Irish actress Evanna Lynch, who shot to fame in the Harry Potter films, talks about what veganism means to her and how her lifestyle has changed for the better…
What influenced you towards a vegan lifestyle, and how long have you been vegan?
Well, for starters I’ve always abhorred violence and am highly sensitised to it. I do not think it benefits society or indeed any individual to become tolerant of violence. And I have this small but sure voice deep inside me that says ‘NO’ every time I witness violence and I don’t ever want to stifle that voice with apathy. Supporting animal abuse in any way quiets that voice. To hurt animals is to disconnect me from that most caring, compassionate voice. I see them as such spiritual creatures, much more awake than humans and I feel if I can accept the abuse of these innocent, sentient creatures and my role in it then I could easily become apathetic about…well, everything, and that is a scary thought.
I guess what I’m saying is veganism was always my nature but it wasn’t nurtured in me so it took me a long time to make the connection. I had gone vegetarian when I was 11 because I was viscerally repelled by the idea of eating animal flesh and there was no way to avoid the fact that someone had been killed for that piece of meat. But as far as veganism went I was definitely in cloud cuckooland eating my ice-cream and imagining that the cows were having a grand old time in the open fields, spouting all this excess milk that was only weighing them down. It wasn’t until I read Eating Animals in 2013 that I understood how inconsistent my vegetarian lifestyle was with my beliefs and that’s when I began making the transition to veganism. I would say it took me until 2015 to become fully vegan.
What is your philosophy on veganism?
I’ll always quote ‘Vegucated’ for this. ‘Veganism is not ‘you have to live by certain rules’, it’s not about being perfect- it’s about minimising suffering.’ Too many people regard it as this sanctimonious, ideal, holier-than-thou lifestyle. To me veganism is not synonymous with ‘clean eating’ and ‘gluten-free. Those are simply dietary choices. I think the root of this whole lifestyle is Compassion. It’s a daily reminder that we are all one. I believe veganism is what will heal this planet. The lack of compassion and respect for anyone who is a few degrees too different from us, anything that is foreign or weird or a little bit unfathomable to the human psyche is what separates us all and what causes suffering.
Mankind already has such a hard time respecting fellow humans of different races, cultures, beliefs…imagine what society will be like when we all open our circle of compassion to include beings with whiskers and fur and tails!! When we can appreciate that level of diversity without having to rule it, possess it or destroy it. When we can let all living things be. I see that people do one of two things with power; they either take it to rule and suppress their subordinates and to makes themselves taller than everyone else, or they take all their blessings and advantages in life and use them to raise up the people below them. I don’t know why we are still using our power and our blessings to quash animals. Why have we not yet assumed our rightful role as their caretakers? And every time I look into a cow’s eyes and see the gentle soul dwelling in that enormous powerful body, I feel like the animals are patiently waiting, quietly willing us to just catch on.
You’ve spoken in the past about your issues with body image, and the media’s obsession with women’s looks, have you found veganism has made you more accepting of yourself?
It has definitely helped me heal my relationship with food. I used to see foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and would have been afraid -genuinely fearful- to touch anything full of fatty acids like an avocado or a coconut. But veganism got me to study nutrition and changed my perception of these foods. Now food has a deeper purpose and my diet has different guidelines; simply, nourishment and preservation of myself and the planet I live on. I don’t even see vegan cupcakes as ‘bad’ now because they represent a compassionate movement I’m proud to be part of. I will happily and guiltlessly chow down on cruelty free cupcakes
Really, becoming vegan felt like becoming more myself and that inherently makes me feel better in my skin in every way. It’s so exciting to uncover another piece of yourself, so liberating. When you find out who you are, everything about that self, including your body fits better and you can stand taller in it. And veganism was a very big piece of the puzzle for me.
Did you find the reaction of your fans to your ‘coming out’ as a vegan was largely positive?
It was so positive! It’s been amazing! Honestly, I was so nervous to officially use the ‘V’ word at first on my twitter and instagram because I was afraid of the backlash, both by snarky critics and by hardcore vegans who’d point out the million ways in which I wasn’t a satisfactory vegan. I didn’t want to put a label on it because I thought everyone would expect me to suddenly be a vegan expert with a recipe book in the works etc. People kind of do expect vegan celebrities to be perfect vegans and if they’re not they’re a phony. However, as soon as I made it public that I was vegan I received a wave of love and support from the vegan community and I wished I’d spoken up sooner. It showed me that expressing your truth always leads to connection and the sooner you can speak up, the quicker you’ll meet your special brand of weirdos who get you and give you even more passion and conviction for what you believe. That’s what I’ve found, speaking from my heart about things I believe to be truth with people who get it -that animals do not belong to us and should not be treated thusly- actually makes me commit harder to those beliefs. It was an awesome discovery.
