The writer, director, editor of the documentary Vegucated did not descend "from the planet Vega to convert the mere earthling." Marisa Miller Wolfson started out as a midwest girl with a fondness for bacon. Along the way, she became "a professional eco-nudger" and dedicated vegan. How? "It didn't take much," Wolfson recalls. It took seeing a film about "the horrors of industrial agriculture."
Wolfson's heart and mind were set. But she still had to go through a vegan learning curve, her vegucation, from how to stock her refrigerator to dealing with being called "a plastic shoe-wearing radical." By her mother.
Vegucated distills these and other challenges for three New Yorkers over six weeks as they try to go vegan in a country "that's not quite ready for that."
Wolfson used the 2004 fast food documentary Supersize Me as a template, with Morgan Spurlock "putting himself through this experiment and we all get to watch." With Ellen, Brian and Tesla, Vegucated's cast, "we didn't know what these guys would do. We took a risk." A big risk. Wolfson had no prior film experience. Neither did Mary Max, Vegucated's executive producer and the founder of the eco-nonprofit Kind Green Planet.
Filmmaking requires its own learning curve and the road to Vegucated was potholed with logistical nightmares and "helpful, yet painful feedback." Wolfson sighs. "If I had known what I would have to go through to make this happen, I don't know if I would have done it. Thank goodness I didn't know."
Vegucated has become a digital bestseller and Wolfson treasures every tweet and e-mail from people who've seen the film and "are making a change as a result. It's the most exciting part."
The hardest part? For Wolfson, for the cast and for her audience, "What really hit them in the gut and make a change is the animal component." Vegucated's tipping point comes after her cast visits a farm. Wolfson focuses on their grim faces on their drive home. Their horror, their disbelief is as powerful as the in-your-face animal cruelty footage that convinced Wolfson to go vegan.
She screened Vegucated in her home town, within an hour's radius of 84 factory farms. "It's cow country, that's the culture," she says. "There was none of the defensiveness I had expected. People have been really responsive." That includes her family. "I can tell I'm hitting past the vegan choir."
The vegan choir, in fact, has been giving some pushback. "Some of the vegan community are disappointed at the end when everyone's not a hundred percent vegan." Wolfson shrugs. "It was not at all a surprise that Tesla had a struggle, that she still has struggles. It reflects truth, reality, for a lot of people. I was thrilled everyone stuck with it for six weeks. I'm more about celebrating the victories than criticizing the shortcomings."
Wolfson wants to celebrate your victories, too. She's launching the Vegucated Challenge, an e-mail coaching program for anyone looking to make the switch to a plant-based diet. Like PCRM's Vegan Kickstart, it provides daily e-mail tips and support, not just from Wolfson but from other members of the vegan community. We can all help -- and vegucate -- each other.
One of Wolfson's favorite tips? Embrace the new. "Instead of thinking, I can't have this or that, think of exciting things you get to try. I had never had kale or quinoa -- they're my favorites now. Even if you're not ready to go vegetarian, just start eating the new stuff and naturally, you'll start eating less of the animal stuff."
"Some people say it's crazy and I could never do that, it's too extreme," says Wolfson. "If you had a good enough reason, you could do anything."
Vegucational Kale and Quinoa
I created this speedy, simple dish with Marisa Miller Wolfson in mind. It features two -- no, three -- of her vegan faves -- quinoa, kale and nutritional yeast. Vegucate yourself -- nutritional yeast is not weird. It provides a big B-12 boost and terrific cheesy flavor sans animal. What's not to love?
Tart this dish up with a handful of your favorite chopped herbs, pair it with grilled vegetables or tempeh or serve with a salad.
1 cup quinoa, rinsed in and drained
2 cups water or vegetable broth
⅓ cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 big bunch kale (about 3 cups), tough sterms removed, leaves sliced into skinny bite-sized ribbons
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 cup white wine
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a medium-sized pot, bring water or vegetable broth to boil. Add quinoa. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook quinoa for about 12 to 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is plumped. Remove from burner and set aside to cool.
Place a large dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add pine nuts. Toast nuts, stirring or give pan a shake every few minutes, until nuts are golden brown and smell luscious and buttery, about 5 minutes.
Pour pine nuts into a small bowl and set aside.
Pour the olive oil into the skillet and return to heat.
Add chopped garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic turns soft and golden, about 5 minutes.
Add kale by the handful and stir until kale is just wilted, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in quinoa, nutritional yeast wine and season to taste. Cook another few minutes or until heated through. Add pine nuts and toss to combine.
Doubles like a breeze.
Follow Ellen Kanner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/edgyveggie1