Disappointing my Grandpa Again – An Animal Rights Activist’s Battle to Retain Dignity in a World Based Around Commercial Success


Received an upsetting email from my grandpa:

I love my grandpa and want him to be proud of and understand me. I replied…

Dear Poppy and Joan,

I value your opinion; as you are both wonderful people that serve as active role models in my life. Much of my choices to help others have been inspired by your compassionate efforts to help refugees involved with your church or deliver warm meals to housebound seniors in your Meals on Wheels program. I am constantly thinking of what I can do to help others, and while efforts to pursue this on a full-time basis have been slow in the last decade as I sought to create a foothold in New York City, I knew that eventually I would move into a position in which I could fully give myself to a cause.

That cause has changed over time. For a while it was education. I received my teaching certification through the Newark Teaching Fellowship, and I helped students in one of the poorest, most violent sections of Newark, New Jersey. In the years before, I was an active board member of the community service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, and I have spent decades now volunteering at soup shelters, Habitat for Humanity, All Hands, and in running a work exchange that has helped many immigrants experience NYC and eventually transition to life in the U.S. We have provided free housing and food through our work exchange program that has hosted  refugees, Russians, Ethiopians, Italians, Australians, Brazilians, Egyptians, French, Germans, etc. Often we provide advice to our guests as to what steps they can take to either assimilate to life in the U.S. or pursue a work Visa. We continue run our work exchange program, and it is a self-sustaining way that Sandy and I can continue to help others that do not have the funds to start their lives in NYC or in the U.S.

I know you never truly understood my becoming a vegetarian at age 8, and a vegan more recently.  I’m sure you understand the basic premise that not consuming animal products means harming less animals, but read more, and you’ll discover that…

  • Each year an American chooses a vegan diet, on average, he saves 26 chickens, 1/2 a pig, 1 turkey, 1/10 a cow, and 40 fish. Over a lifetime of 80 years, every person that converts a veganism, via our outreach, will save 2080 chickens, 40 pigs, 8 cows, and 3200 fish. That kind of consumption of animal lives is nuts!  And I’ll have the chance to save many more than this by affecting others’ dietary efforts with my advocacy.
  • “Leading health experts agree that going vegan is the single best thing we can do for ourselves and our families. Vegan diets support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases, including some of our country’s biggest killers: heart disease,cancer, and strokes.”
  • Meat is often contaminated with feces, blood, and other bodily fluids—all of which make animal products the top source of food poisoning in the United States.”
  • “Eating meat doesn’t just hurt animals—it hurts people, too. It takes tons of crops and water to raise farmed animals. In fact, it takes up to 13 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of animal flesh! All that plant food could be used much more efficiently if it were fed directly to people. The more people who go vegan, the better able we’ll be to feed the hungry.”
  • “Save the planet: Meat is not green. Consuming meat is actually one of the worst things that you can do for the Earth. It is wasteful and causes enormous amounts of pollution, and the meat industry is also one of the biggest causes of climate change.”

F.A.R.M. has has hired my partner, Grace, and me in their Tour Operator role under the premise that out of the hundreds of people that have applied for this job, we are the best suited to perform this role. I know it will not pay much, and I will suffer at times living out of a van. I’ll be smelly and dirty some days. I’ll be cold and hungry on others, pulling long hours and escaping a world of modern conveniences. But what I’ll be experiencing is no less than what most of the world lives on. “Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

I will miss my many tutoring students, families, pets, and I’ll miss making an income four times the amount I will be making in this role. However, my sacrifice, and their sacrifice, means so little when I consider the effects I will have on the world in making this choice. I have worked hard the last decade to achieve financial security and feel confident that my time will be well spent and whatever path is to follow this tour will continue to be secure and meaningful.

As for Sandy, it is not easy leaving my husband for four months. I love him dearly, and he is the most important person in my life. He is inspiring, thoughtful, and he has spent his own years bringing to light the magic of others in coloring and editing important films that highlight climate change, political corruption, and animal exploitation. His own film, The Last Ice Merchant, was meant to highlight a poor man’s life in a country that would otherwise largely go ignored. I’m not sure if I would have transitioned into a vegan lifestyle if I had not spent the last two years living in the midst of his selflessness. It’s not easy for him to be separated from me, but he understand that in order for me to truly develop and pursue a life I find meaningful, he has to let me pursue missions like that of 10 Billion Lives – and that when I return in 4 months, I will be all the more grateful that he is a large part of my life.

Have faith in your granddaughter. Know that every choice that I make may not always be the clearest, but it will be centered around improving this life and those around me – people, animals, the environment, and all.

I love you so much.


For a long time in my life I have confused and confounded my fairly liberal, fairly conservative grandparents. I hope this letter may help other vegans in clarifying to loved ones why they are making a switch to a vegan lifestyle or one of animal rights advocacy.

If Bill Clinton (nearly), Al Gore, Ellen Degeneres, Jessica Chastain, Ariana Grande, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Stevie Wonder, Peter Dinklage, James Cameron, Rooney Mara, and many more inspiring people have made the chance to be vegan, can we really be that nuts for pursuing a lifestyle we find so overwhelmingly important?

Keep living the life you think is right, no matter what others have to say, even if they are your nearest and dearest. If they love you, and you explain to them your reasoning, they will eventually come to understand your choices. Be patient. Be kind. Be compassionate.

I will always love my grandpa. He has made me proud, and I know I will make him proud too.