Despite becoming vegan only a few years ago, Kate Louise Powell has not taken to the lifestyle half-heartedly. With 36.7k followers on Instagram she is a gifted illustrator, dedicated animal rights activist and mental health advocate. VC caught up with the Edinburgh-based student to hear about her motivations and advice to others looking to get involved in campaigning.
We all have a personal story about when and why we went vegan. Could you tell us yours?
“I never really thought about or considered veganism until I was around 18. I had a few pals who were vegetarian but all my other friends and family ate and wore animals, so I sailed through almost 2 decades of life before I started thinking that what we were doing was fundamentally wrong. I went vegan after 3 factors made it seem like the only logical and ethical option for me. First I watched Earthlings and that planted the seed, then I was challenged by a vegan on twitter which made my hypocrisy feel unbearable, and then I met a “real life” vegan in art college who inspired me and finally pushed me to give it a go.”
At what point did you start to get involved in vegan activism? Were you always politically minded?
“I did my first real-life animal rights activism (not including internet activism) in March 2016 and since then, have tried to get involved with an event every week as far as money and availability will allow! As long as veganism and activism are both possible for you then I believe that simply eating and living vegan is a neutral moral baseline, and that any activism you can do on top of that is positive. I realised when I became vegan I simply stopped paying for animals to be exploited and tortured, and I decided that merely stopping doing
something abusive wasn’t necessarily an amazing thing, I’d just ceased doing a bad thing. Eating vegan food and talking about vegan issues isn’t enough, the animals need us more urgently than that, they need activists to go out in the street and shout, they need people actively protesting injustices and ultimately liberating animals. I understand that activism is not possible for everyone due to a variety of circumstances, but if more vegans start getting involved in activism, we will reach animal liberation so much sooner.
We hear you worked with Dr Martens on promoting their new vegan collection. How was that experience and was there backlash against working with a ‘non-vegan’ company?
Earlier in the year I worked with Dr. Martens to produce an illustration that promotes their vegan range, and will continue to work with their vegan range in the future. I understand why I experienced a bit of backlash from a few people, but maintain that their outrage makes little sense when you really think about it. A few people told me it was un-vegan of me to do a commissioned drawing for a company that makes the majority of its money from exploiting cows, but I believe that it’s deeply important that we showcase and promote vegan options at non-vegan chains to show that there is a demand for animal-free alternatives. People will always buy Dr. Marten shoes because they’re timeless and iconic, so we need to show the public that they have cow-friendly versions available that look and feel exactly the same. Saying that I can’t work for Dr. Martens and promote their vegan range because they also sell leather is like saying I can’t work for a supermarket and promote their vegetables because they also sell meat.
How do you deal with negative reactions or people regarding your approach as extreme? Do you think anyone can get involved in vegan activism?
When people describe my methods and approaches as “extreme” I pay it no mind because I know that I am absolutely not extreme. My approaches include peaceful protesting, bearing witness, sharing information and debunking anti-vegan arguments – and NONE of this is “extreme”, “violent” or “forceful”. It’s important to recognise that people may describe you as extreme/forceful if the peaceful activism you do is making them experience discomfort and guilt in the form of cognitive dissonance, so it’s always best to remain polite and patient. A big part of veganism is carefully choosing the most successful/helpful ways to talk about it and not automatically succumbing to a perpetual state of passionate rage. It’s also important to be intersectional and recognise your privilege, and realise that it’s not possible for everyone to get involved in the same levels of activism as you (due to physical or mental health issues, inability to travel/lack of money, etc.), or even be fully vegan in the first place (due to circumstances like homelessness, having limited access to food, no means to prepare and cook meals, suffering from an ED, etc).
You recently did a spontaneous speech at the Climate March in Edinburgh. What gives you the courage to take a stand and how did you feel afterwards?
Doing a spontaneous and unplanned speech at the Climate Rally was kinda scary, but I’ve become a less nervous person thanks to veganism and animal rights. I think it’s partially because you lose your sense of ego slightly when you’re constantly thinking about the plight of others, you realise that speaking up for what is right and campaigning for positive change is more important than your own comfort. It’s not so much about finding courage as it is realising that the importance of your own feelings of nervousness and self-consciousness pale in comparison to the urgency of stopping climate change and preventing animal abuse.
Some people in the community are predicting there will be a backlash against veganism in the next few years because of its fast rise in popularity recently. Do you agree and what to you think the next five years will bring for the movement?
The future is bright for veganism. As it becomes more and more mainstream it will become increasingly harder for anti-vegans to keep dog paddling with their nonsensical arguments. We are already seeing the dairy industry funding panicked and misleading studies about the “dangers of cutting out milk”, but people are quick to see the bias and flaws in them, and shoot them down with the truth. I think that all future desperate backlash will be met with confident and passionate people loaded up with facts and logical reasoning.
Lastly, we love food here at Vegan Connections. What is your favourite vegan eatery in Edinburgh or Glasgow?
I have so many favourite vegan eateries, I couldn’t pick just one! In Edinburgh, my favourite places to eat are Novapizza (unbelievably good vegan Italian food – the 4 cheese gnocchi is life-changing), Paradise Palms (delicious vegan soul food – their buffalo cauliflower wings are addictive) and The Auld Hoose (man vs. food sized vegan nachos). The best place I’ve eaten at in Glasgow is The Flying Duck, it’s absolutely legendary, their mac n cheese is famous and have also started doing incredible boozy vegan shakes with whipped cream.
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