Each month we post conversations we have with cool people who live mindfully whether it’s living with less or being healthy without doing harm to others. This is not an interview series but more a down-to-earth catchup over a casual cup of tea.
Today we catchup with Gemma Davis from The Compassionate Road. Gemma is a Naturopath, writer, indie-filmmaker and is also on the council of Voiceless: The Animal Protection Institute. We’ve always loved Gemma’s blog. She’s very well researched and her content is educational, inspiring and objective. She’s also a pleasure to hangout with. We seemed to connect on many different levels. In this conversation, we were particularly interested in what it’s like to raise young children as a vegan, and how Gemma manages to fit so many different projects into her lifestyle.
One thing we find really interesting is the social interactions as a vegan, in terms of what kind of support you get. We think it’s something that should be talked about a lot more when transitioning to this lifestyle. What are your thoughts?
Yeah definitely. I remember when I first found out about veganism, I was so revved up and I just wanted to tell everyone! I was thinking, “you all don’t understand!” And looking back I was probably a little annoying to a lot of people haha.
I think it was really hard for me because there was all of this information available, such as the documentary Earthlings or Peter Singers Animal Liberation and brilliant websites but nobody knew about them or seemed interested to know. It was still very much the “ignorance is bliss” card being used which was disheartening when I thought my close friends and family would care. However they were patient and listened to me over many meals and even my partner was always considerate and understanding about my choices.
How long ago did you become vegan?
13 years ago.
So you’ve been doing this for a while. We’ve seen huge growth in the health industry, particularly around plant-based lifestyles. But back then, you would of been called a hippy because you didn’t eat like everyone else. Would you find that if you were to transition to that today, would it be easier than it was for you back then?
I think so. I mean personally I didn’t find it to be a huge transition back then because once I knew about it, I couldn’t un-know it. I would like to think that I’m quite ethical about that. If there are shoes made by children in slave labour, I’m not going to support it and buy those shoes again. So for my personality it wasn’t so hard.
But yes, socially, for sure, it’s way easier now. Especially if you go to Los Angeles. So many influential people are vegan. In fact, it’s cool to be vegan! And everyone knows what vegan is now. 12 years ago people would be like, “oh so you don’t eat fish?”
You have two children right?
Out of curiosity, are they eating plant-based?
My daughter was vegan for the first two years of her life. And then I started giving her eggs. I don’t even know what it was that started that. I think because she was so small, I just got a little nervous as you do when you are a first time Mum. So she eats organic pastured eggs. And every now and then they eat organic cheese on a pizza at a restaurant we go to in Bondi. My son is the same. So they’re vegetarian – although they don’t eat dairy often at all, as apart from the cruelty in the industry I also don’t think it is healthy.
The egg thing is a concept which I still struggle with myself. I spent a week talking to the majority of organic egg farmers in Australia about hatcheries, and every single one of them uses a hatchery. Even the one I love; I’ve been to their farm, they’re doing such amazing things but they still get half of their supplies from a hatchery. It’s one of those grey areas that I wrestle with.
However ultimately my kids health comes first. I know you can be vegan, not eat eggs, and raise your kids just fine but you have to be onto it and make sure they’re getting enough protein, oils and a wide range of nutrients from their diet. My son is a fussy eater and it can be challenging at times. So I’m happy to give him his eggs as a source of protein, especially as I don’t want him only relying on soy products if he refuses other high proteins foods. (Thank goodness he is starting to experiment!)
This is really interesting. We don’t have children. I’ve always wondered what it’s like as a parent. Do your children have any vegan meals that they absolutely love? Or is it a battle?
No it’s not a battle. The funny thing is that most kids, in my experience and what I can see of my friends experiences, love simple, plain food. So my kids like carrot sticks, cucumber sticks with some eggs and rice. The really basic “boring” foods is what they want to eat. Simple and fresh.
I should say though, that’s all they know. If they were to grow up eating surgery crappy foods, and then you try to feed that child clean food, they are going to be used to the junk and may find that your food tastes too plain. (If this is the case stick in there and after a few weeks their taste buds will adjust!)
But yeah, of course they like going to the pizzeria and having sorbet ice cream every two weeks as well.
Obviously your children are in school. Has it been a challenge preparing and packing their meals? Also, have you or your children experienced any social pressure from the school because of what you feed them?
I’m really lucky because they go to school in Bondi. So a huge majority of her school mates or local community are either gluten free, vegetarian, paleo, sugar-free- or all of these! It’s a bit of a bubble and everyone is pretty knowledgeable and accepting. You know, I’ve overheard my kids and their friends having conversations about how bad McDonald’s food is for us and the environment and how they would never eat it. It’s pretty crazy to hear 6 yr olds talk like that but they obviously hear it from their parents-we can empower them with this knowledge.
