Vegan Revolution is an impressive project featuring vegan endurance athletes, bodybuilders, health coaches, nutritionists, chefs, activists, models and actors. Melissa Schwartz and Donovan Jenkins, the founders, photographers and managers of the project are two very passionate vegans, who established the project to promote vegans and veganism as they feature a breathtaking display of what it means to be a strong, healthy and compassionate vegan.
The project initially started under the name vGirls|vGuys and featured artistic photographs of ethical vegans, alongside a feature on each one of them. You may remember the “Proud to be a Vegan” campaign in which a series of vegan athletes and models were featured in striking black and white photographs.
The project has since evolved to a new stage under the name Vegan Revolution, and a Vegan Revolution book is now also in the works. The book will include advice and information from vegan health and fitness professionals, as well as chapters on the animals and the environment, alongside Donovan and Melissa’s stunning photography.
We interviewed Melissa to find out more about how the project started, its message, and where they intend to take it in the future.
Melissa, what was the impetus for you and Donovan to become vegan?
Donovan and I always loved animals and believed in being kind, but we didn’t fully understand the impact of our decision to eat animals for a long time. Growing up, it seemed very normal to eat animals and no one really questioned that.
Donovan grew up on a farm in Montana where using animals was a way of life, and I was vegetarian on and off since about the age of eight. My parents are medical professionals, presumably very educated on health, but even they were worried it was unhealthy to not eat animals (so much misinformation to overcome!). Still, we let our love for animals guide us. Eventually, when we met in 2005, Donovan became vegetarian like me and then a couple years later we made the transition to veganism together.
What inspired you and Donovon to start the vGirls|vGuys project which has since turned into the Vegan Revolution project?
We were trying to be creative and gain more experience with photography and we decided that if we were going to do a little side project for our studio, we wanted to do something that would benefit a worthy cause as well as the subjects of our photographs. We felt that promoting vegans and veganism would be the best use of our time and energy, and it allowed us to meet so many amazing, inspiring and wonderful people.
What is the project’s mission?
In the beginning we just wanted to highlight vegan people and interview them, so that other people could get a small glimpse into a vegan person’s life/mind. I think it’s really important for non-vegans to learn about what caused someone else to be vegan because sometimes that helps them connect the dots for themselves.
We later transitioned into showing that vegans can be healthy and strong. Health and fitness has never really been a point of artistic inspiration for me but since this project I have learned so much. I think it is essential to break down the myths and rhetoric around the vegan diet. So many people – even intelligent and educated people – still believe veganism is unhealthy and it just couldn’t be further from the truth.
How do you select your models and what does it take to be a vGirl or vGuy?
We don’t shoot as often now so we select fewer subjects but we try to choose people who are, first and foremost, vegan for the animals. Being vegan for health is wonderful but it is not what we want to spend our energy promoting. We want to highlight people who are steadfastly compassionate and passionate about standing up for the voiceless. We also want to choose people who are diverse from each other and people that work hard at inspiring others.
Who have been some of the most famous people that you’ve featured?
Steve-O is probably the one who has the biggest fan base. He was a blast to work with, and we became friends after working together. When he shared our website our servers couldn’t handle the traffic…
Can you point out one guest that was particularly inspiring for you to get to know?
This is such a hard question because as cliché as it sounds, every single person we have had the honor of working with has inspired us in different ways. Tonya Kay is a big inspiration for me personally. I really admire people who are free thinkers, independent and strong and I also have a lot of respect for the way she takes on sexism. I think of her as a sex positive feminist, like myself. Also, she is one of our raw vegan models and since starting this project I am quite convinced that I would like to go raw. I don’t have the motivation for it as much because health and beauty aren’t quite as important to me as abstaining from culturally accepted violence against animals. But I am working on having more discipline. I want to look and feel as good as the raw vegans when I grow up! Haha!
Check out our other raw vegans: Whitney Ayers and Paige Synder. I hate singling out one person because I could literally go on forever and ever singing the praises of each and every Vegan Revolution participant. I am tempted to just rattle off about everyone!
Steve-O is a really incredible person and is so down to help spread the vegan philosophy. He is also a personal inspiration for me when it comes to being vulnerable and sharing so much of oneself with the world. He is in the public eye and in conjunction with being adored by fans, he also gets his share of haters, especially when it comes to veganism because that is not what his primary audience knows/appreciates him for. In fact, his audience can be quite rowdy, but Steve-O is very Zen about it. When we first posted his images he got an overwhelmingly positive response, but there were also assholes being extremely rude and I felt the need to defend him. I remember trying to respond to a comment but by the time I had written what I wanted to say there were like 5,000 more comments; the original comment I wanted to respond to was lost. It was a good lesson for me: not to waste too much time and energy being defensive. It’s very hard for me to let rude comments go unanswered but I‘m working on it. When I talked to Steve about it he just said something like “what other people say is a reflection of them and their issues – not of you or I”. It is obvious but true and it was nice to hear him say it and see him live it.
Torre is such a good, kind person. You kind of have to meet him to know what I mean. His energy is just calming, for lack of a better word. He is also very approachable and humble and intelligent. I can’t say enough nice things about him. Robert is hilarious! He is always so much fun to work with. He is always excited and dancing around and having fun. Brendan is someone I consider a good friend. Like Torre, his energy is just so calm and cool. And he is so confident in a non-arrogant way. He is one of the first more widely known vegan athletes to shoot with me so I am grateful to him for working with me. That is how we met… But like I said I can go on and on forever. I consider everyone I have worked with on this a friend; I feel so fortunate.
What direction do you see your site and project taking in the future?
We are working on finishing the Vegan Revolution book, which has has been in the works for a long time. It is going to be great! We also want to add functionality to our new site TheVeganRevolution.net. After that I want to work on some new products. We already make necklaces and an awesome cruelty free deodorant, but eventually I want to start making bathing suits and some other types of merchandize. I like having the freedom to try new things and be creative, all while promoting kindness to animals.
Thank you, Melissa for this interview and to both you and Donovan for all that you do to promote a positive image of vegans and veganism! It’s through projects like yours that we shatter the faulty view many non-vegans still carry with regards to veganism, fitness and health.
Cover image: Melissa Schwartz and Donovan Jenkins, veganrevolution.