Q & A with Brenda Carey
Founder & Editor in Chief of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine
“Having our print magazine on newsstands is very important outreach for the vegan message because we are the only one showing the world how fit vegans can be. It is the healthiest diet in the world, it is a shame that so many people think that vegans are skinny and anemic. It’s not true and we are showing that to the world!”
Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine is a bimonthly print publication whose Editor in Chief, Founder, Publisher & President is long time vegan Brenda Carey.
When was Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine founded and when was the first issue published?
I received incorporation of the entity that publishes VHF, called Vegan Health & Fitness, LLC, of which I am the President, in early 2012. The first issue was Summer 2012 and it hit newsstands in early June of that year. We were quarterly and remained so until the first bi-monthly issue of Nov/Dec 2013.
Why was Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine founded? What inspired its establishment?
I have been vegan for almost 25 years and have been reading nutrition books ever since right before I went vegan. I absolutely love to spend hours, days, weeks researching the absolute best ways to be as healthy and vibrant as possible. I have also been fairly athletic most of my life. Put that together with the fact that I also have a background in journalism from college and law school (I was a columnist of several college newspapers and Editor of Ecology Law Quarterly, the #1 Environmental Law journal in the country) and you can see the areas where my passions came together.
I have also been an avid reader of magazines, especially veg and fitness magazines and I was sick of never seeing vegan food in the fitness magazines and always seeing unhealthy veg fare in the veg magazines. I felt like there was a real lack of representation of the healthy and fit vegan lifestyle in magazines and that seemed like a real shame. After all, the whole food vegan diet is the healthiest diet on the planet and it helps many athletes achieve at the top of their fields.
Speaking of top vegan athletes, I read a few books by vegan athletes including Robert Cheeke and Scott Jurek in late 2011, and was so inspired. I realized that somebody needed to bring the stories of vegan athletes like these great folks to the mainstream public, as it would change a lot of hearts and minds. Magazines are on the racks at the checkout newsstands of grocery stores, so they (especially their cover images) reach a lot more mainstream people than any other source of vegan outreach. I wanted to break stereotypes that non vegans have about vegans (that we can’t build muscle or be great athletes or raise healthy babies). VHF is now literally in thousands of stores in three countries (the US, Canada and the UK), and I regularly see people in the checkout lines do a double take when they see our cover images next to the word “vegan.” That is very gratifying.
By the way, I had no background working on a magazine, so I had to teach myself how to use the software and do the graphic art (which wasn’t that great in the first few issues, LOL). I’ve come a long way in these past 4 years! I think the moral of this story is to “go for it” when you have a dream to do something that will make the world a better place, even if you have a learning curve ahead of you. If you work hard and persist, your commitment and determination will carry you through!
Where was Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine founded?
I lived in Lake Elsinore, California when I started VHF on my laptop in my home. This is a small town on the largest natural lake in Southern California. It is a beautiful place. But as things grew with the magazine, I realized that I needed a team of people rather than just myself and my boyfriend at the time, Brian Acree, who I recruited after the magazine started taking off. We hired a couple of locals there, but they were not committed vegans, so it didn’t mean much to them to simply abandon their post. I started looking into more vegan-friendly towns with a larger resource of people who would be more committed to working with us on our mission to bring veganism into the mainstream. We considered several mid-size cities, but finally agreed that Austin, Texas was the most ideal since the real estate was relatively inexpensive, commuting around town was much easier than Southern California, and there was a good population of vegans who were very excited about the prospect of us setting up our headquarters in their town. We moved to Austin in late 2013 and have been here ever since, although several of us on the team moved to Miami for a 7 month stint in 2015. We are all back together in Austin now and loving it!
By whom was Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine founded?