In terms of lunches, the only thing I find challenging at times is packing protein in there because they don’t allow nuts in school. So I can’t do like a nice nut butter and crackers which I would normally do. But the kids love tahini, so we substitute as it is made from seeds thereforeit isn’t a high risk for allergies.
I haven’t really received any pressure because our kids look and ARE healthy. I think the only time was back when my daughter was really young and my in-laws were a little nervous because raising a child without meat challenged their beliefs- because of the misleading propaganda and advertising that has been fed to society over the last 50 years.
I would often respond by acknowledging their concerns and offer to give them a book or resource to read up on. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding.
We would like to have children one day but when that time comes we almost want to homeschool them to avoid the pressure of having to give them certain things because of what other people think. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you’ve been creating habits since birth. It also helps that the school thinks a little differently.
The other the thing is that if you or I were kids in that situation, we probably wouldn’t of known because our parents didn’t have the knowledge. But children are smarter than many people give them credit for. My kids understand why we don’t eat animals. I show them videos that other parents would probably find mortifying. Not too much though because they are sensitive but if you show them and tell them the truth, the thought of eating an animal may actually mortify them.
Plus it is important for me to install my children with the confidence to be able to stand up for what they believe in- even it isn’t what the crowd is doing.
Reading your website, your mission is to help others live a healthy, cruelty-free lifestyle. How did you come to this path?
I had always struggled to do something personally in relation to raising awareness and starting the conversation about animal welfare.
I really just want to get people to know the truth and start thinking and making decisions about it with the correct knowledge. I don’t want people feeling judged, I don’t want them to feel as though they have to be vegan as this can isolate people and actually stop them from being open to hearing the truth and making changes at their own paces.
My husband and I started supporting Voiceless in their grants program years ago and I volunteered there for 12 months. It was great but I wanted to do more to spread the message. So I thought to myself, what else could I do?
I was never going to be a lawyer and I don’t particularly like working in an office. I thought maybe I could help by working as an ecologist because I’m also passionate about the protecting the kangaroos ( 3 million a year are killed in the largest wildlife slaughter on earth) but my stint back a uni with a newborn babe only lasted 6 months!
Then one night I went to see my friend Melissa Ambrosini and Jessica Ainscough, who both had successful blogs, at their book tour. I didn’t really get that you could really move people through a blog, I just thought it was a little hobby thing on the side. But I saw hundreds of people lining up to see and thank them and it absolutely blew my mind that night to realise that what they were doing with their blogs was changing people’s lives.
That’s when I thought I could create a blog and share my naturopathy and animal liberation knowledge through a creative outlet. You know, being able to work on branding, food photography and writing keeps things interesting. Plus it fits into my schedule as a mother. So that’s where it started.
On that note, how do you feel before you post articles they may be confronting to others?
I did feel nervous at first but not now. I spend a lot of time researching so by the time I’m ready to publish I feel that it needs to be out there in the world.
You have quite a bit going on with films, writing, practising yoga and running a household. How do you go about saying no to commitments?
For me personally, I just go with how I feel and I shift as necessary. In winter for example, we pretty much have nothing on socially. So weekends are completely free and if we want to stay home all day as a family, we do that. Or sometimes we will go out for a bush walk or out to a park.
In summertime I feel more social so I would be organising more lunches, brunches and play dates. I’m quite seasonal like that, naturally.
As for work commitments once again I listen to how I feel. I’m very good at saying no now. It took a few years but I think it came with having children young and realising that it’s not a race. It’s important to have energy for what really matters throughout the day.
What are your future plans? Or do you not have goals?
No I definitely have goals. I do focus on living in the moment and not attaching my happiness to the outcome, but I really do find setting goals a useful tool.
I journal every day. I’m constantly coming back to what do I want in my life. How’s it looking? Is it working? How is it all manifesting? So I’m pretty aware of where I’m at and where I’m would like to go- which of course changes on the way!
Getting back to your question – I would love to make films. I like the concept of sharing messages in a creative way that can reach large audiences. It’s also fun!
It would be awesome to write books in relation to raising awareness about animal welfare with a combination of factual information and personal experiences because that style speaks to me. Much like Farmageddon. It was jam packed with information but not in a dry text-book style.
The blog will continue to be a nice gentle stepping stone for me where I can continue to share, learn myself and hopefully touch people who come across it.
A special treat for TMV readers
Gemma is extremely humble. She puts a ton of work into her content so we encourage you to check out her blog and share her work if anything strikes a cord with you.
She’s also generously given us a special gift. It’s a copy of The Compassionate Kitchen; The Recipes for 21 Days of Compassion.
This book is normally sold for $18, but she’s giving it to us for free! It’s absolutely gorgeous and packed with tons of little tips to help you prepare delicious, healthy plant-based recipes. Enjoy!
If you have any questions for Gemma, leave a comment below and she will do her best to respond.