Interview: Jane Velez-Mitchell
- Published: 06 December 2009
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Journalist and TV host Jane Velez-Mitchell is a feisty, feminist, lesbian, vegan eco-warrior who’s determined to change the world. Her new book iWant is about overcoming our addictions and over-consumption. She spoke with Katrina Fox.
At the beginning of 2009, you got your own show Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on CNN’s sister network HLN. Is this your dream gig?
Absolutely it is my dream job. One of the reasons it is my dream job is that now and then I get to insert something about compassion for animals and it dovetails with human health and the environment. I talked to Ingrid Newkirk about factory farming and the conditions of pigs in gestation crates and there are a number of scientists who believe that these horribly cruel conditions create an environment in factory farming that is so horrific for these animals that their immune systems get weakened and they are prone to disease.
People used to say to me: ‘You care about animals, why don’t you care about people?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not about man versus nature anymore. What’s good for animals is good for people and what’s bad for animals is bad for people.’
How did you begin your journey of social activism?
I talk about this in my new book iWant. I went through this journey when I got sober first. That was the key because without sobriety you don’t do anything to change the world and make it a better place, so as a recovering alcoholic with 14 years of sobriety now, I can look back and see various parts of this journey that continue. It’s not like I solved all my problems but once I got sober I had to confront the world around me and be more honest
That’s one of the reasons I admitted to myself and eventually came out as a gay American and I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t got sober – I didn’t have a bottle of Chardonnay to hide behind.
I also had to get honest about the world around me. I’d always had compassion for animals but never really followed through. I was this sort of vegetarian that ate shellfish. Then I met Howard Lyman, the author of Mad Cowboy who was on Oprah. I did an interview with him and he asked if I ate dairy and I said yes and he called it ‘liquid meat’. From then on I went vegan in that moment and have never looked back. It radically transformed my health – the colds I had every year went and my energy levels went up.
What about environmental issues?
I continue to work on environmental issues in my daily life and I fail but I use the 12 steps in the book to show they apply to everything, even environmental issues. In the 12 steps program we aim for progress not perfection and it’s the same thing with being green. It’s not an event it’s a process.
What I find with changing habits is first you make a vow to do something, then you fail, then you fig out why you fail, kind of correct that, keep making mistakes until one day , it’s second nature. For me the plastic bag issue is second nature and this took about a year, I walk around with my little cloth bag wrapped up in a ball. I did the same thing with plastic bottles. There are times when I fail but I have reduced my use of plastic water bottles to 95%.
I have a portable coffee cup and canister. I got this from Julia Butterfly Hill, the eco activist who sat in a tree for three years. I was MCing WorldFest, a vegan festival in LA. I asked Julia, “What would you say to people on how to prevent the catastrophe of global warming?” And she pulled out her backpack and said: “I have my metal plate, my utensils, hemp wash cloth, towel, cups and water canister, mug for coffee and I use them wherever I go so I don’t have to consume.” This was so powerful when she said that to me, because if we all did that, well, there are floating barges of waste overflowing in our water; it’s not someone else’s waste, it’s our waste.
These are my issues I feel strongly about and I find it easier to weave them into my show as a short segment to gently give someone a nugget rather than lecturing or badgering: here’s something to think about and move on.
What’s the most important quality in a romantic partner for you?
I would say the most important thing for me is compassionate. Compassionate to animals, people and the environment.
Would you date a non-vegan woman?
If they were on the way [to veganism]! One of the great things of meeting new people is to be able to expose them to an alternative way of living. I was at a dinner party recently and there were all these fashionistas there. My friend Robert who’s birthday it was said, “Jane, you can’t eat anything, let’s get you a salad.” Then the conversation veered to why I can’t eat that because I’m a vegan, and this woman turned to me and said, “I’m thinking of giving up meat and getting healthy,” and I said, “Give me your address I’ll send you some books.” And that’s what I love to do, so I’ll send a few books on the subject, like Skinny Bitch by my buddy Rory Freedman.
What’s been the reaction of your colleagues at CNN to you being vegan and an activist?
I think there’s always curiosity and that’s always a good sign. People are curious. I don’t bring it up as much as people bring it up with me. So I’ll be in the makeup room and something will come up and the conversation will turn to me being vegan. It’s a radically different world in terms of how people view veganism even from five years ago. It’s much more mainstream and accepted. When I started in this business a long time ago, I was considered very much a freak for my beliefs, but now I’m part of a growing trend, and that’s great. I don’t want the exclusive on this story, that’s for sure!
When you’re outspoken about things, there’s always going to be criticism. How do you deal with this?
My journey with sobriety has given me tools to deal with anything that came my way. It’s a set of rules that is about being of service rather than ego-based. When I am self-obsessed things do not go my way, but when I’m just trying to be of service, good things happen, so I take the adventure as it comes. It’s a free country and people can say what they want. I don’t want everyone to agree with me. I can be wrong about a lot of things. I love debating, that’s why it’s so much fun to do the show.
Finally, what do you do in your ‘downtime’?
I have lot of animal projects I work on. I’m on the board of several organisations that campaign around the conditions of dairy cows in California or spay neutering in Puerto Rico and horse rescue. But that’s not work. I get depressed over the state of the world and I find if I do at least one thing every day, it’s like a daily reprieve from being overwhelmed by all the destruction.
Visit the Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell website for details of the show's screening and to watch webisodes.