We continue with our “Vegans in Surprising Industries” series by focusing on the airline industry this time. Not normally known for vegan-friendly meal options on their flights, most airlines in the US offer mostly vegetarian meals that have to be arranged in advance as special meal requests. However, the change continues to happen and vegans do continue influencing airlines to think outside the box.
Natalie Mindrum who grew up in rural Minnesota comes from a long line of dairy farmers. Having been around farming since childhood, Natalie will tell us about her journey to veganism, how she keeps her enthusiasm and inspiration and what it’s like being a vegan working for an airline.
What led you to embrace the vegan lifestyle?
I grew up in rural Minnesota around animal farming. My father owned a small feedlot and both sets of my grandparents were dairy farmers. I vividly remember spending time as a child petting baby cows in huts, who I now realize had been separated from their mothers as a part of the dairy industry. I always felt a strong sense of empathy and kindness towards animals yet continued to eat them because that was the way things were, and I didn’t question it.
A few things set me down the path to veganism. The first was that in college as a part of a class, I helped teach English to slaughterhouse workers at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa. I toured Agriprocessors and was horrified by both the animal and human abuse occurring there. I stopped eating animals for a while but then started again. Then, years later, an acquaintance recommended I watch a film called “Earthlings.” After watching Earthlings, that was it for me. I was done with eating animals. I’ve been vegan for over 10 years, and I can’t see myself living any other way.
What is it like to be vegan in your profession?
Working for an airline has enabled me to travel in search of amazing vegan food. My husband and two sons, who are 5 and 7 years old, are also vegan – we have visited cities with the exclusive purpose of finding great vegan food. We visited Tel Aviv last summer and loved the food and vegan vibes there. We plan to visit Australia later in December 2018 and have the Happy Cow app ready to direct our trip.
For the most part, my co-workers and colleagues have responded with positive curiosity to me being vegan. Whenever I’ve faced challenges at work related to being vegan, I’ve reminded myself that I was once a meat eater who didn’t understand why someone would consider veganism. Remembering that helps me remain a positive example of a happy, healthy person who also happens to be vegan. The more all of us live that way, the more of us there will be and the easier it will be for all of us.
Do you have a favorite way to “recharge your vegan batteries”, i.e. spark back your enthusiasm to continue spreading the message?
Meeting other vegans has really sparked my enthusiasm. For years, I was the only vegan I knew in real life other than my husband. At times that felt very isolating and frustrating given that it felt as though the kind, compassionate people I knew should, of course, be vegan! Now, I’m lucky to have met other vegans both inside and outside of work and seeing their involvement in activism has inspired me to become more active and vocal myself. My “activism” has moved from donating money to vegan causes and posting on social media about veganism to getting involved with Anonymous for the Voiceless and the Animal Rights March in Chicago this past year. I want to get more involved in the future.
Are you seeing any shifts in the direction of your industry or company (more focus on the development of plant-based products, a more favorable perception of vegans in the workplace etc.)?
I do think we’re seeing a shift in the airline industry – there are more vegan options being offered for sale on airplanes than ever before, but there’s still a long way to go. I think an under-rated form of activism is telling companies what you, as a consumer, want from them. I’m always excited when vegan customers reach out to say there’s unmet demand for vegan food. We should all be letting the companies we engage with know what we need. Make it happen, vegans!
What advice would you give to vegans working in a traditionally vegan-unfriendly industry or living in a location with a few vegan options or no vegan community?
I would tell you to stay strong and remain grounded in your principles. Society hasn’t quite caught up with your perspective on the world but change is occurring quickly. You should be proud to be a voice for the innocent.
What is your favorite plant-based recipe or a meal? What will you be making for Christmas this year?
One of the earliest vegan recipes I learned to make was this red lentil dahl recipe which is reportedly renowned philosopher Peter Singer’s family recipe: https://whyveg.com/recipes/make_this.php?recipe=53 It’s easy to make and very tasty.
We are thinking about a trip to Australia during the winter holidays this year and will be checking out all the vegan food Sydney offers!