New Zealand actress Fern Sutherland, most well-known to Kiwis as 'Dawn' from the hit series The Almighty Johnsons and more recently as Detective Sims in The Brokenwood Mysteries, became a Veg Ambassador for SAFE this year, during October World Veg Month.
- Tell us a bit about yourself and why you decided to adopt a lifestyle that minimised harm to animals
I grew up rurally in and around farms, so I grew up eating meat. I also grew up around farmers and hunters and I love those people. So it felt a bit crunchy giving up eating meat because it felt like I was going to offend friends and family. But really what it came down to for me was thinking about consumerism. Becoming more aware of the overwhelming choice that we have in terms of what we buy. We don’t have to expend any effort to get what we need and we are all so busy that we don’t feel as though we have time to think about where our food comes from and how it is distributed. For me it was a way to take the power back because I wanted to put my dollar towards things that were contributing to the least amount of harm. And money talks. Especially to big multinationals.
- What’s the greatest thing about being Veg?
There are heaps of things to get mad about in the world, and a real sense of helplessness that follows because you don’t know where to start or how to be effective. This is a way of implementing something practical to make a difference and I really find it a way for the little guys (us) to take a bit of the control back and prove that we aren’t as thick as the marketers and PR people would like to believe.
How did you make the changes?
I understood my reasons pretty clearly so for me it was a quick and relatively easy change. Everyone is different and embraces it at their own pace. I guess it’s about how you frame it. Don’t think about it as “cutting things out” or “I’m not allowed that” or having to “go without”. It instantly puts a negative spin on it. I got excited because I finally had something I could do to make a difference and I gained so much more from letting go of stuff I didn’t need.
- How do you stay on track?
I don’t really see it as deprivation or a diet so I don’t judge myself in that way. I just do what I feel is right. Because at the end of the day it is about the planet and the critters on it and that keeps me doing my thing. Also, plants are delicious so that’s a bonus.
- Is there a special animals that inspire you?
Despite being suspicious of horses (fallen off and never got back on) there is no doubt that they are pretty complex and beautiful creatures. Also bees because duh.
- Are your family and friends Veg too?
None of my family is, but they definitely eat far less meat now after having had a think about it. They are also supportive of my choices and totally get it.
- When people ask you why you ‘went vegetarian’ what’s your usual response?
Usually I point to the fact that we all mindlessly consume and buy stuff and feel a sense of entitlement around the destruction we cause. It’s just part of being the top dog on the planet! Well F that. I just don’t want to be part of the problem any more. I’d rather make the most of what I have. Consume less and create more.
- When did you become vegetarian/vegan
About 3 years ago I became vegan, but a little while ago we started keeping chickens so I started eating eggs again. I made my peace about it because the chickens were well looked after and I like the simplicity of the give and take. I actually think there can be a really beautiful symbiotic relationship between human and animal so I don’t totally identify 100% with the “exploitation” line of thought. Also, you know, there are families in poor parts of the world that mostly eat vegetables but that might have one cow or goat and they depend on it for survival. So I’m not about to tell them to eat tofu and drink almond milk because that’s me speaking from a place of privilege. But my reality is different and of course I draw the line at factory farming where animals are treated as commodities and as things that exist to sustain disgusting human greed. So I don’t eat other animal products except for the odd egg. And I haven’t thrown out any of my wool or leather things. Though I haven’t bought any new stuff either!
- How do you respond to criticism about being vegetarian/vegan?
I don’t allow myself to get sucked into arguments about whether or not humans should or shouldn’t eat meat. For me it’s a redundant conversation. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. In the context of our present day situation it’s probably safe to say we could all just ease up on the animal products. In a conflict situation we can probably, at the very least, agree about that! If you can find something to agree on instead of fighting it’s a real time saver. Because usually you’re at a party and just want to drink and eat snacks and have a good time. Not defend your life choices. Some people just want to be dicks and get you worked up anyway.
- What was the biggest challenge for you and how did you overcome it?
OK controversial but I’ll say it. Other vegans and vegos. I find SOME of them to be extremely judgey and a bit dogmatic. I mean, having strong convictions is awesome but the out-and-out militancy alienates people that might be thinking about finding their own path to being plant based. I know this because I experienced it. I would remind people that perfection is the enemy of progress. I think Kathy Freston says that. If you’re thinking about adopting a plant based approach perhaps you feel pressure and are anxious not to make a faux pas. Just let it go. If something doesn’t resonate with you or you slip up when you’re starting, just know that you are doing something to the best of your ability and your intentions are good. No one can tell you you’re wrong. Many vegans and vegos are actually super supportive and chilled out people that are good to talk to about that stuff. So, don’t be put off by the super vocal judgey ones. Seek out the cool dudes.
- Is there a vegan ‘myth’ that makes you laugh?
That you can’t thrive on a plant based diet. There are many athletes around whose bodies are obviously responding well. I know everyone is different and you have to do what is best for your health, but it still goes to show that you most probably aren’t going to drop dead from not eating meat. You might actually start running ultra marathons.
- What’s your favourite food?
Simple food. Dinner most nights take 20 mins tops and preferably uses one pot. I find that if I can shove some fresh herbs in somewhere with some olive oil and seeds/nuts I can consistently elevate a standard vege dish to the next level and feel smug as hell.
- What’s your favourite restaurant?
Gigi’s Pizza in Newtown Sydney. Or I love Little Bird in Auckland for the cold drip and that kimchi burger (out of control)!
- Do you have a favourite recipe that you can share with us?
I make a vege spag bol that is pretty good. A mixture of tempeh and tofu, walnuts, black olives, mushrooms and herbs, all blitzed lightly together in a food processor or chopped. Then fry it up with some tomato paste, tomato sauce, a dash of soy sauce, garlic, spring onions and rocket. Top with nutritional yeast and some glugs of olive oil. Serve with whatever pasta you like!
- What’s your favourite snack?
Raw veges and hummus or nut butter, I actually love cos lettuce with marmite rolled up because I’m weird like that. I’ve also been known to ‘snack’ on entire bags of corn chips at a time.
- What vegan product could you not live without?
Almond milk (the real home made stuff is best!) and nori sheets. Coffee.
- What do you do for fun?
Target shooting (no animals!) with Dad, bush walks, cooking and drinking too much wine with friends.
- What do you do for fitness?
Heaps of yoga in its various forms and when I can afford it I see my best mate from high school who is a ruthless personal trainer. I love to walk everywhere, too.
- What is the funniest thing someone has ever said to you about being Veg?
It stunts ya growth
- What’s the one thing you wish people knew about being vegetarian/vegan?
We aren’t all hemp and patchouli-wearing hippies. We are actually normal, pragmatic humans that are just doing our best to tread a little more lightly on the planet.
- What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming vegetarian/vegan?
Educate yourself on nutrition. Get your bloods done so you have a general idea of where you’re starting from and can chart any changes along the way. A lot of people give up because they aren’t feeling optimal and associate that with the lack of meat in their diet. But if you can dig a little deeper to find out what is going on you might find a little dietary tweak is in order so you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water! But don’t treat it like a regime, in the same way you would a weight loss diet. It’s a compassionate way of life and a conscious one. Enjoy yourself!
4 November 2016