Eleven-year-old raises $150,000 for Gulf Coast birds. What have you done for me lately?  »

Damn, 11-year-old, way to make us look bad! Olivia, a young bird-lover, was totally saddened by the images of pelicans and other birds covered in oil after the BP oil spill and wanted to do something about it! So she offered her services to the Audubon Society:

Dear Audubon Society:

As you all are aware of, the oil spill in the Gulf is devistating [sic]. My mom has already donated a lot of money to help, but I have an idea that may also help. I am a decent drawer, and I was wondering if I could sell some bird paintings and give the profits to your organization.

OMGJesus how adorable? Olivia started selling her bird paintings and sold 500 in three weeks, garnering over $150,000. She’s now illustrated a book, Olivia’s Birds, the proceeds of which go to the Audubon Society’s conservation program. What the hell was I doing when I was 11? Watching Jem and eating Fundip. What a jerk.


Interview with a vegan: Sonya Cotton!  »

Sonya Cotton is a vegan and musician with a serious animal-rights agenda. She’s close to releasing a six-song EP and raising money for an eco-friendly tour through Kickstarter. Laura interviewed Sonya about her musical projects and vegan lifestyle, and why she dedicated her new album to her animal-rescuing mother.

Vegansaurus: Are you vegan for health, environmental, animal-rights reasons, or a combination?
Sonya Cotton: I’m vegan primarily for animal-rights reasons. The magnitude of animal suffering that goes on inside of the meat/dairy/egg industries is what hits me the hardest, and makes me want to cry/scream/do my part to change the world. The environmental impact of these mega-industries is also horrific, and a very compelling reason (totally independent of animal-rights issues) to go vegan in my opinion. Health doesn’t figure as much into the equation for me, though I know some people really stand behind the health benefits of veganism.

Vegansaurus: How long have you been vegan? Why did you become vegan?
Cotton: I was an on-and-off vegetarian for 12 years, starting when I was 15. Then last May when I was on tour with my band on the East Coast, we played a house show for a group called the Montclair Ethical Vegans. The woman who led that group asked me after the show if I was vegan. When I told her I wasn’t (just a vegetarian and an animal-lover) she gently yet passionately told me all the reasons why she choses veganism, and gave me an amazing book to take with me, called Ninety-Five (a reference to the number of animal lives saved in a year from one person going vegan). I remember reading this book, which chronicles individual lives of animals that were destined for the slaughterhouse but somehow found their way to sanctuaries instead. I connected with those stories so deeply, I was really rooting for each one of those creatures, and I remember saying out loud to my boyfriend: “I have to go vegan, I totally believe in this.” Then I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, which utterly sealed the deal for me. (To those of you out there who haven’t read Eating Animals, please do!)

Vegansaurus: When did you start writing and performing music?
Cotton: I wrote my first song in high school (an embarrassingly bad love song.)  But I’ve been performing since I was pretty young. I remember singing “By My Side” (from Godspell) in sixth grade at an open-mic at my school. In my head I was singing it to my English teacher who I was in love with at the time, and who was leaving the school: “Where are you going?  Will you take me with you?” Heavy! I also remember my first solo in Girlchoir in fifth grade. I got to sing a line from the song “Vine and Fig Tree” that goes: “And into ploughshares turn their swords, nations shall learn war no more.” Good stuff!  I was hooked at a young age.

Vegansaurus: Do you write about animals or animal issues?
Cotton: Yes, I frequently do. I feel deeply inspired by and connected to animals that I see around me in my daily life, as well as animals that I read about. I’m often taken by their beauty, their nobility, their lack of self-consciousness, their pursuit of what I see as “truth” (i.e. survival/self-preservation and social connection/love as opposed to fame and excessive amounts of money/material goods.)  On my last album, Red River, I sing a lot about the dead deer by the roadside, and all that that sight represents to me. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey so for much of my life that was a very common sight for me. In my more recent songs I am trying to write more clearly and directly about animal welfare issues. I just finished a song about a pig born into a factory farm, and on my upcoming album there is a song where I speak pretty directly to some of the fucked up things people do to animals: hunting falcons solely for their feathers, destroying wolf and deer habitat to build mansions and raise cattle, etc. I also frequently express the flipside of my outrage, in other words, my reverence and my gratefulness for the wild animal life around me.