Me. I have been vegan since I was 20 years old and I will turn 45 this year. I had been looking for my career path that would also make the world a better, more compassionate place for all sentient beings, all of my life. I modeled right out of high school and was fortunate to travel the world (after growing up in Mississippi where I didn’t have much exposure to the rest of the world). I also learned a few things about how magazines work during that time, and decided that I really liked photography and everything involved with creating beautiful, meaningful images. I took up the hobby of nature photography soon thereafter. When I stopped modeling, I started college (nobody in my entire extended family had ever graduated from college except my grandmother who graduated from Bible college in the 1930s). My plan was to be an Animal Rights Law attorney. It took me until after I graduated law school at UC Berkeley (not an easy stint of education) to realize that Animal Rights Law is still evolving and thanks to many powerful lobbyists, is really lacking in power. I knew that Criminal Law, in California anyway, had not been blockaded by animal industries. Surprisingly, there were no exemptions for animal cruelty laws even for farm animals in that state! But lawyers don’t enforce criminal laws—peace officers like police and Humane Officers do. So, I started a Humane Society and trained Humane Officers. We did some groundbreaking stuff. We even got a warrant to enter a slaughterhouse (with the assistance of the LAPD) and take the animals to a sanctuary to live out their lives in peace. That was very satisfying at the time, but the legal battles that followed, and the constant investigations of animal cruelty really wore on me. I finally dissolved that organization and moved to Hawaii to decompress. I got a job as a Communication Studies professor at a university. I tried some other things like acting, improv and stand up comedy. After many years of feeling like I’d never find “my thing” that would make the world a more compassionate place, I came up with the idea for this magazine. When it took off before I even printed the first issue (people were emailing wanting subscriptions and very excited about the idea—stores wanted it, etc.) I knew that I had finally found “my thing.” All the stuff I had done in the past that seemed so disconnected, all magically served to give me a unique ability to run this magazine.
Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine is a print publication. Is there also a digital component? What inspired the decision to establish it as a print magazine?
People still like print magazines, despite what the media says. They like the visceral experience of flipping pages and being able to access it without turning on a device. We have a digital version of the magazine that is exactly the same as the paper version, and have had it since the inception. There are many perks of using the digital issue, like it links to anything online that is mentioned, and it is tree-free. It is also less than half the cost of the paper subscription ($10 worldwide), but the majority of our subscribers still prefer the paper version. But, the reason why I really love having the print version is because it gives us the opportunity to put images of muscular and fit vegan people on the cover and have it on newsstands near the checkout in mainstream grocery stores. No other magazine does that. There are several other veg magazines and they do a great job showing off delicious vegan food on their covers, but we are unique in that we change the image in people’s minds of what a vegan person looks like. That is very important in convincing most people to join this movement!
Note: there are some other veg magazines that feature people on their covers who are not veg—they just use non-veg models, based on looks. We feel that it is important that everyone who is featured on the cover and inside the pages of VHF be 100% vegan because they are representing what a vegan looks like to the world. When these other magazines put fit or pretty people on their cover or in their pages and they are not vegan, it undermines the message that vegans are actually, truly fit and beautiful. People often point at the muscular, fit people on our cover when we are at VegFests and expos and say “That guy isn’t vegan.” We get to proudly inform them that everyone you see associated with VHF is definitely 100% vegan—most of them for years and years. That really makes them pause and exclaim in awe that they didn’t think vegans looked like that. This is the job of a magazine—we bring images to the public that make them think. Those magazines that claim to be promoting veganism that are featuring non vegan models are doing a real disservice to our movement (as well as the many gorgeous, fit vegans of the world who need exposure).
What themes does Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine cover?
We cover anything and everything that has to do with veganism in the realm of health and fitness. That is a rather broad set of categories. We pride ourselves on regularly having the most healthy recipes out there—and yes, we taste them and make sure they are delicious. We also always have articles to help readers become more fit, such as inspirational articles about champion vegan athletes, workouts, tips to improve your performance at your sport, etc. We recommend vegan athletic clothing, gear and kitchen supplies— from food items to prep devices. We make sure to have articles for all ages and levels over the course of a year. For instance, we might not be able to have articles focusing on vegan babies, teens or older vegans in each issue, we only have so much space in each issue and we don’t always get the people we want in each issue as it takes time to put stories together. But we will have coverage for every age group happen in every 2 or 3 issues so that everybody gets covered eventually. We also try to include every exercise style and most sports over the course of a year. Some sports like bodybuilding, running or yoga get more coverage because there are so many vegan athletes doing these things. But we include cycling, rowing, soccer, and other sports as often as we can also. Our subscribers and regular readers will get the full gambit within a short period of time. We also have travel articles with amazing photography to inspire readers to see the world and find the vegan gems out there. This includes restaurant reviews and other highlights on special places throughout the world for you to enjoy as a healthy vegan. You may be relived to know that we stay away from politics as much as possible as we realize that there are vegans in the realm of liberal and conservative circles. We also avoid the topic of religion for similar reasons. We don’t want to make any reader feel alienated. However, our staff does value the inclusion of articles on nourishing the spirit, along with body and mind, for complete holistic health. For that reason we include articles on topics like meditation. We take the time to explain that prayer is a form of meditation, and there are real benefits to your health in taking the time to engage in such practices.
