Profile of the month: Richie shares what it's like being vegan.
- Hi Richie, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure, I'm an actor, model, and animal activist and love merging these facets of myself whenever possible. I grew up in Southern California, went to university in the Bay Area and have lived in New York, London, Miami and now Hong Kong for the past four years. I'm the proud father of a vegan rescue named Lily (http://www.instagram.com/LilyMissSunshine) who has made me look at the world with different eyes, and together we are proud to be ambassadors for some of the world's most inspiring charities such as Change For Animals Foundation (https://www.changeforanimals.org/richie-kul), Animals Asia (http://dev.animalsasia.org/us/media/news/news-archive/because-people-love-people-who-love-animals.html), PETA (https://www.peta.org/living/personal-care-fashion/cruelty-free-fashion-richie-kul/) and Soi Dog (https://www.petconnection.ca/for-the-love-of-dog/).
- How did your path to a vegan lifestyle begin?
My vegan journey started pretty early on in life. I can still vividly recall watching movies like Babe and Charlotte’s Web as a child and rooting for the animals to escape harm’s way, only to then sit down for a meal and eat those very same animals. Eventually I made the connection between the meat on my plate and the animals who lost their lives in the process and went vegetarian. I stayed that way for nearly 20 years.
My subsequent transition from vegetarian to vegan is a pretty humbling one actually. I was asked to endorse global initiatives like Veganuary (https://veganuary.com/people/richie-kul/) and Veg Week (https://vegweek.com/endorsers/) where I encouraged friends, fans and supporters to try out a vegan diet for a week or month. People are really savvy though and pick up when someone is being inconsistent or insincere, and I received many messages asking me how great veganism could be if I hadn't fully adopted it myself. As much as it stung to be called out on my hypocrisy, it was a fair and valid point they raised, so I proceeded to educate myself on the cruelties inherent in the dairy, egg, wool and leather industries and quickly determined that this was something I wanted absolutely no part of.
I’ve now been vegan for nearly 5 years and while I was initially worried that it would hamper my gains in the gym or my athletic performance, I realize that if anything it's actually helped speed recovery with no impact on maintaining or developing muscle. For me it’s akin to stumbling upon a really great novel, travel destination or clothing brand. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my health, the planet and our animal friends, and now I want to pay it forward and share the wealth with all that are receptive and inclined!
- Who are your inspirations?
Well Lily (https://www.facebook.com/LilyMissSunshine) first and foremost of course. Having the privilege of caring for her each day and witnessing the depth of her vibrant personality and the fact that she experiences love, joy, fear and pain in much the same way we do reinforces my convictions and my resolve to speak out and defend the most innocent and defenseless among us.
Claudia Pievani is the founder of Miomojo (http://www.miomojo.com/en/), an innovative vegan Italian fashion brand based just outside of Milan. In an industry dominated by multi-billion dollar luxury brands that callously commoditize animals and traffic in the narrative that their flesh and fur are somehow covetable and aspirational, Claudia is bucking that trend and showing the world that beautiful products can be made without harming innocent living beings. She also donates 10% of every purchase to impactful animal charities and I truly admire her commitment to giving back.
My friend Jill Robinson founded Animals Asia (https://www.animalsasia.org/) in 1998 and has committed her life to saving moon bears exploited in the bear bile trade. Thus far, she and her incredible team of animal heroes have saved over 600 bears and operate two sanctuaries in Vietnam and China. She is a true animal lover in every sense of the word, so much so that her staff canteens at the sanctuaries are fully vegan as are the menus at all Animals Asia fundraisers. As a committed vegan, she doesn't confine her attention and concern to companion animals and wildlife but extends it generously to all living beings. It is so reassuring and heartening to see that an organization called Animals Asia is truly committed to the protection of all animals in Asia.
Last but certainly not least, in a few days I will be visiting my inspiring friend Lek Chailert at her elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park (https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/). As many of us have finally come to realize, elephant riding on a trip to Southeast Asia may seem innocent enough, but it conceals a painful reality of family separations, soul crushing isolation and a lifetime of chains, whips and bull hooks. These gentle, family oriented creatures have long been exploited for their ivory tusks and perceived entertainment value, but that is changing now thanks to Lek and her tireless efforts educating the public on the cruelties of these trades. Known affectionately as "The Elephant Whisperer", she is the recipient of countless international awards and is the subject of Love and Bananas (http://loveandbananas.com/), an acclaimed documentary chronicling her work. Needless to say, as a committed animal lover, she is vegan too!
