Effective activism isn’t just demonstrations and web petitions, it also includes building communities of like-minded people and organising potlucks. Anna talks about working in the area of human rights and social activism, vegan potlucks, and so much more!
Anna, how do you define yourself?
The whole idea of defining myself sometimes seems so alien to me! Strange as it may sound, but occasionally I ponder, why do we have to define ourselves by some concepts, more often strict than not, putting ourselves in frames, then trying hard to act accordingly and punishing ourselves mercilessly when failing to? If I had a choice, I would have just referred to myself as ‘me’. Or ‘Anna’. And let people figure out what is hidden behind that, if anything at all. Because truly, everything else is more about what we do than who we are (and even names are something imposed on us by someone else), and we are too ready to confuse these concepts. Sorry – perhaps I have read too much Eastern philosophy at some earlier point. But if we speak of what I do a lot in my life and what I might be getting a reputation for (that is, how others may occasionally refer to me), social activism comes to mind indeed. The ‘social’ part of it is especially important, because it is broad and captures a lot of different issues, and in my work/life/activities I try to address a variety of topics, too, such as human rights, tolerance, diverse society, youth involvement… Occasionally environment. Since recently, community building of various kinds. So yeah, ‘social activist’ is a nice way to define myself, if I have to choose a definition. Being involved in it is rewarding and empowering. Running Human Library events in Estonia is a big and very important part of my life, both because it is an opportunity to contribute to the society becoming more open-minded and tolerant (more about the concept and the format: www.humanlibrary.org), but also because when preparing the events, I have a chance to meet so many interesting, brave, inspirational, strong people! In a way, activism in general is about communities and communication, at least to me. Ideas matter, of course. They matter a great deal. But what matters even more are the people who are with you along the way and work towards the same goals and on the same ideas.
What is veganism for you?
My journey to veganism was rather lengthy and it started with health concerns. Very gradually eliminating all kinds of meat from my plate, I came to be a vegetarian and enjoyed it for quite some time, before I came across Sharon Gannon’s book Yoga and vegetarianism, where she, essentially, explains how veganism (referred to as ‘ethical vegetarianism’ in the book) corresponds to yogic principles. At the time, yoga was a very big part of my life, and issues named in this book resonated quite a lot. I remember crying while reading the book, and I knew becoming a vegan was just a matter of time. Still it took just over a year to fully become one, with specific bumps on my road towards veganism including lack of support and community. Soon enough I realised that waiting for a miracle won’t help and I need to create my own community of like-minded people.
What is veganism for me? An opportunity to show love to this planet and all its creatures. To be humble before them. To appreciate life in all its varieties, to respect it. At the same time I consider veganism a great opener of minds – of course, it all starts with finding alternatives to animal products, but soon you may find yourself looking for different solutions regarding consumerism and hoarding stuff, waste and environment issues, dominance of species – or particular gender of one species (here feminism creeps in), human rights, et cetera. Becoming a vegan truly can change one’s perspective on many aspects of life and current social issues. It certainly did for me. A need to have a support circle or a community stimulated me to start organising vegan potlucks, and that was a huge step out of comfort zone, a very needed one, a rewarding one, for I have met so many wonderful people (not necessarily all vegans), and food is just an excuse – a great one, no doubt! – to gather and socialise.
How would you answer if someone would say (after understanding that you are a vegan) to you: “It’s a shame you don’t care about humans as much as you care about animals.”
Who, I don’t care about humans?! (laughing) If I didn’t, I wouldn’t place such importance on building communities of like-minded people, and sure I wouldn’t be working in the area of human rights and social activism. For me caring about – and for – fellow humans is indeed one of the driving forces and most important life aspects. I guess, I might as well be OVERcaring about humans, making sure people around me are happy and feel good. And my main work is related to humans. Helping youngsters to write projects and become more caring and attentive towards society issues, giving them opportunities to realise their ideas, to travel, to become more open-minded, isn’t it about caring? Organising events that are aimed at reducing stereotype-based discrimination, at establishing dialogue and promoting mutual understanding, is it not about caring? Even in terms of vegan activism, organising events for fellow plant food lovers to socialise and to create connections, can it, too, count as caring about humans? And yet none of that prevents me from being a vegan who deeply cares about animal welfare and wants to do nothing with abuse of other species. Caring about animals and caring about humans don’t rule each other out and, in fact, can go very much hand-in-hand, and may I be excused from delving in facts and statistics related to human exploitation in animal agriculture?
