being vegetarian, we could barely go out to eat, and many people thought we are absolutely crazy. Dinner with co-workers turned into a complete fiasco. Between the language and the food discrepancies, we were barely ordering anything.

Yet, there was a small glimmer of hope in the midst of this major food conundrum. Three blocks from our flat was the most gorgeous Brazilian fruit and veggie market on the planet. Cauliflower, dew-drenched broccoli, carrots, deep purple eggplants, and a vibrant array of lettuces were arranged in four-foot-tall stacks of veg heaven that stretched several blocks long. Copious quantities of tropical fruits, displayed like jewels that sparkled under the blue and white-stripped tents, were our saving grace. Upon seeing the enthusiastic smiling gringas, the rival fruit vendors jostled amongst one another to be the first to let us try a new Brazilian tropical fruit for the first time. And did we mention how inexpensive it was? We paid 1/4 of the price we would pay in the States.

We recycled but they didn't
In a city filled with 30 million people, you would think there would be a recycling program, right? Wrong. There is no recycling at all. Everything is all just jumbled up and taken god-knows-where to rot for the rest of eternity. It was heart-wrenching to throw away every cardboard box, paper, and compost right into the trash. It gets worse. The tap water isn't drinking quality; so the entire civilized population relies on bottled water. This causes so much plastic waste it's ridiculous. Feels blasphemous not to be recycling our six-liter weekly water jug. To save on plastic waste, we would fill up our steel canteens with filtered water at the office and gym and transfer it into the jug when we got home.

If Sydney is where we learned to perfect our good eco-habits, Sao Paulo is where they stood the ultimate test. We brought all of our reusable totes, lunch containers, and canteens with us from Australia, and used them everyday. We avoided taking cabs, and relied heavily on public transport and walking.

Proof of the personal changes in our lifestyle became crystallized during our trip to Iguassu Falls on the boarder of three countries: Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. We were traveling like completely different women. Rather than heading to the airport on empty stomachs, we packed organic granola bars and almonds, so we wouldn't have to eat unhealthy processed meals. Instead of lounging by the pool, we opted to take a 14k hike through the rainforest.

Michelle Pokorny/Alicia Benz In order to relax, we treated ourselves to Argentinean yerba maté massages rather spend the money on drinks at the bar. But, most importantly, we were able to revel in the grandeur of the falls and reinvigorate our passion for helping our planet. It was the pinnacle of our journey; it was that "ah-ha!" moment where we realized "this is why we are working so hard to change our ways. It is so places like this can continue for the rest of eternity, untouched, and able to inspire this same awe in generations after us."

As our world tour came full circle, it was only the beginning for our new lifestyle. We went through a complete transformation, and came out looking and living better than ever. Both of us even lost several dress sizes while learning how to respect our bodies and minds with correct food and exercise choices. All in all, we grew up. Many people are shocked at how we were able to reprogram ourselves while traveling abroad and working full time jobs. Our response is: "We were ready for it." We both dreamt of traveling the world, and when you are actually doing it, you mentally prepare yourself for major changes. Now it's our personal mission to spread our story and hopefully influence as many people as possible.

Our influence was our reward
The most rewarding part of this whole experience has to be all the people that we have influenced. It's no coincidence that all the girls at the office started bringing their lunches, carrying reusable water bottles, and cutting our signature "AdverBarbie bangs" into their hair! They also loved learning about being vegetarian, even if it was a little comical for them. They can't believe how we are perfectly healthy and functioning while sticking to a plant-based diet.

What's more, neither of us got sick ONCE during the whole trip! We took countless flights, metro rides, and used public transportation and bathrooms the entire time, and barely ever felt a headache. It's just another perk of eating a healthy vegetarian diet, and exercising 3+ times a week. It really kept our immune systems and overall health in peak condition.

Moreover, Michelle's family turned vegan while we were on tour, thanks to various emails and Skype sessions where she encouraged them to change their ways. (Alicia was born and raised in an all-vegetarian family). Our friends back home began cutting back on meat and incorporating more organic products, all from reading our Adverbarbie Blog and getting inspiration vicariously through our transglobal transformation.

We want to continue to lead by example. Our goal is that people see us doing well, and follow suit. The trickle down effect is so powerful, that hopefully in the end, everyone's level of consciousness can be raised a notch higher, and we'll be that much closer to living a more sustainable, earth-friendly life! Funny how a better you means a better planet. Can't get any more win-win than that!

The earth is obviously crying out for help, and it's time that we took a stance and stopped living like there is "no tomorrow." Every small change and lifestyle tweak is one step towards healing the wounds of our planet. If two young American women can travel the world by themselves, and emerge with an eco-conscience, all while living thousands of miles from the comforts of home, so can you. Our favorite motto is "If we can do it, you can do it!"


Adverbarbie Update, December 2010


Where has this crazy world tour taken us? Back to the USA of course! We spent the summer in New York, living in East Village. Most of our time was spent finishing up our studies and perfecting our advertising portfolio. We did, however, manage to squeak out a triathlon and a beauty pageant. Being in the biggest city in the States definitely had its perks: convenience, the language, the entertainment; it was all very thrilling, and very American of us.

Today, AdverBarbie has set up shop on the West Coast. We love the California weather and the laid back attitude (as opposed to NYC) and think it suits us brilliantly. Our new address is in Los Angeles, and we're currently looking for work in creative advertising, as a team. We're playing the waiting game and looking for that perfect moment for an opportunity to break. (So if you know anyone in advertising ::wink wink::).

We hope to spread our story and hope that it inspires others into taking a more healthful and veggie oriented lifestyle. And hey, maybe we can even slide in some of our vegetarian view points into some major ad campaigns! Thanks so much to Vegetarians in Paradise for letting us tell our crazy story. Hope everyone enjoyed the read, and if you want to learn more about our daily pursuits, visit our blog.

Click here for past Words from Other Birds Articles


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