Does Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine utilize social media for any specific reasons and if so which platforms are preferred?
Yes, we love social media. We are on Facebook @veganhealthandfitnessmag, Twitter @vhfmagazine, and Instagram @veganhealthandfitnessmag. We post behind the scenes stuff like pictures from photo shoots for upcoming covers or features, we do giveaways, we share information about upcoming vegan events all over the world. We occasionally share important petitions and bits of information on vegan food, animal rights and environmental issues as they pertain to our readers.
We have not branched out from these 3 social media platforms (and honestly, our Instagram posts are often not updated as often as we would like), because, well— we’re busy. There are so many social media platforms out there these days that if you spend all day visiting them all, you won’t have time to exercise or socialize with people in person. I believe in setting limits when it comes to social media. It’s great to connect through social media, but I always advocate that people have a real life too, and that isn’t possible when social media communication is over done. Heck, I can spend 4 hours just on Facebook. There’s some really cool stuff on there. If I were to do that with 6 or 8 platforms, the magazine would go under. LOL
For personal communication with our readers, we provide a place on our website to contact us. We try to respond within a day or two.
With rising interest in veganism, the landscape of vegan publications, print and digital is growing as well. Where do you see Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine within this landscape?
I think it’s great that so many people are realizing that vegans are viable consumers and want to reach them with new vegan businesses, including publications. As the numbers of vegans grow, publications and products will grow also. However, I think that vegan readers need to realize that some are promoting the cause in more effective ways than others. It is also a fact that the magazine business is tough. There is not much money in it, especially when you are serving a niche audience. Most publications will not survive long, and the more that the field gets saturated with new magazines, the more likely that more will go under because there are not enough readers to support them all.
We are proud to be leaders in several areas and we would like to lobby for your support. We were the first widely distributed magazine with the word “vegan” in the title (there are still only 2 of us—the other one is UK-based and costs about $100 USD for an American or Canadian resident to subscribe) and we are still the only one to focus on fitness and health. There are lots of other vegan mags online, but none of them reach mainstream consumers in the grocery store who need to see what healthy fit vegans look like— so they will consider going vegan themselves. Only vegans (or almost vegans) will seek out online vegan content. Having our print magazine on newsstands is very important outreach for the vegan message because we are the only one showing the world how fit vegans can be. It is the healthiest diet in the world, it is a shame that so many people think that vegans are skinny and anemic. It’s not true and we are showing that to the world!
By the way, we are also available for tablets now too (iPad and Android) for $24 worldwide, as well as our always economical $10 digital version that you view on our special “subscriber’s lounge” through our website. We are the only magazine that we know of to offer our content for such a low price. We feel that keeping the cost of accessing the important and inspiring content of VHF low is important to encourage the spread veganism to everyone, young and old, rich and poor. No matter who you are, we want you to be able to access our vegan content and have it benefit your life (and the animals and the planet).
What are some of the challenges of running and sustaining a publication on veganism and related themes?
The biggest challenge is, like most people’s biggest challenge, coming up with the money to move forward while providing our publication to as many people as possible at a low cost. We are serving a niche audience and, by definition, a niche not the largest group of consumers. Sure I could have called this publication “Veg” or “Plant-based Health and Fitness,” and we would have a larger audience. But I wanted to use the word “vegan” because the main purpose of this magazine is to bring veganism into the mainstream. I want to remove the unfair stigmas associated with this beautiful, compassionate movement. I want mainstream people in the grocery store and bookstore who see our publication on the newsstand to get used to the idea of vegans looking very healthy and fit. I want to dispel misconceptions that have held a lot of people back from going vegan. I, and my fellow staff members here at VHF, want a vegan world, and that can only happen if veganism isn’t seen as something for a small group of “counter culturists.” The mainstream ideal of health and beauty, which includes muscles and athletic prowess, has to be displayed as being a normal part of the vegan world in order for many people to think it is a viable choice for themselves and their families. This desire to make the world a more vegan place has been placed above monetary concerns and sometimes we feel that choice squeeze us a little.