- What are some misconceptions about being vegan?
The number one misconception about veganism is that it's extreme, difficult or inconvenient. If we tell ourselves veganism (or anything in life) is difficult or inconvenient, it most certainly will be. But if we seek out new recipes and restaurants and find joy in the process, it becomes a whole lot more sustainable. At the end of the day, we don't even give anything up - we simply stop taking what was never ours to take. And honestly, what's more extreme than bringing life into the world for the sole purpose of extinguishing it, ripping them apart from their families, violently killing them against their will and devouring their flesh? To me there are few things more extreme than that, and a lifestyle premised on minimizing cruelty and suffering seems downright mild in comparison.
- What would you like for the audience to know, regarding being vegan?
That it's so much easier, more manageable and more gratifying than we possibly realize. It's simply about aligning our actions with our purported values. Many of us say we love animals and that we value peace, compassion and non-violence. In fact, surveys routinely show that over 96% of us feel that animals deserve some form of protection from harm and exploitation.
Most of us say we're concerned about climate change. It’s time we hold ourselves accountable for the things we care about. For all the emphasis on single use and plastic straws, single use plastic only accounts for 8% of plastic in the ocean while plastic straws account for less than 0.1% and yet receive a disproportionate amount of media attention. More than 50% of plastic in the ocean comes from discarded fishing nets and other fishing gear. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all modes of transport combined and is a leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones and destruction to the world’s rain forest. If we're genuinely concerned about our planet, we need to target the biggest culprits of environmental destruction rather than merely paying lip service to the issue.
And here's a shocking and sobering statistic. A single acre of land can yield 53,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes or 137 pounds of beef. That’s an unconscionable injustice when over 800 million human beings are suffering from hunger at this very moment. If we’d simply reconfigure our food systems, we could address climate change and world hunger in one fell swoop.
- How did your family, friends and fans react to you going vegan?
As a thirteen year old, I went vegetarian despite stiff resistance from my parents and relentless teasing from the kids at school. But that was ok, because this budding rebel was accustomed to tuning out and digging in. By the time I went vegan in my thirties, times had changed and it just made logical sense to people since they knew I cared for animals, the planet and my health. Now many of them actually share those same concerns and have embarked on their own vegan journeys.
I now get messages on social media nearly every day from people asking for recipes and suggestions on transitioning to a vegan diet and lifestyle, or simply to share the benefits they've reaped since going vegan. Needless to say, these are my favorite messages to receive.
- Is going vegan harder to do in Asia?
Five to seven years ago, my answer would have been a resounding yes. The landscape has changed considerably since then though, and now, it’s as easy to be vegan here in Asia as it is in Europe or the US, Australia or Canada. There’s a wealth of amazing vegan restaurants and products available now. Here in Hong Kong, my go-to place is Loving Hut in Wanchai where for HKD $50-60 you can get a full, delicious, satisfying meal, lunch or dinner. So not only does it taste great but it’s very reasonably priced too which completely dispels the notion that vegan food is somehow too expensive or inaccessible.
- What’s your favorite place/country to travel to and why?
Thailand always tops my list. North, South, Central, you name it, I love it - the beautiful beaches, the lush jungles, the peaceful hillsides. The Thai people are naturally so warm and friendly wherever you go, and because I speak the language, it's that much easier to get around. Plus I love Thai food and nearly every dish can be easily veganized.
- Give us a fun or unexpected fact about yourself!
Despite having been vegetarian or vegan for over 25 years now, I've never really enjoyed eating vegetables or salads. I'm vegan for the animals first and foremost, so I'm just as vulnerable to the siren call of pizza, pasta and burgers as the next guy. I just prefer mine with Impossible or Beyond meat.
- Lastly, which pair of Mazu shorts are your favorite?
I'm a fan of the Junk Twilight trunks as they're just so iconic and distinctively Hong Kong, but recently I've gotten a lot of compliments on the Yangshuo bamboo print trunks as well - subtle yet classy.