What is feminism for you?
I came to feminism from, perhaps, an unlikely side – through body image issues and a long-term eating disorder. Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth was a revelation piece for me, helping me to let go of the guilt and, perhaps, even self-hate. To me, feminism is a gateway for women to realise themselves, to follow their passion, to look however they like and to be whoever they want without being reprimanded by anyone, without being reminded about some standards we ‘need’ to fit in to be accepted. It surely changed my life for better, letting me be freer to be myself, to accept my path and my non-conformism to the system as something normal and not odd, as I was led to believe. Feminism for me was a gateway to normalcy, to self-love and self-appreciation, first of all, and then came deeper understanding and awareness of all issues that patriarchy entails.
You have a blog The Baltic Soul. Why did you start blogging? What is your blog about?
I have been blogging for a very long time, even if back in, say, early 2000s, it was called differently. Diary.ru was a great platform to socialise for angsty teenagers like I was. Time went by, my desire to write and express myself did not fade, and at some point, I was travelling quite a lot, so I thought, why don’t I start writing about my journeys. This is when I started The Baltic Soul blog, and with time its topics expanded to include my impressions [I try not to use the word ‘reviews’] of various books and films, and since recently it has an element of self-reflection, plus I publish some of my amateur attempts to write. The main aim, truly, is simply to express myself. I don’t aim at becoming a popular blogger with hundreds of people in audience. To each their own, and my writings may find its way into someone’s hearts. I started devoting more time to writing recently, and blogging about such mundane things as going to one Estonian bog or another, or participating in a training course, or running yet another Human Library, keeps me practicing the skill even when my muse is gone. But luckily, recently there is a lot of inspiration to write, and I work simultaneously on several cycles of short stories, sometimes forgetting to write about those mundane things for the blog. They will make it to the blog, too, eventually, those short stories of mine. As far as Facebook page of my blog is concerned, I use it to promote all events I organise, be it potlucks or youth work related events (book lovers clubs, travel cafes, cultural evenings).
Fennec’s Natural. Photos: Anna Morozova
What were your reasons being establishing the brand Fennec’s Natural? What does the Fennec’s Natural do?
The first and most important reason for establishing my line of vegan cosmetics was mere curiosity. At the time when I started my first attempts at making vegan skincare products, I was quite lost regarding my next steps in general, and wanted to do something crafty and at the same time useful. This is how it started, as an experiment of whether it would work, whether my enthusiasm will last, whether I will enjoy doing it at all. So far, all these questions have an affirmative answer. Earlier I used to make some basic skincare products for myself, and of course everyone wants to treat themselves to high-quality products, and I was not an exception. This is the attitude I convey through my products: create products of the quality I will be the first one to use myself and share it with others. The nature supplies us with so many resources ready to be used and bring us benefits and joy, why to resort to expensive chemical stuff if natural is better for our skin, pleasant in use and more accessible? Accessibility is also important. Vegan products should be accessible and competitive on the market to become more and more popular. Sadly, accessibility and convenience are a stronger force than ethics to make most people look into veganism, so we cannot ignore this part of life and this approach of spreading veganism.
The Fennec’s Natural is currently developing! Its mission is to provide natural and high-quality skincare products, handmade and often organic. Currently our range includes products for lips (glosses, balms, scrubs) and for face (masks, oils), but soon enough more products, e.g. for body and hair, will be introduced. We are also looking into making package ore eco-friendly. Our products, of course, are 100% vegan, without honey or beeswax, or even palm oil. As I mentioned, I do it all keeping myself as a primary customer in mind, thus only using what I myself would – that is, no chemicals, no cutting costs, no animal products.
A very important thing for me while running the brand is not to sell it aggressively, using messages that don’t fall in line with my point of view. In marketing, I carefully avoid using such expressions as ‘youthful look’, ‘anti-age’, ‘anti-cellulite’, or any other phrases that would imply that how we look is wrong. We are all beautiful as we are, and my cosmetics are about feeling good rather than looking good in the eyes of the society.
What do you see for the future of vegan cosmetics?
In a perfect world, which is a vegan world, or at least a vegan-friendly world, of course the cosmetics would take over non-vegan brands. Let’s hope for such future to come rather sooner than later! But I think that vegan entrepreneurs should be mindful, too, and focus more on message than on making profits, as well as making vegan cosmetics more available, and of good quality. One cannot avoid marketing completely, but it seems to me that we should not resort to aggressive and manipulative techniques that are currently widespread in the beauty industry, the ones that make women feel bad about themselves and all but forcing them to buy that specific product. But that’s more to feminism and the beauty myth topic. Vegan cosmetics should not only be ethical to animals, but to fellow humans, too, that is.
