At Vegetarian Summerfest, this summer I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting humane educator and inspirational speaker, Rae Sikora, and well, I fell a
little lotta bit in love with her. This woman has a heart that overflows with love and compassion; she is a beautiful example of living loving kindness. Through Plant Peace Daily, Rae and her husband, JC, offer programs
that show how to make small changes that can have huge positive effects on your life and the world as a whole. Rae works in schools and with adults to encourage critical thinking around the many ways we can expand our circle of compassion to include all beings. This woman is unstoppable–she also co-founded and co-directs VegFund and is a resident blogger at Happy Cow. I am thrilled to share this interview with you!
Allison Rivers Samson: You’ve been on the vegan path for many years. Tell me about your journey.
Rae Sikora: I actually did not know I was on the vegan path, although I was, for many years. I think that the path starts the moment you are able to look in the eyes of another species and see a living being whom you want the best for. My first love was a rescue dog when I was 5 years old. My father brought this dog home to try to help me overcome my fear of all animals. I sat with Sandy on my lap for an hour each night and then we became inseparable. From Sandy, I opened my eyes and heart and was able to really see the other living beings around me. But, I was still eating them. The blind spots are so huge; it makes me wonder what blind spots I have now that I cannot imagine. It is like walking through a city and not being able to see what is around each corner. So, we just keep taking steps and staying open to evolving with new ideas. And then the surprises come.
One day, at 15 years old, I had a hot dog with a friend and then we walked into a leather shop. I told my friend “Don’t buy anything in here it is dead animals.” The woman behind the counter asked me a question. “Do you eat meat?” My first internal response was, “What does meat have to do with dead animals?” And then the light bulb went on. I got it. I never ate any meat again from that moment on. Amazing what one simple question can do, eh? That woman’s question changed my whole life. Eventually I heard the word vegetarian and knew I wasn’t the only one. And, about 6 years later, I learned about the dairy industry first-hand when I witnessed male calves being loaded on a semi to go to a veal facility. They were crying for their moms; some were only a few hours old and others were a day or two. The moms were bellowing and their mouths were wide open. They were struggling to get to their babies and pushing against the barbed wire fence and I saw blood on the chests of those in front as the barbed wire ripped their skin. It was so painful to see that. And it was at that moment I stopped consuming any dairy products. I don’t like when people focus on factory farming because it makes it seem that other farms are kind places. The farm that showed me the reality of dairy was a very small Midwestern family farm. After that I visited a facility that supplies eggs to consumers and was shocked to learn how cruel that industry is. Once again, it was a small place, and still they got their eggs from a hatchery that kills the males and they slaughtered any birds who were not producing “enough eggs.” Years later I found out I was vegan… I hadn’t known the word even though I’d been living it. I am grateful that so many situations and teachers were right in front of me at the right times and I was able to move a little closer to being a compassionate human.
ARS: You have a dream job, offering programs on non-violent and cruelty-free living with your husband, JC. How did Plant Peace Daily come to be?
RS: I was doing programs in schools on caring for all species and the environment through our daily actions. I did the programs during all my days off from my paying jobs (I was an exhibit developer for the Science Museum of Minnesota and a producer for Minnesota Public Radio). I met Zoe Weil at a Humane Education conference and we started working together so that we could train as many people as possible to go into schools and work with young people on critical thinking. I quit my jobs in Minnesota and moved to the East coast to work full-time in humane education. Zoe and I started the Institute for Humane Education in Maine. It is still an active and very effective organization, training humane educators and offering a master degree. It was years later that I met JC Corcoran at Summerfest and we were sort of nudged together by Joe Connelly (of VegNews). We started Plant Peace Daily because we wanted animal issues to be included under the broadly accepted umbrella of peace. So many people say they support peace and non-violence, but it is limited to other people… not all beings. We wrote our book together and continually inspire each other to stay active in the movement for a compassionate world. We also co-founded VegFund with Zia Terhune, and love what that organization has grown into.
After a few years on the road with our solar camper, we now live with our rescued dogs in New Mexico. Our whole life is dedicated to compassionate living and activism. I am so grateful that this path and this work chose me and I have been able to give all my time and effort to it. I have never made a lot of money, but I feel like life is very rich. Long ago, I redefined wealth in my life and chose a life that is peaceful and filled with loving friends and family. And I feel strong and healthy. I wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world. I am the queen of finding exactly what we need at yard sales, salvage, Freecycle and Craigslist and dumpsters, of course.
ARS: I was inspired just by reading through your Plant Peace Daily program offerings, and surprised by the range of topics from Nutrition to Conflict Resolution and Positive Activism. How did you become such an expert on creating positive change in the world?
RS: I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means. My job, as I see it, is to inspire and empower others to see that we are co-creating the world we live in. I think we are all in this equally and can either create positive change or help things along a negative path. I see it like I do backpacking and staying at people’s homes: Leave the place a little better than you found it. The same is true with our time on Earth. We can do everything possible to leave it better than we found it or we can be part of its degradation.
The range of topics mostly reflects that JC and I got together and combined our decades of activism. He is the one who knows the nutrition stuff inside out. I lead the communication and ethical consumerism programs as well as the animal intelligence and humane education sessions. Together we do the activism programs. When we met, we had both been focusing on activism and wanted to motivate others to figure out what their unique contribution could be. So, we started leading activist workshops. JC and I are yin and yang and people enjoy that. There is something that works for everyone in those workshops. The handouts for the activist workshop turned into our book, Plant Peace Daily: Everyday Outreach for People Who Care. The workshop and the book have easy ideas for everyone. People who have no money, people who have lots of money, people who have no time, people who have lots of time, introverts and extroverts. Everyone can do something. The book is a free pdf on our website or available as a 99 cent e-book or the hold-in-your-hand paper version on Amazon.
