Would it amaze you to find vegans working at companies whose business seems at odds with vegan ethics?
Indeed, as more and more people embrace the plant-based lifestyle while keeping a successful professional career, you may well find vegans employed by Monsanto, Walmart or McDonald’s. Our Vegan Leaders network has dozens of members working across pharmaceutical and biotech companies, food and consumer product giants, chemical and energy conglomerates, military and defense contractors and more.
What is it like for these vegans? In this first part of the series, we interview Anastasia Strokova who works as a Strategic Programs Staff Analyst for a major food company. We also interview Rupa Vadodaria who is an Associate Director in the supply chain organization at a leading pharmaceutical company.
What led you to embrace the vegan lifestyle?
Anastasia: For me, it was initially about health. I’d already experimented with eliminating foods such as dairy from my diet to improve my health. That led me to several health documentaries, through which I further learned how irresponsible food production degrades the environment and human health and how badly it treats animals.
When my Mom passed away, I wanted to do something profound in her name. I realized that it was time to go completely vegan – to stand up for my values and educate others by example. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I haven’t looked back since.
Rupa: I come from a Jain family in India. Jainism is a religion which teaches non-violence. I grew up as a vegetarian and was taught to make choices that considered all living beings. We were already avoiding leather and other animal products. In addition, I was already opting for products that were not tested on animals.
This background helped me find my niche as I was launching my own wellness coaching business in 2015. From interviewing numerous vegan speakers I learned of additional issues I was not previously aware of (e.g. wool and down industry). In early 2016, I became vegan and will be vegan for the rest of my life.
You work in an industry one might not expect of a vegan. What is it like, and how well does your workplace accommodate vegans?
Anastasia: I know you’d hardly expect a vegan working for a protein company! I was not yet a vegan when I started there, and I’ll admit, at first the new vegan ideology posed some ethical struggles. But then I thought: “There is a reason I am here. Can I be the change I want to see? If this road was easy, anybody would do it.”
My plant-based choices have never compromised my career growth. To me, that is the most important accommodation there should be. A progressive enterprise should welcome a variety of views, backgrounds and values because that’s how it evolves and retains its competitive edge.
We have some vegan options in our corporate cafeteria however I prefer to prepare my own lunch and snacks. At functions or team events, I also bring my food and enjoy being social.
Rupa: My workplace accommodates vegans well. My co-workers embrace my choice to be vegan. Some even join me to have vegan lunches. Also during certain lunch meetings, they order vegan food for me specially. We have some vegan options in the cafeteria as well.
How do your corporate colleagues typically react when they learn you are vegan?
Rupa’s takeaway: “Be a proud VEGAN! You are doing your share to save the world and you are showing the way to others.”
Anastasia: I have been open about my food choices in the workplace, and found varying degrees of acceptance from my colleagues. I may have been the first openly vegan person at the company. However, over the years I met several others. What’s more, several people have approached me for advice on weight loss, plant-based
nutrition and recipes! That clearly tells me that people are hungry for wholesome and healing foods. While I still get some teasing and joking, it is now mostly around my green smoothies that I bring to work every day.
Rupa: Most people feel it must be extremely difficult to be a vegan! That is a very common reaction everywhere I go. They wonder how I can survive on fruits and vegetables, and without eating cheese and milk etc. I view these reactions as opportunities to educate others and dispel the many myths about veganism.
When describing your lifestyle, do you describe it as vegan, plant-based or something else?
Anastasia: I mostly say “vegan” because that’s a traditional term and people understand it. However, I do like the term “plant-based” a lot. I think it emphasizes the point that plants are meant to be our optimal nutrition. The plant-based concept also makes me more conscious about my choices not only in the grocery aisle but in all the other products that I buy- issues such as trash and waste, our reliance on plastic or disposable items and industries that still do animal testing. I am not buying leather goods anymore, I got a compost bin and I’m trying my hand at growing a small garden in my back yard. I try to emphasize the message that small but consistent changes make the biggest difference, and it all starts with each of us.
Rupa: I use different words and narrative based on the audience. Some people resist the idea of veganism but find plant-based concepts easy to understand. Some people understand the ethical and moral side of it (for example they can relate to the feelings of an animal) while others are more concerned about health. Others are very sensitive about the environment. My response varies depending on what types of question are posed to me.
Is your company showing any interest in vegan or plant-based initiatives (e.g. a shift to plant-based products, a more favorable perception of vegan ideas)?
Anastasia: I think so. Any company that wants to stay competitive must be innovative and look for opportunities in many directions. Our company invests in alternative protein sources, and recognizes that the demand for other forms of protein is growing rapidly.
I am also getting involved in some of our workplace health and wellness initiatives and hoping to drive some progress on that front.
Rupa: I have also overall seen more awareness and tangible signs such as more vegan options in the cafeteria. However, we don’t yet have any vegan based club or group at our company today. I am hoping to take the initiative to start such a group at my workplace.
What advice would you give to vegans working in a traditionally vegan-unfriendly industry or living in a location with few vegan options?
Anastasia’s takeaway: “I am open about my food choices at work. Several people have now approached me for advice on weight loss, plant-based nutrition and recipes!”
Anastasia: Be glad that you have an opportunity to blaze some trails! But don’t burn the bridges in process. In other words, don’t hide your food choices but also don’t be boastful or in people’s faces about your choices. Be prepared and educated to answer questions and teasing statements with stats, case studies, and, most importantly, with personal examples of how plant-based lifestyle has increased your well-being. Remember that changes in behavior and mindsets always take time. I actually wrote an article on this topic – highlighting the top three plant-based tips for busy professionals.
Rupa: It’s ok to be different and to stand out. I had to deal with it my whole life even when I was “only” vegetarian. Being different is attractive.
Plus, there is a clear shift towards vegan and plant-based living in our society. There is no need to shy away anymore. In fact, it’s more important than ever to be who we are and be proud of it.
So be a proud VEGAN! You are doing your share to save the world and you are showing the way to others.
Outside of work, are you involved with any vegan groups or activism?
Anastasia: I support several animal welfare and environmental organizations. I am involved with several online plant-based lifestyle groups. As a health coach, I am also actively posting plant-based content online on Instagram at healthmatters.today and on Facebook at Health Matters Coaching. I spread the message of health and wellness, and show people how attainable AND enjoyable it is to be plant-based.
Rupa:I am a wellness coach myself and have a Facebook page where I promote veganism. I constantly stay on top of the vegan news and share as much as I can. My vegan work is mainly focused on impacting people in my community and my temple. I try to influence others by way of example. I do my part through my website and my Facebook page Wellness Coach Rupa.