Sunday, February 21, 2010

Member of the Week: Melissa Bastian of bright. and Libellule!

Normally this is where I'd write a little intro about the Vegan Etsy Team's featured Member of the Week. But this week that member is, well, me! I was nominated by the fabulous Pippi of Uber Duper Creations, and while the whole thing makes me a little blush-ey, who am I to turn down a chance to babble about my projects? ;)

And so, here goes.

How long have you been vegan, and what made you go vegan?
My wedding (which is in just four weeks, ack!) will feature all vegan food, and falls three days after my fourth veganniversary. Jonathan, the simply wonderful man who is my partner and is becoming my husband, has been vegan for over eight years. And so in a way the wedding is both a celebration of our union and of our veganity. We're most excited about the vegan cupcake tower! (Don't worry: pictures forthcoming.)

As far as why I went vegan, it was a process that took place over a number of years. From the time I was quite young - maybe 7 or 8 - I felt there was just something amiss about eating the flesh of animals, and was "picky" about my meat. When I was 17 I began having real problems with my health, and finally in my early 20's I began to look to nutrition for help as common western medicine couldn't cope with my chronic conditions. Once one lifts the veil and starts seeking the truth about our food, all sorts of information starts to pour out. It didn't take long for me to start learning what a mess our food industry is, particularly where animal foods are concerned. I began to get even more "picky" - I wanted certain products to be organic, for example. But as I learned more and more, I reached my inevitable conclusion, that the only food I could stomach purchasing anymore was food that was free of any animal product. I've been healthier and happier ever since.

That's the short version anyway. :)

What is the vegan community like in your area?
I live in New York City. Many will say that there is no such thing as a "vegan community" here, and that to an extent is true, but I have seen us come together in extraordinary ways when situations have demanded it. In general though, NYC is so large that everything shatters into fractions. Nearer to the truth is probably that there are many pockets of vegans, depending on other interests and geography. Out by me in Astoria, Queens... not so many. In areas of Brooklyn there are vegans everywhere! Every now and then, there will be an event big enough to draw out the crowds, like the NYC Veg Fest. It's impressive to see the population we really have here.

In general, we are terribly spoiled - there are so many veg restaurants here that in my four+ years in town I still haven't gotten around to all of them. It's easy to start taking it for granted... until we go traveling and realize what a luxury it is! Being vegan in New York is like living in Candyland. This situation is of course what inspired me to start my food-centric blog, New York in Green.

What kinds of items do you sell in your shop and what inspired you to start creating them?
bright. is named for my preferred style of paintbrush, but most of my shop listings are not paintings - for reasons that aren't fully developed in my head, I've actually never listed the majority of my paintings there. I have never really accepted myself as an artist, or haven't yet I guess. I move in and out of creating visual art, which is part of the problem there.

Instead, the shop is full of all sorts of things: paperweights, journals made from upcycled office paper and old magazine pages, bracelets, handmade one-of-a-kind envelopes... I see "stuff" sitting around, and it just strikes me - "I want to make something with that." So I do.

What I sell most of, though, are my zines. I began creating zines when I was 15 years old and struggling to find a voice. In the shitty world that was public high school in the 1990s, it gave me an outlet when otherwise I felt invisible and helpless. I've been making zines ever since, though the content has changed a good bit.

Libellule!... is empty. But I don't want it to stay that way! I have so many supplies that I'm dying to use - amazing Czech glass, pressed glass, and gemstone beads, vintage pendants - you wouldn't believe my box of shinythings. It's this tricky little thing called time though. Between working full time, keeping up with writing, doing a few things for the team, being in the final stages of a wedding, and coping with a chronic illness (which involves going to different kinds of therapy twice a week, to say nothing of the bad days), well, there's just not so much of the extra time. But some day again there will be. And when that time comes... shinythings!

Do you donate through your shops to any charities or do any volunteer work?
Right now, and until... just until, I am donating 50% of any and all sales to various organizations doing relief work in Haiti. There are also specific items related to New Orleans in my shop for which I donate 25% of the sale price to the Common Ground Collective, a group formed shortly after Katrina doing real grassroots work to help the people of the Ninth Ward rebuild their world, among other efforts around the city. (In case you're wondering, 50% of those items will also go to Haiti, meaning that 75% of the sale price will become a donation.)