ARS: What’s your trick to staying positive even when change seems impossibly slow?
RS: I do not always stay positive. Sometimes I am in a pretty dark place when I learn some new cruel reality in the world. But, I have learned what feeds me and keeps me mentally and physically in a healthy space. One thing I do is try to focus on how far we have come. There is a tendency to focus on how far we have to go and that is tough and overwhelming. But look at how much vegetarianism is in the mainstream now. Even the word vegan is no longer foreign to most people. You can go pretty much anywhere in the world and easily find all you need as an ethical vegan. I love that. I used to make my own soymilk, tofu and tempeh because you sure couldn’t find it in the rural places I chose to live. Now those are found everywhere. The number of vegans has doubled in the last three years. That is something to celebrate. Each of those vegans saves approximately 95 land animals a year. I love thinking about those 95 individuals.
I also make sure that I have balance in my life. I hike many hours a day with the dogs, do yoga, trail run in cooler weather, cross-country ski when we have snow, meditate, dance for hours at least once a week, garden, swim in clean water in wild places, read, watch independent and foreign films, and watching the birds outside my office window. They are really some of my greatest joy.
ARS: When you are at home, what’s a typical day in the life of Rae Sikora?
RS: There is really no typical day. There are elements I include in each day, like the hiking, yoga and gardening I described before. I love having everything clean and organized in our home, so the day always includes some of tidying up. Honestly, I seem to have a life that comes with lots of unexpected elements. So, yesterday, for instance: A friend from our SF Veg Meetup group came to pick bags of basil from our over-abundant gardens, I took food and water to some local dogs who are not well cared for, did a lot of writing, went to a potluck for the local Time Bank (the community barter system here in Santa Fe) and ended up answering lots of vegan questions, and started digging post holes for a project in our yard.
Then, later, when I left for the long walk with the dogs, two neighbor kids (recently moved from Mexico) and their dog joined me. That meant that rather than a silent walk, which I love, I was speaking Spanish with the kids and letting them hook their leash on my belt loop and pull me on much of the walk. Then JC was buzzing his hair with the clippers and we gave Angel, the little neighbor boy a haircut and he loved it. We had a good laugh because he looked like a miniature JC after the buzz. Each day is very full, and most of it is unplanned and full of surprises. Days often include an unexpected animal rescue. That is the nature of rural New Mexico. Anyone who is attached to routine, would not be a happy camper in my shoes.
ARS: Sounds like a wonderfully fulfilling life! Any favorite quick-and-nutritious meals or recipes for vegans-on-the-go?
RS: I like simple foods and am more a salty than a sweetie. I start each day with a green smoothie. It is not very sweet at all. I take mine out of the blender and then add a banana for JC. It includes (all organic): one whole lemon with zest removed, fresh ginger, cinnamon, parsley (lots) and other greens from the garden, wild greens including some lambs quarters and purslane (wish we had nettles here), local apples, berries, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds and water. That is my favorite breakfast. I often make extra and freeze it. When we take road trips, I use the frozen smoothies as the cooler packs and we drink them as they thaw.
One of my favorite lunches is a huge salad or a roll up made with a collard leaf as the wrapper. I also have about 70 jars of homemade miso pesto in the freezer. I grow a lot of basil. I have to give most of it away. Here is my favorite pesto recipe (it is divine):
1/4 cup olive oil (I use much less)
1 cup basil leaves (I use much more)
1 cup raw cashews (or pine nuts)
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons white miso (I use South River Miso… it’s pricey, but a little goes a long way and it is made by people with integrity and genuine wood curing vats)
2 teaspoons ume vinegar (this is awesome bright pink vinegar made from salty Japanese ume plums)
Blend everything in a food processor or blender. Add water if it is too thick. Use right away or freeze for later.
My idea of a dessert is a home-made popsicle made with fruit juice or a fudgecicle made with chocolate almond milk. I always have those in the freezer in re-usable molds. I also like to create some fun sweet foods for JC. So, right now, I have an apple crisp in our solar oven baking outside in the sun. (We have TONS of local apples that we get for free… they are everywhere in NM right now.) The dehydrator is making apple chips: Sliced apples with a boatload of Ceylon cinnamon on them.
Confession: My only real food “addiction” is olives. Salty, oily Greek or Peruvian olives. Especially the sun-dried Botija olives. I rarely treat myself to them, but when I do, I savor every bit.
ARS: That all sounds delicious. Thank you for the miso recipe! Do you (or JC) have a favorite Allison’s Gourmet treat, or one you’d most like to try?
RS: Our family agrees on one treat: very dark chocolate. I would love to try your artisan truffles and walnut fudge. I may not be that into sweets, but I know how to appreciate bliss.
Thank you for your inspiring and positive voice, Rae!
Now you all know how it was so easy for me to fall in love with her. To win a copy and Rae and JC’s book Plant Peace Daily: Everyday Outreach for People Who Care, leave a comment with your answer to this question: What is your best “despair repair”? We’ll pick a winner Thursday, October 18th. You must be a resident of the US or Canada to win.