(Photo borrowed from my classmate, Kevin, who is front and center!)
Last month I found myself coming out on the other side of one of the most educational, empowering, and connective experiences of my life. I knew going in that others who’d done this had found it to be transformative, so, just in case I didn’t feel the same, I tempered my expectations while still keeping an open heart and mind. And then it happened—all of it—to me as well.
The experience to which I’m referring is the Main Street Vegan Academy (MSVA) program, which informs and equips its students to become certified vegan lifestyle coaches & educators. At face value, it’s a class, a 6-day intensive, but it truly winds up being so much more than an education. When we all first arrived at MSVA, we sat, anticipatory, in that reserved silence that happens when a dozen people who don’t know each other are suddenly put in a room together. Some of us happened to be local to NYC, where the academy is held, but many had traveled across the country or internationally to be there. Victoria Moran—author, activist, speaker, director of the academy, and, among several other admirable descriptors, our generous hostess, since the program is run from her home—took note of this initial awkwardness and assured us that we’d all be like roommates by the time the week was over.
It didn’t take long to see that this would happen. Within the first half hour of conversation, it became apparent that we all had something very profound in common. We knew it on paper going in, obviously, but, though many of us had significant others or family members who were vegan, none of us had exactly traveled from a vegan commune. To be physically present among so many people who got it, who shared the language and that baseline ethic of veganism was liberating.
(Just a few of our amazing instructors, clockwise from top left: lead singer of the Cro-Mags and author of Meat Is for Pussies John Joseph, cookbook author and vegan pastry chef extraordinaire Fran Costigan, cardiologist and director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center Dr. Robert Ostfeld, and Israeli speaker, food writer/blogger, and activist Ori Shavit. Not pictured: Marty Davey aka LaDiva Dietician, Jennifer Gannet of Vegbooks, Sharon Nazarian of Big City Vegan, Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart of Vaute, yogini and life coach Tatiana Forero Puerta, Martin Rowe of Lantern Books and Brighter Green, Farm Sanctuary director Bruce Friedrich, and Joshua Katcher of The Discerning Brute and Brave Gentle Man. We also heard a great presentation from JL Fields of JL Goes Vegan, pictured below.)
Our six days were filled with speakers who addressed many of the myriad facets of veganism (nutrition, health, the environment, animal rights, animal law, food, fashion) and others who walked us through the nuance and nitty-gritty of coaching. I knew a lot of what was presented going in, but nearly everything I knew was expanded upon, and I learned a ton of brand new things as well. I came home at the end of every day exhausted in that wonderful way that opening yourself, connecting with others, and taking things in will leave you.
In addition to our classes, we ate a ton of great food. Much of it was prepared by Victoria, and everything she offered us was nourishing and delicious. Love Grace juice and Treeline cheese kindly donated an assortment of their products for us to enjoy as well. We also went out eat together a few times, and each place we visited, despite my being a local, was a new-to-me experience: Seasoned Vegan, Jivamuktea Café, and, for our graduation luncheon, Candle Café West.
I still can’t get over what a powerful experience it was to spend a week with such a diverse group of people—we all came from completely different backgrounds, with a wide range of professions and interests, with many different goals and ideas about what we’d do after completing the program—and yet, underlying all our seeming difference, we shared this one, common, profound purpose: to create a world with less suffering. Victoria called it within the first hour of that first day; we came together as strangers, but we left bonded. Going into the academy, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do after. I knew it would be a personally enriching experience that would inform my writing and any future activism-related endeavors I might choose to undertake in the future. I also have a running list of Things That I’ve Always Wanted To Do, and I knew that this would lend something to those ideas as well. Whether I’d take up a coaching practice was very much up in the air.
I was ill-prepared for how motivating and empowering the experience would be. That list of things I’ve always wanted to do became a list of Things That I Am Going To Do. I left the graduation luncheon flying, inspired, and ready to tackle all the things!
Post-academy, it also became clear to me that coaching is in fact something I’d like to pursue. The value of this sort of work was always apparent to me but really crystallized during my time at Main Street. I touched a little on what a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator (VLCE) is in a previous post, but I obviously have a more intimate understanding of the role now. A VLCE is an informational and supportive resource for someone interested in becoming vegan, struggling as a current vegan, or looking to troubleshoot, change, or expand his or her existing vegan lifestyle. Many people go and stay vegan on their own without issue, but, for others, it can be helpful to have another person to lean on and be a guide along the way. We don’t live in a vegan world (yet!), so it’s a territory that can present some navigational challenges, and the process looks different for everyone, depending on where the individual is starting at and where they want to be.
(Top left: with the incomparable JL Fields. Top right: with Victoria at our graduation luncheon. Bottom: with Joy Pierson, co-owner of the Candle restaurants, and a light of a human being.)
I’m going to be honest, though: it was a rough landing back into real life. My primary responsibility at this point in my life is still to be Mom—something which I love and for which being away from home for nearly 12-hour days gave me a fresh appreciation, but something which can admittedly, at times, feel limiting to my hyperactive creative drive. It took a couple days to regroup and readjust to the reality of my days and schedule, to step back and say, “Okay. This is what I can work on now.” Which is to say, I’m not starting up a full-time coaching practice right this second, and all those other things on my List are currently receiving attention as I’m able. I don’t have any project deadlines. This is where I’m at right now. If you’re looking for coaching assistance in becoming vegan, however, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I am happy to give quick advice or take on clients as time allows, or I can refer you to one of the other capable, passionate MSVA grads for help.
Lastly, if you’re thinking you might like to become a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, or if you just want to have the amazing experience of attending Main Street Vegan Academy, go for it. Don’t hesitate. Dive in. I sincerely cannot recommend it enough.