Vegansaurus: Your album is dedicated to your mom; please tell us more.
Cotton: My mother passed away a year and a half ago;  she had cancer for just 10 months. I’ve struggled a lot with this loss, and writing songs for her/about her/inspired by her has felt like a poignant form of therapy for me as well as a meaningful tribute to her. So many people are struggling with similar feelings that I’m struggling with, either because of a death of a loved one, or some other kind of loss, and I hope this album reaches them, helps them, makes them feel less alone. 

I should also share that my mom was an amazing advocate for animals throughout her life: She took in homeless dogs and cats; fostered shelter animals; worked to stop the deer hunt in my hometown and promote a more humane, nonlethal, form of population control; and worked internationally with a number of incredible organizations over the years, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, working to stop the harbor seal hunt in Canada, and the farming of moon bears in China for their bile; New York City Audubon to preserve migratory bird populations; and most recently as the bird collisions campaign manager for the American Bird Conservancy.

Vegansaurus: Can we listen to your music anywhere?
Cotton: Yes, here and here.

Vegansaurus: Do you have any companion animals? Tell us all about them!
Cotton: There is an amazing cat named Buddy who lives in my house. His mom’s name is Lea, she’s my housemate. Buddy is a big beautiful guy; he’s often a blissed-out purring machine, so cute. But it kills me on a daily basis that I don’t have a dog in my life. As soon as I figure out how to live in a place that allows me to have a dog—dogs are not allowed in the house where I live—I’m going to foster a shelter dog. And then, once I have figured out how to be a touring musician that is also a responsible dog-owner, I’m going straight to a shelter and finding a dog who needs a permanent home. It’s going to be amazing. Until that day, I will continue walking/hanging out with dogs at Family Dog Rescue, a wonderful shelter in the city.

Vegansaurus: Do you have any super-cute photos of animals to share with us?
Cotton: Here is a picture of my family dog, Lorenzo, who passed away a couple of months ago. He was part of a litter of 10 puppies that my mom fostered when I was in 10th grade. My mom found homes for all of his nine brothers and sisters, but Lorenzo was returned to us twice!  So we decided to keep him. He was such an amazing fellow, so handsome and spirited; I miss him.

Vegansaurus: What is your favorite animal? I know, this one is REALLY TOUGH.
Cotton: This is an impossible question! If I have to choose, I’m going to say…wolf.

Vegansaurus: Favorite vegan cookbook?
Cotton: There are a bunch of vegan cookbooks floating around my kitchen (there are four vegans in my house), and I like all of them, but I’m not so inspired by any one of them to call it my favorite. I think I need a favorite vegan cookbook in my life, that’d be great!  Any suggestions?

Vegansaurus: What’s your favorite vegan dish to make? What about for a vegan bakesale?
Cotton: I love Brussels sprouts sautéed with onions, garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, and apple cider vinegar. I also love kale and fried tofu over brown rice or whole wheat pasta with a peanut sauce. For a bakesale, the chocolate chip cookies from How It All Vegan! are so delicious!  Yum.

Vegansaurus: Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant?
Cotton: I love the fresh imperial rolls at Sunflower (3111 16th St. at Valencia Street) affordable and delicious.

Vegansaurus: Favorite vegan restaurant?
Cotton: Souley Vegan.

Vegansaurus: Tell us about the Kickstarter Project. How can we support you?
Cotton: I launched a Kickstarter campaign last month to fund the making of my next album: a six-song EP dedicated to my mom, as well as a northeast tour in May. The goal was $10,000, which, amazingly, was reached in just 11 days. People have been so generous!  We’ve now exceeded our goal by about $500, and it runs until 7:45 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 28. Though it sounds crazy, $10,000 was the bare minimum we needed to make this album and tour happen as we envisioned it: recording live in a professional studio, and traveling the East Coast by train, which is more expensive but kinder to the earth and the animals than cars and freeways! We’re so excited, and so thankful to have made it this far. But if we continue to exceed our goal this will allow us to expand the project in some really exciting ways. Depending on how much we get, we’ll be able to book an extra day in the studio, record an extra song, hire an arranger for several songs, and compensate the musicians involved more fairly. 

