The Hixon Center sat down with Professor Julie Medero, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, to discuss being vegan, not owning a car, and her family’s eco-conscious lifestyle.
HCSED: Have you always been vegan?
Julie Medero: I haven’t always been vegan, actually. I grew up in a family in which no one was vegetarian, and I’m still the only one who diverged from that. I went vegetarian in high school—it was kind of this experience where I was sitting and eating a burger and I said, “Wow, this is a cow…it’s kind of gross.” It was a very gut, visceral reaction at first. My mom freaked out when I told her—she was really worried about where I would get my protein! I did a lot of research and learned about the really horrible truths surrounding the meat and dairy industries, and I came back six months later and decided to be wholly vegan. That was in 1997, so I’ve been vegan now for about 19 years.
How has it been for your kids to be raised vegan?
Well, it’s definitely easier to be vegan now than it was in 1997, when I first made the switch. Back then, you had to get everything from the “health foods store,” which was probably the only place you could get soy milk or B-12 supplements. Now, that stuff is sold everywhere. It’s been a little hard raising vegan kids, but they really don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re getting things that look like what everyone else has. As long as they’re getting some kind of cake or sweets, they don’t care what’s in it! I did have a funny conversation with my eldest son when he actually wanted lunches that looked different from the other kids’ lunches, because otherwise his teacher and the other kids in his class wouldn’t know he was vegan.
Do your kids understand what veganism is and have their own reasons for doing it?
There’s a range for my kids. My eldest son is nine and a half, and I think he really does embrace veganism and chooses to be vegan. My next son is six, and he occasionally does show a deeper understanding of veganism, at the level of, “Of course, we don’t eat animals, that’s gross—We like animals, animals are our friends!” My two-year-old doesn’t really have a clue yet. Once we asked her if she was vegan, and she said, “I’m not vegan, I eat animal crackers!”
How about your husband—was he vegan when you met him?
Definitely not! He wasn’t even close to being vegan when I met him. When we would go out for dinner, I would order vegan and he wouldn’t, and it worked out fine. When we first lived together, he called himself “vegan-friendly”—we would cook vegan together, and he might add some Parmesan on top for himself. But he gradually started cutting meat and dairy out from his diet, little by little, and now he’s fully vegan.
A big thing for him is the culture and tradition that goes along with food. He had a lot of dishes that he grew up with that he wanted to share with me—and he actually realized that a big part of what he was connected to with those dishes was texture and seasoning, not the actual meat or dairy. So we sort of workshopped those dishes together to make some really delicious things that still retained their significance to my husband.
Many vegans I know say that it’s a decision that equally weighs moral, environmental, and health benefits. Do you feel like there is one main reason behind your decision to go vegan, or is it a combination of the three?
Really, for me, the only reason that registers is the moral reason. The environmental and health impacts are important too, but those are much easier to not be absolute on. I don’t completely avoid sugar or fried foods—if all I cared about was health, I wouldn’t do that. I make exceptions for living an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, too. Although we don’t have a car at home, I still fly when I go visit my family who live farther away, and that has a huge environmental impact. There are behaviors that I could cut way down on without actually being vegan, but the moral reasons are really what pushed me over the edge to full veganism.
What made you and your husband want to give up your car? What was that transition like?
We actually didn’t start out by choosing to give up the car right away. We decided to move to Seattle from Philadelphia in 2008—which was obviously not a great time to try to sell a house and live in an expensive city like Seattle. We were faced with the choice of either living far away from the city where the rent was cheap enough to afford a car, or living within the city where we could walk and bike everywhere. If we had a car and lived far away, we realized that we’d be so heavily dependent on it for everything, so the choice seemed pretty obvious to us. We decided to only buy a car after we sold the house in Philly, and move to downtown Seattle. Well, it took three and a half years to sell the house—and at that point, my husband and I basically said, “We’ve been doing this for so long, we might as well forgo the car and just get bigger bikes!” We’re not morally opposed to having a car or anything, but right now, it just makes a lot of sense to not have one.
What are some of the unexpected or cool aspects of biking everywhere?
Well, one thing that surprises people is that we are still able to carry big loads everywhere without a car. We actually moved a little closer to campus last year, and we moved all but one load of furniture using our heavy-duty cargo bikes. My eldest son even carries the heavy stuff on his bike and is really excited about helping out. We also have cool, lightweight, foldable bikes that are easy to take with us when we’re traveling. I’ll bike to the airport, fold up the bike, and store it in the overhead compartment, then be able to ride it around wherever we go! Being able to utilize multi-modal transportation—biking, walking, public transit all for one trip—is really helpful.
My family and I don’t really do long distances either—the longest ride we would do is maybe twenty miles in one day. Ten miles is a good distance for a not-school day, and five miles or fewer is good for a school day, going to the grocery store, going to Victoria Gardens, or somewhere like that. I’m also a firm believer in only biking on all ages- and abilities-accessible infrastructure—that is, places where an 8-year-old and an 88-year-old would feel safe riding. We definitely avoid state roads, highways, or any dangerous path.
Any last words for potential vegans? I know a lot of people have reading or viewing material that they really strongly recommend.
I know some people really like Forks Over Knives, but the documentaries and books don’t really do it for me. In my opinion, I’m more convinced by good food and good cookbooks. Isa Chandra Moskowitz has written several awesome vegan cookbooks and runs the website Post Punk Kitchen, which is all about healthy and delicious vegan food. Maybe I won’t persuade you to be vegan, but I want to persuade people to have an open mind and realize that vegan food isn’t just nuts, berries, and salads.
A special thanks to Professor Julie Medero for speaking with us and providing the photos that appear in this article. This interview has been edited and condensed.