One of the most inspiring projects I've been involved in was the Vegan Bake Sale for Haiti in New York City. There have been vegan bake sales across the U.S. to support Haiti relief efforts, as well as in Canada, western Europe, and possibly elsewhere. Our sale in NYC garnered the support of approximately 50 bakers, and even more people volunteered their time the day of the sale. Over two dozen area businesses and crafters offered prizes for our raffle. But none of that compares to how many people showed up to support the sale - by purchasing all of our amazing vegan baked goods! We raised over $5000 that day to donate to Doctors Without Borders. It was actually touching to see so many come together with no agenda, for no reason other than to help strangers; it was also a fantastic display of just how amazing vegan baked goods and sweets can be. Collectively, when last I checked, the vegan bake sales had raised over $40,000 to support Haiti relief work.

For the most part though, my "volunteer" time gets spent on the Vegan Etsy Team! Not that I do so terribly much, but I do what I can. Once I'm done with the wedding, I am hoping to begin volunteering for the NYC chapter of the House Rabbit Society. I have a strong desire to be more active in that kind of capacity.

Do you have any future plans for your shops?
Tentative, smoky, maybe-if plans at best. I would like to start making wedding accoutrements for Libellule!, largely because in trying to find things like wedding-ish hair clips on Etsy, I swear that everything was adorned with feathers or pearls or both! I'm not the only vegan bride out there, dernit. I'd also like to make jewelery specifically to raise funds for Haiti and possibly for other causes. I'm considering opening a third shop for my paper goods, phasing out some of the things I was doing, and making bright. strictly a shop for paintings, more appropriate for its moniker. But who knows; I am a bit fickle about these things, and unfortunately spread much too thin right now to make revamping a priority.

What are your favorite foods?
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm a sugar whore. It's kind of ridiculous. I get overly excited whenever we get a new team member who bakes or makes chocolates. I do, however, also eat real food. And the truth is I love it all - except for olives. I really enjoy pure foods: perfectly baked brown rice, I could eat that all day long. Lentils, greens like kale and Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts... I can eat a whole head of steamed broccoli in a sitting, no problem, with just a bit of lemon, a shake or two of pepper, and the tiniest pinch of salt. I love making my own hummus; it's the easiest thing in the world, and you can make a ton just to your taste and eat it all week long. Fruits are fascinating, beautiful, and delicious, particularly berries. Just this weekend I've introduced my parents to quinoa; they're fascinated. When it comes down to it, I love food best when it's still in its whole form and tastes like itself, but is also well seasoned in a way which enriches those natural flavors. I savor feeling truly nourished after a meal.

All that said, I can totally get down on some bbq "wings" over at Foodswings.

Do you have any animal companions?
Yes! Just a few weeks ago Jonathan and I adopted our bunnybaby, Harvey. He is simply the most wonderful being on the planet earth. Rabbits are fantastic! Herbivorous, sweet, quiet, inquisitive, loving, intelligent. What more could you want from a furkid? And it was utter fate that he came to us.

We had casually spoken about adopting a rabbit, but we hadn't actually decided to do it. But then one day, somewhere in Long Island, a volunteer saw a sweet, healthy rabbit come into a shelter (the family didn't "feel" like "dealing" with him any more...?!?!), and go straight to the kill list. She couldn't stand the thought, and so got in touch with another woman she knows who does a lot of dog rescue in the area. That woman contacted Chloe of Girlie Girl Army, who put a post up on Twitter. One of Chloe's friend's retweeted, and one of my friends retweeted the retweet... complex enough for you? So I saw this post go up, and I just knew it was our rabbit. And despite the five person chain between us and him, he was in our loving care not 12 hours later.

The lessons here? 1) The vegan / animal rescue network is fantastic! 2) Always retweet/repost/whatever, because you just never know. 3) Bunnies are amazing!