Also, coming out as a vegan brought me to the attention of several vegan businesses who sent me so much free stuff. There was a week when I got so many vegan gifts in the mail and felt like the luckiest cat lady in the world! It was like ‘Really? You’re going to send me free shoes and simply by wearing and blogging about them I’m somehow saving animals in the process???’…VEGAN FO’ LYFE!!
What was the reaction of your friends and family? Have you managed to change their minds?
It is finally –finally!- starting to land with my friends and family! For me it is so important that my family understand because they are animal-loving country-folk and I know they would not stand for the practices in the meat industry if they really stopped and thought about it. They don’t like to however and generally wrinkle their noses and grimace at the books and articles I shove in front of them. So I’ve really had to be a living example to them of how one can be healthy, happy and (relatively) normal a vegan. Victoria Moran has a phrase she uses called ‘Attractivism’ (aka. attract people to the cause by being so stinking lovely and vibrant) which I simply love and is something I practice. And this way of being the best vegan I possibly can, learning every day, always reading and watching has helped show my family that it’s not an offbeat trend for radical hippies. My mum spent a week with me at home in LA and as soon as she got back to Ireland she invested in a food processor and began making her own pesto and almond butter and she tells me proudly how many vegetarian meals she’s made in the week. So it has been gradual dawning awareness for my peeps but I really see my family making these changes and being completely in choice over it and that feels so super rad and exciting.
What have you found most difficult about adopting a vegan lifestyle?
#1 Giving up Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream caused major setbacks for me… And then B&J came through for us earlier this year!! Booyah!
#2 Saying no to certain foods, particularly desserts. Sweet things for me have very delicate psychological effects and ties. I have always loved dessert and I was raised by a mother who expresses her love through baked goods. It used to be that every time I would come home from time spent abroad filming, my mum would have a beautiful cherry cake waiting for me on the table. To reject those foods was to reject love and that made me feel very sad and left out for a while. And that was reminiscent of my eating disorder days, where denying myself sweet things was a form of self hate and I could only derive a sense of satisfaction and worthiness from denying myself these treats. As a new vegan, it was a big problem that food was becoming a source of alienation again in my social circles. When I recovered, one of the most healing, empowering things was to be able to eat cake and still accept myself. So that truly was a big hurdle of going vegan. It is less difficult now partly because I have done work to disassociate desserts from all those psychological ties and partly because I make it a priority each weekend to make a tray of Deliciously Ella’s chocolate caramel squares and, I bring an impressive stash of vegan chocolate in my suitcase whenever I travel.
Do you feel like there has been a shift in people’s perceptions of veganism recently? And what do you think the future holds for veganism?
I do see it, I see veganism becoming more mainstream and servers in restaurants are respectful of the lifestyle. Fashion is certainly becoming more conscious and the clothes are getting chicer. Most of my friends have at least toyed with vegetarianism. But I think there is a lot more awareness that needs to be spread so that people stop at seeing it as a diet peculiarity and lumping it into the same category as ‘gluten free’ and ‘pescatarian’. There is still that feeling that the restaurant is obliging you when they produce a vegan option and we should be very, very grateful. The way I see it, vegan options should be mandatory on all menus. And I think that’s what needs to change, restaurants and grocery stores need to stop seeing veganism as an afterthought, and start viewing it as the future.
What advice would you give to those starting a vegan diet?
I would say make it as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. Meat eaters will tell you it’s extreme and involves deprivation but really it’s about celebrating life and you can and will fall in love with it. Everytime I go to a Vegfest where veganism is the norm I am reminded what a beautiful lifestyle it is. It is easy to get disconnected from the joyful side of veganism when you’re surrounded by a society that regards it with disdain. So I would say it’s very important to be connected to the vegan community and make it your norm, your everyday reality.
Logistically speaking, the best piece of advice I was given was by my friend, Erik Marcus who runs vegan.com who told me to focus on ‘crowding out’ the animal product foods before cutting anything from my diet. You introduce yourself to new plant based foods and meat substitutes and then the animal products gradually fall out of your diet without the regret and longing that comes with ‘deprivation’. As someone with a history in eating disorders it was very important that going vegan didn’t feel like depriving myself of food. I made the transition about abundance, flooding my diet with delicious new vegan foods I’d never tried so that I was not a reluctant guilt-ridden vegan, but a passionate, happy, healthy one.
