Mamme vegane a New York
Interviews & photos with 5 NYC based vegan mamas
Vegan Italy magazine
Michelle Carrera lives in Brooklyn with her young son and together they run Chilis on Wheels, a mobile vegan soup kitchen that has grown to several other chapters across the USA. She also organizes the Vegan Latinos of NYC meet- up group and is a freelance translator.
Annika: Where are you from?
Michelle: I am from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
Annika: Where do you live now?
Michelle: I live in Brooklyn, New York.
Annika: What kind of work do you do?
Michelle: I run a mobile vegan soup kitchen, Chilis on Wheels. I also organize a meetup group, Vegan Latinos of NYC. I am an unschooling mama, and a freelance translator.
Annika: When did you establish Chilis on Wheels and why?
Michelle: Chilis on Wheels began on Thanksgiving of 2014. I wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen and teach my son, who was 4 years old at the time, about community and helping others. As an ethical vegan family hoping to teach my son about empathy and solidarity I searched for a vegan soup kitchen in NYC but found none, so I decided to make some meals on my own. I made 15 meals and walked the streets with my son giving them out. It was the first snow of the season, and it was cold, the streets were empty because it was Thanksgiving, it was almost surreal. Once I saw people hurting up close, I realized I needed to do more. Out of this, Chilis on Wheels was born.
Annika: Chilis on Wheels is not only NY based- there are now chapters opening up across the country. How did this develop and what is on the horizon in terms of the work Chilis on Wheels and its chapters are doing?
Michelle: Chilis on Wheels was featured in blogs and local press and it somehow reached the eyes and ears of people in the west coast, who reached out to me and also wanted to distribute vegan food. We continue working with people from other cities and we have several more chapters coming up. We are all volunteers, and we have limited funds, but we all have a passion for helping others while advocating for veganism.
Chilis on Wheels has a project coming up, The V Team Tour which consists of my son and I and our two dogs, traveling across the country for a year, living out of our van, highlighting the problems behind homelessness, providing vegan food to everyone in need we encounter on the road, speaking to communities about veganism, connecting with individuals and groups making a difference in their communities, and creating a multi-media project around this experience. We will visit our chapters, and hopefully help create new ones. You can read more about it at: www.chilisonwheels.org/thevteamtour/
Annika: Your advocacy work includes a range of issues related to food justice as well as extensive work in animal rights. What motivated you to get involved with these issues and what drives you to continue on the path of advocacy?
Michelle: A sense of duty drives me to speak about these issues, to help people, to help animals, to build community so that we stand stronger together. A large part of Chilis on Wheels is advocating for veganism within communities of low income. It seems as if no one is really talking with us, no one is addressing us, and it’s such a loss. A plant-based diet is not expensive, it’s not for the elite. I am low-income myself and I am able to feed my family and feed my community. I also see that a different world is possible, I see it in the spaces I have been able to create, I see it in the spaces other people have created, and I believe that we can expand this, that people stand for justice, that people want to do the right thing. It’s a matter of convincing them that their actions matter. That’s all it is in the end. It’s inspiring people to believe in themselves and the power of their actions.
Annika: It’s very inspiring to see your son Ollie as such a fundamental part of what you do and Chilis on Wheels. What are some ways he inspires people in general but also specifically his peers on issues of justice?
Michelle: Ollie is a cofounder of Chilis on Wheels. He is the reason why we went out that first time to deliver those first few meals. He has grown by leaps and bounds. He helps with the distribution, and loves to connect with people. He goes with me to talk to students in schools about veganism, and he himself addresses the classes. He also makes 1 minute videos about veganism that he shares on his Instagram, VeganKidOllie. He is an activist, and he will tell kids not to chase the pigeons in the park, he will tell people not to go to zoos or why not to drink cow milk, and it extends to other justice issues, the other day he was talking with some kids at the playground about the warriors protecting our water at Standing Rock.
Annika: In one interview I read with you, you made some very motivating points about engaging children in volunteering efforts from a young age to involve them and begin to cultivate that sense of community and becoming “committed, participatory, compassionate adults.” That relationship with the community and sense of responsibility is so important for all, not just advocates of veganism, but as members of this passionate minority community, there is this added value of showing we are considerate, caring people who want to inspire others to take a deeper look at issues related to the vegan movement. What would your advice be to parents seeking to cultivate that advocacy mindfulness in their children growing up?
Michelle: Talking with children is important, about what is right and about the importance of doing the right thing. But our actions are even more important, we need to model to children the behavior that we want them to emulate. So we need to be advocates, we need to be change-makers, we need to be activists, we need to be brave and stand up for justice; they will see that in us and follow suit.
