The writer, director, editor of the documentary Vegucated did not descend “from the planet Vega to convert the mere earthling.” Marisa Miller Wolfson started out as a midwest girl with a fondness for bacon. Along the way, she became “a professional eco-nudger” and dedicated vegan. How? “It didn’t take much,” Wolfson recalls. It took seeing a film about “the horrors of industrial agriculture.”
Wolfson’s heart and mind were set. But she still had to go through a vegan learning curve, her vegucation, from how to stock her refrigerator to dealing with being called “a plastic shoe-wearing radical.” By her mother.
Vegucated distills those challenge as it follows three New Yorkers for six weeks as they try to go vegan in a country “that’s not quite ready for that.”
Wolfson used the 2004 fast food documentary Supersize Me as a template, with Morgan Spurlock “putting himself through this experiment and we all get to watch.” With Ellen, Brian and Tesla, Vegucated’s cast, “we didn’t know what these guys would do. We took a risk.” A big risk. Wolfson had no prior film experience. Neither did Mary Max, Vegucated’s executive producer and the founder of the eco-nonprofit Kind Green Planet.
Filmmaking requires its own learning curve and the road to Vegucated was potholed with logistical nightmares and “helpful, yet painful feedback.” Wolfson sighs. “If I had known what I would have to go through to make this happen, I don’t know if I would have done it. Thank goodness I didn’t know.”
Vegucated has become a digital bestseller and Wolfson treasures every tweet and e-mail from people who’ve seen the film and “are making a change as a result. It’s the most exciting part.”
The hardest part? For Wolfson, for the cast and for her audience, “What really hit them in the gut and make a change is the animal component.” Vegucated’s tipping point comes after her cast visits a farm. Wolfson focuses on their grim faces on their drive home. Their horror, their disbelief is as powerful as the in-your-face animal cruelty footage that convinced Wolfson to go vegan.
She screened Vegucated in her home town, within an hour’s radius of 84 factory farms. “It’s cow country, that’s the culture,” she says. “There was none of the defensiveness I had expected. People have been really responsive. I can tell I’m hitting past the vegan choir.”
The vegan choir, in fact, has been giving some pushback. “Some of the vegan community are disappointed at the end when everyone’s not a hundred percent vegan.” Wolfson shrugs. “It was not at all a surprise that Tesla had a struggle, that she still has struggles. It reflects truth, reality, for a lot of people. I was thrilled everyone stuck with it for six weeks. I’m more about celebrating the victories than criticizing the shortcomings.”
Wolfson wants to celebrate your victories, too. She’s launching the Vegucated Challenge, an e-mail coaching program for anyone looking to make the switch to a plant-based diet. Like PCRM’s Vegan Kickstart, it provides daily e-mail tips and support, not just from Wolfson but from other members of the vegan community. We can all help — and vegucate — each other.
One of Wolfson’s favorite tips? Embrace the new. “Instead of thinking, I can’t have this or that, think of exciting things you get to try. I had never had kale or quinoa — they’re my favorites now. Even if you’re not ready to go vegetarian, just start eating the new stuff and naturally, you’ll start eating less of the animal stuff.”
“Some people say it’s crazy and I could never do that, it’s too extreme,” says Wolfson. “If you had a good enough reason, you could do anything.”
- Link here to Ellen’s Simple Kale and Quinoa Pilaf.
- See more of Ellen’s Meatless Monday Musings on VegKitchen.
- Read VegKitchen's review of Vegucated.
Ellen Kanner writes the Meatless Monday column for The Huffingon Post, is the Edgy Veggie, a syndicated columnist, and Dinner Guest blogger on Culinate. She is also a contributor to Bon Appetit, Relish, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, More, the Miami Herald and regional publications across the country including Pebble Beach and Palm Beach Illustrated.