Are you active in any vegan, vegetarian, or AR groups, either through in-person meetups and activities or online?
PPK 4-eva! Erm... Post Punk Kitchen that is. The message boards are a blast. There's the one side of being able to engage in random threads with vegans (and the vegan-curious) from all over the world, and the other side of actually going to meet up with all the NYC PPKers and those who come to visit. I have met a great group of quality people through the boards now. It can also serve as a real community network - many of the vegan bake sales for Haiti that have gone on were orchestrated there, including the one in NYC.

Do you do any work to promote veganism, animal rights, nutrition education, and/or other such causes?
I write a zine called Vegetable Vegetable Mineral, which is intended to be a zine about food, written by a vegan but for everyone. It's not a forum where I try to convince people to go veg; rather it is a place where I discuss the issues of the modern food industry. Personally, I feel that what people need most is knowledge. I don't feel that it's my place to tell people what they should or should not eat. But I can give them the information that led me to my own conclusions. Essentially, I believe that educated consumers make better choices, and the cumulative choices of consumers is what ultimately creates change in any capitalistic system.

I have also put out a zine called Being Vegan is Awesome. That one's a bit more straightforward in its message. But again, it's not meant to convert. It's simply about my experience with veganism; how much I enjoy being vegan, how much of what you hear about veganism being hard (protein, B12) is utter nonsense, and so forth. It's something like, "Hey, this has been awesome for me! It makes me healthier and happier!" It concludes with a sentiment along the lines of, "Are you worried about what you're eating? Maybe you should find about more about what exactly it *is* that you're eating..." I like to encourage people to think about these things. But in the end you can't force anyone to do anything, and most of the time trying to do so will just make them dislike you and whatever you stand for.

Overall, in whatever I write about being vegan, I try to take a stance of, "I love being vegan! So here's some information, and I think it'd be great if you looked into it... Let me know if you have questions, and have a nice day."

Why do you think it's important to buy handmade?
When we got into this wedding, I knew from the start that there was no way I was going to have a lot of mass-produced junk. No David's Bridal, no picking some invitation out of a huge book from a giant printhouse, no overpriced favors that'll just collect dust on a shelf beginning four hours after it leaves the reception. Sure, it might be cheaper to go to Wal Mart and buy by the dozen. But there is a concept of "true cost" that is paramount in my mind. There is a system dominated by a mindset that is surely unethical, and could possibly be called evil: make money at any cost, whether it be human or animal suffering, groundwater or soil pollution, destruction of entire ecosystems, depletion of resources - nothing else matters but the "bottom line". This method of operation is extremely short-sighted; it is also beneficial only to the very few while being harmful and even deadly to the many.

Given the all-consuming and seemingly omnipotent monster that this system has become, it is nearly impossible to avoid it entirely. But we can limit how much we pay in. Being vegan helps. Getting our food from farmer's markets and CSA's or at least locally owned grocery stores helps. Shopping at your local bookstore and record store helps. And buying objects made by the hands of people who also aren't buying in: this is why we buy handmade, and particularly why we buy from fellow vegans.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I just have to say that I love my team! Really, it's a fantastic group of people, and my only regret is not joining them sooner than I did. Being a part of the VET has definitely enriched my Etsy experience, and really enhances my whole vegan world. Now whenever I need anything, I check Vegan Etsy first! I've gotten so many wonderful products from fellow team mates. Jonathan has started to "get it" too: a fair number of my Christmas and birthday gifts came from fellow VET members this year!

Also, I will extend my customary open invitation to any reader who may not be vegan or even vegetarian, but who may have questions. Need to know anything at all? Concerns? Advice? Need a good vegan cupcake recipe? Please feel free to contact me!

Thanks all.

Melissa Bastian.


Vegan Dog's Life said...

Great interview, Melissa! You definitely deserve to be member of the week with all you do for the team. I always enjoy reading your posts. :)

Veganessa said...

Interesting to read about you, what a busy women! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

great interview!

monkeys always look said...

What a wonderful interview! I'm not sure how you "do it all" but you do.