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Pleased to Meet You, Sarah Withrow King - An Interview with the Author of Vegangelical
In today’s edition of Pleased to Meet You, we introduce Sarah Withrow King, author of our recent book Vegangelical. She is deputy director of the Sider Center of Eastern University, and codirector of CreatureKind, which helps engage churches in new ways of thinking about animals and Christian faith. She is also an associate fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and a covenant member of Circle of Hope. She does like cats but is more of a dog person.
Recently, we spent some time to get to know Sarah.
Tell us about yourself. What’s your story?
I get paid by the number of letters in my title, so I’m the Interim Director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern University, and the co-director of CreatureKind. Mostly, my job is coming up with ideas for how to change some small part of the world, figuring out how to implement those ideas, and trying to find funding for the implementation!
I live in Philadelphia, but my heart will always belong to Oregon, where I grew up. I came to Philly for seminary, and we have stayed in large part because of our amazing church community. I’ve attended some great churches, and the small group relationships and experiences I had in Norfolk, Virginia, where I spent ten years after college were transformative. But this is the first time as an adult that I’ve felt like a part of a church community that is radically relational. We share life with one another in really meaningful ways, work for justice and healing in our region, and there are always vegan options at potlucks.
What is something unique about yourself that you’d like our readers to know? For instance, when was the last time you had bacon?
I mean, the last time I had pig bacon? I don’t know! I had fake bacon last week, a few times and in a variety of ways. I made eggplant bacon once.
Well, here’s a thing. I am all about compassion for living beings and loving our neighbors and stopping gun violence, but my favorite movie genre is action. Buddy action, specifically, but any good action flick will do (not the realistic “thriller” ones with gore and torture, that’s gross...I’m talking about a truly over-the-top car chase, maybe some leaping off of buildings, etc.). I almost never watch serious or educational films. When it comes to movies, I just want brain candy.
Books are a different story. I’ll read anything, though I’ve discovered that I have a weirdly specific favorite genre of literature: immigration stories or novels about second-or-third generation immigrants. Can’t get enough. Currently taking recommendations.
When did you begin your journey toward veganism?
I think at one point, I was the only person in my immediate family who still ate meat. The others have gone back and forth over time, but I was truly a late-adopter. So, I was sitting in a vegan cafe in Eugene with my brother eating a delicious wrap stuffed with totally foreign foods and I picked up a booklet that talked about the health benefits of plant-based diets (low rates of heart disease!), the standard practices of the animal agriculture industry (debeaking!), and the resource inefficiency of meat (16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of animal flesh!). The combination of personal health, the ethical implications of my choices, and my commitment as a Christian to look out for “the least of these” finally made being vegan an obvious choice. When I moved in with a roommate who was also committed to making a diet change, a relational component was added that made acting on that decision to eat vegan much easier.
Why do Christians object to it sometimes?
Christian or not, a normal human reaction when we’re told we’re doing something that we shouldn’t be doing is to get defensive. I know I do! For many of us, the practice of eating animals was learned from our parents and grandparents. We have treasured memories of holidays and traditions and celebrations where the central part of the feast is an animal. And the meat and dairy industries, and the U.S. government, are highly invested in making sure that people keep eating animal products. Watch TV for an evening and compare the number of commercials you see for meat, milk, eggs, and cheese versus lentils, broccoli, apples, and almonds. So when we hear someone ask us to consider abandoning this deeply-ingrained, culturally normative practice of eating animal products, our hackles get a little raised.
For many western Christians, we add to this existing milieu the idea that humans are at the top of a ladder reaching towards God, the most important link in the “great chain of being,” etc. We don’t have a healthy, sustainable, or holistic understanding of ourselves in relation to the whole of God’s creation, the whole community of creation. And when we hear that we are part of this community of creation, when we’re asked what changes we might need to make in order to allow other members of that community to flourish as their Creator intended, we immediately take a posture of defending our special position.
What are a few very practical first steps for someone thinking about going down this path?
Make a menu plan. We are creatures of culinary habit, many of us. And our lives are busy. We might have good intentions, but if we don’t have a plan, a strategy, to support our intentions, they’ll go down in flames the first time we have to work late or our spouse gets sick. Make a menu plan.
Explore eating-out alternatives, and know what you’re going to order in advance. If you live near a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, give it a shot! If not, your local establishments likely have veg options that you may not have noticed before. One of my go-to resources is HappyCow.net, which I have used to find veg food across the U.S. and in countries around the world.
And finally, what’s your favorite go-to vegan recipe?
I don’t have one go-to vegan recipe, there are simply too many amazing ones to pick from. Here are my go-to sources, though, and my favorites from each:
- Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking...oh my gosh, the whole book. I have loved every recipe I’ve tried.
- Fat Free Vegan (blog)...The Best Green Bean Casserole
- Betty Goes Vegan...vegan chicken pot pie!
- Vegan with a Vengeance...Seitan Portobello Stroganoff
(And here's a link if anyone wants to try making eggplant bacon)
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