Plant Chat: Jane Velez-Mitchell, Plant-Based Advocate
It is such an honor having the talented Jane Velez-Mitchell on my Plant Chat today. Jane is a nationally known TV journalist, best-selling author, and winner of four Genesis Awards from the Humane Society of the United States. Jane specializes in covering crimes against people, animals, and the environment. She is well-known for speaking up for the voiceless. For six years she hosted her own show on HLN, Jane Velez-Mitchell (formerly known as Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell) replacing Glenn Beck, who moved to the Fox News Channel. She is often seen commenting on high-profile cases for CNN, TruTV, E! and other national cable TV shows. I had the pleasure of working with Jane as she taped a LunchBreakLIVE show in my kitchen while I made Tortilla Soup. You can follow her on Facebook and her website JaneUnchained.
What inspired you to become such a passionate voice for animal advocacy?
Well, it started probably 100 years ago. My mom just passed away at 99 and a half, about a year and half ago. She grew up in the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. She had a pig that she thought was her pet, but she didn’t realize it was a food pig. She came home one day and found that the pig had been slaughtered for food. She went straight to vegetarian from that point on. I was raised a pescatarian—my father was Irish and he was a big meat eater. When he met my mother, he converted to pescatarian. We always thought of ourselves as vegetarian, and we ate fish, eggs, and dairy, but we had a consciousness about our food. We had respect that the things on our plates were living beings. I always grew up with that sense, my mother was very forward thinking. She was one of the first to hyphenate her name to Valez-Mitchell. She was doing yoga in her 40s—she was very much ahead of her time. I was aware of this issue as a child. I had a dog that I loved very much and my dad gave him away. It was devastating to me; my dog was my best friend. I think those two things combined, from a very young age made an impact on me.
How did you go from there to eating a completely plant-based diet?
As I became a journalist, we didn’t do much coverage on animal welfare. I was in Philadelphia, I think it was like ‘79 or ’80. There was a type of experiment being done on primates, and it was a nightmare. People were playing loud rock music, laughing and joking while they slammed an incredible amount of weight into these animals. I thought that we had to do something to help. After that, I went from market to market and ended up in LA. I would get into arguments in the newsroom. They would want me to read a rodeo story, but it wasn’t a happy story for the animals. I’d get into disagreements, and people just thought I was eccentric. Then two things happened. I got sober—it’s been 22 years now in April. When I got sober, I got a little more clarity about things. I was a half ass vegetarian who still ate dairy and shellfish. I was doing an interview with a guest and he said, “I hear you’re a vegetarian; do you eat dairy?” I said “yeah,” and he said it’s “liquid meat”. I said, “Oh my God,” because it hit me just like that; eating dairy was the same in terms of animal welfare as eating meat. That moment I went vegan, it was about two decades ago.
How did you move into animal welfare?
I started on Celebrity Justice, which was the precursor to TMZ. I started on the show, because I was tired of local news—I had done many years of anchoring and reporting. I had left Channel 9 and Channel 2, and my friend Harvey Levin told me that he couldn’t find any reporters for his new show, so I jumped in. Every morning at an ungodly hour, we would have to be in Glendale for the show. I live in Venice. We started featuring all of the celebrities, and many were involved with animal issues, so we asked, where’s the justice? I started pitching animal stories, and I got to do a lot of them. I got celebrities on the show to talk about it. It was a good thing, because some celebrities wouldn’t talk to a tabolidy show, but when we talked about the animal issues they care about they’d come on. I interviewed Robert Redford, who was concerned about how military sonar was affecting whales. We won two Genesis Awards for the reporting I did. I owe this to Harvey, who let me do the stories, even considering the advertisers. Then I ended up covering criminal trials, like the Michael Jackson case, and I filled in for Nancy Grace. I ended up with my own show on HLN, and I did an animal show once a week. To their credit, they allowed me to do some hard-hitting animal stories; we showed gestation crates, the fur industry, and dolphin slaughter. We had the heads of organizations on, such as Mercy for Animals, Last Chance for Animals, and HSUS. I did this for 6 years; at the apex I had an animal story once a week. I’d bring my cute little eye grabber pet. I have companion animals, 3 dogs and a cat. Little Rico is tiny, he was rescued from Puerto Rico. So many people said they hadn’t seen some of the footage until our show. I got two more Genesis Awards and had a good run for about 6 years.
How did you go from mainstream media to building up your own media?
With all the social media, I built up my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. I created my website Janeunchained.com and started shooting stories. These were stories that might not get any mainstream media coverage, but I had created my own news organization. Everyone likes the name Janeunchained, it’s a double entendre, and I have it on multiple platforms. It is about living a vegan, compassionate lifestyle, and I’m still reaching a lot of people. Now it’s on three times a day. I have the help from a lot of other people and great volunteers. We can provide more live coverage, and there is so much happening, I can’t be everywhere. I’m getting a few people who are willing to do video taping when I can’t.
I started this in October of 2014, and now I have hundreds of videos. In April 2016, all of the sudden there was Facebook Live. That totally changed everything, because I was a live reporter and anchor for 38 years; almost everything I did was live. It was my specialty. I knew from having been in the business how much went into live reporting, you had to have a satellite truck with a receiver, and a network and station. But now you can just press your phone and go live. Live is a game changer for animal rights, and I want people to please do it better than I’m doing. I want everyone to use their phones to spread their words about animal rights. I want people to Instagram their plant-based meals. We can get the word out, and do it ourselves with social media.
The next generation of millennials are not going to TV for information, they are going to social media. You can get on social media and grow your audience and spread the word. Social media has changed everything, it used to take me hours to edit a video, and I still do it sometimes, but now we can have three times the amount of content by going live. A lot of people are seeing the posts, they reach 1 to 1.5 million people.
Tell us about your LunchBreakLive show.
We decided since we eat lunch every day, why don’t we do a vegan live cooking show at 12:30? And that’s been very successful. People are encouraged to try the vegan lifestyle. It’s fun. I was just an ethical vegan that ordered in, and now I’m getting a whole education with great plant-based cooking. I did PCRM’s Kick Start program, and we had it on the show, making all of their recipes live.
What tips do you have for people wanting to transition to a plant-based diet?
It was a process for me, I was pescatarian and then I gave up all animal foods. Here’s the thing: first of all, we are an addict nation, food is an addiction, just like drugs and alcohol. It’s hard to navigate food and deal with it every day. It’s hard to go from black to gray. The first thing I say is, don’t go to any fast food restaurant, except for places like Veggie Grill, it’s just like verboten, do not enter. One-fourth of people eat food fast every day.
But it’s getting easier to eat vegan. You can check out the great vegan options in every supermarket these days, such as Treeline, Daiya, and Miyoko cheese. If you like ice cream, you can find coconut and soy ice creams, even Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream—it’s so delicious I can eat the whole pint. Try Beyond Meat burgers if you love burgers. I have cook-outs and invite friends and never say a word about the food being vegan; I have hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizzas and people eat it and say the food is delicious. Oh my God, when I think that in the old days, there were no alternatives, now there are no excuses, with products like Beyond Burger, Impossible Foods, and Hampton Creek for mayo; and vegan cheeses, ice cream, and bacon—everything exists. Just switch it out. People say I could never give up cheese, but food is addictive. It takes 28 days to go through rehab—you can break any kind of a habit in that time. It just takes a little adjustment. Just go into your refrigerator and take out all the meat and dairy products and replace them with plant-based alternatives. I also really love the Happy Cow app, which can help you find plant-based dining options.