You are outspoken on the adverse effects on the environment posed by the consumption of animal products. What is your advice for people who want to do something to help counteract these effects?
I wouldn’t say I’m outspoken, I just find that the environmental benefits of going vegan are so blindingly obvious that I cite them a lot, particularly to intelligent, logic-minded people who don’t have an animal connection cos that’s where you’ll always get them! But to be completely honest, I have a lot to learn about sustainability and living a green life so I can’t offer advice in that sector other than ‘Watch Cowspiracy and go vegan now!’ I just started following the blog ‘Trash is for Tossers’ run by a young woman who lives a zero waste life and am vowing to do better! But it’s not my passion as a vegan, (admittedly the science stuff sends me to sleep) it’s just that the consequence of not going vegan has such an adverse effect on the environment that it’s a no brainer. It’s not about ethics or morality, it’s literally just the survival of the human race!! You think that’d wake people up.
Has your fashion sense changed since becoming vegan? What are some of your favourite vegan clothing brands?
I think so. I tried to be fashionable a bit more before I went vegan, tried to conform. But veganism is so counter-culture that conforming is out of the question and I found I reclaimed a lot of myself in saying ‘No, I won’t wear that jacket because it does not match my soul’. I gave up wearing my designer handbags because they’re almost always made of leather. And when it finally clicked in my head -that all those years of being sold ‘genuine leather’ as a positive, covetable thing, I’d been misled and brainwashed- I was angry. I was angry that I’d been brought up to see purchasing my first designer handbag as a teenager as a milestone of success. Why had magazines and celebrities taught me it was cool -no, necessary – to buy those fancy bags and not give a damn? Now I look back and I feel that by adopting those blind and superficial aspirations that society put upon me, I had sacrificed a part of myself. I wish I had questioned it all sooner. It was definitely empowering to give up those bags, these soulless objects that had made me feel like I fit in better and to say I don’t want to fit in if it means I’m callously supporting animal cruelty. Now my wardrobe represents me better.
My very favourite vegan brand is Vaute. My bank account takes several blows every time they launch a new collection but I tell myself it’s for the animals…And you gotta be quick with Vaute, they sell out fast so there is your excuse to impulse buy. For shoes I love Beyond Skin, Insectashoes and Nicora for boots.
You’re well known for playing Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter film series, do you think Luna would also be a passionate advocate for veganism?
Hm. I often wonder about this. I really want to say yes to this but you know you have those friends who are so sensitive, artistic and thoughtful and you think they couldn’t possibly be ok with eating animals? But then somehow, they are (God, I hate that. Those people confound me.). There are so many people I love who I know in their heart are vegan but haven’t cracked it yet. It unnerves me and I can never categorically say ‘oh there’s a classic vegan’, and I worry that J.K.R. would blindside me with Luna. But, as the actress and interpreter, allow me to reason this one out…
Luna is a very spiritual person and has an intimate connection to animals for that reason. She connects on a soulful, energetic level and I believe that’s why so many of her peers find her kooky and otherworldly – most people don’t have the patience or the stillness within themselves to perceive things spiritually. So she doesn’t need words to communicate and form relationships. She is also someone who accepts diversity in all forms and does not discriminate and I can’t imagine why animals would fall outside of that spectrum of souls. And she has experienced discrimination and bullying herself for being so different and I like to imagine her finding comfort in time spent in the woods with creatures who show her total acceptance and non judgement. You see that in her familiarity with the thestrals in the books. She is totally at ease with them in a way other students just can’t fathom. All this said, I think Luna, like vegans, does not see the great divide most humans have dreamt up between us and the animal kingdom and with that understanding alone, could never consume her fellow Earthlings.
My acting teacher always says ‘as you become more the character, so the character becomes more you’ and with that principle in mind, as Luna is someone I deeply love and respect, I can say definitively that in my portrayal of Luna she was a vegan. I bet it was a challenge to be vegan at Hogwarts though. Read any passage describing a Hogwarts feast and you’ll realise the magical vegans probably had to be on very close terms with a kitchen house elf in order to get their seitan fix.
What exciting projects do you have planned for the future?
I’m back in acting school at the moment so I haven’t being working much this year. I’d gotten a bit disconnected from why I love acting and was too caught up in the ‘industry’ of it. So at the moment I am just studying and uncovering new bits and pieces of myself, and searching for the next perfect role.
I am also writing a novel but it’s on pause for now while I focus on acting classes.