While the numbers of vegans are rising, we are not a big chunk of mainstream culture as we would like to be someday soon. I realize that changing the world takes time; but in the meantime, sometimes we struggle a bit financially. I, honestly, cannot understand why all the committed animal rights, environmental, and otherwise ethical vegans do not subscribe to this publication, just on principle even if they don’t love exercise and salad (which is what I guess they think we’re about). We get a lot of animal rights people saying to us that they don’t subscribe to VHF because “health and fitness isn’t their thing.” That is heartbreaking because we really believe that being healthy, fit examples as vegans is the best way to win other people over to try veganism themselves. We also care a lot about vegans feeling great (because they deserve it) and accomplishing great things with their lives— which is easier when you are fit and healthy. We also think of our ability to stay on newsstands as an important form of vegan outreach in changing hearts and minds. We reach a lot of people who will never watch “Earthlings.” Every time you buy VHF, you are voting with your dollars to put these images of fit vegans in eyesight of mainstream shoppers!
What needs and desires does Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine satisfy for its readership?
People who want to be healthy (avoid disease, be energetic and free of injury), and who want a healthy family (super-smart, well behaved kids who excel at academics and athletics), and want to age gracefully (active and energetic with on no medication, and requiring zero surgeries), are served by this publication.
We teach you how to eat in the most healthy, delicious manner to maximize health and athletic performance. We provide recipes and preparation techniques and recommend great resources, restaurants and products. You won’t miss out on a bit of taste when you eat a whole food plant-based diet our way. You will discover a whole new world of yumminess and excitement in your food that will revitalize and invigorate your body.
We help you stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise by sharing stories of other vegans who are doing great things and who have overcome health obstacles. We give you tips and share workouts that are fun and beneficial. We share personal stories of people who have overcome all sorts of diseases and who have increased their athletic performance and we share exactly how they did it so that you can easily follow in their footsteps. From yoga to meditation to rest, we also help you nurture yourself and recover to be your best self every day.
We help you connect on a deeper level. The message of compassion for animals, the planet and your own health is always there as others share their stories of why they went vegan.
We help you find the best ways of doing things to be the healthiest that you can be, from recommending workouts for all levels and all athletic inclinations to recommending the best vegan and eco-friendly gear to help you raise your performance while maintaining your ethical standards.
We help you connect with the rest of the vegan community, worldwide. We sponsor events like the Vegan Global Run (a virtual race that anyone with a smart phone can participate in, anywhere in the world), to the Vegan Beef bodybuilding team. We participate in lots of events sponsored by other vegan groups around the world. We help you find events in your area and decide which ones are best for you to attend.
It’s all about helping you become and stay vegan for life. If you feel great, look great and perform great, you will stick with it. We help you do that. In turn, your decision to go and stay vegan benefits us all.
How has Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine grown since its inception?
As I mentioned above, we started out with a rousing reception, and have continued to grow in support (subscribers). We have been around for about 4 years now and our subscriber numbers continue to grow, but never as fast as we would like. We also started out with distribution at Whole Foods and other health food grocery stores as well as most major bookstores. Our distribution has grown in some places, and we have had to fight to stay on the shelves in some other places where management decided that our publication was “old news” and even told us that Paleo is the new thing that is taking over. We have asked for our supporters to request our title in those places, and thanks to a great deal of support, we have managed to stay, or be brought back, in many places. Unfortunately, the fight to keep a magazine with the word “vegan” on the cover in many places is ongoing. There are a lot of store managers who are biased against the topic. We have also seen some strategic activity on the part of those who are anti-vegan as they have brought in some very expensive veg magazines in the hope that they won’t sell so that they can report that people don’t want to buy veg publications. Having our magazine on newsstands is a form of activism and the powers that be know it— make no mistake about it!
As far as I can tell (with the current knowledge I have of magazines about veganism in existence worldwide) Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine is of a true minority of magazines within this niche that deals specifically with fitness and athleticism. What is it like to be at the helm of a publication covering a very unique but also growing field of interest as well as lifestyle (veganism, plant based diet + fitness)?
Covers provided by Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine
Questions & post by Annika Lundkvist
Article: Magazines about Veganism →