If you’re interested supporting this project, have a look at my Kickstarter page where you can watch a video explaining the spirit of the project more fully. You can also see the different rewards for donations, (for example, you can pre-order a digital copy of the album for a donation of $10.)  If you want to support me in a way that has nothing to do with money, you can help me spread the word about this project by sending the link to your friends, you can help me book a show on the east coast in May—ideally in a home or a church or a similarly intimate space—or come to my show in San Francisco this Friday, Feb. 11 at Viracocha!


East Bay Vegan Bakesale! Plus sexy pandas, peek-a-boo owls, and your big fat pets in this week’s (abbreviated) link-o-rama!  »

Hello, tiny owl! This is Sam Adams, a resident of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society Center bird sanctuary, who really wants to be in pictures. So much so that he hogged this nice couples’ wedding photo, but that is all right with us because marriage is patriarchal nonsense, while saving owls is wonderful and right. [photo by Hoffer Photography/Rex Features]

Some events for your non-costume dates
East Bay Vegan Bakesale! Tomorrow, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.! Details here!

No Worries Filipino Vegetarian Cuisine will hold its grand opening celebration tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 30 from 4 to 9 p.m. You can enjoy a special chef’s menu and live music, and an Oakland city official will participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. You know Vegansaurus loves No Worries, and we expect this chef’s menu to be extra-tasty. See you at 1442 Franklin Street (at 15th Street) in Oakland!

Hey Boston-area readers! Friend of Vegansaurus, vegan, and ridiculously talented writer Kevin Fanning is participating in a reading as part of Arts at the Armory in Somerville, Mass., on Monday, Nov. 1. You should go! It is like 15 minutes from Boston, no excuses. Buy a chapbook while you’re there, tell them Vegansaurus sent you.

Have you dreamed of growing your own shiitake mushrooms? You are in luck, San Francisco: the Studio for Urban Projects in conjunction with 18 Reasons presents a one-day workshop on exactly that! Led by Maria Finn, the workshop will take place on Monday, Nov. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Studio for Urban Projects at 3579 17th St. at Dolores. The registration fee is $45 per person, which also includes all the materials you’ll need to “inoculate and care for your own shiitake log.” Further information, including registration, here.

Friday, Nov. 5 is Worldwide Anti-Whaling Day. We’ll give you a more detailed post next week, but mark this on your calendars now: the Northern California protest is set for 3 p.m. that day at the Consulate General of Japan, at 50 Fremont St. in San Francisco. For now, read the official WWAWD site for more information.

A little light reading
Farm Sanctuary asks that you please send an email to the University of Pittsburgh to politely ask that they stop using live pigs for their Advanced Trauma Life Support courses.

Good news, panda-lovers: All of 19 little pandas were born in captivity this year as of last week, the most since 18 in 2006. Chinese scientists credit their success in part to the panda porn program, which shows dumb young male pandas what they’re supposed to be doing with the female pandas—you have no time for adorable, chaste snuggling, pandas. Get to business or die trying, as it were.

Animals who maybe could use a little less human intervention: your cats and dogs, which are all as MORBIDLY OBESE as ALL ENGLISH-SPEAKING WHITE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE, and the Medicare won’t pay for canine-sized Hoverounds, so stop feeding them from your dang plates. Seriously. If you really can’t resist giving your little puppykins treats, toss ‘em some vegetables while you’re chopping them up for your dinner. The dogs I live with eat everything except raw garlic and leafy greens; they love raw onion and every other piece of produce they’ve tried. It’s a win-win! Winston loves bananas, and look how healthy and happy he is! Or at least healthy.

Finally, mark another entry in the Annals of Self-Promotion: Laura’s “Week in Vegan” column debuts in the SF Weekly today! She’s great, go read it!


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