Judy Wicks (US), an entrepreneur, author, speaker and mentor working to build a more compassionate, environmentally sustainable and locally based economy has said: “To me, business is about relationships. Money is simply a tool. Business is about relationships with everybody that we buy from and sell to and work with and about the relationship with Earth itself. My business is really the way that I expressed my love of life.” How would you comment on that?
I do find this quote very beautiful and relevant, since occasionally (or, rather, all too often), it seems, big businesses forget the relationship part, focusing solely on profit making and resorting to whatever means can get them there faster. As for me, everything I do in and with my life is in one way or another showing my love of life, and running my business is not an exception. This is why it is important for me not to be fake while marketing my products, not to resort to successful marketing tactics that have lost soul and respect for the clients somewhere on the way. Even if that would mean going at a slower pace. I believe that this harmony of how I feel and what I do will too reach someone’s hearts, and Fennec’s Natural will have its clients.
Fennec’s Vegan Potluck. Photos: Anna Morozova
Potluck dinners are an old tradition that lets people get together without putting a burden on the host. You have a tradition of hosting Fennec’s Vegan Potlucks. Why did you start this tradition? What kind of impact do you aim to achieve?
As I mentioned above, for me arranging potlucks was a needed step to surround myself with vegan-friendly people. I never restricted and never will deny non-vegans to attend these potlucks, as long as people are vegan allies (love this definition from Melanie Joy) who are open to trying and cooking vegan meals, and most importantly, won’t make any trolling or derogatory comments towards vegans or veganism (on the other hand, I don’t appreciate aggressive spreading of veganism and attacking non-vegans on my potlucks either!). Thus, my potlucks, which are held in open air in warm season and elsewhere otherwise, serve two purposes: first, to gather vegans and vegan allies, and to strengthen the community sense through food, and second, to give a reason to non-vegans to try cooking something vegan, to eat new things and to interact with vegans in a positive and friendly environment. It is amazing to see so many people coming, and at least half of attending people are new each time. Also, very many are expats, thus making my potlucks wonderfully international.
Can you name the best methods of nonviolent protest?
Speaking of veganism, I consider my potlucks as a form of activism, too, even if radicals might not agree with me. There are many approaches to spreading veganism – or any other message, truly – and all approaches will find their preachers, and most importantly, their audience. Of course, outreach is important, so is bearing witness and raising awareness. Peaceful demonstrations, marches, lobbying, social media activism are all important, but so is community building and making veganism easier and more accessible. I cannot point best methods out, as all are important and effective in reaching different audiences, still making impact.
What vegans, creative activists, vegan entrepreneurs, bloggers, etc would you say have influenced you the most, and why?
I want to say ‘none’, but not sure whether that would be entirely true. Nobody comes to mind as an influence, but there have been certain waves of inspiration, when it comes to famous vegans and what they do. For example, I mentioned previously Sharon Gannon and her book. Speaking of books, those by Melanie Joy and Tobias Leenaert were very helpful and provided much needed guidance. Otherwise, bizarre as it sounds given that I am a ‘blogger’ myself, I don’t follow anyone. I mostly get inspiration from people around me, those more tangible, those more real in my personal universe, and whether those particular people are vegans or not, is secondary matter.
What’s up next for you?
Oh, there are always so many projects on my mind and in my plans. As far as Human Libraries are concerned, we (as in, Youth Club Active) are looking into arranging the events more often, trying to reach different audiences, improving our quality. The Fennec’s Natural will have one or two new product types this year, too, keep an eye! Hopefully the brand will move towards greener packaging, and I am currently exploring the options. As far as I myself am concerned, I try to move towards a zero-waste life, but sadly, currently it is a slow process. Hopefully I will have energy to speed it up in the future! Last but not least, I am planning to launch a community garden in Mustamäe, the district where I live. Speaking of communities, aha… Will see how this season goes, but I am considering taking up (urban) gardening course. Of course, potlucks will continue. I don’t know how I manage to squeeze everything into my life, but somehow it fits in organically and makes me happy. And this is what I wish to everyone and anyone – do things that make you happy.
The Baltic Soul (blog): https://thebalticsoul.blogspot.com/
Fennec’s Natural (online shop): http://www.fennecsnatural.eu