Annika: What are some of your favorite organizations to follow and support?
Michelle: Offering support to organizations is critical, and both The Pollination Project and A Well Fed World are amazing and we wouldn’t be here if it were not for them and their continued support. I love what they stand for, and they inspire me with their work.
Other organizations that inspire me are Community Solidarity, Collectively Free, PEP Foods, Santuario San Francisco de Asis in Puerto Rico.
Annika: When did you become vegan and why?
Michelle: I became vegan in 2001 while I was still living in Puerto Rico. I was 21. For Easter my sister received a baby chick from her school (this was a thing back then), we fed him, cuddled him, and he grew into a rooster, our beloved Piolín. He lived inside the house at first, then the backyard. He came when called, loved to cuddle under your arm. He was very much like a dog. He set off alarm bells in my head, why do we eat one but not the other? I couldn’t eat chicken after that, and that also made me question all types of meat. I shortly researched vegetarianism and found for the first time the word “vegan”. I had never heard it, or seen it anywhere. But reading about the cruelty in dairy and eggs was enough, and I made the transition right then and there. If you think about it, that one rooster Piolín has had an impact on so many people. That’s the power of love.
Annika: Would you consider the area where you live very vegan friendly?
Michelle: It’s fairly vegan friendly. My immediate area has a fruit stand with affordable veggies and fruits, the coffee shop offers soy milk and almond milk, the Chinese restaurant offers bean curd, the Indian restaurant has amazing curries that are naturally vegan. I can get delivery from two Asian vegan restaurants. And I can take a bus or a train for an hour to get into the city and have a whole range of vegan restaurants at the whole spectrum of prices. I am very lucky to live in New York.
Annika: Did motherhood have any influence on your vegan outlook?
Michelle: While I was already vegan when I became a mother, it definitely changed the way I viewed the Dairy Industry. There is a wonderful campaign that I became a part of called Mothers Against Dairy which is very powerful. The dairy industry is the cruelest of them all, separating babies from mothers, tearing that bond, and doing this time and time again until the mother is spent. Slaughter follows. And the babies, if they’re male are candidates for veal, which is also incredibly cruel. After becoming a mother, I definitely felt a certain type of bond with the mother cows.
Annika: Can you share any special changes you made (i.e. with diet & nutrition) when you were pregnant?
Michelle: While pregnant, I did have a lot of cravings, not the stereotypical weird foods, but definitely a strong hankering for certain foods that I needed RIGHT NOW! I had to have avocados. I couldn’t go through a day without them. Mangos too, every day at 3pm I needed a mango. I did not go into the care of a doctor, I had a water birth at the Brooklyn Birthing Center and the midwives there were very supportive of my veganism. At one point I had to take in extra protein, so I just added a vegan protein powder to my smoothies and ate more lentils.
Annika: How is your child & is hevegan?
Michelle: My child, Ollie is now 6 years old, vegan since birth.
Annika: What are some of their favorite foods?
Michelle: Ollie loves pizza, mac and cheese, ice cream, smoothies, pasta. All very normal childhood foods, all vegan of course.
Annika: Are vegan options common for school meals where you live?
Michelle: We are an unschooling family, so I don’t know. While we have a whole plethora of reasons why we homeschool, food was a big one.
Annika: How did your doctors respond to you being vegan?
Michelle: My midwives at the Brooklyn Birthing Center were very supportive of my veganism. It was a non-issue.
Annika: What are some of your favorite foods?
Michelle: I love fruits, tropical fruits mostly because they remind me of my own childhood in the tropics.
Annika: Favorite restaurants?
Michelle: I love The V Spot, it’s a vegan Colombian restaurant in Brooklyn near me.(also in the city)
Marty’s is a great pop up vendor that I can’t wait to have a restaurant. His food is vegan fast food and it’s delicious. The owner is also super cool, and rather than waste his leftover foods, he donates it to Chilis on Wheels, which we are super grateful for. His mac and cheese is to die for.
Strictly Vegetarian is a vegan spot with West Indian food. It’s low-key, not pretentious, and the food is awesome.
Seasoned Vegan is also amazing, a soul food restaurant in Harlem.
Annika: Favorite meals to make for your family?
Michelle: I love to make a traditional Puerto Rican meal, with rice and beans, sweet plantains, yucca or ñame, or yautía.
This interview is part of an ongoing interview series by Annika Lundkvist with vegan mothers and fathers around the globe. For more interviews and information please visit this page: Interview Series: Vegan Pregnancy, Parenting & Kids.