Q&A with Maggie Ortlieb, Founder of Veg Out Media
Tell us about your journey going Vegan.
I went vegetarian when I was 12 years old while spending a week at my cousins’ house in Indiana. Tom and Molly, my cousins, were vegetarian and huge animal rights activists. "You know you're eating dead cow, right?" Molly said to me as I munched on beef jerky in front of her. I was an animal lover, so the idea of eating a dead cow made me sad. I decided then and there I could no longer eat animals. My brother, who was also spending the week with my cousins, went vegetarian with me as well.
We thought our meat-eating Midwestern parents were going to freak out and try to force us to eat meat. To our surprise, my mom thought the idea of going vegetarian was cool and did it with us. She later transitioned to veganism after reading about factory farming practices and animal agriculture studies while writing for vegetarian magazines. At that point, then, she was cooking mostly vegan, so I was naturally eating mostly plant-based. I slowly eliminated things from my diet—milk, cheese, ice cream, then my beloved ranch dressing. Eventually, I only ate dairy and eggs when they were in baked goods (cake, cookies, bread, etc.).
Even though I went vegetarian for the animals, I started going vegan for health reasons, but it all looped full circle when I served as an au pair for a family in New Zealand during the summer of 2012. The family made their living off dairy cows. One morning, my host dad asked if I wanted to go milk the cows with him. I’m pretty open to new experiences, so I agreed to go. I woke up at 5:00 A.M. to freezing cold air and put on my coveralls and gum boots, then we headed to the dairy farm. We corralled the miserable-looking cows into their stalls and went up and down the rows hooking them up to the cold metal machines. Many were infected, standing in their own poop, and crying in pain. They kicked as I hooked them to the machines. Farm workers came by and marked the cows deemed unable to produce more milk with an “X.” At the end of my shift, I watched as a truck hauled away the X-marked cows to be killed. When I got home I told my host mom that I was vegan. She agreed to buy me soy milk, but kept accidentally buying skim milk. So I had skim milk in my Weetabix cereal for the rest of the trip. When I got back to the US, I went fully vegan.
So the process of going vegan, for me, was definitely a journey. It didn’t happen overnight.
What inspired VegOut Los Angeles?
I moved to Los Angeles five years ago from Michigan and was pleasantly overwhelmed by all the vegan options. Being new to the city, I wanted to explore and try all the best spots, so I’d spend hours researching online using Yelp, Happy Cow, Time Out, and other sources. But there wasn’t a site that was 100% vegan as well as current, hip, and up-to-date on vegan events, news, and happenings.
At the same time I was having this experience, I had friends and co-workers approach me with questions about what I ate when I went out. They couldn’t imagine anything other than salads or fries. I wanted to share all the great vegan options out there, so I started a Blogger site—VegOut LA. I posted maybe once a week and still remember my first article—Fresco Style: How to Eat Vegan at Taco Bell.
I started VegOut for non-vegans (most people don’t know this), because I wanted veganism to seem super accessible. The Instagram page, our primary tool today, was actually an afterthought—mostly reposting other people’s vegan food pictures. There weren’t many vegan accounts at the time, so we had that going for us. There was such a need for this sort of thing. The following just grew. Even though the business looks a lot different today than it did when we started—with events, tastings, VIP specials, and the magazine—we’ve always stuck true to our mission of helping people find vegan options.
Top 5 favorite restaurants right now in LA.
- Shamshiri—I’ve been obsessed with Persian food lately, and they have an entire vegan menu!
- Monty’s Good Burger—Dog Pile FTW!
- Vegetable—Who knew vegetables could taste so amazing?
- Bodhi Bowl—Their breakfast wrap is the best, and their staff is even better.
- Purgatory Pizza—Gotta go for the deep dish with vegan meatballs, breaded eggplant, and spinach with 1,000 sides of vegan ranch.
What is the most asked question you get from people that want to try going Vegan? (and what's your answer)
Q: How do you get your protein?
A: I thought this was one of those questions that would go away, but people still ask me this. I typically respond by letting them know that most Americans get twice as much protein as they need. Protein deficiency is pretty rare and too much animal protein can be detrimental. Because most foods contain protein, it isn’t difficult to get what you need on a vegan diet. Great plant-based sources include beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, and lentils. My favorite protein-rich snack is peanut butter and bananas. It’s that easy!
Advice for someone that wants to start #evolvingvegan?
Just start! Don’t feel like you have to go all in at once, and you don’t have to be perfect. A great way to begin is to gradually swap out foods you already eat for vegan versions. For instance, trade regular milk for almond milk, regular burgers for veggie burgers.
You’re going to mess up. That’s okay!
It comes down to doing what you can for your health, the animals, and the planet. If you can eat plant-based once a week, great. If you can do it four times a week, that’s great, too. Doing what you can is so much better than giving up completely because you can’t do it 100%. You’re still making an impact.
Follow @vegoutlosangeles and go to vegoutla.com for updates on all things vegan.