You started the website Vegan Grand Rapids in 2010. What was your objective? Why did you launch it?
Jon: When we met, Kolene was a relatively new vegan by a few months and I was a vegetarian and wanted to be a vegan. When I moved to town, we started exploring and going to different places and trying food, and we wanted to do a project together, but we didn't really know what. .... Some people started dabbling in the guide world, but we thought we could do it better.
When did you go vegetarian?
Kolene: I was since 2002. ... When I went vegetarian, I was doing a lot of animal volunteer work and I started looking at animals a different way. Like, what is the difference between a dog and a pig and why is it OK to eat one but not another? ... I just didn't want to eat friends. Animals are my friends and I don't want to eat them anymore.
Jon: I ended up taking a job with [Best Friends Animal Sanctuary]. ... We have mostly dogs and cats, but some pigs and goats and horses. And I met this pot-bellied pig, which isn't a farm pig, and it sits and does tricks and has this personality. And sort of similar to Kolene, I was like, 'Why do we eat that?'
Is one of your goals with Vegan GR to get more vegan options out there?
Jon: We put a guide together for restaurant owners on why you should offer vegan items. ... If you're making food, wouldn't you want everyone to be able to eat your food?
I know veganism helps animals, but can you explain how it helps the environment?
Kolene: It takes 1800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but only 200 for a pound of soy beans. Globally, livestock produce about 80 million metric tons of methane a year, accounting for 28 percent of all methane emissions. That's more than cars. The quantity of animal waste from even the smallest of factory farms is equivalent to the waste produced by 16,000 humans.
Some people will not use animal products at all, while some will just take it out of their diet. Is there a spectrum to veganism?
Kolene: I think how people get there is important, whether it's for health, animals or environment. We try to make sure we're never leaning one way too far than another. We try to be all inclusive, so when people come to our website, and think they're going to find what they need no matter why they're there.
So you're encouraging people to eat less meat overall, even if veganism is not the end goal?
Kolene: We have a lot of friends who aren't vegan, but they probably eat vegan or vegetarian most meals. And if you think, there's 21 meals and week and if two-thirds of them are meat free, what a huge difference that makes for the environment and for animals. And there are a lot of vegans that say, "That's not OK." We say if you want to cut [meat] out two times a week, we're here for you. If you want to cut out all 21 meals, we're here for you, too.
Some celebrities that try eating vegan are criticized for not completely committing. But it sounds like you support their efforts.
Kolene: Bill Clinton went vegan a while ago and there was an article in AARP where he said he ate a poached egg one meal a week and maybe salmon, and the vegan community was outraged that he called himself a vegan. ... We wrote a blog post about that. For Bill Clinton to go part-time vegan and have so much exposure, why isn't that a good thing?
Jon: Veganism for some people is an identity, it's like everything they are. It's a tattoo, it's this level of commitment and awareness that they think they have. And I understand when they see someone like Bill Clinton. It's a denigration of your commitment and I get that. But if your overall goal is helping the animals, helping the environment, it can be good.
Interview conducted, edited and condensed by Lindsay Patton-Carson.